Valentine’s Day for Adoptees

Searching for a topic for a day like this related to adoptees, I found this Huffington Post blog – Roses Are Red, Violets Are Blue, Adoptees’ Worst Fear Will Likely Come True – by Ben Acheson. The image I chose seemed to fit the sentiments of some adoptees that I have encountered. The subtitle of Ben’s essay notes – What if Valentine’s Day, or relationships in general, were a stark reminder of the most painful and distressing events that you ever experienced? What if they triggered a trauma so terrifically challenging that it forever altered your approach to life? Welcome to Valentine’s Day, and relationships, for adoptees.

Ultimately, Valentine’s Day is about relationships, or the lack thereof. It may evoke unpleasant memories of lost loves, but the nostalgia is normally forgotten by the time the flowers wither and the chocolates disappear. Or does it ?

Take a moment to balk at such a provocative, nonsensical claim; that saving a child through adoption could lead to a life of relationship problems. It is ungrateful and even accusatory to altruistic adopters. It is insulting to those battling depression, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and other psychological issues associated with adoption.

The development of intimate relationships can be a major challenge for adoptees. Their first and most important relationship was irreparably destroyed. The person supposed to love them most disappeared inexplicably. Then they were passed to strangers and expected to pretend that nothing happened.

The impact of that severed relationship is colossal. It permanently alters everything they were destined for. It alters how they attach to people. It causes bonding problems. It leaves them angry, sad and helpless. It interferes with emotional development and instils a persistent fear of abandonment within them.

This fear impacts future relationships. Many adoptees fear that what happened once might happen again. They fear that each new relationship, like the very first one, will not last. If their own mother abandoned them, then why won’t others?

It affects their ability to trust. Their trust in adults was shattered when they were most vulnerable. The idea that their mother loved them so deeply that she gave them away is a confusing paradox. Connection, intimacy and love are forever intertwined with rejection, loneliness and abandonment. Being unable to remember the traumatic events only compounds the problem.

Adoptees are sensitive to criticism and have difficulty expressing long-suppressed emotions. They have hair-triggers and lack impulse control, frequently overreacting to minor stresses. They can be manipulative, intimidating, combative and argumentative. Total absence of control over childhood decisions gives them an unrelenting need for control in adulthood. A counterphobic reaction of ‘reject before being rejected’ is a classic sign of stunted emotional development and unresolved trauma. That is not to say that adoptees do not want intimacy. They often want to ‘give everything’. They yearn for a close, trusting connection. They want to let someone ‘in’, but the openness and vulnerability is petrifying. Letting someone ‘in’ also opens the door to rejection.

Even if partners recognize that deep, sensitive wounds exist, they tire of walking on eggshells. The emotional rollercoaster is exhausting. They become sick of the ‘parent-role’ they often assume. Even if the adoptee matures and gains insight into their behavior, the damage may have been done. Partners may reach the breaking point and leave. But who is to say that failed relationships cannot be a blessing in disguise? For adoptees, the important lesson might be that you sometimes need to fail in order to truly succeed.

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