Stress Responses

Some adoptive parents mistake their adopted child’s compliance with the situation as a good outcome adjustment.  What I have learned from adoptees that there is an even more intense reaction that is called fawning.  Think of the kidnap victim that eventually identifies with their captors – like Patty Hearst did.

Every adoptee is an individual and each responds differently to the circumstances of their relinquishment and their placement in a new home.

Fawning is best understood as “people-pleasing.”  Both of my parents were adoptees and I saw this kind of behavior in my mom and learned it from her.  This kind of behavior can endear one to other people but it is not always healthy to be this way.

People with the fawn response are so accommodating of other people’s needs that they often find themselves in codependent relationships.  Fortunately, when that has happened to me, I’ve found a way out – even if it took some time to get there.

Fawn types seek safety by merging with the wishes, needs and demands of others. They act as if they unconsciously believe that the price of admission to any relationship is the forfeiture of all their needs, rights, preferences and boundaries.  It takes some maturity to take one’s power back.

Sadly, fawn types are more vulnerable to emotional abuse and exploitation.  Abusers may suppress a survivor’s fight or flight responses by threatening punishment.  The appease response, also known as ‘please’ or ‘fawn’, is a survival response which occurs [when] survivors read danger signals and aim to comply and minimize the confrontation in an attempt to protect themselves.  I’ve been there, done that and I’ve seen my mom do likewise.

If you are an adoption survivor (adoption is definitely a form of trauma to a child), you are not alone in using this for safety. There is no shame in struggling with fawning. Fawning, like the other stress responses, is a self-protective armor. It has helped many adoption survivors live through being placed in a family that does not fit their nature naturally.

What Is Wrong With This Picture ?

There was a time in my sons younger days when I worried that their behavior was going to result in unintended consequences.  Sometimes well-meaning people insert themselves in ignorance into other people’s lives.  Fortunately, we weathered those years without the worst happening to us.  That is not always the case for some families.

In Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler writes –

“The state must declare the child to be the most precious treasure of the people. As long as the government is perceived as working for the benefit of the children, the people will happily endure almost any curtailment of liberty and almost any deprivation.”

This is definitely a reason for concern as our government has been trending authoritarian.

In a YouTube titled “Legally Kidnapped: The Case Against Child Protective Services” the narrator says – “They don’t want you to know what is going on because if you did you’d rebel, you’d fight back.”

There is an agency that has ripped families apart for decades.  In 2014, when that video was made there were 400,000 children in out-of-home care. That is a staggering number.  It is true that 20% of Child Protective Services removals are for physical/sexual abuse.

With the ongoing legalization of marijuana in many states in this country, it may shock you to know that a vast percentage of child removals have been for the use by their parents of this substance.

The sad truth is that foster children are 6 times more likely to die of medical neglect, physical abuse and/or sexual abuse while in CPS care than a child suffering in poverty is.

You can learn more at

Adoption-Competent Therapy

Given an awareness that separation of a child from the mother inflicts deep, often unconscious, wounds – what is a method to achieve some kind of healing regarding an event that won’t change ?

I find it interesting that my mom, an adoptee, believed she had been stolen til the day she died.  There was some basis in her belief, as she did know that she was a Georgia Tann baby and that many of the children that Tann placed were not legitimately available for adoption.

I also believe that it may have been a very deep seated memory at a pre-verbal time in her infant life from having just seen her mom (she had been placed in an orphanage ONLY for temporary care while her mom tried to get on her feet) and then given to a complete stranger who took her by train from Memphis TN to Nogales AZ.  One can see how without words to explain her experience, the feeling of having been STOLEN dominated her belief about the “inappropriate” (my mom’s word for it to the state of TN when she tried to get her adoption file released to her) way she had been separated from a mother who never intended to give her up.  Such a sad story.

For today’s adoptees that wish to find some relief from their own wounds there is the possibility of therapeutic intervention.  If choosing to go that route, it is important to locate a practitioner competent in adoption related trauma.

All adopted children — of all ages — are at risk for changes in their brain’s chemistry and structure. These alterations don’t just go away with time and, if not effectively treated, can become increasingly problematic as a child grows older.

An adopted child knows they are different and some of their behaviors are not acceptable. This can shatter any self-esteem they may be trying to hang on to.  Deep down in this child’s very core is a deep black pit of shame and grief.

Adoptees are over-represented nationally in the mental/behavioral health field. That means that the percentage of adoptees seeking mental/behavioral health services is much higher than the percentage in the general population.  If you are going to seek therapy, educate yourself on what makes a therapist adoption competent.  You don’t want to go down the general diagnosis pathway that leads to a medication intervention and never acknowledges the core problem.

Knowing One Is Adopted

I believe, from the time they were old enough to even understand the concept, both of my parents knew they were adopted.  Therefore, as their children, we also grew up always knowing our parents had both been adopted, even though we had no idea of what that really meant.  I thought my parents were orphans until rather late in life when I learned that my mom’s adoption had been part of the Georgia Tann scandal and that my mom believed she had actually been stolen from her original parents.  It is a fact, she died still believing that.

Adoption is not something that should be a secret or something that anyone should be ashamed of. It is how an adoptee came to be in the family they grew up in. If you always know, then it just IS.  It is better to know that no one ever kept something really important from your knowledge.

Growing up, adoption seemed very normal to me.  It has always been a core circumstance of my family’s life.  Therefore, both of my sisters also gave up children for adoption.  They never thought it was harmful or wrong because to think that would have been to judge how we ended up with the parents that we were born to.

My family’s experiences are not unique, there are many many families that have been impacted by the process of adoption.  It is important to me. I am grateful that my mom shared with me how she felt about her own adoption.  I believe I am the only person she shared those feelings with.

The main reason most adoptees don’t talk about their struggles is generally the same. When they are young, they lack the ability to identify how they should or do feel about their origins.  They are not able to articulate their feelings. As an adoptee gets older, if no one is talking about adoption, they get the sense that their feelings won’t be understood or validated.

Secrets And Adoption

I heard an interview with the author on the radio yesterday and this is a story of adoption and the secrets that often are kept to protect the adoptive mother.  Like my own self, the author is the natural daughter of the adoptee.

In 1929, a little girl was kidnapped, snatched off a beach in England. Five anguished days of searching ensue, and then she turns up in a neighboring village perfectly fine, wearing a red dress instead of the blue one she’d had on when she disappeared. She was only 3. She had no memory of it. And she didn’t even learn of it until she was well into middle age.

Her parents knew exactly who kidnapped her, and they knew why. And they never told. When she was 13, she was on a little country bus – little green country bus going through her very, very flat landscape from school to home one afternoon – short journey. Front of the bus is a woman in black. This woman comes down the aisle of the bus towards her and says, your grandmother wants to see you. And my mother didn’t have a grandmother, so she immediately knew something terrible was wrong. Everybody on the bus except her knew who the grandmother was. And the woman in black had in her hand when she said these words a tiny, little sepia Brownie camera image of my mother.

She goes home to her mother, and her mother says nothing and summons the father. And eventually, there’s a scene and – the mother and father sitting opposite my mother. And they just tell her that they took her in as if a kind of kindness – that she was a sort of waif or a stray and, you know, it was a charitable act. So she immediately began to feel that nobody wanted her.

My book is a campaign against collective silence.  And why ?  I think that they were protecting one particular person – my mother’s adopted mother.  Had they not all been so kind to her and protected her, she might have felt shame.  I think that it damaged my mom in ways she can’t even see. You know, there were traits that she has – she’s incredibly socially anxious. I know why.