I feel I came out of the womb believing that the tiniest infraction could cause me to be abandoned, left to fend for myself.
With all due respect to the vulnerability movement that’s all the rage these days, being vulnerable was my kryptonite. My sense was that if I let my guard down for one tiny second and shared how I really felt or told you what I really thought about something, you’d be on the next bus to Peoria, leaving me out in the cold holding the remains of our charred relationship.
To this day it’s hard for me to stand up and take a stand – not because I don’t feel deeply and strongly, but because I have the sense that my opinions and beliefs can isolate me. I built a persona that said I didn’t care what other people thought. I seemed like a tough cookie who could take care of herself. However, I long for connection. I’ve never cared what a stranger thinks of me and my beliefs, but I care deeply what friends and family think. Therefore, I’ve learned to squash my voice to keep the peace. By the way, no one (other than my birth mother) has ever abandoned me. To give my birth mother credit, I don’t think she had much of a choice and I don’t think she wanted to leave me. Besides, no one had ever done a study of the effect of being adopted on a child’s psyche, I’m sure she believed in her heart she was doing the right thing by me.
This ability to talk circles around people while never revealing what I really think and feel, obviously makes navigating relationships a bit of a challenge. I think of the ways I’ve pushed and tested the people closest to me, willing them to read my mind and know what I most desired, all the while refusing to open the Pandora’s box filled with my truth.
It’s not easy loving someone like that. It’s frustrating and I imagine you feel like you’re constantly being set up to fail the relationship test in some way. I get it.
Admittedly, therapy, coaching, and a personal spiritual practice have helped me learn the art of vulnerability. I don’t think I’ll ever be great at it though. It feels, well, too vulnerable for me.
My fear of speaking up, my need to placate and peace-make, and my desire to quash any quarrels before they begin are part of this hard-wiring. Whenever my husband and I disagree I feel my entire body clench up and I immediately want to shut down. We don’t quarrel much and when we do it’s usually something stupid (like why won’t he just take the directions I give him for a new route home??!!!) Still, those moments of disagreement set off an alarm in me and I immediately want to flee. I’ve spent years reminding myself to never be in a position to be left again – so instead of writing it off as a simple difference of opinion, I have an inner dialogue that tells me I need to pack my bags and find a way to fend for myself.
I know this is drastic and I’ve made enough progress that I no longer state, “Well, maybe I should just leave,” after any heated discussion.
My parents comment on the fact that I’ve always been sensitive to anyone having a disagreement. As a small child, I’d try to get in the middle when friends or family were discussing politics. I’d do everything in my power to change the subject, resorting to singing, soliloquies, and comic routines if I couldn’t shut down the conversation.
Does every adoptee have this tendency? Do others who lost one or both of their parents to death or divorce at a young age do this? I have no idea, but I’d like to know if I was born this way, or it’s something I learned as an adopted newborn.