It’s not your job to fix it.
Spouses and parents and siblings and even parents of adoptees ask me often how to make things better for the adoptee that that they love and I tell them as gently as possible that it’s not their job to fix it.
Adoptees are as complex as any other group of people on the planet – made up of diverse and sometimes divisive subgroups. Our subgroups range from those who love adoption and can’t imagine it ever being different to those who hate the institution of adoption but love their families to those who ended up in horrific conditions with narcissistic and abusive adoptive parents. Some of us search for our biological families and some have no desire to search or be found.
One thing that most of us have in common? Connection issues! Call it fear of commitment, intimacy challenges or general unlike-ability, but we’re great at making it hard to love us, all the while wondering why we are so unlovable.
In the article, Adoptees and the Seven Core Issues of Adoption, Sharon Kaplan Roszia and Deborah N. Silverstein state, “Adopted persons have reported that they are aware of holding back part of themselves in relationships, always cautious and watchful. Some state that they have never truly felt close to anyone.“
My particular flavor of this was a long history of picking partners that were not a great fit for me. They were nice enough men and good people in general, but they were not partners that ultimately were a good match for the long haul.
I’ve been married three times and divorced twice in 22 years. When I decided to release the judgment about my inability to stay married I found an opening to dig into my habits when picking partners. I had my first crush in first grade and my first boy-friend in 8th grade. Since then I’ve been single a total of maybe a year total. You see, I craved connection all while creating situations where true intimacy would not survive.
Not surprisingly my inner work on my broken marriages led me to my fear of being discarded! I had mastered the art of picking someone that wasn’t a fit, so that I could leave them before they left me! This was the perfect set-up for me – that way, when my relationships floundered I had “proof” that love couldn’t be counted on and that ultimately I’d have to fend for myself.
We all repeat our earliest traumas throughout our lives until we heal them. This just happened to be my trauma that needed healing and no amount of love or good intentions by my friends, family or partners could stop the cycle. The cycle could only be stopped by me.
When I met the beautiful human who has since become my third and final husband I had already begun the deep work of stopping the repetitive poor partner cycle. We had long talks on our first few dates about our fears and I shared, for the first time, my extreme fear of trusting someone else with what was most important to me. In those conversations I let him know how I was likely to act out and shut down and gave him tools and information about the best ways to keep me present. He shared similar things about his own situation and it was magical.
Until the first big fight.
Up to that point, I had two M.O.s when it came to fighting – one was to belittle and talk down to the person – seething and angry and the other was to beg for forgiveness, trying to make myself small so that the other person could be right. Both would end with me giving the silent treatment and replaying how I’d been wronged by this other person. As you might imagine, neither way really worked.
This time I caught myself playing my roles and did my best to stop and regroup. Instead of looking to him as the cause of my pain in that moment I eventually figured out that I had no control over anything but my response.
As I write it out here I’m obviously giving you the condensed version and it sounds like unicorns were dancing in rainbows of ice-cream. Let me tell you that there were 7 years of trial and error before we decided to get married and it’s still a work in progress.
However, as time goes on, I feel less worried about being vulnerable and stronger not only in my trust in my relationship but in my trust in myself because I had to do the work to get here.
At the end of the day, you can love your Adoptee unconditionally, but they’ll need to do the inner work to recognize and receive that love.