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Who’s In Charge of Adoptee Self-Esteem?

jewels original logoThis is a guest post from the Jewel Among Jewels News archives. (Winter 1999). Our guest is dear friend and colleague, Ronald J. Nydam, Ph.D. He has worked specifically with adoptees during his career.

Adoptees are empowered when they learn to confront very frightening emotions–such as the fear of being rejected by the birth mother–and they find they are still alive after it.

One man, whose birthmother not only refused to meet him, but dismissed him on the telephone, expected to fall apart at any moment. She said to him, “If you want answers, see a psychiatrist; if you want a companion, get a dog.”

In the past, he would have turned to alcohol or drugs.

Now, he was amazed at his own resilience, and realized that he had been made strong by confronting the challenges of the search itself.

“For me, the healing in search is to finally relinquish relinquishment; that is, to really accept the decision of the birthparent to carry out their plan for adoption.”

If the original relinquishment is not relinquished, the adoptee is chronically hanging on to the primal connection in such a way that she is never free to be fully adult.

This means grieving deeply for some; but beyond grieving, it allows for the reformation and re-ordering of the self of the adoptee. The searching adult must except whatever he finds when reunion is possible.

Accepting reality, no matter what it is, is the healing piece.

If the search activity yields no reunion, the partial reunion that occurs is accepting this painful reality– specifically the part of your self that was rejected long ago.

In this sense, the rejected adoptee must deal with what all adoptees face–– someone saying “No”– only, in the case of rejection, it is the open full-blown message staring the adoptee in the face.

Doing (not just dealing with) rejection means the active process of first-hand experience with a rejection via birth parents (or a birth child) in which the adoptee faces and manages and accepts the closed door as a reality that can be lived with.

So, all news is good news, even if it is if it is bad news because it is real news… and real news makes people real.

Doing rejection successfully means opening the door to a full life as an adult who can do do self-acceptance and intimacy in spite of a birthparent’s negative opinion.

Our self-esteem can never be something that someone else is in charge of.

Our self-esteem belongs to us.








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Why Does My Adopted or Foster Child Hate Me?

Dear moms through adoption,

I just received another note from a discouraged mom. “My daughter hates me. Will I always be second best? Will she always reject me?”

Perhaps you are feeling the same?

My heart goes out to you moms.

How I wish I could talk to my own mom again and tell her that I didn’t know what I was doing. I lashed out at her uncontrollably almost a daily basis, yet she took it and kept loving me.

With my anger, I thought something was wrong with me because no one else that I knew had as much anger as I. Why was that?

The anger comes from a deep sense of abandonment by our birth moms. Even in the most wonderful of circumstances, even though the parents had a fancy ceremony, even if the parents were there while the birth mom gave birth, we still feel abandoned.


In addition, there is a deep loyalty to her, even if there was trauma in the womb or after birth. I know of one case where a mom fried her toddler in hot oil. When the child was hospitalized, for some crazy reason, they allowed the mother to visit. And, guess what the first thing was that the child did? She lifted her arms in glee and called “mama.”

Yes, our love for our birth moms (and dads) is cellular. Of course, our birth mom’s womb was our first home. But, she kicked us out. That’s how it feels.


Your child’s anger doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with you or that your child doesn’t want to love you. We do want to love you but we just can’t get past the flood of emotions. They’re like an avalanche, pounding down on us.

This whole subject makes me think of Jesus on the Cross when he said,”Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

That would describe us,  moms. We don’t want to throw the avalanche on you, but we can’t help ourselves.

In my heart of hearts, I believe that we know that you are there for us, and because you are, you get the brunt of our anger.


Of course, you must know that our anger is at our birth moms. We are angry as hell that she disappeared from our lives. If you try to point this out to your adopted child, he or she will deny any anger at birth mom. Why? We fantasize about her. Perhaps she is a queen living in a palace? We envision her as everything.


The only advice I can give is  to help your child learn to regulate her emotions. How do you do this? Here’s my understanding of it and as I explain, realize I am still an angry adoptee in recovery:

  • TELL THE TRUTH. “You are very very angry.”
  • VALIDATE THE EMOTION:  “I know that’s what you need right now. It’s okay to be so angry. You have been through a lot in your life.”
  • SEPARATE THE PAST FROM THE PRESENT: I don’t believe in blaming adoption for the intense anger. If it were me, I would just refer to hard things that your child has gone through. “You may be remembering something from long ago that really hurt and you’re feeling those strong feelings right now. “I wasn’t able to be with you then, but I am with you now and want to be with you as you work through these feelings. I am here for you and always will be.”

Moms, you need support of those who are in the trenches like you. May I refer you to one of my favorite resources for parents? Confessions of An Adoptive Parent. Check it out. You’ll realize you’re in good company, even though you’re going through difficult times.

Last of all parents, I want to assure you that there is always hope. Adoptee anger is not a terminal disease.We can learn to work through the issues and grow because of them.

Hang in there, moms.





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Call Me An Adoptee Druggie, But I’m Not

mark for Vetta pse janeYou can call me a druggie, but I’m not. I’m just dealing with the specifics of trauma which I was dealt.

In this post I’m going to be very transparent and trust you not to judge.

Why couldn’t I just go to sleep?

That has been my life’s mantra.

As a kid, I lay in bed starring at the  plaster swirls on the ceiling. Maybe a break, sitting on the floor beside dad would help? Maybe a few minutes of TV would calm my hyper vigilant body and mind? Maybe a yawn would come? Maybe if I talk to God and ask Him to bless mommy and daddy and Dinny Dinwit (my cat)…I would doze off?

Wishful thinking.

In high school, sleep didn’t come until 3 or 4pm. Then, I dragged through school…still can remember walking the dungy lenolum steps with much difficulty.

Even though I was popular in school, I had hyper anxiety in relationships. Guess they call it “social anxiety.” When I was asked out to dinner at a fancy restaurant with the parents of a close friend, I had trouble eating. Why did I feel that way? My stomach was tied up in knots continually.

All my adoptee issues magnified in dating and friendships. No self worth, anger at my mom, feelings of not belonging anywhere.

Anxiety doesn’t enhance anything.

Anxiety Can Morph into Depression

The anxiety escalated over the years. In fact it lead to a major depression in which I had to be hospitalized for 10 days. There was no control over it… anti-psychotic drugs, with the hope that I would regain reality.

Another patient who was a burned-out social worker wept when he saw me going through the breakfast line the next morning after admittance. Previously, I was curled up in a fetal position on a sofa. I wanted to die.

After hospitalization, counseling was recommended. (By the way…adoption was never mentioned in all the crazy advice I got there.) It was during the counseling experience that I began wrapping words around the feelings that were giving me so much anxiety. As you may know, those thoughts turned into my 20 Things Adopted Kids Wish book.

Anxiety Can Be Physical

Okay so here’s the honest part. About 25 years ago, my doctor prescribed Clonopin.

Yes, it is a narcotic drug….and no…I’m not addicted. Just a baby dose. But, it has changed my life. The horrible anxiety in relationships and and trying to go to sleep was suddenly gone.

For the first time in my life, I felt normal. I felt like the man in who Jesus healed of blindness. I was blind but now I could see.

In my heart of hearts, I believe my anxiety is post-trauma of losing my birth family and then being placed in another home of nurturing strangers. It’s like a huge highway through my brain.

That’s it.

We each have to find our right path.

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Before You Were Born

Before you were born,

God was there bringing you to life

and saying “YES”

to who you were and all you could be.

He put his arms around you even

before you knew your mother’s touch.

He has cared for you as no one ever could.

He has been your CLOSEST FRIEND and constant companion–

listening to your cry, enjoying hour laughter,

and encouraging you to follow Him.

He has never shut you out or made you feel ashamed.

He has comforted you and carried your burdens.

He has GIVEN YOU GRACE that has been new every morning.

He has been your GOD and FRIEND,

And as your Father, He has promised to be with you

all your life with all His love.

–by Roy Lessin (printed with permission, Best to You Catalog)


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When You Need Me…an open letter to adoptive parents

Why Adopted Children Get Overswhelmed

This post is by guest blogger–Connie Dawson, Ph.D., LPC. Connie is an adopted person and is my hero in the field of adoption. She is the author of HOW MUCH IS ENOUGH? Raising Likable, Responsible Children–from Toddlers to Teens–In an Age of Overindulgence, and SHAME–Rewriting the Rules. This post is from an article in Jewel Among Jewels Adoption Network News, published from 1994-2000.

In the natural order of things, parents are supposed to take good enough care of their own needs so they can be fully available to pay good attention to what a child needs.

When you expect me to meet your needs because you are not willing to meet your own, I may decide to “handle” the painful reality that my needs are not as important as yours, I had best deny mine and pay attention to yours. Deny what I need in order to deserve to be cared for by you.

After all, when I come to you, I am already very afraid. To be taken from one’s mother, from familiar sounds, smells, and rhythms, is terrorizing. This is the most abject fear..,.and I am totally helpless to do anything about it. What will happen to me? Surely, I am going to die. This cannot be right.

Imagine if a stranger were to come to your house when you were two years old. The stranger picks you up and carries you away. No protest you can make will make them take you back. What are your feelings?

And, what can I decide about myself and about you, my new parents, whoever you are? In my determination to survive, I make a primitive decision.

When you need me
to make you whole
to give meaning to your life
to heal your pain…
I feel overwhelmed.

If I have a temperament which favors tranquility and security, I may decide to work as hard as I can to meet your needs. In doing so, I will withhold enough of myself from you to feel safe because I don’t trust you. I will look good but not believe I am good. I am your servant. I do not believe I deserve to succeed or be competent for myself. I don’t believe in my own ability to be competent because the competence that you reward is my competence to meet your needs. At that I can never succeed. Not truly succeed. I can’t do for you what you are not willing to do for yourself.

If my temperament rests on asserting my right to challenge my caregivers for seeing me and my world through their need, I might be so openly resent my actions in every way possible would say, “Go and get your own life. This one is mine.” I will unconsciously try my best to make sure you fail as a parent. Perhaps, in the hope that the world will notice that you are expecting too much of me.

I might also, at some time, feel so bereft of any hope that you will ever acknowledge me for who I am and not just for what I can do for you, I may “go passive” and withdraw from active involvement in my life, and in yours.

What is the best thing you can do for me? It’s challenging. Take care of your own unfinished business. Do your grieving. Get help to heal your wounds so they don’t become mine.

Learn what you need and get those needs met in ways that don’t hurt anyone.

Identify the helpful and unhelpful parenting YOU received and get help to change the unhelpful stuff so you don’t pass it on.

Be truthful with yourself and with others. Don’t lie about my birth family so you don’t have to face . up to your responsibilities. Don’t be sneaky and manipulative. Find your character and your integrity and use both to make decisions and take actions you will be proud of.

Perhaps most important of all, be a safe container for me. I have a primitive belief that if my birthmother sent me away, I must have been too much for her to handle. If you are frail or depressed or tentative, if I can push you around or if I think you don’t have a good sense of yourself, I won’t be able to trust you. I will still think I am too much to handle and I’ll have to shut myself down to match you or strike out recklessly in all directions.

And, when I am an adult, one of the ways you can deepen our relationship is to support my need to search out my genetic heritage. To do so is to send a powerful message to me that my needs are important and that you love me.

When you do these things, I am more inclined to trust and love you. If you need me too much, I will hold back, to my regret and yours.