Who Can Identify The Five Faces of Adoptee Anger?

Envision a multi-dimensional circular, multi-colored feelings chart, including every emotion humans could ever experience. Such a chart reminds me of the diversity of reactions adoptees have about the emotion of anger in regard to being adopted. 

Some say they have no anger while others wonder if it’s a life sentence. Some say it’s not a struggle, while others secretly worry that it’s proof of a character defect. Some say it doesn’t exist, while others are overwhelmed by its presence.

Why is this? Why the disparity? Why is it that many struggle and some don’t? Why are some the lucky few? Why do some find it impossible to control?

Personally, I used to fit into the “impossible to control” category, for I’ve spewed anger over every person in my life. I’ve tried praying it away, counseling it away, exercising it away. However, nothing worked. One of my many counselors told me to just scream when I felt angry. So, the next week, when I felt angry, I screamed, and she jumped three feet.

Could the polar differences amongst adoptees be attributed to individual differences and resiliency? Could it be that anger is buried deep within the traumatized brain of some and not others? Could it be that not all adoptees feel angry about the great loss they’ve experienced and endured?

It’s important to remember as we discuss this that anger is a good emotion. It’s part of who we are. Our anger can’t be separated from the frail, cell-based, DNA-informed, providentially-placed essence of who we are. It’s a God-given emotion to alert us that something’s not right, that something needs healing. It’s like the proverbial light on the dashboard.

Separating Love from Hurt

Many adoptees, and rightly so,  love their adoptive parents and in many cases, their first parents. This is wonderful. In addition, many feel thankful that they were adopted. They can see how its all worked together for their good.

However, if we put that love and thankfulness aside, is there not hurt? Is there not hurt in the heart of the newborn, the toddler, the teen, and the adult who lost the most beloved loved one? 

I propose that we can love both sets of parents but still have hurt and residual anger. Would you be open to that proposition, fellow adoptees? I’m not asking you to not love your life. What I’m asking is that you not deny the wound of relinquishment.

However, anger still exists for many adoptees. How could it not? For these adoptees, to deny it is to deny an important part of the equation for their healing: loss=anger=resolution=healing.

Anger About Adoption and Relinquishment Are Different

Because adoptees are so loyal to their parents or their faith, they aren’t able to consider that there indeed is hurt beneath the many layers of life. And, I respect them immensely. I feel that gratitude and love now, but it has only occurred with healing.

So, I’m asking my dear fellow adoptees and those that love them to consider these faces of anger to see if you identify. Start with the most obvious manifestation of anger and then go deeper. This is what I mean: Would you believe that jealousy, selfishness, frustration, furiousness, irritation, and skeptical are all manifestations of anger? And, if you take it a step further, this is how it anger is manifested inwardly: hurt, hostile, angry, rage, hateful, and critical.

What is needed is that we can learn to recognize anger, for it has many different faces. This was surprising to me, as it may be for you, but because anger manifests in complex ways, we must learn the core emotion and how it surfaces in behavior and relationships.

The Five Faces of Anger

The following categories are the five faces of anger. The different emotions are drawn from a feelings chart, so keep that in mind. The second words are how these manifestations of anger show up in everyday life.

  1. Misplaced to Confused

Anger is a common reaction to being hurt. That anger dissipates when the issue is resolved.

However, if the cause of the hurt isn’t resolved, anger gets misplaced, usually onto someone who had nothing to do with the hurt.

For example, say a guy at work got chewed out by his boss. Since he left for home that evening with the issue unresolved, he takes it out on his wife and kids. Of course, they didn’t deserve it, but they were the only ones available to dump it on.

Misdirected anger happens when there’s a hurt but no resolution to that hurt. I can’t help but think that this is characteristic of many mother/child relationships in the arena of adoption.

Prior to adoption, the child has been hurt by losing the first mom. Even though the child loves first mom, she’s usually not available to resolve the hurt. In fact, even in the best case scenario, even if she were available, the hurt wouldn’t resolve. This is a hurt that only God can heal.

I’ve seen first parents who reunite with adult children who actually apologize for hurting them. This opens the adoptee’s heart more than anything. What is the worst possible scenario is adoptive parents, or first parents, who say that the child was placed because of love. Please note the response of many adoptees, “If that’s what love, I don’t want anything to do with it.”

Because the first parents aren’t involved in the parenting responsibilities, this is another loss for the child. “She would have done it right. If I only had her as a parent, all would be well.”

Adoptive moms long to be a haven of love for their adopted child where they can heal from pre-adoption wounds. But, instead of becoming this haven, they often become the brunt of their child’s anger, and they are the least deserving of anyone.

You know in your heads that it’s not about you, but the wounds are deep. Oftentimes, your woundedness is kept secret because your attachment-disordered child acts charming at school or your place of worship. These judgmental people know nothing about the true realities. 

My heart goes out to you, moms.  I’ve seen youir exhaustion and had the privilege of wiping away your tears. In my world view, you are the Marines of motherhood.

PS–Is it any wonder adoptees are confused about their anger?

The next face of adoptee anger is sad to depressed.

2.  Sad to Depressed

Anger is often connected to another emotion, such as sadness or fear. Sadness leads to depression, and depression is like an unwanted guest who won’t go home after three days. 

Depression can drain you of hope, paint black over every pleasant memory, and reduce you to skin and bones. I speak from personal experience.

When younger, I used to judge people who were depressed. All they needed to do was pull themselves up by the bootstraps.

How absolutely humbling it was for me at midlife to be hospitalized for clinical depression, not only once, but twice. The first time involved a major trigger for me as an adopted person–a geographical move. Everything that was familiar, everything I loved, was taken away and I found myself in a strange place. After ten days in the hospital, I was able to go home, but it was a long recovery.

The second hospitalization was what they call “partial hospitalization.” That meant that I went until mid-afternoon and then drove myself home. This, too, was the result of a major adoptee trigger for me–rejection by my first mom after what at first appeared to be a fairy-tale reunion.

There’s something from that experience that might be valuable here. 

While in the lockdown unit, I passed the rooms of patients who were on IVs. When I asked the nurse in charge what was wrong with them, she said that they were suffering from depression.

How shocking. They couldn’t eat? They could only have IVs? They were dying of depression? Isn’t depression just being sad? Isn’t it something everyone gets over? 

No, depression can take your life.

Because of that experience I am grateful that I can now walk beside others who are hospitalized for depression. God doesn’t waste anything. 

The next face of anger is rage to furious.

3. Rage to Furious

Many adoptees and foster kids are so wounded that their rage is acted out in violent ways. 

Behaviors that result from this manifestation of anger are: violent rage for no apparent reason, stabbing the family dog with needles, putting on to doctors that nothing is wrong. Not being a therapist, I can’t diagnose, but you can bet that this could be a deadly experiential combination of all forms of physical and emotional abuse, sexual abuse, attachment disorder, and FASD.

I take the side of the wounded, acting-out adoptees and foster kids. Never, will I condemn them. For them, it may feel like they’re swimming in a river of rage that’s all encompassing. I wrote this poem to describe it:

There’s a river of rage rushing through our adoptee veins, like freight trains butling along, fueling anxiety, and stoking us to hyperalert.

Even though the raging river never stops, we aren’t aware of it because we’ve secured our Bose earbuds.  We’re far from understanding or even caring that our parents say the raging river’s rip tide is sucking them under.

But, truth be known, it obliterates their trails, washes out bridges, and tosses dead logs to the bottom for them to slip on.

During times of drought, the raging river may appear dried up and others might have the courage to wade into it’s shallow waters. But, then suddenly, it splashes them in the face, blocking their view of what lies around the bend—a huge waterfall, which can only be survived by treading water.

This concludes the rage to furious description of anger. Now, let’s move on to hatred that actually manifests in being irritated.

4. Hateful to Irritated

I’ve been waiting to share this unknown truth for a long time. It has been a game-changer for me.

To begin with, hate is Biblical: “there’s a time to hate.” (Ecclesiastes 3)

The late author Lewis B. Smedes says in his awesome book, Forgive and Forget: Healing the Hurts We Don’t Deserve, “Hate is a tiger snarling in the soul. Hate is our natural response to any deep and unfair pain. Hate is our instinctive backlash against someone who wounds us wrongly…We must not confuse hate with anger. Hate is a sign we are sick and need to be healed. Anger is a sign that we are alive and well.”(20-21)

It’s like hate creeps in, undetected by the person who’s been hurt, hoping that anger will disguise him.

Many adoptees may believe that they’ve been wounded wrongly by the first mother. They deserved a mother whose breast they could suckle or whose jail sentence they could erase.

So, hate might be a quick reflex toward our first mothers, but honest to gosh, no one ever told me about this reality and how anger and hate grow side by side. Could hate grow beside anger at our first mothers, sucking away any possible love?

Another possibility is that adoptees believe they’ve been wronged by God because they were relinquished. After all, a loving God doesn’t make people hurt, right? 

All humans are hurting and the cause of it is our own brokenness. We are not hurting because God hurt us but because we hurt God.

Many adoptees and first mothers, especially those in the family preservation movement, believe that the human institution of adoption is wrong. Therefore, adoptive parents are wrong and anything that facilitates their belief is applauded. They can’t accept the belief that physical adoption is God ordained.

As an adopted person, I believe that every single day of my life was planned before any one of them ever came to be. (Psalm 139:16) So, how can I declare that human adoption isn’t from God? How can I deny the fact that He was creating me in the womb? And, that He knew me before birth? (Jeremiah 1)

He is a sovereign God, which means He will do anything and everything to bring glory to Himself and good to those who love Him.

Another source of hatred could be at adoptive moms. Adoptees may just hate you for who you are and consider you an enemy.  I considered mom my number-one enemy and did everything possible to hurt her. 

In conclusion, we must remember the old axiom–”you become like who you hate.” So, do adoptees hate God? Do they hate their adoptive moms? 

That concludes hateful to irritated and now we’ll discuss yet another form of anger and it’s manifestations.

Enough about hate. Now, on to jealousy.

5. Hurt to Jealous

The hurt for the adopted child is examined  in the last post of this blog. Please take time to read it?

Hurting can lead to jealousy–I can certainly attest to that.

It means always wanting to be like your best friend, thinking she’s pretty and you’re not, wanting to wear her clothes instead of your own. 

When I was preparing to graduate from high school, I really liked the dress that a girl named Pam wore for her senior pictures. Maybe if I put her clothes on me, I would be pretty and popular like her?

I not only borrowed the dress but got my hair cut in a pixie, like hers. Unfortunately, nothing worked. I may have tried to jump out of the pit of hurt, but I couldn’t get out. 

And so, moms, this concludes the five faces of adoptee anger. Now, it’s time to apply and to build you up. This was quite a heavy read.

What Moms Can Do

Offer an anger assessment tool to your child. You may need to take it, too, moms. This is really an act of self-care. Here are some symptoms of anger.

How many can you identify with?

    • My cup is half empty most of the time
    • Others are intimidated in my presence
    • That bottle of wine isn’t enough to numb my pain
    • I use drugs to escape my problems
    • I smoke like a smokestack
    • I  feel guilty all the time and constantly apologize
    • I’m can’t lose weight and I’ve had it with diets
    • I’m out of control and don’t know what to do
    • My anxiety, especially in social situations, cripples me
    • I have physical symptoms, but docs don’t give diagnosis
    • It’s impossible to get to sleep and stay asleep
    • It feels good to cut myself
    • I am a people pleaser
    • I am loyal to a fault
    • I’ve had several speeding tickets
    • I use inappropriate humor
    • I am sarcastic
    • Suicidal thoughts
    • Conflicts in primary relationships
    • Anorexia or bulimia
    • Chronically late to important functions
    • My temper flares easily

Share A Feelings Chart with the Family

This is a wonderful way to open up conversations when you’re together as a family. I know of one family whose kids made it the picture on their Iphone screens.

The best way to find the chart of your choice is to use Google or Safari search engines and put in the words “feelings and emotions chart.” There’s a multitude available and many are free downloads. Pinterest is also a good source.

Soak In A Bubble Bath

There’s no substitute for a great hot, relaxing bath, filled to the brim with bubbles. I’ve found an inexpensive Bubble Bath at Home Goods that I love–Pecksniff’s, ENGLAND, LUXURY  BATH SOAP. It cost only $5.99.

I also love Asquith & Somerset SCENTED SOAP. It’s wrapped in flowered paper, so lovely. Only $3.99 at Homegoods.

This concludes our discussion on the seven faces of anger. It clearly is multi-faceted and I hope you’ve identified your child’s angry face.

There’s so much more to learn about adoptee anger-it’s beauty, goodness,and majesty. We can look forward to this in the next post.

Please be sure to follow in my new FB page: What Adoptive Moms Can Do When Kids Reject Their Love

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