The Special Needs of Adopted Children

What Are The Special Needs of Adopted Kids?

Adopted children have special needs that adoptive, first, and foster parents must learn  in order to become their child’s #1 cheerleader.

Use this list as needed and as age-appropriate for discussing special needs with your child. You might say, “An adopted person wrote a list of her special needs. Would you be interested in seeing it? I’m curious if you identify with any of the needs that are mentioned.”

Remember, with young children, keep it simple-rephrase into kid speak, and stick with the words: SAD, MAD, GLAD ANGRY.

Scripture verses are included for those who want them.


  • I need help in recognizing my adoption loss and grieving it. (Ecclesiastes 1:18)
  • I need to be assured that my birth parents’ decision not to parent me had nothing to do with anything defective in me. (Proverbs 34:5)
  • I need help in learning to deal with my fears of rejection–to learn that absence doesn’t mean abandonment, nor a closed door that I have done something wrong. (Genesis 50:20)
  • I need permission to express all my adoption feelings and fantasies. (Psalm 62.8)


  • I need to be taught that adoption is both wonderful and painful, presenting lifelong challenges for everyone involved. (Ezekiel 17:10a, Romans 11:24)
  • I need to know my adoption story first, then my birth story and birth family. (Isaiah 43:26)
  • I need to be taught healthy ways for getting my special needs met. (Philippians 4:12)
  • I need to be prepared for hurtful things others may say about adoption and about me as an adoptee. (John 1:11)


  • I need validation of my dual-heritage (biological and adoptive). (Psalm 139:16b)
  • I need to be assured often that I am welcome and worthy. (Isaiah 43:4, Zephaniah 3:17)
  • I need to be reminded often by my adoptive parents that they delight in my biological differences and appreciate my birth family’s unique contribution to our family through me. (Proverbs 23:10)


  • I need parents who are skillful at meeting their own emotional needs so that I can grow up with healthy role models and be free to focus on my development, rather than taking care of them. (II Corinthians 12:15)
  • I need parents who are willing to put aside preconceived notions about adoption and be educated about the realities of adoption and the special needs adoptive families face. (Proverbs 23:12, Proverbs 3: 13-14, Proverbs 3:5-6)
  • I need my adoptive and birth parents to have a non-competitive attitude. Without this, I will struggle with loyalty issues. (Psalm 127:3)


  • I need friendships with other adoptees. (Ecclesiastes 4:12)
  • I need to taught that there is a time to consider searching for my birth family, and a time to give up searching. (Ecclesiastes 3:4)
  • I need to be reminded that if I am rejected by my birth family, the rejection is symptomatic of their dysfunction, not mine. (John 1:11)


  • I need to be taught that my life narrative began before I was born and that my life is not a mistake. (Jeremiah 1:5a, Ephesians 1:11)
  • I need to be taught in this broken, hurting world, loving families are formed through adoption as well as birth. (Psalm 68:6)
  • I need to be taught that I have intrinsic, immutable value as a human being.
  • I need to be taught that any two people can make love but only God can create life. He created my life and I’m not a mistake.  (John 1:3)

Your greatest challenge as a parent is to first identify the special need that has arisen and then to help your child verbalize it. This gives him some sense of mastery and control over something that feels out of his control. Helping your child heal is largely centered on honest, productive dialogue between you and your child.

Once you as a parent gain such a depth of understanding of your child’s special needs, you will be able to give him the support he needs not only now but throughout all of life. His special needs, in turn, will become deep wells of personal strength and empathy within him as he grows older.

Friends, be sure and add your email address at the right hand corner. Blogs are only once a week…you will not be inundated with unwanted mail. I’d love to stay connected with you.

This list may be reproduced, only when credit is given to the author and the book: Copyright, 1999, Sherrie Eldridge, Random House Publishers-TWENTY THINGS ADOPTED KIDS WISH THEIR ADOPTIVE PARENTS KNEW.

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What Happens When Adoptive Parents Reflect On the Miracle of Adoption

Singing A Song of Celebration During Painful and Pleasurable Times of Adoptive Parenting

Without a doubt, you know that an absolute miracle transpired in your heart when you adopted your child. Trying to describe it would be impossible, for it is like a million emotions exploding simultaneously—like fireworks! Debbie describes it well: If I had to pick just one moment of absolute, unadulterated joy it would be the moment I saw her photo pop up on my computer screen.  I kept saying, ‘That’s her, that’s my daughter, my daughter, my daughter!’ And somehow, in all the crazy excitement of the moment, I felt my heart fold itself around her half a world away.

This miracle needs to be reflected upon and celebrated often, especially when times get rough.

It is my belief that becoming a parent through adoption parallels becoming a parent biologically, except for the fact that are some more wondrous parts for parents through adoption, as well as some more painful aspects. Let’s talk about the pleasurable part first!

Conceived Again in Your Hearts

Think about the fact that every person on the face of this earth is conceived physically and the parental awareness of that conception might be pleasure or displeasure.

However, the adopted child is conceived again in your hearts, at a specific time and a specific place. Twice conceived! What a wonderful assurance for both parent and child. The first time the thought entered your mind about adopting a child, that likely was adoption conception. You may be understandably thinking that those thoughts enter the minds of many. Surely, but they wash away, like sandcastles in the tide. For adoption parents, the thoughts return, not in an obsessive and upsetting manner, but as consistent heart impressions. You know you want to parent a child. Your motivation is not to fulfill your need to become a parent, but to fulfill the needs of a child who needs good parents.

This brings us to a sensitive point about adoption conception, but one which must be addressed concerning sincere people of faith. Barb Testa Butz, M.S.W. and leader of “Moms through Adoption” at Willow Creek Church in Shaumburg, Illinois says, “I find that churches often have a confused view of Adoption ministry, somehow viewing the act of adoption as a ‘ministry’ vs. born out of the desire to become a parent. I think the Scripture verse about caring for  widows and orphans gets misapplied oftentimes, and ‘rescuing’ orphans through adoption becomes viewed as a ministry. If we are to
care for widows and orphans, is the church called to start a ministry to
marry-off those widowed? Of course not! Neither are we ‘called’ biblically
to adopt orphans — it is personal heartfelt choice. Rather, we are called to serve those who are widowed and orphaned, whether financially,
spiritually, relationally, or emotionally. Adoption is a wonderful
option for those who desire to parent another child. Too often, I hear folks
view it as a ‘ministry,’ as though we are ‘rescuing’ kids in need. I am not
in the ‘savior’ role for any child, just a parenting role here on earth. The Bible does not call us to adopt, but to love and to serve — and we can serve countless more orphans through committed financial support to
trustworthy organizations than by adopting only one or two.” ( )

Unlike the various parental reactions to the news of physical conception, adoption conception is always a joyous occasion, even though a couple may not arrive at that conclusion at the same time, which may cause stress. There may be a “dragger” and a “draggee!” Perhaps one person experiences adoption conception and it takes a while for the spouse to become convinced. This was the situation with Laurel and her husband. “I had a dream and in the dream was picture of children—two Chinese girls and a boy. Laurel and her husband had already adopted two little girls from China. Thus, when Laura woke up, she wondered, “Who is the boy?” Her mind began reasoning that it’s nearly impossible to adopt boys from China. Then a friend  who knew nothing about her dream, said, “So, are you planning to adopt again? Yesterday, I heard about a boy from China who is available for adoption. Let me give you the web site.” Laura went to the site, read the information and printed his photo, but no lightning bolt of insight hit her, even though she began praying for him. After two months, she was convinced about adoption, but her husband wasn’t. Then, the adoption agency called to say that the boy was now unavailable and the paperwork was returned to China, which made adoption almost impossible.  Months later, her husband told Laura that he thought they should adopt the boy. In an incredible turn of events, that night the head of another adoption agency called to say they’d been doing research and Michael had just been added to their list for available adoptees. Before long, the little boy from China that Laura first dreamed of, was a member of their family. ( )

For Melissa, it happened when she learned that an acquaintance, still a child herself, was expecting a child facing the hardest decision of her life. Melissa wept for the birth mother and the unborn baby she was carrying. At that moment, the thought of adoption entered Melissa’s heart and seven months later, that baby was placed in her arms by a loving birth family.

Placed Miraculously in Your Arms

Prior to that adoption day, a child has neither a home nor parents who are prepared to parent. Sleeping in a long crib with other babies, she may never leave the nursery. On adoption day, the orphanage worker hands her to the parents, wrapped in a tattered bedspread that the orphanage worker must keep. Without a stitch to her name, her parents reach out as the bedspread unfolds that small body and the hand-off takes place At last, they can touch her soft pink skin and hold her close. Their dream has come true. The child that was conceived in their hearts is now in their arms. After the long train and plane rides home, she settles into her own crib in her own room, surrounded by the loving gifts of friends awaiting her homecoming. To look at her months later, she’s sitting on a soft carpet, dressed in a dainty pink and white lace dress, circled by admirers. What a beautiful picture of adoption—a child who had nothing is embraced by parents who have given her a name, an identity, a forever home, unconditional love, a nurturing family, and security.

Cari and Phil Alt from Indianapolis said after bringing their daughter home from the Ukraine, “Bringing her home and realizing this is OUR baby and she is here to stay is joy unspeakable! She is not from my womb but I feel she was and is ours! I walk into her nursery and feel overwhelmed, knowing a few weeks ago she was somewhere way around the world, and now she is here.”

Rebecca’s family from New Jersey adopted a twelve-year-old child. “The first day we met was incredible – it was as though she had been waiting for me, as though she knew me when she saw me, as though she could understand the words I spoke to her, as I knelt before her.  When I asked her if she wanted to come home with me, be a family with me, love each other, she didn’t waver in her gaze but stretched her little arms out to me, asking to be picked up.  In my embrace, she wrapped her arms around me, grabbed handfuls of my hair, searched my face again, and cuddled into my neck.”

Kristen and her husband from Nevada adopted a newborn domestically. “I felt every emotion, from A to Z, the moment we got the call that our precious daughter was born. The first time I held her and our tears mixed, I knew she was mine. The memory of watching my husband holding her and looking so happy still brings tears of joy.”

Connected Forever to Your Soul

There are so many parents I have interviewed that have expressed the belief that “this was meant to be.” They know, without a doubt, that this child was meant from all eternity to become a member of their family. Adam Pertman, father through adoption and CEO of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute says, There’s always the feeling in my soul that this was meant to be.

As an adopted person, I will never forget the realization as a young adult that my biological parents and my mom and dad had been handpicked for me. In my mind, to this day, there were no coincidences and no mistakes. 

There is a wonderful plan behind it all that I can’t see, like looking at a beautiful tapestry from the underside. Someday I will see it in all its splendor. I love the sovereignty of it all.

By the way, parents, this is a point you want to emphasize with your children—that this was meant to be. No mistakes! We adoptees secretly believe that our lives are a mistake because of the circumstances surrounding our conception or relinquishment. Others feel like “aliens” who were just dropped into their mom and dad’s home. Your child will wholeheartedly be able to celebrate adoption with you when he knows “it was meant to be.”

Lest we get carried away with euphoria and verge on the precipice of romanticism, let’s remember that not all adoption days are filled with joy. Some are downright painful and parents must remember that this is no reflection on them. “The first night our baby came to us,” Julie sobbed, “I dreamed she pulled a silk scarf over her face. I woke startled, but she was asleep in the bassinet beside our bed. I didn’t fall in love with our baby at first sight. She cried and cried, and I couldn’t comfort her. For the first 100 hours we were together, she cried or slept—exhausted.

Elizabeth D. Branch describes their experience on the first day with their their-and one-half year old daughter: “How do you love an adopted child? Will you love her as much as your biological children?” With a resounding yes, of course…However, you never asked yourself if she would love you. This is my story. This is where my bubble popped, and our difficult journey began. The next morning, our first morning together with our daughter, my husband walked into the living room where I was playing with her. She took one look at him, then hung her head down and started to cry—not just sniffling, but deep, terrified shrieks of fear. We were confused, thinking it was a one-time thing. Unfortunately, this behavior continued for the rest of our trip.”( )

Some adopted children are extremely needy when you receive them and no matter how hard you have worked at being ready to connect on a meaningful level, your child may not be ready to connect with you…yet.

Adoption authority Gail Steinberg says in an article from OURS Magazine:

Newborns and parents don’t always fall in love at first sight. Thankfully you have a lifetime to work on it. There’s no race. What matters is your commitment to attach no matter how long it takes. ( )

Also, let me add here that in the best case scenario adoption day, it is STILL stressful, even though a wonderful thing is occurring. We will talk more about that later, but first let me share a story that reminds me of you and your relationship to your children. Perhaps it is one you can share with your children someday!

Once a man named David was traveling with his university’s drama club. On one particular stop, a yachting club sponsored their play and after the performance, gave a dance at their clubhouse on the waters of a lovely lake. A member of the club was appointed as a host for David. When the orchestra at the yacht club took a break, David’s host took him out to the veranda, saying that he wanted to show him something. David followed him through the clubhouse door that opened on to an unlit balcony over the lake. Bright lights from the yacht club’s ballroom streamed through the doorway and the moon was making soft hues on the rippling waters below. David couldn’t figure out why this man had invited him out to the balcony, but within seconds, the man thrust his hand into his pocket, pulled out something, and held it in the light from the doorway for David to see. Looking David straight in the eyes, he asked if he had ever seen anything like what he held in his hand.

On his open palm lay about ten little pale stones. As David gazed at the stones, each one was shooting fire-ruby lights, emerald lights, amethyst—they were indescribable. It was as if tiny living rainbows had been captured and put into pale translucent prisons, from which they were sending forth rays of fire. David was amazed and couldn’t stop looking at them. When he asked his host what they were, he was told that they were Mexican opals. The man said that he liked them so much that he carried them loose in his pocket because he liked to put his hand down and feel them, even if there is not time to take them out and admire them. The man then added that he carried them everywhere he went.

Like the man at the yacht club, you consider your child a jewel that you carry everywhere you go, not necessarily in your arms or in a baby trecker, but in your hearts…deep in your hearts, no matter what their age, no matter what their successes or failures.

When our first grandchildren were born, identical twin boys, I put my index finger near them in their bassinets and said, “Welcome to the world, Austin and Blake! You are so precious to me. You don’t have to do anything to make me love you. I adore you just because of who you are.” Suddenly, a tiny hand grasped my index finger. I have given the same message to each of our six grandchildren and I carry them as my jewels in my heart, wherever I go.

This is where inspiration and vision for your child’s future begins, and the place you must return to often, especially when discouraged, for it will build faith and hope.


When you get some free moments, pull out your child’s baby book, or life book, make yourself a cup of coffee or tea, curl up in an easy chair and allow your mind to remember the wonders of your child’s adoption. Even if it was a painful experience at first, reflect upon how you grew strong through it and how you and your child came through it successfully.


Establish a “reflection ritual” with your family. Explain to them how important it is to remember the miracles of adoption and talk about it with one another often.

  • Set the time for your conversation with your family about “reflection night.”
  • As a family, determine the date of the first reflection night and brainstorm on something special each person might bring to the evening: bake cookies, find a poem about adoption, share your first memory, find a contemporary song about adoption, etc.

Now that we’ve assessed your stress level, determined ways to get started on taking better care of yourself, and begun remembering the absolute wonders and miracle of adoption, let’s prod a little to make sure there are no hidden defenses in your hearts so that are totally open for renewing your passion and purpose.

We have just talked about that blissful, amazing honeymoon stage of adoption. Savor it while it lasts, but realize that it’s only a fraction of the big picture, kind of like a slivered almond.

I’d like to challenge you in the next chapter to be open to hearing the voices of parents who were receptive to hearing about adoption realities, those who resisted, as well as those who didn’t have information available. Perhaps you can identify yourself in the mix?.


Recognizing that the wonders of adoption involve pain as well as pleasure, the best thing for you and ultimately your children, is to first of all, recall the joys thus far of adoption parenting. Currently, it is popular to make a life book for your child, recounting his/her story in order to celebrate and remember often. What about a lifebook celebrating your life as a parent, not necessarily for the edification of your child, but of you.


Reflect back on the thought “we were meant to be” and write a song that you can sing to your child from day one.

(Excerpt from 20 Things Adoptive Parents Need to Succeed book: Copyright, Sherrie Eldridge).

Why Adoptees and Foster Kids Must Guard Their Hearts

Why Can't Adoptees and Foster Kids Trust Others?

Because we adoptees and foster kids once swam in the rip tides of f trauma(s), we either share our hearts with everyone or shut our deep feelings off from those who love us most.

Drs. David Brodzinsky and Marshall Schechter say that the foundation for feeling safe depends on our ability to trust. “Trust allows an infant to feel he can depend on his own behavior as well as that of his caregivers. Without trust, he may grow up doubting his own self-worth, and doubting the motives of everyone he meets.”1

T.R.U.S.T. The commodity we long for but few of us possess. Reflecting on Brodzinsky and Schechter’s comments about the need for trust both in self and caregivers, do you think it possible that one half of the equation—learning to trust others —could be missing from our personal trust equations? Do you suppose it’s possible that when we were separated from our first family, no matter our age, that we couldn’t trust anyone but ourselves?

Emily tests everyone in her life all the time, to prove to herself whether or not they can be trusted. The tests are never fair and she doesn’t tell people they are being tested. When they fail, she is secretly glad because it proves her theory that no one can really care for her.

We get stuck!

Erik Erikson, a German-born American psychoanalyst, was abandoned by his father before birth. Interestingly enough, some say he was almost obsessed with his theory of development (is it any wonder?), which postulates eight stages of development each characterized by a crisis that needs to be resolved. Here’s how it works:

At the point of crisis the child is faced with a choice between coping in an adaptive or maladaptive way. Only as each crisis is resolved, which involves an evolution in personality, does the person have the strength to deal with the next stage of development. If a person does not resolve the conflict, he or she will confront and struggle with it later in life.2  In other words, if we don’t get it the first time around, we must go back and learn it.

Some of us already possess trust or may have revisited and resolved the conflict, but others may still have to face it someday. Crystal says she has always had a nagging suspicion that everyone in the world has something in them that makes them able to understand each other, to know what is really going on in relationships, and to give and receive love. “I have imagined that I don’t have these abilities because I am adopted and missed the developmental stage where most people get blessed with these gifts.”

If we never came through this crisis of trust as infants, do you think that means we will remain infants emotionally for the rest of our lives? Do we have to stay stuck?

Absolutely not!

Trust can be learned. If we haven’t learned it from our initial caregiver (our first mother or adoptive parents), we can learn it from others who have successfully passed through that stage of development and moved on toward maturity.

Trust Can Be Learned

Authors and professors of psychiatry Malcolm L. West and Adrienne E. Sheldon-Keller say, “The securely attached adult can acknowledge felt distress in a modulated way and turn to supportive and trusted relationships for comfort. Particularly during periods of emotional upset, comfort often needs to be expressed in concrete attachment behaviors that reassure the individual. Put simply, felt security at these times has a lot to do with having someone available who will respond to our feelings and even take supportive action. The special warmth that often accompanies attachment comes just from these tangible reassurances that one is understood.”3

Now let’s translate this into adoptee terms and see how trust can be developed.


Connie Dawson has a rewarding trust relationship. She says, “I don’t share deep feelings with anyone unless I deem them to be a no-risk confidante. I can talk with other adoptees about adoption issues, but only to a point.  If I want to go to a newly discovered place in myself that is related to adoption, I test out whether the other person can go there too. I am fortunate to have a fellow-traveler adoptee for a close friend. I’ve told him, with tears in my eyes, that I can tell him things I haven’t told anyone else—because he is willing to plumb his depths too. In my experience, this is a very rare experience. We have an intimate relationship of a precious kind.”


The term “transference” is a clinical term and refers to the unconscious transfer of experience from one interpersonal context to another. In transference, we relive past relationships in current situations. They are repeated over and over, and this can be especially true when we are in counseling. For example, we might unconsciously view our therapist as our father or mother and act accordingly. If we had a poor relationship with our fathers or mothers, we can work through those negative feelings with the right therapist who has good boundaries and thus establish trust.

The late Dirck Brown, Ed.D., founder and first executive director for Post Adoption Center for Education and Research (PACER), board member of the International Soundex Reunion Registry, former president of the American Adoption Congress, and author of Clinical Practice in Adoption says, “I spent about four years in analysis and let me tell you, transference is a wonderful experience —I’ve seldom felt closer to anyone in my life than my analyst, John.”


I have learned trust through my friend and colleague.  We met at a women’s support group and the moment I saw her, I knew I would love her. 

She and I live very different lifestyles, but we love each other just as we are. We are no longer in the group but our friendship has continued for more than twenty years. Just yesterday we were talking about the mystery and joy of our relationship, and Vicky observed, “You know, trust is a delicate gift we far too often give when it’s not deserved. When we do this, we inevitably get burned, and this restarts the cycle of not being able to trust. Our friendship is unique but not at all surprising. God has taken each of us along very different paths but he has brought us to the same place: his safe presence. I think trust is recognition of the familiar — knowing that we are truly a part of One.”


I also feel safe with the beautiful senior women who have mentored me over the years. At each stage of life and with every move, there has been someone older and wiser than me to help me find the right path.

Rosemary Jensen, Founder of Raffiki, took me under her wing when I was a new teaching leader in her organization. Even though we don’t see each other anymore, the relationship has continued through correspondence. I will never forget one time right after my birth mother rejected me. Rosemary knew nothing about it, yet in the mail one day I got a note from her that said, “I’ve been thinking about you. What is going on in your life? How is your writing going?”


Bob and I are members of a small group that meets weekly for study and friendship. In the beginning, we all had our best foot forward, but as one person got real, then another, people were freed up to be themselves and share without fear of judgment. It’s a guilt-free zone for each person and they have become like family to us.

Risk but Beware of Toxic People

It’s reality that not all people are trustworthy and we need to always keep that in mind, especially when we are needy. Trust is not something we ought to dole out like ice cream on a hot summer day to anyone who comes along. Yet because many of us have emotional vulnerabilities and such a deep need for connection, we sometimes throw all caution to the wind and launch into relationships that tear down instead of build up.

Author Lillian Glass, Ph.D., describes the results of a relationship with such a person. She says, “A toxic person is someone who seeks to destroy you.  A toxic person:

  • Robs you of your self-esteem and dignity and poisons the essence of who you are.
  • Wears down your resistance and thus can make you mentally or physically ill.
  •  Not life-supporting. They see only the negative in you.
  • Jealous and envious–ot happy to see you succeed. In fact,they get hostile whenever you do well.
  • Sabotages your efforts to lead a happy and productive life.”4

After we’ve been burned a few times by toxic relationships, we long for the wisdom and courage to listen to the signals of our bodies and souls. However, more times than we care to remember, we don’t recognize or heed the warning signs and find ourselves in relationships with emotionally unhealthy people, in undesirable circumstances, or in commitments for which we have neither the time nor the energy.

Remember that Trust Must Be Earned

Some of us also become enmeshed in toxic situations and relationships when we share too much too soon. We don’t put out the necessary “feelers” or “testers” to see how the other person will react to private information. We dive in the deep end of the pool when we haven’t taken beginning swimming lessons.

Richard Curtis describes such an experience. He says, “About a year after my reunion with my siblings in Cleveland I was visiting my two half-sisters. While waiting for dinner to be prepared I had an opportunity to spend some time with the middle sister with whom I hadn’t had much communication. She asked several questions about my growing-up years as well as my adult life.

“Feeling more comfortable with her, I proceeded to reveal personal stories about my experiences in my adoptive home, my broken relationships with spouses, recovery from addictions, and strained relationships with my own children.

“She became silent, explaining that my behavior was much like her ex-husband’s, with whom she has a volatile relationship”

“Oh-oh, Richard, I said to myself. Too much sharing!”

“Since that conversation I’ve sensed a coolness, a backing away, a judgmental, rejecting attitude toward me. I continue to correspond only with my other sister who has accepted me unconditionally.”

Richard’s painful experiences underscore the truth that trust must be earned.

Three Characteristics of Safe People

Wouldn’t it be great if every safe, trustworthy person wore a sign on his or her back that said so? That might qualify as an adoptee fantasy of the highest order! However, there are certain characteristics that define safe people, and once we learn them we’re much more likely to make wise decisions regarding with whom we share our deepest selves.


I don’t know about you, but I can’t stand to be in any kind of conversation or relationship in which one person dominates. It absolutely drives me nuts! After the conversation is over, I feel like I’ve been bound, gagged, and shoved in a corner.

These are the kind of people I befriended before I learned about trust. I was a co-dependent, thinking I could rescue them and help them by not sharing my thoughts, but just listening.

That’s far from the kind of relationship we’re looking for. There has to be a natural give and take, kind of like playing a graceful game of tennis. One shares and then the other responds in a continual, flowing manner.

A key to this kind of relationship is what David Augsburger calls “equal hearing.”  I love this..(I love this)…


I will claim

my right

to be

equally heard.

If I yield

my right to speak,

if I do not claim my time for sharing,

if I do not express what I want in equality,

I am squandering

my privilege of


I will respect

your right

to be

equally heard.

You are you.

I want

to hear you.

If I usurp

your right to speak,

if I use up

your time for conversing,

if I do not listen

for what you want in


I am stifling

your privilege of personhood.5

If we’ve located someone who’s not a dominator, but equally as interested in us as he is in himself, we can look for the second characteristic, which is a nonjudgmental attitude.


Don’t you hate having someone point his or her long, bony finger at you and tell you what you should or shouldn’t be doing? 

I love the saying: “If you can spot it, you got it.”

It has helped me immensely to learn about the psychological dynamic of projection. My layman’s understanding of it is that if someone says something judgmental about me, they’re really saying that is how they feel about themselves. Try that next time someone throws a judgmental thought at you. It diffuses your reaction so that you can respond responsibly and not emotionally.

It is my belief that we are all of equal worth and are on a horizontal playing field. One of the most effective ways I can spot people who judge are those who give unsolicited advice or counsel. Yes, they may be well-intentioned and even knowledgeable. However, unsolicited counsel is nothing more than a glorified put-down.

Augsburger created a diagram about relationships that I have made myself accountable to for years, and it has literally changed my life. It has helped me sidestep judgers as well as keep my own attitudes and behavior on track. Notice as you review the diagram that “talking with” is the correct way of relating to others.

Talking down







Equal Mutual

give and Talking with hearing and

take being heard






Talking up 6

Once we’ve weeded out judgmental, self-appointed counselors from our lives, we can put out feelers by observing the reactions of others to our words and feelings. Safe people desire to build up, to reassure us that they care enough about us to invest something of themselves in our lives through words and actions.


Here are some attitudes and actions of people who build up:

  • They accept us as we are—they don’t try to “fix” us.
  • They recognize our potential.
  • They believe in us and tell us so.
  • They encourage us to “aim high.”

As we apply what we’ve learned in this chapter to our lives, we will gradually gain the ability to identity safe people and then develop relationships with them.


To begin searching for safe people, put out feelers, and take a risk.

We must guard our hearts through discernment and simultaneously learn the art of gradual self-disclosure. We need to find a healthy balance between the two, and that will occur as we learn to trust ourselves.


  • Assess current relationships. Are they safe or toxic?
  • List whom you might feel safe with. Whom do you admire? If you are in a support group, whom do you feel drawn to?
  • Reach out. After you have identified a new person, invite him or her for coffee. It feels scary to take a risk, but go for it….guarding your heart as you go.

PS–Of course, the safest person you can ever talk to is a fellow adoptee or foster kid. We can “read” one another from a distance:-)…,AND…the last place we will ever be safe in any relationship is the internet.

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