Why Adopted Kids Reject Their Mom’s Love

I Can't Stand My Adoptive Mom

Your child wants you to know is that if she doesn’t grieve the adoption loss, her ability to receive love or attach emotionally to you and others in meaningful relationships may be seriously hindered. 

Dr. Daniel N. Stern, professor of psychiatry at Cornell University, says in his book, The Interpersonal World of the Infant, that there are certain developmental tasks every child, adopted or not, must accomplish in order to grow into a healthy adult.  Stern says the first developmental stage (0-3 months) is homeostasis, which occurs when the baby is relaxed, alert and interested in the world.  Stage two ( 0-7 months) involves attachment. It is here that the baby becomes interested in the caregiver and is especially responsive to smiles and touch, responding with pleasure and interest.  In stage four (9-18 months), the baby shows a wide range of socially meaningful behaviors and is able to go from interaction to separation. 

If the child does not complete a task on a certain level, his adaptation is impaired when trying to complete tasks on a higher level. For example, if an infant never learns to relax in stage one, he will likely have difficulty progressing to the next stage (developing attachments). 

  Thinking back to my own beginnings, I believe I was stuck in the first stage (relaxing and responding), for even on the first day of my adoption I was exhibiting distinct symptoms of grief.  I remember my parents telling me when I was a child, “When we got you, you wouldn’t eat, so the doctor gave you medicine to stretch your stomach.” I believe that my refusal to eat was a grief reaction for the mother I lost at birth. I had given up hope that I would ever be close to her again.

It is interesting that animals as well as humans demonstrate this grief-like behavior.  Konrad Lorenz, in Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy, described this in the separation of a grelag goose from its mate:

The first response to the disappearance of the partner consists in the anxious attempt to find him again. The goose moves about restlessly by day and night, flying great distances and visiting places where the partner might be found, uttering all the time the penetrating trisyllabic long-distance call… The searching expeditions are extended farther and farther and quite often the searcher itself gets lost, or succumbs to an accident… All the objective observable characteristics of the goose’s behavior on losing its mate are roughly identical with human grief. 

Attachment specialist, Dr.Connie Dawson, in a message to The American Adoption Congress, illustrated the grief reactions of newborns when she told of a woman who was a missionary in Southeast Asia shortly after the Korean police action. The missionary and her husband went back to New Zealand during this time for their first child to be born in order to be near families at the birth. At that time, there was so much crowding in the New Zealand hospital that an appointment needed to be secured for the due date so that the room could be guaranteed. 

The missionary went two weeks over her due date, so when she went into labor, the only place for her to deliver was a small hospital usually only for unwed mothers. About half of the babies there were going to be put up for adoption. The missionary told Connie, “My room was down the hall from the nursery and I shall never forget their cries.” 

When Connie asked for a description of those cries, the woman said, “Well, the cries of the little ones who were leaving were cries that broke my heart.” 

When asked what the difference was between the group being put up for adoption and the one going home with mother, the missionary said, “All I can think of is ‘p’ words: pleading, plaintive, like they had already given up.”

Such is the reality of grief after loss, and such is often the reality of adoption grief after relinquishment.

Mary Watkins and Susan Fisher, adoptive  mothers and adoption professionals, describe a toddler acting out her grief in Talking with Young Children About Adoption. “For several days in a row child entertains her day-care peers at nap time with her adoption story, saying ‘when I was a baby I took a long, long, long plane ride all the way from El Salvador, and Mom and Jenny and Mimi came to get me at the airport.’ The children ask, ‘Did you eat things on the plane?’ Child replies, ‘Chicken and rice, and I threw my bottle down the aisle.”

Older adoptees may manifest grief in other ways.  Marcy Axness, adoptee and adoption educator, says in What Is Written On the Heart: “I think of how, as a young person and to a lesser degree into adulthood, I was continuously losing or forgetting things, or, even more bizarre, throwing away my perfectly useful items just because I felt no immediate need for them. As a young teen, I also began to shoplift. I realize now that this was how I acted out my behavioral memories of feeling lost, forgotten, thrown away, stolen and stolen from.”

Some adoptees, unaware of adoption loss, repress the pain through achieving. Such was the case with former NFL football player Tim Green. In his excellent autobiography, A Man and His Mother, Green reveals the horrific dreams that plagued him from childhood into adulthood. He says, “I had no idea then that the uncertain circumstances of my birth and my driving need to avoid any recurrence of that painful rejection refueled these nightmares. I only hoped that they might magically go away.” It was a only as he faced the pain of unresolved loss that the nightmares subsided.

I include these examples not to frighten you, but to help you become aware of your child’s need from day one. I will keep reemphasizing both the loss and the practical ways of dealing with it in succeeding chapters so that you can balance it with wisdom, compassion, and understanding.

So, in light of this knowledge about adoptee grief, I imagine you saying, “What can adoptive parents  do? How can we help our infant mourn the loss at this particular stage and receive our love? How can we assist our toddler, school-aged child, or adolescent?”

We will talk more about that in the next chapter, but first let’s get a clear understanding of what grief really is. 

• sorrow

• lament

• ache

• sadness

• anguish

• despair

• yearn

I can’t bear the thought that my child has already experienced all of this, you may be thinking. It makes me feel so helpless as a parent. Let me assure you that you are not alone. Almost every adoptive parent I have talked to expresses the same sentiment when learning about the pain associated with adoption. 

Perhaps you are wondering, Is all this mourning stuff really necessary? Yes, it is, for one must enter into freedom through pain. The only way out is through. Once adoption loss is acknowledged, the prison gates of grief will swing open to a new world. How awesome it will be to see your child reframe his losses and discover that adoption was the very thing that taught him some of life’s most precious lessons.

Instead of depression and sadness, there will be joy.  Instead of wandering and aimlessness, there will be life with a purpose. Instead of feeling second class, he will know he is loved and accepted just as he is.

Grieving Brings Healing

Grieving is necessary, for grieving is a natural response to loss. It is the heart’s way of trying to heal itself. It is to the soul as a fever is to the body.

Psychiatrist George Engels, in an article for Psychosomatic Medicine, says that the loss of a loved one is psychologically traumatic to the same extent as being severely wounded or burned is physiologically traumatic. He argues that grief represents a departure from the state of health, and just as healing is needed in the physiological realm in order to bring the body back into balance, so a period is needed to bring the mourner back into a state of equilibrium. 

Because adoption is a lifelong journey and because sensory memories of the original loss will be triggered throughout life by subsequent losses, the adoptee will need to learn to be comfortable with her own feelings during various seasons of life. In times of sadness, she must let the tears flow. In times of abandonment/rejection/betrayal, she must verbalize her anger and grief. She must not hold back.

Dr. Arthur Janov, in The New Primal Scream, says that the need to express feelings is just as physiological as hunger.  If the pain is too much, the adoptee will go numb and feel nothing. Repression will take over.

If you can help your child grieve the original loss from day one, her ability to grieve future losses will be greatly enhanced. What a gift you can give her! In the next chapter, I will share practical ideas on how to help her grieve the losses. But first, let’s make sure we have a proper understanding of the process of mourning.

 The Process of Mourning

In researching this book, I could not find any information about grieving adoption loss. There are books that deal with special kinds of grief, like Sudden Infant Death (SIDS), miscarriage, abortion, stillbirth, and suicide, but nothing specifically about adoption. I believe adoption is a special kind of loss and that grief is a natural and necessary response. 

Grieving is a process and psychologists differ in their explanations, theories, and terms describing it. Renowned author Elisabeth Kübler-Ross described the mourning process in stages — denial, anger, bargaining, and acceptance. Others, like John Bowlby, a leading researcher and teacher in the field of personality development, defines it in phases. Although both of these approaches may be satisfactory for most forms of loss, there is another approach that seems to me better suited to adoption loss. 

J. William Worden,  professor of psychology at the Harvard Medical School, teaches the concept of tasks in regard to the grieving process. His approach implies that mourning can be influenced by intervention from the outside and that there is something the mourner can do.  In contrast, traditional theories of mourning imply a certain passivity on the mourner’s part.

Therapists Holly Van Gulden and Lisa M. Bartels-Rabb, in Real Parents Real Children, say that distancing is one form of passivity younger children display in response to unresolved grief.  “Distancing behaviors include poor personal appearance–clothes and hygiene–a child may ruin brand new clothes or just manage to stay perpetually dirty. He is subconsciously hoping that school bus drivers and teachers will think the adoptive family is poor or neglecting him.” 

One male adoptee illustrated his passivity when he said, “I have always believed that I don’t have a right to ask for things other people do. It makes me nervous to be the least bit assertive about even the smallest details of life, and whenever my wife is, I am completely embarrassed.”

A mid-life female adoptee said, “The orphaned child within me is comfortable being alone and unattached.”

Let me add at this point that not all adoptees have attachment problems. According to attachment and bonding specialist, Gregory C. Keck, Ph.D., in an article for Jewel Among Jewels Adoption News: “Attachment disorders and adoption don’t necessarily have a relationship. Most adoptees do not have attachment disorders. Many people who have attachment disorders, however, are adoptees. People often talk about adoption as if it’s a diagnosis, as opposed to a condition or status. That concerns me. Probably all of us have had attachment and separation issues in our lives.”

Dr. Worden’s task-oriented approach seems tailor-made for grieving adoption loss, for it engages parents in early conversations with the child which in turn facilitate mourning. It moves parents closer to the baby’s or child’s reality and minimizes the adoptee’s inclination toward passivity (tendency to give up).

Assuming that Worden’s approach to mourning is a good model for many adoptees, let’s take a closer look at the method.

The Four Tasks of Grieving

The first task Worden describes is acceptance of the reality of the loss,  part of which is to believe that a reunion with that person is impossible. In applying this task in the adoption arena, the first thing we must do is define the word “reunion.” Actually, there are three dimensions to the word reunion when it comes to adoption.  

The first would happen if the adoptee could return to the prenatal state. The second reunion would occur if the adoptee could return to the unadopted state, where the only parents are the biological parents. Both these reunions are impossible for the adopted child to accomplish. The adoptee will never know the birth mother in the intimate way she did inutero, nor will she know her biological parents as her only parents. 

What is interesting to note, however, is that there is another dimension to the word reunion for the adoptee. Lying dormant beneath that seemingly lost relationship is the flickering hope of a post-adoption reunion sometime in the future. Thus, the adoptee’s task is to accept the reality of the first two reunions while looking forward to the reunion that might be. It is a confusing task to say the least.

Confusing, but not impossible to achieve. Many adoptees have risen to the challenge and have learned to embrace the future while letting go of the past.

The best way young adoptees can accept the reality of the first two losses is through parental validation. Dr. Wendy McCord, a psychotherapist and past president of the Los Angeles chapter of the Association or Pre-and Perinatal Psychology and Health (APPAH), said in an interview with Marcy Wineman Axness, “All adopted babies, I think you can pretty much say, are in shock, which is the most severe level of trauma. They need to be held a lot, they need to be given true empathy, and what they do needs to be interpreted in terms of their loss. Parents who are in denial of this add another trauma to what the baby’s already suffered.” 

Dr. McCord went on to say that these facts about loss and grief need to be verbalized. “I’m not the mom you expected, I don’t smell like her, I don’t sound like her. I’m a different mom, and I love you and I’m not going to leave you.”

As the child grows older and considers a post-adoption reunion with the birth parents, perhaps the best adoptive parents can do to help facilitate proper passage through this first task is to openly and warmly acknowledge the birth parents’ existence and assure her that someday a reunion might be a possibility. Of course, this would not be necessary in an open adoption.  There would already be on-going contact with the birth family.

Task two is to work through the pain of grief. If it is not worked through, it may manifest in other symptoms like acting out, setting fires, cruelty to animals, eating disorders, aggression, depression, suicide, and criminal behaviors, to name a few. Nancy Verrier, author of the ground-breaking book, The Primal Wound, says, “According to 1985 statistics used by Parenting Resources of Santa Ana, California, although adoptees comprised 2-3 percent of the population of the country, they represented 30-40 percent of individuals found in residential treatment centers, juvenile hall, and special schools. 

Think for a moment again about pre-adoption loss. To the adoptee, his psychological life is split in two: before adoption and after adoption. In between is a deep chasm (of which he may or may not be conscious)–a place of helplessness, rejection, and loss of control. It is important for adoptive parents to remember that this is the very place where attachment with you as a parent will occur. As you go with your child to that place, an attachment will form in the midst of the loss and grief. Going with your child to this place will require courage as well as doing your own emotional work. We can’t take others where we haven’t first been ourselves; their pain will frighten us away.

Task number three of mourning requires adjustment to a new environment, and for the adoptee, new environments are often a challenge. Keep in mind the original adjustment the adoptee had to make to her adoptive home. All that was familiar was lost. Her emotional reality was the opposite of what was happening around her.

This vulnerability to change in environment also occurs with older kids who have been relinquished. The emotional issues, even though similar in nature to those of an infant, are compounded by the trauma of leaving what was familiar. 

Seven-year-old Amanda had to be removed from her home because of her mother’s debilitating mental illness. “Terror was what I felt…absolute terror and fear of the unknown. I feared that no one could be trusted.” On the ride to the new home, she grasped for the familiar–anything that would be a tie to her past and help her feel more relaxed. In her new home, she acted out her emotions by being very possessive of her toys and clothing. “No one will replace a member of my family,” was her predominant memory.

Watkins and Fisher, in Talking with Young Children About Adoption, describe a three-year-old child who had similar problems. They say, “Indian child is hesitant to enter church where a party of Indian adoptees and their parents is being held. After a forty-five-minute wait outside with her father, she asks him if a white woman in a sari is her mother. When he assures her that she is not, the child confides that she is confused about the differences between her mother, her tummy-mother from Indian, her godmother, also from India and expected at the party and her grandmother.”

Adult adoptees in support groups confirm that it is often difficult for them to enter new groups or take on new endeavors. One male adoptee who was out of work confessed, “Every time I went for a job interview, I felt like I was being looked at as a potential for adoption all over again.”

Task number four requires that the mourner relocate the lost person and move on with life. Put in adoption terms, relocating the lost person means allowing oneself to think about the birth family but then choosing to withdraw emotional energy from them and reinvest it in other relationships. In other words, the adoptee is no longer obsessed with the birth family; his thoughts about them wax and wane.

A literal relocation of the lost person may be impossible, aside from an open adoption or a reunion later in life. If the adoption is closed or semi-closed, this step will necessitate the adoptive parents giving new information about the birth mother or birth family to the adoptee at various stages of development. If they don’t have any information, such as is the case in many international adoptions, this too must be grieved as another loss.

One mother said, “When my daughter came to her thirteenth birthday, the whole adoption thing hit her like a ton of bricks. She wept and said, ‘If I could only know her name (the birth mother’s).'”

The mother, not knowing the birth mother’s name, wisely asked, “What would you like her name to be?”

When the girl selected a name, the mother said, “Then that’s what she’ll be.” That was enough to comfort the adoptee as well as help her relocate the lost mother within her consciousness.  Prior to that time, the girl may not have  considered it permissible to think about her birth mother. 

Other ways that an adoptee might emotionally locate the birth mother would be to begin asking questions about her,  locate where she went to high school and find a yearbook photo, or visit the hospital where the adoptee was born. Oftentimes a simple connection is all that is needed. 

This concludes the four tasks of grief the adoptee must navigate in order for attachment to occur. Now let’s talk about why adoptees sometimes fail to mourn.

Aborted Mourning

Attachment experts say that during the first two years of life, there is a cycle that happens thousands and thousands of times. First there is a need. The unmet need is then expressed in rage or anger, and the expectation is that the child will be satisfied. If satisfaction occurs, trust grows. Gratification includes food, touch, eye contact, movement, or any kind of stimulation by another. 

When the cycle is interrupted with something like adoption, some children learn not to trust others to meet their needs. Instead they trust only themselves. Others, on the other hand, are resilient and relax into attachment without problems. The birth mother’s self-care during pregnancy is a large determining factor here.

Marcy Wineman Axness, in her excellent booklet, What Is Written on the Heart: Primal Issues in Adoption, says, “To a fetus, its mother’s emotional state is the state of the universe. Chronic anxiety in a stressed mother communicates to the developing organism that it is going to be born into a dangerous environment, and its nervous system development adapts accordingly.”

How can parents know if the child has failed to grieve and is unable to attach? Dr. Greg Keck says, “Symptoms of lack of attachment will be evident early–sometimes in infancy with eating and feeding problems, babies arching their backs and being stiff, not wanting to be touched and lack of eye contact. Some of the most difficult kids have been those who were picked up at the hospital and had no contact with the birth mother. They cried all the way home from the hospital, and I’m sure that crying developed into rage, the rage developed into terrible behavior, and by the time they’re 15 and come to us, parents are saying ‘yes’, this started at the hospital and has never ended.”

The Attachment Center at Evergreen, Inc., summarizes specific symptoms of attachment difficulties:

Age Birth to One

• Failure to respond with recognition to face of primary caretaker in first six months

• Infrequent vocalizations–babbling, crying

• Resistant to physical contact or appears stressed by it–rigid and unyielding

• Excessive fussiness and irritability

• Passive or withdrawn

• Poor muscle tone–flaccid

Age One to Five

• Excessively clingy and whiny

• Persistent, frequent tantrums, sometimes escalating beyond the child’s control

• High threshold of discomfort–seemingly oblivious to temperature discomfort; picks sores and scabs until bloody without manifesting pain

• Unable to occupy self in a positive way without involving others

• Resistant to being held

• Demands affection in a controlling way on the child’s terms

• Intolerant of separation from primary caretakers except on child’s terms

• Indiscriminate display of affection, sometimes to strangers

• Problems of speech development

• Problems of motor coordination–considered accident prone

• Hyperactivity evident

• Feeding problems

• By five, may be manipulative, devious, destructive, hurtful to pets, frequently dishonest

Age Five to Fourteen

• Superficially engaging and “charming,” uses “cuteness” to get others to do what he or she wants

• Lack of eye contact on parental terms: difficulty making eye contact with others while talking with them

• Indiscriminate affection with strangers: goes up to strangers and becomes overly affectionate with them or asks to go home with them

• Not affectionate on parent’s terms (not cuddly): refuses affection and pushes parents away unless child is in control of how and when affection is received

• Destructive to self, others, and material things; accident prone: seems to enjoy hurting others and deliberately breaks or ruins things

• Cruelty to animals: may include incessant teasing, physical assault, torture, or ritualistic killing

• Stealing: steals from household, parents, and siblings, and in ways that almost guarantees getting caught

• Lying about the obvious: lies for no apparent reason when it would have been just as easy to tell the truth

• No impulse control (frequently acts hyperactive): extremely defiant and angry; needs to be in control of events in his or her life; tends to boss others; responds with prolonged arguing when asked to do something

• Learning lags: often underachieves in school

• Lack of cause and effect thinking: surprised when others are upset by his or her actions

• Hoarding or gorging food: has other unusual eating habits (eats paper, glue, paints, flour, garbage, etc.)

• Poor peer relationships: difficulty in making or keeping friends more than a week; bossy in his play with others

• Preoccupation with fire or gore: fascinated with or preoccupied by fire, blood, or morbid activities

• Persistent questions and chatter: asks repeated nonsensical questions or chatters non-stop

• Inappropriately demanding and clingy: tries to get attention by demanding things instead of asking for them; affectionate only when wanting something

• Abnormal speech patterns along with other more serious symptoms

• Sexual acting out: may act sexually provocative with peers or adults; masturbates in public

Why Adoptees Don’t Mourn

Often with any kind of  loss, but adoption loss especially, there is a subtle interplay between society and the mourner, where society gives the message, “You don’t need to grieve.” Such was the case with little Jessica DeBoer. 

The July 19, 1993 cover of Time pictured a bewildered Jessica, held between her adoptive parents, with the caption, “Whose Little Girl Is This?” Less than a year later, the March 21, 1994 issue featured a smiling Jessica with the caption, “She’s Not Baby Jessica Anymore.” All vestiges of her past had been removed…even her name. 

I, along with many adoptee friends, were enraged.  Society denied an innocent child the freedom to grieve.

Another reason the adoptee doesn’t mourn is that she feels no need to mourn. Adoption is just a fact about her life and nothing more. If you were to ask her if she would like to join a support group for adoptees, she would ask “why?” Because every human being responds and adapts to loss differently, some adoptees truly may not need to mourn. For the majority, however, healthy grieving will enable them to be more whole and more intimate with others.

The third reason adoptees don’t grieve and learn to connect is that parents are uneducated about adoption and the child’s unspoken needs. It will be impossible for you to know the core issues your child is trying to express to you and then to validate them unless you educate yourself well about the repercussions of adoption loss. There are many books on the market, but the essentials I suggest are listed in the appendix at the back of this book.

Now that we’ve looked at the nitty-gritty facts about grief, let’s get on to the blessings that follow on the heels of mourning.

The Blessings that Follow Mourning

Bereavement specialist and Founder of Connections: Spiritual Links, Reverend Richard Gilbert gives a clear picture of the blessings your child can experience once he has grieved his adoption losses successfully. Gilbert writes, 

I’m adopted! This is part of my story, my “claim to fame,” and it is only through the hard work and life struggle of mourning that it is something I can now claim with fame. Someone didn’t want me. That became my story, my scar, my struggle. When I learned of my adoption, compounded by dynamics in my family life and other struggles, I “heard” only that someone didn’t want me, that I was rejected somewhere, and that, somehow I am now different. All of this albeit based on questionable facts, became the energy force that kept me, and often controlled me (at least until recently), on this lifetime course of anger, debate, searching, and the stubborn determination to prove “they,” whoever were the natural parents, were wrong to give me up. Through faith, searching, a wonderful wife and family, supportive friends, my  own bereavement work and writing, therapy and determination to be “free,” I have recognized my right and need to affirm my goodness within myself. It became less (though it never entirely goes away) of, “someone didn’t want me,” to a whole lot of “look who I am and what my life has been.” So what does this mean? It means that I have learned to see adoption not as a mark or scar, but as a gift. It is a gift because I am a gift. 

Grief is the process that many adoptees must pass through in order for healing and freedom to occur. But be aware that growing over the wound of grief is a thick layer of anger. Watch out…you may become the target of it!

COPYRIGHT, 1999, Random House Publishing. Chapter 5 of TWENTY THINGS ADOPTED KIDS WISH THEIR ADOPTIVE PARENTS KNEW.

Who Can Identify The Five Faces of Adoptee Anger?

This Adopted Young Woman Believes Her Anger Results From A Character Defect

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.

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What Creates Hope for Discouraged Adoptive and Foster Parents

What Can Adoptive Parents Do When All Seems Lost?

There’s a three-fold secret I discovered during the search for my first mother that may bring hope to discouraged adoptive and foster parents.

Parents, I know the Marine-like challenge you’ve undertaken to parent a child through adoption. Sometimes, you’re on the verge of complete exhaustion or panicked about what is happening in your child’s life.

I was once like your child. Frankly, I don’t remember being conscious of anything with RAD. It was like I was unconscious. Numbed out. Just flinging here and there.

Without one doubt, my parents experienced the gamut of emotions in raising me. As a RAD kid, I rarely showed love, except when I scratched that very message into their fine furniture when they were playing golf one day. Would you believe they kept that dressing table until their dying days? I assure you that my parents did everything humanly possible to demonstrate love to me, but that was the last thing I wanted.

I’m not sure if I’ve told you lately that besides being an adopted person, I’m an adoptive grandmother, and what interesting dynamics that’s created for my grand and me. I’ve seen the lives of my late parents lived out in our adult kids who are parenting.

Let’s set the stage for what might be a hope-filled message for you in this post.

While searching for my first mother, I turned over every rock, searched every phone book (back in the day!), and read every old newspaper looking for clues.

One day, I decided to contact Dr. Miles Filllinger,  the doctor who delivered me but his office was but a memory and his files, a mystery.

It was during this phase of my search that I received the greatest of reveals, which I’ll share with you now. Keep in mind that I’m just one person and I’m not speaking for others, especially adoptees. We are each unique, like fresh-fallen snowflakes.

God Works In the Unseen

The big reveal is what Dr. Fillinger’s granddaughter said, “My grandfather was an orphan himself and cried at the birth of every baby he delivered.”

How shocking. How breathtaking. How unexpected. How miraculous. There they were. Fresh. Filled with my first-ever vitamins. Freely delicious.

No one knew about the doctor’s tears. Oh, his granddaughter knew that tears were her grandfather’s normal reaction to delivering babies, but she had no idea about the significance of his tears over me…and my first mother, nor of her words to me. Mom and dad never knew, there was no written record of them, nor no photo taken. No one knew, even the nurse attending my birth.

My late first mother had no idea of the doctor’s tears over me. But, as she gave that final push that landed me on planet earth, perhaps she saw the tears also. I hope so. They were for both of us.

I wondered about the significance of Dr. Fillinger’s tears. Were they saturated with hope? Were they bright lights at the end of a tunnel, or seeds to be harvested later in life?

Research shows that we cry for both happiness and sadness. With Dr. Fillinger’s tears, could they a blend? Heart-wrenching orphan grief with ecstatic joy for life.

I like what Washington Irving says about tears:

‘There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.” (Brainyquotes.com)

I believe the tears were proof to this unplanned, unwanted newborn that my life was planned and wanted–by God. I believe they were also proof to my first mother that I’d be alright.

God Works in the Human Details

On top of all this, to be welcomed into the world by an orphan doctor renders me speechless. This is because the basic need for adoptees and foster kids is a sense of connection. If I had any sense of connection with my first mom before birth, it was certainly severed when they wheeled her off and took me to an incubator for ten days.

Then, at birth, to have my first human connection be with a fellow-adoptee/orphan was beyond beyond.

How I wish mom and dad would have known about the tears, but they did know that Dr. Fillinger came to visit me every week until I was five years old.

For years, I’ve wondered why. Perhaps because I was a failure to thrive baby? Perhaps that I was a failed abortion? I don’t know, but God does and that’s all I need to know.

Parents, even in the most dire of circumstances with your adopted child, trust that there’s Someone invisibly planting love in your child’s heart, ready to be harvested when conditions are right.

And, just the doctor’s tears were life-giving for me, yours can be for your child. Sometimes, that’s the only gift you can give. Just remember that they’re sacred, even if your child has no idea of the significance.

God Provides for the Orphan

As I look back on this, my seventh chapter of life, I can say without a doubt that God has cared for me in all the intricacies of life.

  • He does what is necessary to preserve the orphan’s life (Jeremiah e49:11)
  • He gladdens the orphan’s heart with the bounty of Providence (Dt. 24:19)
  • He feeds them from the sacred portion. (Deut. 24:19-21)
  • He hears even their faintest cries (Exodus 22:22-24)
  • He becomes a Father to them. (Psalm 68:5)
  • He provides what the orphan searches for: love, pity, and mercy. (Hosea 14:3)
  • He has a unique plan for the orphan in history. (Esther 2:15)

Someday, your child will know this, too.

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