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“I feel like I’m walking on eggshells all the time” is the most common complaint I’ve heard over the years after an adoption reunion. Everything feels tenuous, and we are afraid of being real with each other for fear of losing the other again.

As long as the relationship is going well, we are happy. Naturally, we want to be happy – but then we may find ourselves doing whatever it takes to keep the happiness going and not lose the relationship, the thought of which can be terrifying. We can’t go back to the old hell we finally left. But the more we look to the developing relationship to fill our emptiness, the more we risk pushing the other away.

In reality, we are actually tiptoeing around ourselves, either consciously or unconsciously, hoping that by keeping everything nice we won’t have to face the pain of how unreal to ourselves we’ve become. Reunion shatters our world. The false reality/false self we’ve constructed in order to survive and feel safe begins to unravel. Thus, reunion and the process of creating relationships after reunion is as much about the search for oneself as it is about finding the other.

No one can fix what is only ours to fix. Without reclaiming our lost selves, we can never have a real relationship with anyone else, including ourselves. Inherent in adoption is loss of identity, not just for adoptees but also for the birth parents and adoptive parents as well.

When we birth parents left our children behind to an unknown fate, we were asked to pretend we were not mothers, not fathers, had never brought life into this world. Some of us tried to slip back into the lives we had before, fit back into an old dream after being initiated into a new level of being. Whoever we became afterward, we all abandoned a huge part of who we had become, thus forever and dramatically changing the way we related to others and eroding our sense of self. How can anyone fully relate to another, be completely intimate, when a very real part of one’s self had been hidden from others and disowned? And, after years of this, how can we expect to be real with our children when we meet them again?

For adoptees, the process of reclaiming lost parts of the self is much more complicated. Without the mirroring of the family of origin as an anchor in this world, the only choice is to adapt to the needs of others, or rebel against those needs. Rarely has the need for validation for the child’s inner knowing or need to know his/her origins been acknowledged. For most, survival has always meant being who someone needed them to be and so this pattern can naturally continue when a reunion occurs, when it feels like everyone is pulling and tugging on the adoptee to fulfill their own needs – the adoptive parents’ for continued reassurance about loyalty, the birth parents’ desire to make up for lost years and their need for forgiveness and understanding. Adoptees need to be free to discover themselves, instead of being held prisoner by the insecurities of those who love them.

Adoptive parents, too, lost a part of themselves, or they would be able to wholeheartedly allow their child the basic human right and need to know their origins. Too many allowed themselves to believe that they were enough for their children, that by adopting a child they wouldn’t need to feel the pain of their infertility and the fear that they weren’t good enough to be parents, that somehow they were flawed. Very few adoptive parents risk feeling such painful feelings and so try to control their child’s allegiance, not realizing how much they would gain by becoming honest and real with themselves.

Especially in the beginning, as we get to know each other, we can feel like so much is being healed because of the euphoria, but really nothing is being healed. Eventually, at some point after reunion, at least one party pulls away. Panic sets in, desperation is felt when we can no longer get from the relationship what we must give ourselves. But, once we begin to delve into our own wounds, compassion and patience develop and we automatically allow our children or our birth family the time they need to heal, too. This pulling away is a natural and essential part of our journey together. If we don’t get stuck in old feelings of betrayal, rejection and abandonment and instead allow ourselves to deal with the original source of those feelings, we will eventually have the relationships we want. And, if those we love still can’t be there for us, at least we will finally be in a real relationship with ourselves.

The only obstacle to healing is victimhood (as much as we are entitled to that label). Remaining a victim prevents us from embarking wholeheartedly on a heroic healing journey – one that has the potential to help us know ourselves at levels far deeper than we ever could have, had we not had such challenges.

Furthermore, we have not even to risk the adventure alone,

For the heroes of all time have gone before us.

The labyrinth is thoroughly known.

We have only to follow the thread of the hero path,

And where we had thought to find an abomination,

We shall find a god.

And where we had thought to slay another,

We shall slay ourselves.

Where we had thought to travel outward,

We shall come to the center of our own existence.

And where we had thought to be alone,

We will be with all the world.

Joseph Campbell

NOTE: If this resonates, my book Searching …. the sequel to The Other Mother, is all about how we find ourselves again.


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