Posts Tagged ‘gayle swift’

The Catch 22 of Being Chosen

Monday, October 8, 2012 @ 11:10 PM
Author: admin

Would you consider it a privilege to have your legs amputated? Would you cherish your bionic replacements without yearning for your original limbs?  Would you be glad you’d been chosen for this honor? Absurd, right? No matter how wonderful your robo-legs were, part of you would wish that your body could have remained intact.

This illustrates one of the contradictions of adoption. Regardless of how love-filled and successful, adoption has its roots in loss. Although children are cherished by their adoptive family, the experience of “being given up” is a significant factor in their lives. Adoptees are not damaged goods but they are shaped by this loss.

Adoptees are frequently told they are Chosen Children (based on a 1939 concept in a book by Valentina Wasson). When they were young, my children resented the concept of the “chosen child.” It’s still a hot button for them as adults. They particularly reject the expectation that usually accompanies this euphemism: that they should be grateful they were adopted, that it was their good fortune.

I agree that the Chosen Child myth trivializes the genuine loss they experienced when they were uprooted from their birth families and grafted to our family tree. Our greatest joy — their arrival in our lives — came at a high cost to them.

The pervasive cultural attitude about adoption assumes that adoption is a perfect solution — one in which all parties win. Everyone goes off into the sunset to live “happily ever after” and never look back. The truth is more complex and far more painful. It doesn’t take long for adoptees to figure out that before they were “chosen” they were rejected. Before they were one family’s “miracle” they were another family’s “problem.” Talk about a mixed message.

The crowning insult is the unfortunate language used to explain adoption. They are taught from a very young age that loving equals relinquishment. I find myself thinking, is it any wonder many adoptees have trouble with commitment in relationships?

Yes, the intent is to reassure the child which is important. But we must explain adoption using language that isn’t so patently a Catch 22. Words are powerful. It is essential to use them with intentionality and understanding. Adoption occurs because of adult problems and the adults’ inability to handle them. Adult inefficiencies drive the decision. That should be at the forefront of any explanation. The birth mother’s love for the child becomes a secondary factor. The new equation becomes: Birth Parent inability to parent equals need for adoption plan.

Gayle Swift


Barriers to Sharing Difficult Information

Tuesday, September 11, 2012 @ 12:09 PM
Author: admin

What are the Barriers to Sharing Difficult Information?

A recent discussion with adoption professionals focused on parents who choose to withhold difficult information from adopted children. A question was posed: Is the motivation to protect the child or for the adults to avoid the task? All of us understood that many adoption stories include painful, complicated information.

Regardless of how unpleasant, horrific, or challenging the information, a child is entitled to the truth of his life story. This sharing of information requires compassion and the delivery of age-appropriate facts. All must be expressed with honesty and delivered with an attitude that the child is capable of hearing, understanding and coping with the information. The conversation must validate the child’s emotional experience without diminishing or exaggerating those emotions.

Parents must resolve their own feelings about the facts so they can come from a place of support for their child. It is important that any parental judgment or sense of overwhelm not be conveyed to the child. Be mindful and intentional about tone of voice and body posture. They convey a disconnect which children identify easily. If body language contradicts the words spoken, children will be confused and will infer that their information is shameful, their fault and insurmountable.

Parents must resist the inclination to shelter children from their difficult history. It is natural to want to shelter and protect children from harm. In this case, however, the kinder, gentler approach is to dole out the information over time in a way the child can absorb without being crushed emotionally. Parents must face this challenge head on and must be as brave as their children in facing this difficult task. Because they love their child, they are the best people for this job. They must model courage and optimism. This confidence will steady the children and will act as a rudder that will assist them in navigating the turbulent water of painful and unpleasant facts.

When parents postpone telling a child “because it would be too hard,” they need to consider how much more difficult it would be for a child to learn abruptly, later in life. This kind of discovery often stresses the trust relationship between parent and child and can have extremely damaging consequences for both. The seeds of doubt and mistrust will have been planted and a relationship fractured. Children question: What else has been hidden or withheld? A new challenge is created and the child becomes further burdened with emotional baggage. How can the trust be rebuilt? Parents can avoid this crisis by choosing to tell the truth to their children. Thus, when parents reassure their child that she can manage, she will believe their assertion. Because she knows, her parents tell the truth—always.

When preparing for a difficult conversation, consider this TASTE formula for the task:

TASTE = Truthful + Age-appropriate + Simple + Timely + Empathetic

Gayle Swift

Guest Blogger: Christina White

Tuesday, June 12, 2012 @ 01:06 AM
Author: admin

Our guest blogger is Christina White.  Christina is a survivor of a traumatic childhood in which she was subjected to persistent and pervasive abuse. She was hidden from her father and he died before she could reconnect with him. Eventually, she was raised by an uncle. Through her strong spiritual commitment, she has achieved forgiveness, healing and purpose. Christina proves that the human spirit can be immeasurably resilient.

In response to questions from GIFT coach, Gayle Swift, we are grateful to be the recipients of her honest and vulnerable sharing.  You can find more about Christina on her website.


Thank you so much for agreeing to do this. I hope that it will help you to heal as you work to reduce the suffering of children who face the same issues today. You have a wisdom that is only achieved through the fire of tough experiences.


1. As a survivor, what advice would you give to us and the parents with whom we work? What do you wish people had done to better shelter you from your circumstances?

When trying to help people who have had a horrible past I would start with telling them things like, “You are amazing for surviving” instead of saying, “I’m so sorry for you”.  Try to help them turn what happened to them into something they can use to grow from, instead of something damaging.  No one wants to be damaged.  It’s easy for someone with a dark past to fall into self pity parties, don’t support that.  For me personally, I would encourage a Christian counselor rather than a psychiatrist.  I found psychiatrists to help by numbing emotion with medications rather than helping you to move on.  Moving on is all about forgiving.  Opra said it best, ” Forgiveness does not mean you have to accept the person back into your life. It does not mean you are condoning their behavior or that you are in any way saying that it was ok. Forgiveness is giving up the hope that the past could have been any different so you don’t hold on to wishing that you had a different kind of family. You let that go, and you move forward with the Grace that God has given you from this day on. I don’t want the spirit of me to die because of what you did.”

When I was younger I believe the adults around me thought I was “just a kid” and had no idea what was going on.  I knew exactly what was going on.   Don’t under estimate what children can comprehend.  At 6 years old I understood that my mother was on drugs and slept with men for them.  I’m not sure anything could have been done differently for me.  I am who I am because of what happened.  I believe everything happened for a reason.  My favorite quote: “The Phoenix must burn to emerge”, by White Oleander.

But if you are trying to protect someone who is being abused now and you want to know how to shelter them, I would say to try to put them into an environment where they can be a kid as much as you can.  Any time you can take them out of their horrible circumstances will be an opportunity for them to learn.  They will be able to see  what a normal healthy environment is and contrast it with how they are living.  As a child, contrasts like that created a burning desire in my heart for something different.  You have to want a better life to change the cycle.

2. During your childhood, you experienced a lot of trauma. As a child, from what did you gather strength? What is the root of your resilience?

I would say the root of my resilience was my desire to survive.  I used whatever situation came my way.  I learned the “ways of the world” and was a sponge.    I don’t believe I had strength as a child… what I had was a feeling of acceptance.  Things were the way they were… so now how do I get to school?  How do I eat?  How do I keep my mother’s boyfriend from beating her to death?  I developed a way to block out things that hurt me emotionally and looked at problems in a very factual way.  I need food… so I will steal it.  A man touched me in the wrong way… I’ll just pretend it didn’t happen.

3. What role did school–and teachers–play in encouraging or assisting you? 

School was my safe haven.  I loved school.  Without the love from those teachers and the food that was provided there, I doubt I’d be where I am today.  They showed me “normal” and love.  I grew up wanting to be a teacher my whole life.. then one day I realized I didn’t really want to teach.. I just wanted to be like the teacher.  I wanted to be “normal and loving.”

4. What are some ways that you protected your family?

I use to steal food for me and my mom.  I felt like it was my responsibility to take care of her.  She was crazy.  I had to feed both of us, I had to make sure her boyfriends didn’t kill her.  It was very frustrating be “the child” to a person who couldn’t even take care of herself.

5. How did you protect yourself?

I tried to keep quiet and not be noticed.

6. What advice would you give adults who suspect a child is being abused or neglected?

First I would try to discover how “bad” the abuse was.  I wouldn’t call social services unless the child’s life was in danger or they were in a place where they were sexually abused.  If the abuse is just neglect, I would try to step in and be something positive in that child’s life.

7. Of the many ways in which you were abused or neglected, what is the most difficult to heal?

I’m still trying to heal from a feeling of not being loved as a child.  It hurts me even now as I type these words. My mother didn’t love me enough to protect me, to care for me, to give me “normal”.  The sexual abuse pales in comparison to that.  I feel nothing about the sexual abuse.  I have no emotion.  It’s like I have decided that the things that happened to me as a little girl.. happened to some other little girl and I just remember it.  I think this is my way of protecting myself.  God’s way of protecting me.  He created a new person in me with Christ’s blood.. I don’t want to step in the shoes of the person I was before and relive those emotions of fear.

8. How were you able to open yourself up to healthy relationships and to break the cycle of abuse and addiction?

I had to first have a relationship with Christ.. and love myself.  Before I was saved I went down the same road as my mother.  I used men the same way she did.  I was on a path of destruction.  I knew I wanted something better, but I wasn’t strong enough to get it on my own.  Then I found Christ… and He was strong enough.

9. What else would you like us to know?

Don’t question God’s will…Our struggles make us stronger.. We are being prepared for something great.  Praise God!

10. What would you say to a child who is currently facing the kind of trauma that you also endured?

I would explain to them what a phoenix was and then I would tell them “You are a phoenix, and one day you won’t have to burn anymore… and you will emerge from your sufferings and become something great.  Only the strong survive.  You are strong.  God is always with you.  He picked you for this life because He knows you can make it… one day.. you will be a solider in heaven and God will be so proud of everything you endured to make you so strong.  You will be the strongest angel he has!  Always try to do the next right thing.. the next good thing.  God will help you.”

I’m happy for you to share my blog also, and I’m willing to answer any questions.


Coping with Rejection and Anger

Sunday, February 5, 2012 @ 02:02 AM
Author: admin

Recently I shared a conversation with an adult who was adopted as a newborn. She described the soup of emotions that she felt toward her birth-mother. To this day, she maintains a strong current of anger, hurt, frustration, and lack of control.

This pain co-exists with a healthy and happy relationship with her adoptive parents and a successful career. She described the tenuous reconnection with her birth-mother which she had accomplished and which she had described as a partial success. She had wanted so much more from the relationship than her birth-mother was able or willing to give.  The reunion had been both a healing experience and a repeat of being rejected.

She talked about her tween years when she began to truly understand the “rejection” that is at the core of an adoption plan. Anger spiraled within her. As a youngster, she lacked the skills to ease the pain of not being raised by birth-parents with an understanding of the complex reality that validated the need for an adoption plan.

Now, through her adult eyes, she accepts—even embraces—that adoption was the appropriate choice for her. The same problems and shortcomings still limit her birth-mother. She understands that would have created a traumatic life for her if she’d been raised by her birth-mom. Yet anger, resentment, and lack of control dominate her attitudes toward her birth-mother.

“I suppose it is my way of justifying my bad luck,” she explained. The only way adoption couldn’t be my “fault” is if my birth-mother was responsible. I mean responsible not in an accountable way but in a fault-finding coming-up-short way. By demonizing her, I could let myself off the hook, feel less unworthy, be less of a reject …” Her words trailed off and pain shadowed her face.

It was difficult to watch her distress. After all these years, the traumatized, confused baby still raged, ached, and struggled to cope. I wanted to soothe the hurt, heal the trauma. That’s unrealistic and a bit disrespectful because the trauma is authentic and must be acknowledged. It is important for me not to trivialize or dismiss her adoption because it was the “right.” Choice.

I chose to honor her experience—without minimizing or catastrophizing. I bless the wisdom she earned through adoption and celebrate the courage she has demonstrated as she has navigated to adulthood. It is my privilege to be in relationship with her and I wonder if I would be half as resilient if I were an adoptee.

Gayle Swift

Safe Touch

Sunday, September 18, 2011 @ 08:09 PM
Author: admin

Weaving family relationships with a child who has experienced trauma requires a well-stocked parenting tool box. Unlike Dominoes which always fall in predictable directions when nudged, children sometimes respond to a technique and sometimes they do not. A successful strategy may be effective for a while or only intermittently, and may lose effectiveness over time. Thus, variety is desirable.

This blog continues the thread of simple strategies to address trauma-related responses. For a child who has received unwanted or inappropriate touch, it may be challenging to distinguish and respond to safe, appropriate and loving touch.

Dr. Karen Purvis suggests in The Connected Child, that parents initially limit their hugs to a one-armed embrace. Avoid the full on bear hug which can trigger feelings of being overwhelmed or under another’s control. Instead limit your hug to a one-armed side-by-side snuggle. This provides a clear and easy exit-point for a child who feels over-whelmed with body-to-body closeness. For some traumatized children, a hug can conjure painful memories of uninvited and inappropriate touch.

As parents, we must convey to our children that physical touch should always feel appropriate and optional. The choice is the child’s. He gets to decide if and when he is open to being touched—on his timeline and on his level of intensity. Intimacy must be welcome and requires a level of trust that invites and supports the child’s ability to be vulnerable.

Shape other kinds of touch with similar consideration for your child’s readiness to trust and ability to be open to it. Dr. Purvis suggests that parents initially limit touching by using only one hand; this reduces the likelihood that the touch will trigger a feeling of threat or overwhelm and lessens the chance your child would feel boxed in and threatened. (Remember, in the face of “threat”, the body’s natural response is fight, flight or freeze—an intense interaction that is unpleasant for your child and you.

Another ingredient can be added to your recipe for creating safe touch. Consider bending down to be on eye level instead of looming over your child like a judge in the courtroom. Many children find it difficult, even overwhelming to have eye contact with others. Allow your child to choose. Insisting on eye contact can set up an adversarial relationship. Since relationship is route to attachment it is important to maximize the positive interactions and limit the negatives.

Emotional Bonfires—Water Daily

Many of us who parent children who have experienced trauma, neglect, abuse or abandonment have experienced their hair trigger emotions. Reasoning is futile; parent and child are caught in a tornado of emotions. (In his book Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goldman calls this an emotional high-jacking.) Once the storm is launched, it must run its course as adrenalin, the chemical that is fueling this fight-or-flight surge must burn itself out. Neither child nor parent enjoys this fury; it leaves drained, discouraged and a bit disconnected. Reducing or avoiding these painful interactions benefits the entire family.

Dr. Karen Purvis, in her book The Connected Child, asserts there is a direct connection between fight or flight and intense emotional outbursts. For kids who have experienced trauma, neglect or abuse, their systems are constantly vigilant. In the past it was essential to keep their guard up. Their survival depended on it. Retraining them to trust others to provide safe relationships and safe environments will be a lengthy process. In the meantime, Dr. Purvis suggests several strategies.

Avoid thirst and hunger. These two basic needs activate the body’s defense mechanism flashing the message: danger is afoot. Traumatized kids have super-sensitive survival settings, so it takes very little to activate a dramatic response. Adrenalin, designed to power physical flight, surges. If not expressed in physical action, a tidal wave of emotion is explodes until the chemical energy is consumed.

Keep your child well hydrated and provide healthy snacks and meals at predictable intervals. By avoiding hunger and thirst, the emergency message never gets broadcast in the first place. Even one less outburst avoided is a huge benefit for the child, the parent and for their mutual relationship.

Gayle Swift