As an adult, a nasty little gremlin occasionally lurks in my mind’s ear. Usually, I can activate my mute button and silence the negativity—but not always. This inner voice sabotages efforts, magnifies doubts, inflates faults and rehashes mistakes. This gremlin knows all my vulnerabilities, hot buttons and fears. She prefers the stagnation of the status quo to the thrill of a challenge that is faced and defeated. Definitely not a nice companion. I’ll bet you’ve got a similar little naysayer in your head occasionally peddling gloom and doom.
Many adopted kids also have a loud and persistent inner voice—one that broadcasts messages of shame and inadequacy. When they consider why they were adopted, the easiest and most frequent explanation that they accept is: it must have been their fault. Reassurances that it was adult inadequacies that lead to adult decisions ring as “excuses’ camouflaging the real truth. Adopted kids need extra support in handling and defeating the destruction their gremlin voices can inflict.
As parents it is important to validate their emotions without minimizing or catastrophizing. Avoid the inclination to insist they shouldn’t feel a certain way. Give them the space to express emotions honestly—without requiring a sanitizing edit. This is the stuff of genuine connection. Although it is distressing for us as parents to see our children in pain, it is unfair, unkind and unhealthy to expect them to paste a happy face over an aching or conflicted heart. They need empathy and support not a Pollyanna who acknowledges only the positives about adoption or a chronicler who emphasizes all the shortcomings of their birth parents.
The goal is 360˚ awareness of their gains and losses that will lead to a healthy integration of all of the pieces of themselves as individuals and as firmly grafted parts of the family tree.
Listen to their feelings, as Sally has mentioned in an earlier blog post—without taking it personally. It is not about us; it is about them draining the emotional poison and the toxic effect of anger, fear and trauma. Provide the safe space where they can vent, admit and cope with big emotions. Allow them to be honest about what they are feeling even if it is ugly, unflattering or angry. Be their sanctuary but not their whipping boy and then assist them in designing a road map to a healthy and happy future, one baby step at a time.