Dear Dr. Norquist:
I don’t feel like I belong in my family. It’s very painful and has been this way for my whole life. I was adopted as a baby. Then, three years later, my parents were able to get pregnant and they had my brother. I guess it’s natural that they would like him more than me. He’s of their own flesh and blood. Also, my dad loves having a son. They try to treat us the same. But it’s obvious to me.
I feel alone in the world, not really sure how much my parents would be there for me if I got sick and couldn’t support myself. Because of this, I’ve always been good at taking care of my own needs. I don’t know why my biological parents didn’t keep me. It really hurts when I see parents in the park, taking such loving care of their children. I don’t know how to deal with these feelings. Why couldn’t I have had parents who adored my every move – as some of these kids in the park seem to have?
Dr. Norquist responds:
We each have our own experience of life. This is yours. You cannot change the facts, but you can create a different experience for yourself. Your pain and grief and longing are real, and searing. The craving for a secure bond with a parent is biological and primary. However, you were given a life and this life is yours, with the freedom to create it as you wish. You are not a victim of your early experiences. Your experience as an adopted person is a formative aspect of your identity – but you have the power to determine how it will affect you and what you will create for yourself as a result of this experience.
Grief, anger, loss, sensitivity to abandonment, and the feeling of not belonging are feelings commonly expressed by those who have been adopted. Sometimes this is a lifelong journey of healing. Future life milestones such as marriage, the birth of a child, divorce, or the death of a spouse may awaken and intensify old feelings of loss and abandonment. This is not a problem so much as something that needs to be acknowledged and healed. Dealing with these experiences can have an enriching effect on your life. Everyone has their own version of adversity that can result in enhanced growth and development. This is your pearl, born from your own personal grief and loneliness. Finding others with whom you can share your feelings and feel understood would be most healing for you. You may feel a special sense of affinity (and belonging) with other adult adoptees.
Try searching online or through the N.J. Self-Help Clearinghouse (1-800-367-6274), or dial 211 (a community resource for information and assistance) for a support group for adopted adults. You may want your own personal time for sharing and processing these feelings, in which case professional or pastoral help would be of assistance. Writing or finding a creative outlet for expressing your feelings is often helpful. You may also be interested in exploring the possibility of mentoring adopted children.
I’d also recommend educating yourself about navigating important life milestones as an adopted person. In this regard, I recommend a book by Brodzinski, Schechter, and Marantz, called “Being Adopted: The Lifelong Search for Self” (1992). I’m glad that you are reaching out, expressing your feelings, and asking for help. This is the essential first step in your journey of growth and healing.
(Dr. Sallie Norquist is a licensed psychologist (NJ #2371) in private practice and is director of Chaitanya Counseling Services, a center for upliftment and enlivenment, in Hoboken.)Dr. Norquist and the staff of Chaitanya invite you to write them at Chaitanya Counseling Services, 51 Newark St., Suite 202, Hoboken, NJ 07030 or www.chaitanya.com or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by fax at (201) 656-4700. Questions can address various topics, including relationships, life’s stresses, difficulties, mysteries and dilemmas, as well as questions related to managing stress or alternative ways of understanding health-related concerns. 2013 Chaitanya Counseling Services