The Fourth of July. Independence Day. A day associated with hot dogs and barbeques, block parties, fireworks, and sparklers. However, as the name “Independence Day” implies, this holiday celebrates the freedoms we have as a country, as states, and as inhabitants of the United States. As an American citizen, I often take freedom for granted. I often forget that there are many countries where people are tied down by unfair laws, the threat of violence, religious enforcement, and more. Additionally, I often take for granted my personal freedoms. I am in a good place mentally, and I am not affected by too many negative thoughts regarding being adopted. However, as someone who once was very insecure about being adopted, I know that many adoptees are often weighed down by negative feelings such as guilt, anger, and disappointment. For Independence Day, I have compiled a list of freedoms I hope all adoptees can embrace.
Freedom from Judgment
While most people respond positively when I mention I am adopted, there have been a few close-minded people who have felt the need to share their negative opinions regarding adoption. Social media has only made this worse as occasionally, I will see random strangers bashing adoption in the comments. I have heard it all. A stranger on Facebook once called me “stolen by heathens and brainwashed” after I commented on a post praising someone else’s adoption story. When I was a kid, I was compared to a shelter dog and an item from Goodwill.
I would be lying if I said that words like that don’t bother me. Of course they do. However, there is a famous saying: “You cannot change other people’s thoughts or actions, but you can control how you respond to it.” I probably fought with that random woman in the comments of a Facebook post, and I probably insulted the kids who called me names, because I’m human. But, as I have gotten older, my strategy has moved away from engaging and towards just walking away and letting it go. Expending my energy and emotional stability to verbally argue with these people is just not worth my mental peace. And sometimes, that’s just how it is.
When I would fight back with people, I would be getting revenge—the action of inflicting harm to get back at someone for an injury they caused. But no one said it better than actor Chris Colfer: “Revenge is a double-edged sword. The longer you hold it, the deeper you get cut.” This is especially true when it comes to ignorant, close-minded people. The more that you engage with them, the more you are feeding their ego and enjoyment—and ultimately, it is you who feels worse off in the end. Finally letting go of other people’s judgment and getting to a place where you do not value everyone’s opinion is paramount to growth. At the end of the day, everyone is going to have their own thoughts, and taking to heart irrelevant people’s opinions is exhausting and useless.
Freedom from Guilt and Shame
Shame and guilt are terms that are used interchangeably. However, they are different. Shame is more outward—it is a feeling of humiliation and embarrassment. Guilt is more inward—it is a feeling of having done wrong or failed. Shame comes from negative feelings associated with other people (i.e., He knows I failed) whereas guilt comes from negative feelings associated with one’s view of themselves (i.e., I know I failed).
Freedom from shame is tightly intertwined with freedom from judgment. One does not experience much shame when one does not care about what other people think. Some people feel embarrassment that stems from being adopted—they are worried people are judging them or will feel differently about them. Once I was able to let go of obsessing over what other people thought about me, the embarrassment I felt about formerly being abandoned disappeared.
I have talked about this a lot in previous articles, but I also used to feel very guilty as a child for being adopted. I felt guilty that I was apparently so unlovable, my birth parents did not want me. I also felt guilty because I was adopted by a good, stable family and I felt bad for all the other kids in orphanages who were not adopted (kind of like survivor’s guilt).
However, adoptees should not feel guilty for being adopted. In the same way that it is not someone’s choice to be born, it is generally not someone’s choice to be adopted (unless they are older and consenting). Yes, there likely will be processing needed to overcome the trauma of being abandoned, but guilt implies the person did something wrong. Thus, people should not feel guilty about being adopted because they did not do anything wrong, and adoption is not something to be embarrassed about. Being placed for adoption is arguably one of the most selfless acts of love birth parents can do when they realize they cannot adequately provide for their child.
Freedom from Anger
When I was in middle school, my mother thought it would be a good idea to cancel our annual family trip to Ireland (to see my grandparents) and instead travel to China. She wanted my sister and me to see the cities we were adopted from as well as visit our orphanages. My close friend who was adopted from China had just gone a year or so before, and she loved the trip. I said I wanted to go, and then I went to research things to do in my birth city.
An hour later, I burst into my sister’s room (she was 8 or 9 at the time) and said, “Hey, guess what? We’re going to China this summer!” She looked up at me and then walked out of her room without acknowledging what I had said. I followed her to the living room where she promptly confronted my parents.
She took a deep breath and with a pained look on her face, said, “Why are we going to China? Why can’t we just go to Ireland like we always do?” My parents looked confused and asked her why she looked so angry. She bluntly stated, “I don’t want to go to China. Why would I go to a country that threw me away?” With that, she marched back to her room and all plans to go to China were abruptly canceled. A few years later, my sister came around to the whole China trip idea. However, at that point I was angry at China and my birth parents, so we never ended up going.
I am unsure about all adoptees, but my sister and I both went through the grieving process as children. My sister went through it a lot younger than I did. According to the widely used Kubler Ross model, the second stage of grief is anger, which both my sister and I felt for a while. My sister was angry that “China threw her away.” I used to be angry at my birth parents for abandoning me (likely because I was a girl) and for not even leaving me a note. Abandonment is a loss, and with loss comes grief. As I have gotten older and able to fully appreciate the choices my birth parents made to offer me a better life, the anger and hatred have shifted into understanding and appreciation.
Buddha is credited with the poignant quote: “Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” I am not telling any adoptees reading this to not be angry—it is your right to be. However, I know from personal experience that anger is physically and emotionally draining. When I was angry at my birth parents as a teenager, I would sleep a lot because my body was just so tired from being mad. If you need to be angry, I hope this Independence Day, you can free your body and mind from the weights of anger. It does not undo anything, but remembering that my birth parents are only human and were not able to take care of me for some reason or another helped me be less angry about the situation.
Freedom from Sadness and Negativity
As of now, I have a pretty good outlook on being adopted. But occasionally, I will see something that triggers me a little: my shadow box with all the baby clothes I came from China in, my certificate of abandonment, my picture albums of the orphanage. Every time I go to a doctor’s appointment and I must fill out the form outlining my medical history, I get a little sad that I will never know what medical concerns I am more predisposed to. Every time a piece of paperwork asks where specifically I was born, my brain automatically puts “California,” but when it asks which city, I remember that I am from a random city in China that I have little connection to. When my friends talk about astrology and they can list their birthdate, birth time, and birthplace, I get sad because I am unable to do the same.
Don’t get me wrong, I am happy to be adopted and grateful to be here. But random things like this affect me enough to make me a little sad. I am not that sad about losing my birth parents because I never knew them, and I cannot remember anything about them. However, I am occasionally sad that I will never have a relationship with them, whoever they are. I am occasionally sad that there are so many things about myself that I will never know the answers to. I am occasionally sad when a television character reveals they are adopted, and their announcement is met with sad faces and sympathy. The sadness is not often present, and it has nothing to do with my adoptive parents.
Out of all the unpleasant emotions, when it comes to being adopted, I think many adoptees feel sad more than anything. For me personally, the sadness has become more infrequent as I have slowly come to terms with being surrendered by my birth parents. But, in order to come to terms with this, I have had to ditch the negative feelings that used to flood my mind when I was younger. I always tell myself my birth parents were unable to financially care for me and lived in an oppressive society where only baby boys were valued—which may not be the truth, but it likely is. Maybe I am living in a delusion. But this “answer” is the closure I needed to stop wondering and start moving on with my life. At the end of the day, my birth parents did what they needed to do, and my adoptive parents raised me fine, so what is the point of dwelling on something I cannot change and likely would not change even if I could?
All of this is a lot easier said than done. I am certainly not trying to invalidate anyone’s feelings of sadness or anger or guilt, because I recognize that healing looks different for everybody. Trust me—it took me an incredibly long amount of time to process everything and be in the positive, happy, peaceful place I am in now. I also had to do a lot of research, do a lot of soul-searching, and even go to therapy for a while. However, the time and work are worth it because I have never felt so good about being adopted and I have never felt so willing to share my experiences as an adoptee until now.
Independence Day is a great day to start the healing process if you feel ongoing sadness related to your adoption. Start a journal. Reach out to a parent, family member, or friend. You might even start looking for therapists in your area that are adoption-aware. Small steps like this are great ways to become more independent from some of the negative feelings that many adoptees unfortunately experience.Are you ready to take the next steps on your adoption journey? Visit The Gladney Center for Adoption to learn more.