January is a new start for many of us. We give ourselves permission to plan new beginnings. A new year is upon us and the old year is in the past. We begin hopeful to start fresh and make positive changes in our lives.
An “intention” is defined as a meaningful action. It is a thoughtful commitment that we make to ourselves. It is the understanding of why something we are choosing to do is important or significant to us. It is a starting point for positive change. I recommend having a dedicated journal for setting intentions. By writing your commitments down, you will increase your chances of them happening.
“You will be with you longer than anyone else on the planet, so why not make it a good relationship?” — Louise Hay
As I reflect back on the past year, I think about what is most important for the adult adoptee and how setting intentions can be a catalyst for change.
1. Make a commitment to address adoption challenges.
“Your healing can be likened to an Emotional Root canal, it has to be done, it is painful, but it is often the only road to good health.” — Joe Soll, from his book Adoption Healing.
Making a plan to begin facing our adoption challenges is a critical step. Deciding to address the tougher issues that you may be ignoring or that need to be discovered can be life-transformative. When we face our fears, challenges and the painful past, we grow and move forward. We can shed some of the heavy weight that we have been carrying for years. A good adoption therapist, groups, books, websites and movies can help push you to a better understanding of what you need right now. Working through the core issues of adoption such as loss, grief, shame, rejection, identity, intimacy and control are some areas to focus on.
Paul, a 52-year-old adoptee was going through what he called an “ adoptee mid-life crisis.” His relationships were not working, and he was abusing alcohol and food to cope with his sadness. It wasn’t until he talked with a friend with an adopted brother struggling with similar issues that he realized he needed professional help. Once in therapy, Paul was able to slowly work through the old adoption wounds he had ignored for years. He began attending adoption conferences, which allowed him to meet and build friendships with other adoptees. After a year of working hard inside and outside of therapy, Paul reported that his relationships were much better and that he was no longer using food and alcohol as a crutch.
2. Get support when you need it.
We often go through periods when we are consumed with overthinking an issue. The cause may be adoption-related or a matter that is impacted in some way by adoption. We need a professional to help guide us. Finding an adoption-competent therapist is key. A professional clinician who specializes in post-adoption services can give you the unique supports that you need.
Group support or talking with another adoptee can also be invaluable. In her book 20 Life-Transforming Choices Adoptees Need to Make, Sherrie Aldridge says, “An hour with a fellow adoptee is better than weeks of therapy.”
Being around others who are speaking the same language and expressing similar feelings can help you heal. Knowing that you are not alone and that others support you can make a big difference when you are looking for answers.
3. Remind yourself that you have a choice in your thinking.
“Change your thoughts and you change your world.” — Vincent Peele
By nature we are habitual thinkers and are programed to think in deep-rooted patterns. Most of the time we are not even aware of our programed thinking. Our early belief systems and our old, ingrained thinking patterns can get us stuck. When we challenge our thoughts and begin to pay attention to our thinking, we can ask ourselves if our thoughts are true or not. We are able to assess our thinking and transform it into healthier thoughts.
Emily, a 27-year-old adoptee born in Iowa, came to see me after a break-up with her partner. Emily thought the relationship was going well and was devastated when her partner broke up with her. The feelings of rejection, loss and feeling unlovable came flooding over her. The core themes of adoption flared up once again.
“See, I have proof,” Emily stated. “Maybe I am unlovable. I was given up for adoption, so there must be something wrong with me.” I asked Emily to take a moment and honestly question herself: “Is this really true?” “Do you have loving relationships in your life? Are there people who truly care about you?” Emily talked about the close friendships that she had and the good relationships she had with her siblings and her mother. Emily realized that many people loved her. The break-up triggered numerous past fears, and at the time of the break-up, the fears felt real. Emily could then see how several core adoption issues were related to her fears. After more exploration, Emily was able to let go of some of these fears and know that she was loved. Being able to recognize these triggers can help us move forward after painful events.
Continual negative thinking is like watching an old, terrible movie. We have seen the movie once before and it was not good the first time, yet we continue to watch reruns of this movie over and over. We can learn to stop the movie before it starts. It takes practice, but letting go of adverse thinking is life changing. Take a step back and think about why the old movie is continuing to play. Ask yourself, is it helpful to me? If not, it is time to let it go. A good therapist can help challenge your old unhealthy thought process. Cognitive Behavior Therapy can unpack and ultimately change old unhelpful ways of thinking.
4. Find time to make sense of your personal adoption story.
We all carry our personal narrative with us. Along with challenging our negative thoughts, closely examining our personal adoption story can be helpful and healing.
“I want to remind you to remember the power of your own personal story. It not only describes you. It defines and shapes you. As you explore your narrative, embrace what the struggles have taught you and celebrate what your strengths have given you.” — Dr. Deborah Serani
We as narrators are constantly rewriting our story. Over the years it changes. As we grow, we look at life differently. We allow the story to change. We can reframe our story in a way that supports us. For example, we can learn to accept that we will not have all the answers. But we can piece together and truly own our narrative when we take a step back and look at what we have.
Felipe, 40, was adopted from Colombia as a baby and raised in New Jersey by a large Jewish family who loved children. Filipe recalls a happy childhood but he “always felt like an outsider.” In his early 30’s he started his birth family search. After a few years of searching he found his birth mother’s village. Filipe was excited and waited to hear more from the lawyer who found his information. After several weeks of anxiously waiting, Filipe received a call from the lawyer telling him that his mother had passed away the previous year. Filipe was devastated. He kept asking himself, “Why hadn’t I searched sooner? I could have met her”. Filipe fell into a depression. Several months later, the same lawyer contacted him and told him that he had found his birth father and 4 half siblings. Filipe called his father the next day. He left for Colombia a few weeks after the initial call. When he arrived, his family was waiting to meet him at the airport. He has returned to Colombia several times since the first meeting and is looking forward to another trip next summer. Filipe’s adoption story changed many times over the course of a couple of years. It will continue to change as his relationships with family members evolve. Filipe will tell you that as painful as the search was, he was glad that he did it. He states, “My identity is fluid. It feels like I am forever discovering who I truly am.”
My Own Thoughts About Setting Intentions and the Adoption Journey
If I could sum up my experience as an adoptee in a few words it would be this: “The search for your truth and identity is similar to taking a roller coaster ride. You must buckle your seat belt and prepare yourself for the highs and lows.” I believe all adoptees are searching in some way or form. We may not be actively looking for our information or trying to reconnect with birth relatives, but we are on the journey. Adoption is deep-rooted in ours lives whether we are consciously aware of it or not. It does have an impact. It is just part of who we are.
I believe that we can become stronger and more resilient by making an intent or commitment to do the hard work. I have seen in therapy many adult adoptees over the years. Not one person has ever said that they wished they had not explored their personal adoption journey, whatever that might look like. Even when they learned painful information or their relationships did not turn out as hoped or fantasized, they were still glad they had sought answers. Each adoptee that I have worked with has a unique and very personal story. What all of these stories have in common is personal motivation for change. After doing the work, they transformed more than they imagined.
Written by Jennifer Eckert, LICSW
Boston Post Adoption Resources