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A Personal Letter to Adult Adoptees

Embracing the so-called re-adoption process

After interviewing numerous adult adoptees in my clinical practice over the years--and from my own personal experience as an adult adoptee—I’ve noticed that some of us seem to struggle with allowing ourselves to be accepted by our partners and their families. I refer to this metaphorically as allowing ourselves to be re-adopted.

Whether we were happy and secure in our adopted families didn’t necessarily exempt us from this struggle. But I did notice those who had unsatisfactory experiences were more prone to discomfort when they were offered what Dylan referred to as “Shelter from the Storm.” Why?

Being adopted is simply not something that can be erased—it’s always with us. This is usually not a bad thing, it’s just a fact. At one time or another we were “given up,” even if it was for our own good. This in part, makes it more of a challenge—depending on the circumstances of our adoption process—to allow ourselves to get too close, to trust, and to even see ourselves as part of a new family no matter how much that family may want us. And, the bigger and closer the family, the greater potential for discomfort there is.

This pertains to other family-like institutions as well. I’ve treated adult adoptees that had difficulty joining social groups or organizations because of the degree of closeness and involvement they required. Simply put, a conflict may be internalized: we want to be wanted, and yet we’re often afraid to be too close. Being put up for adoption once is enough; to risk it again is often perceived as exponentially more excruciating—so we’re cautious.

Some people who try to get close to us take our distance as rude or rejecting, but it’s usually the anxiety about taking another chance that’s often the culprit; that and for many, the strangeness of treading in unfamiliar territory (e.g., joining a large loving family). Fact is, most adult adoptees I’ve met are quite loyal, and try even harder to make relationships work. They’re a good bet for a long-lasting relationship and can learn to enjoy the re-adoption process. They just have to take a risk. My former Supervising Analyst used to call this anxiety-provoking effort a: “clinical trial by fire.” Doesn’t this pertain to just about anything that’s worthwhile achieving?

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