This is the fourth of four posts that began as a paper given at the New Jersey Let’s Talk Adoption Conference on April 1, 2017 to a group of adoptive parents, adoptees, adoption social workers and others interested in adoption who had gathered as part of a day-long conference. (To start at the beginning of the series, click here). The organizers were interested in a presentation adoptee loss and grief and this had become a deep interest of mine. I am a psychotherapist working adults adoptees, adults who were adopted as children and I had noticed that loss that seemed to connect to early adoption-related losses and wounds was regularly among the most pressing issues bringing adoptees into therapy.
Adoptees and Loss: Clinical Recommendations
I want to finish this series with some recommendations, both for clinical work in therapy and support groups and personal work, whether for adult adoptees alone or supported by their parents. My recommendations come in two parts, before a contemporary loss and after, and then i want to end by reminding all of us of the strength and hope inherent in doing this work.
To help prevent the experience of a loss taking you off the rails, I recommend the following:
- work hard to develop a sense of belonging
- to family (adoptive, birth, families of choice…whatever is available and healthy, and if there isn’t enough healthy there, to start working towards finding it)
- to the world
- in adult intimate relationships and friendships.
- do this in your life, in support groups, in therapy, with your spiritual community, but do it. Know that every place and person you can make your own and make into a home builds your ability to connect and to bolster yourself when the losses come.
- live a balanced life, where you curate and develop a variety of aspects of life that are important to you.
- do the awareness work of including your experience with loss in your life story, whether that is through a loss timeline, an autobiography, a life book that includes the dark as well as the light.
All of this helps to build a strong container and a sense of trust in ourselves.
After a big loss, I recommend doing the work of grieving with intention and commitment. That includes honoring the whole range of emotion that comes with the loss. It takes as long as it takes. You work until (as Freud says) “the ego becomes free and uninhibited again.”
When that happens, and you learn to do that with losses big and small, the early adoptee loss can resolve. Or, they may become more accessible if for the work needed to complete them. And either way, with more energy for you in the now, you win.
Life well lived brings loss after loss, opportunity after opportunity to do this work. Joyce McGuire Pavao tells a story of sitting with some adoptive friends and cataloging all their losses, problems and neuroses . She compares herself and her friends to plants, adaptive with all of the transplanting and replanting.
But the thing that comes along with these losses is our adaptive qualities. We can get along anywhere as a result of our early experience with transplanting and replanting.
This is a great strength. And once transplanted and replanted, some plants flourish easily, and some plants need more TLC. An adoptee’s experience of loss that opens up adoption wounds is just that, an invitation for TLC, an invitation into a deeper level of healing, and one that can have a ripple effect in our lives.