Saturday, September 3, 2011

Coming Home to Self: The Adopted Child Grows Up

One obvious way that word "return" is significant to adoptees is the reconnection to the biological family, which so many of us seek by way of reunion as adults. I will certainly write more about that before the month is out, but the subject that is most alive for me today is another return of significance to adoptees -- the return to self, or to some part of our selves that we lost when we were separated from our biological roots. Reunion is tied to this idea; we are searching for our families but we are also searching for ourselves.

Nancy Verrier's book Coming Home to Self: The Adopted Child Grows Up played an important role in my own journey back to self. This book has been criticized because of the author's tendency to overgeneralize. Verrier's critics have a point; some of her descriptions of adoptees are a bit like astrological fortunes in their broadness. Sure, adoptees may have the traits that she ascribes to them, but can't such traits (such as fear of rejection) be found in the general population as well? Undoubtedly they can, but that doesn't mean that adoptees aren't more likely than others to have certain tendencies formed from our experience of separation.

For me, so much of the book rang true. I saw myself on every page. It was as if I had been seeing things a little out of focus my whole life, and when I read this book everything shifted into focus for the first time. Coming Home to Self started me on the path to healing, and I have made tremendous progress.

But I'm still a little off. One of the points that Verrier makes is that adoptees have difficulty knowing ourselves, and being ourselves. Because we are so afraid of rejection, many of us tend to be chameleons, attempting to become whatever others want us to be. 

I recently started Rhonda Britten's book Change Your Life in 30 Days : A Journey to Finding Your True Self. The first question that she asks (and it is one of several that the reader is meant to answer on day one of the program) is something like "What would it look like if you were really true to yourself?" (Apologies to Britten if I haven't quoted this exactly; I don't have the book with me currently.)

When I encountered that question, I felt a mild panic rising up in me, and I knew it was going to take me a lot longer than 30 days to complete Britten's program. That is no easy question for me to answer. It is the question I have been working on for years, and I'm still working on it. Strip away the anxiety, the people-pleasing, the intense desire for belonging (coupled, confusingly, with apprehension about closeness), and who am I? For adoptees, definition of self is complicated by divergent influences: the biological, the environmental, and the trauma of separation. For many of us, the journey home to self is not a single trip, but an ongoing journey. And yes, that's a statement that can be made of non-adoptees, too. It's just a little bit truer for us.


  1. Very insightful. I wish you well in your journey. New follower, I happened to find you on VB. I hope you stop over for a visit. Have a great week.

  2. "The first question that she asks (and it is one of several that the reader is meant to answer on day one of the program) is something like "What would it look like if you were really true to yourself?" "

    Well that depends. Who does she want me to be?

  3. I found a lot of the book quite upsetting. One thing, she assumes that all adoptees had nice parents, many didn't. Many of us are angry with out parents due to abuse or because they lied about the circumstances of our adoption. And some of the adoptees issues can come from how they were treated in their adoptive home. As well as how society treats adoptees.
    I felt as well that she was singling out adoptees for certain things, but most people who've experienced some kind of trauma will exhibit those behaviours too- mistrust, anger, lashing out etc. She goes into neurology a lot, but then expect us to just heal ourselves magically. I personally found Schema therapy much more helpful, and it's a lot gentler too. Half the time I felt I was being 'told off'! It feels like she's angry at her daughter and is taking it out on other adoptees, and making money out of it.


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