March 14, 2014

Adoptees and Anger Toward Our Natural Mothers (And Others)
A Conversation With Rebecca Hawkes

Rebecca Hawkes
Today I'm collaborating with one of my favorite people...Rebecca Hawkes!  Unless you just crawled out from a rock entered adoption world, you already know her. Rebecca's writing is well known in our community.  If you're finding her here for the first time, let me introduce you to a lady with a tremendous amount of depth. I love having conversations with people who can go to the depths, with no fear, and she's one such person. She's also all things kind and compassionate. Today we're talking about something that's a really touchy subject, and that is -- anger toward our natural moms. We do not share this with any malice or vengeful spirit. We come with open hearts to give understanding and hope that we will be received with open hearts in return. Let's get started.

Deanna: Rebecca, I had the wonderful opportunity to have lunch with you in person the other day (!!!!!!) It was amaaaaaazing to get to do that. I'm really excited to partner with you for this conversation here at Adoptee Restoration, and share our thoughts about an important topic: anger we adoptees often feel toward our natural mothers, for various reasons. And particularly what we go through in the rollercoaster that is reunion. 

Rebecca:  I agree about the lunch. I wish we could do that regularly! Darn geography!
Anger is an interesting topic for me because if you’d asked me a few years ago if I had anger toward either of my original parents I would have insisted that I didn’t. Someone even commented on my blog once asking me why I didn’t seem to have anger toward any of my parents, though I did clearly have anger directed (appropriately, I think) at the adoption industry and many of its practices. I answered, “I don’t know. I just don’t.”
And that was my story until the day when this post erupted out of me. Here’s a piece of what I wrote in that Lost Daughter's post. 

I have explored grief and loss. I have mourned and cried till I was wrung dry. I have expressed anger toward the system that caused my separation from my original family. I have raged against culture, society, my biological grandmother, and Georgia Tann. But I have never allowed myself to fully explore (or even admit to) my anger at my birth parents.  

What held me back in this area? I confess that I still have a high level of personal discomfort with anger, especially my own anger. Is that discomfort tied to my seemingly deep-seated fear of rejection? If I am angry, am I unloveable? 

Deanna:  I totally relate. I believe many times we put our anger aside temporarily in reunion because we’re just so excited to be there. Then the more reunion progresses we come face to face with the reality of our losses even more.  I wouldn’t describe mine as a raging anger but a slow burn underneath, all the time, until it was properly addressed.

And properly addressing it can be a huge problem because so many people don’t believe we have a right to be angry at all, only grateful. 

Very few people in my life have given me permission to be angry. My therapist was one of the first. Many people throughout my life have shushed my anger (“Shhhhh…don’t be upset, don’t cry, don't yell...etc.”) or shamed my anger (“There’s nothing to be upset about. You’re blessed! Be grateful!) but never welcomed the anger stage, as part of the process of grief recovery. 

Not until I met my therapist, Melissa Richards, did I ever have anyone in my life say, “It’s okay to be in this stage until you’ve dealt with it fully. Then and only then, move on.” 

That was scary for me. It seemed almost unchristian because I feared it taking forever.  But what is “forever” compared to a lifetime of a slow burn underneath it all that one has already experienced? It’s interesting that the “forever” that I feared ended up being less than eight months, once I actually dealt with the problem and allowed myself to feel.  We can't heal unless we first allow ourselves to feel, as painful as it is.

I did fear being unlovable by allowing myself to be angry, yes. And part of my recovery was facing the fear of being so, and realizing if it happened, I would still be alright. 
Rebecca: I can so relate to what you’ve said here. I didn’t want anything to interfere with the reconnection of reunion because I had such a deep longing for that connection. Early reunion was like drinking after a long thirst. I didn’t want ANYTHING to interfere. The flip side of not expressing anger at all is expressing it so strongly that the anger becomes that the sole focus or driving factor in the relationship. I’ve seen that situation in other people’s reunions, and, as you can imagine, it leads to a breakdown of the relationship pretty quickly. I definitely didn’t want that.

But I went to the opposite extreme. I was almost two decades into the reunion with my first mother before I allowed myself to express any of that anger at all. And the funny (but not really so surprising) outcome is that since writing the post I referenced above I really have experienced a tremendous amount of relief and an even stronger sense of connection to my original parents.

I truly do understand the situation they were in back in 1966. I’ve seen the films and read the books about the baby-scoop era. This is the contradiction that some people have a hard time grasping:  I can fully understand the sociological forces that were at play at that time in history and feel empathy towards my parents while at the same time feeling anger. It’s the grown-up/child split. The grownup me gets it, but the child me doesn’t care about grownup rationalizations. 

When I published that baby rage post, a first mother (not mine; someone else) berated me on facebook telling me I needed to grow up. I agreed with her that the post was “childish” but explained that that was the whole point! I was letting the suppressed hurt child in me finally have her say.  I have referred to that post as my “temper tantrum post,” not to diminish it but rather as an acknowledgement that it was the equivalent of the child who yells “I hate you—you’ve ruined my life” to her mother in the heat of an argument. It expresses a momentary emotional truth. It’s not the whole of my emotional experience of reunion. Even in your case, which you’ve described as "a slow burn,” I think it’s important for people to remember that this is just a part of the whole. The problem, as I see it, comes from the suppression of that part. When it’s not expressed, it lingers and festers.  

Deanna:  Totally agree! I too waited for so long to allow myself to admit it, express it and deal with it in an environment conducive to recovery. Maybe that’s because I knew the magnitude of the anger that was present. That's the reason our anger is really “the unthinkable” when you stop to consider it. Being given up by your own mother is not even fathomable to most of the world. There are millions of us adoptees, in the USA alone. But, I read a statistic the other day that it is estimated that only about 2% of the population are adopted.  (And 98% of people love to tell us how we should feel about it, having never experienced it. LOL) Many of us grapple with the whole thing of, “Why am I in the 2%?”

As a child, I didn’t feel the freedom to let out the anger.  I can’t picture a lot of adoptees who are children, having the freedom to do so. Can you imagine adopted children having the freedom to scream, wail, and cry out until their grief is absolutely exhausted?


I think most parents would be totally alarmed. So many would respond with, “What does this say about me? What does it mean for me?”

And it’s not about them.

A lot of the AP’s I know could not handle their kid coming out and saying, “I’m angry. I don’t want to be the 2%. I don’t want to be "special." I don’t want to be "chosen."  I’m angry that I’m different from the rest. I’m mad that she gave me up, for whatever reason…”  [Cue wailing here]

Most adoptees don’t have the freedom to say that to their AP’s. So they act out in other ways.  (Major rebellion or super compliant/approval addict.)

So yes, we know the sociological forces that were at work – we have heard the stories, not just the stories of millions of girls and women out there – but THEIR stories. Our mother’s stories. But -- at the end of the day, many of us still struggle with the impact of their choices upon our lives that put us in the 2%.

Maybe I never addressed the anger for so long because I felt in my heart that something of such magnitude couldn’t come to a resolve.  That it would just make a raging fire out of a slow burn.

Allowing myself to feel the “baby rage” was excruciating. I didn’t let myself go there for so long because I was afraid of how I would react or that the pain would never stop once I did.  Letting it come out was like lancing a very deep wound. I would lay on my side and cry for hours, letting out the grief, asking God to help me. Slowly but surely I began to feel better. My blood pressure even came down to normal, just by releasing the pain and anger!  I realize now how dangerous suppressing it, was. Opening up might have saved my life. I know it did, emotionally. But now I see the spiritual and physical implications were really key too.

I don’t know that adoption issues are ever “resolved” as most people would think of the word "resolved." I will always navigate certain challenges in being adopted (the blending – or not, of my natural and adoptive families, for instance) but I do know this…resolving toxic emotions such as anger, is possible.  I know because I’ve experienced it and am walking the road now as an overcomer.  

Rebecca: "I don’t want to be the 2%." That statement crackles for me because it's true but also forbidden. At earlier stage of my life I had very much internalized the message that I shouldn't have any kind of negative thoughts about having been adopted. I did a lot of policing of my emotions, and that's not good for anyone in the long run. (It doesn't at all surprise me that your physical health improved when you found an outlet for your anger via therapy!)

Once when I was experiencing a lot of intense emotion around the breakup of a long relationship a friend invited me to come visit her, emphasizing as part of the invitation that all emotions were welcome in her home. I remember the feeling of relief that flooded through me when she spoke those words. "All emotions are welcome." As adoptees, we need to get to the point of allowing that of ourselves. All the feelings. Not just the safe or approved ones.

It sounds like that's what Melissa provided for you in therapy--a safe place where all the emotions were welcome. For me it has been extremely important to work out these issues via writing and therapy so that I'm not lashing out at people in my life or engaging in destructive behaviors, such as sabotaging relationships (as I tended to do when I was younger). 

Like you, I don't know what it's like to be "not adopted." I only know what it's like to be me, and that's an experience that has included a lot of anger: toward my parents, toward the adoption system, toward non-adoptees who belittle my experience or attempt to set limits on my expression and processing, toward life itself. At my lowest points, I've experienced despair and hopelessness rooted in a sense of things having been so "broken" from the first moments of my entry into the world that they can never be set right. But, also like you, I am a survivor. I may never be completely free of adoptee emotions, but at this point in my life they are no longer toxic, to borrow your word. Rather, they provide the fuel that fires my desire to work for change in the systems that impact mothers and children

Deanna: I so admire what you're doing to work for change. And, so blessed to have friends like you to have important conversations like the one we just had. This post is a conversation my fourteen-year-old self couldn't even imagine having with anyone. I wish I could have opened up a letter at 14 from my 47-year old self that said, "It's okay. What you feel is normal. And one day you're going to meet a friend named Rebecca Hawkes. You'll be able to talk openly about anger you feel, but believe it's not safe to let out. And it's all going to be alright..."