Why do adoptees cut off contact???????????

This question (superfluous punctuation included) was in our hits based on search phrases. I thought it made for a good question: Why do adoptees cut off contact??????????? [Interpret as you wish.]

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9 thoughts on “Why do adoptees cut off contact???????????

  1. Wow, this is a great question. And from whom do we cut off contact? Our birth families when we meet them? Our adoptive families when we want to return to the place we’ve come to think of as home? Or maybe even ourselves as we try to establish an identity that is ours and ours alone, because we won’t accept the one that society attempts to place on us time and time again?

    We cut off contact with birth families because we are scared. We have been told stories of who we are and how we came to be. We have been told myths of where we came from and why it was important for us to no longer be there. We have entered an alternate universe that is only alternate for us. We have jumped the fence, crossed the river and become enmeshed in to other peoples’ multi-faceted lives; they did not come into or become enmeshed into ours. Our multi-faceted lives have been taken away and replaced with a single dimension until we were told which facets that could become ours. By meeting our birthfamilies, by coming face to face with those stories and mythologies, we have been given a mirror, warped as it might be. We have built beliefs and classifying systems based on what we were raised in, and we see the world in which we originated with those eyes; however, those eyes require adjusting because this is not the one dimension world we’ve been told about, this is a multi-dimensional world inhabited by real people, our families, and our cultures. Our worlds of origination have been encroached on, splintered and fragmented and left for dead. But they’re not dead. At this point we have to make a decision, to leave the safety of the world we know to enter the world we don’t. Or keep on keeping on? Then the questions come: what happens when that world is too different, its judgments too harsh, the people too unknowable? We begin to wonder if the devil we know is safer than the devil we don’t.

    We cut off contact with our adoptive families because how do we piece these conflicting worlds together, theirs and ours? The worlds in which we were collateral damage? These worlds that have been split asunder, their tattered edges barely recognizable as a whole? How do we take those baby steps into biological or ethnic autonomy? How do we address the stories and myths that turned out to be so false and know the joke was on us? How do we say, oh, that’s ok, you didn’t know what you were saying? Or what you were doing? These adopted families have the belonging of an entire culture behind them, the steadfastness of a community consciousness that embraces them back in to the fold, while we are left in tattered identities to figure out what happened to us.

    We cut off contact from ourselves as we attempt to find a place to be who we are, unquestioned and authentic. Recently, I approached Tribal Council with the request they hold a cultural event that acknowledges and welcomes home people who have been separated from the tribe through adoption or long-term foster care. To underline the issue of identity and placement I told them, “We didn’t speak about our lives in the White world because we were so busy trying to fit in and acting as if it was all ok. There was no way we wanted people to know how it really was. We were supposed to take the racism, the isolation, the anger and the hurt and stuff it down and pretend it was all really great – that whatever we experienced by being dragged into middle or upper middle class White society was a gift, regardless of how ugly and ashamed of ourselves we were made to feel.”

    Or maybe we cut off contact because we are given no other options, and we’re tired of explaining.

    • I want to thank you for this reply, which I hope will be taken by no one else as not thanking them for their reply.

      This morning, after a rather activating conversation last night and the not infrequent dull ache of sadness that checking in with TRE can call up for me, I just wasn’t in a mood at all to read your thoughtful message. And I felt badly that I couldn’t drum up the attention for it. i was skimming, as if that counted as reading, and finally gave up out of respect.

      So, of course you never would have known that I “disrespected” what you wrote, but I knew it, and I wanted to apologize for it anyway. If only for myself. Meanwhile, here at the end of the day, I’ve read it. And so, thank you again.

      • Thank you for the apology, although I feel it was not needed. Sifting through our lives, touching the bruises, picking the scabs is painful and even the most mundane events, let alone those things we actively seek out, can trigger emotions that protect us by not allowing us to be “present”. I appreciate your candor, however. There is an unspoken trust here that we speak honestly, and that is what I appreciate about this site.

  2. Fear of people. Fear of being hurt – again. Fear of rejection.

    Hearing yet one more insult, intended or not.

    I can’t possibly live up to your expectations.

    I don’t fit in.

    No, you really don’t know me at all. If you did, you might not like “my bagage.”

    Well, yes, this is who I am. I am an activist. No, I won’t be quiet. What’s that? You’re upset that I talk about adoption?

    I know an adoptee who is perfectly happy…okay, you’re not listening to me.

    If I tell you about myself, you’ll just walk away anyway.

    Swear one more time. Okay, that’s the last time you say, “Those fucking bastards” in my presence. And no, you aren’t “a horney bastard” and because you said that, this date is over.

    I do not want negative people in my life. If you put me down for being who I am, I’ll leave.

    …That’s what’s on my mind right now. If I think of any more, I’ll be back. Thanks for asking the question.

  3. Pingback: Is this real? « Exile of Xingnan

  4. Yes, interesting question. I assume that a birth parent is asking, but I may be wrong. It might be an adopting parent. I like thinking it was an adoptee asking, too.

    Thinking of my relationship with my “birth” uncle, my natural father’s brother. I won’t contact him because I think he is an ass. Period. When he wrote “the family history” – which was really about himself – he mentions my father who could not leave Cuba because the government would not release him. My father supported Castro in the early days of the revolution but seems to have come to other conclusions later, before he died. My uncle is not interested either to know me or consider my existence. That is another reason I choose to “break contact.”

    My natural mother is Japanese, living in Hawaii. I write her rather than phone her right now. I called two months ago and had a nice conversation. She asks good questions, sounds very kind and interested; but never reciprocates. Not a call, not a note, not an email that acknowledges receipt of pictures, not an email that says “hi.” I gave her a cell phone to call me. It was a private line in case she didn’t want a family member know she was calling NY. Not a word, except one time I called she said she lost it. I cancelled the line. I haven’t “broken contact” with her because I talk to other first moms. I understand it is hard changing one’s life, disclosing a secret held so long. It is what it is; but it is like a piece of glass. “Contact” has been made and I live with knowing her reality to the degree I can. In a sense, contact like that is one I cannot “break-off”. She is real and concrete, with a stature, smell, sound, thought. But I can distance myself and lean away from her. She does not understand what an opportunity she is losing with her great-grandchildren. Urrgghh.

    Sometimes we adoptees break off contact, however, in a primordial way. I broke contact when I left my mother’s care. “Broken” is the word. When I was taken from my foster-family, where I had three or four brothers, I broke contact. I never spoke with them again. I don’t even know their names or where they live. Adoptees in this case break contact because of being adopted. Being left alone is severance, breaking. Adoption is also severance.

  5. I have learned the hard way that one thing a person should never do is mess with a person’s ideals. Not if you want to keep them in your life, at any rate.

    A person’s idealism is tied to their self image – the person they wish they were, not the person they are. It’s an edifice. Often elaborately, painstakingly crafted. There is hard work and pride in the effort. So even if you appreciate the brick under the plaster and hate the faux finish, it isn’t appreciated when you ask a person to peel back all the hard work to reveal the real structure.

    Adoptive parents are often like that. The edifice is strong and not up for debate or scrutiny. They will do whatever is required to uphold the image they have created. They are self sacrificing. They are socially minded. They are benevolent. They are super people who did a super thing. They took in someone as their own and rearranged their lives and parented someone who wasn’t really theirs. Adoptive. Parent. Becomes their recognized identity. But it’s not really who they are inside. It is an offense to question such an investment. It is an identity crisis to ask them to deconstruct edifices and to dare to wish for something more honest and real.

    My parents would always change the subject or give some dismissive rationalization whenever I expressed a need for something that required soul searching from them. They were like this with their own biological children, but the adoption edifice was like the Parthenon standing on top of all those other ruins, bigger than all of us.

  6. Suki: durn you, you keep writing sentences that are really resonating with me :p This time, it’s “I have learned the hard way that one thing a person should never do is mess with a person’s ideals. Not if you want to keep them in your life, at any rate. ”

    I feel like often what I write may lose the forest (of my point to the social world of all of us) for the trees (of my personal autobiography). Merely talking about my feels isn’t interesting, even to me … usually.

    I didn’t begin reading Suki’s comment anticipating that it would be the adoptive parent who was the one with the ideal. Instead, I began immediately by thinking my adoptive parents would have done well to understand that you don’t mess with a person’s ideals, even when he’s a 7 year old boy.

    There was one crucial night when my father beat me. He’d done it before, but this night was different, because in the punishment that erupted from his volcanic temper, this time he was punishing me for an accident on my part. The fact that he was punishment me for something unintentional, for an accident, “broke” my contact with him. It’d be another 15 years before I even considered letting him into my life. But it wasn’t the pain of the beating–I already knew that; I’d already “forgiven” or “accepted” or somethinged that stuff. What specifically made the difference, and I remember this very clearly, was the INJUSTiCE of what he was doing. He violated the ideal of my worldview, however much anyone want sot ridicule that view because I was seven years old. He taught me a lesson (or tried to) that justice doesn’t matter where violence can get its way, but the lesson didn’t take. He exacted an outward obedience on my part, but he may count himself fortunate he couldn’t see what I thought of him in my skull.

    So, Suki’s point resonates deeply with me. You don’t mess with someone’s ideals if you want to keep them in your life.

    And taking that our onto a larger plane (away from the merely personal), let me ignore the essentialist versus constructivist “problem”. In a useless way, we can agree that all people are different in some ways and all similar in some ways. The crux for adoption generally and transracial adoption more pointedly is to what extent something like “personality” or “temperament” is not merely environmentally determined (I don’t exactly want to say “genetically” inherited).

    I doubt we will ever be able to sort this out. By the time I was 7, I was already a complex mesh of nature and nurture, and nature and nurture themselves are probably an inadequate dichotomy, if not inadequate distinctions, in the first place. But something of this is at the root of many critiques of adoption. The theory that when an adoption doesn’t “take” this is simply a function of people’s behaviors (rather than their natures) is not very convincing to listen to many people in this forum, or to look at higher suicide rates for adoptees around the world.

    Of course, I can simply say that my “identity” at 7 was not the same as my fathers, and so he messed with it, whether it was nature or nurture. That’s a slightly dubious way out IMHO, because it can’t explain why in personality my sister and I were so dissimilar from our biological brother. But since this portends an infinite regress or morass, I’ll just say that if, by nature, I was inherently different than my adopting parents due to our non-coincident biology, then this points again to the fundamental problem in the premise of adoption, since it means that adopting parents will never, except in the chance case where the adopted child is “by nature” actually similar to them, NOT mess with their child’s ideals.

    This means, yes, I’m proposing that sometimes, currently by accident, an adopted child’s “personality type” (to use Jung’s scheme) and her parents may be a more or less agreeable match, at least to one or the other parent if not both sot hat the child grows up not feeling wholly alienated from her entire universe. I’m proposing that this may explain the occasional rift in the “adoption community” between those who had “good adoptions” and those who didn’t.

Adoptees, what do you think? We welcome your replies!

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