Why Do So Many Adoptees Struggle With Love as Adults?

Dear Neil: I am a 55 year old adopted male. I have 3 failed marriages. I have always felt so alone, I’m not close to anyone—and I don’t have a strong sense of family. This affects all of my relationships. Even in younger years, I don’t remember having best friends. When I vocalize my feelings, the fear of being judged keeps me from pursuing any depth conversation on the subject. What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I love or be loved? I think this is about being adopted.

Needing Help in Barstow, California

Dear Neil: My boyfriend was adopted at birth and has struggled with it. He searched for his birth parents, and discovered that they were both dead. He found half-siblings, but has had a shaky relationship with them. Last week, he was fired from his job, and then he up and disappeared. It’s been over a week, and I haven’t heard from him since. He never took his things—he just disappeared with the clothes on his back. Common sense tells me to move on, but I can’t help worrying about him. He is a kind, loving, gentle soul. I can’t understand why someone who has struggled with abandonment (from his biological parents) would just abandon me—because he knows first hand what it feels like.

Disowned in Reno, Nevada

Dear Needing Help and Disowned: This is not true of all adoptees, but for a healthy number of people who were adopted, fear of rejection is the driving motivation behind many of their “keep away from me” behaviors. They’re likely having conversations inside their heads like this: “Lost my job? She’s going to dump me. My birth parents didn’t want me, so nobody else will either. In a close, love relationship? You better get out now while she still thinks well of you. Let anyone else in on my true feelings? No chance, they’ll think less of me. How do I allow myself to get closer to someone? I can’t. Getting too close to someone opens me up to getting deserted.”

This incessant fear of rejection or abandonment becomes an all-important driving force in how some adoptees behave in their adult relationships. If my own birth parents abandoned me, why wouldn’t everyone else abandon me that I feel close to?

We all know that birth parents who give their child up for adoption may not be ready to be parents. They could be young immature teenagers who are too self-absorbed to responsibly care for a baby. It could be an “oops” experience from people who just met each other and are no longer together as a couple. A pregnancy could result from rape or incest where the female doesn’t have access to birth control, but definitely does not want the baby from the person who impregnated her. There have been car crashes where the parents die but the baby survives. There can be lots of reasons birth parents give their babies up for adoption. But none of these reasons have anything to do with the baby not being lovable. It has to do with the parents not being able or mature enough to love and care for a child properly.

But some adoptees simply jump to the conclusion that the only reason they were given up for adoption is that they were not lovable enough, and their parents didn’t want them. And if you think that about yourself, but now you’re an adult in a romantic relationship, it is not a far stretch to assume that your boyfriend or your wife will see you the same way as your parents did—unlovable, not good enough and that you don’t measure up. So, to protect yourself, you leave before your partner decides to leave you—or you make it so hard to be with you that you’ll assist your partner in leaving you. However, a relationship failure can also persuade an adoptee to seek healing from their patterns of having a close, loving relationship that they sabotage.

2 comments on “Why Do So Many Adoptees Struggle With Love as Adults?

  1. As an adoptee, former board member of a non-profit supporting post-adoption search and support services for adult adoptees and as a therapist trained in post-adoption support, I would like to add that this is not a ‘decision’ made but a trauma experienced in the same way we experience death of a loved one, only adoptees experience this at a pre-verbal age and so the experience is felt in the body without language to interpret it and without support to grieve and integrate the trauma. Adoptees who are well adjusted and who move through these experiences more easily likely had an environment where respect, trust and hard conversations about being adopted took place. For many adoptees talking to family is difficult because they need us to be okay to feel they did a good enough job. It’s not easy to develop emotional maturity when it’s not safe to express feelings growing up. Grief and loss and identity are the core issues for adoptees. It’s a hard road and there is a higher incidence of drug use, jail time and suicide for this group. Everyone wants a baby but they may not have an understanding of how to support the additional needs of a child who has experienced trauma. Adoptees often do the tough emotional work alone. you can’t always stop an adoptee from running when it’s tough but they do benefit from and appreciate your acceptance and support. We often feel very alone and misunderstood.

  2. As an adoptee,I always felt unloved, unlovable and unwanted by my own family and by anyone else. I always wonder if people are nice to me because they are being polite or because they really do like me. As a 43 years old black woman raised by a single white female made it worse. Though she was and still is a wonderful human being ,she never really discussed hard issues with me. Her family accepted my adopted black sister and myself but I feel it was out of love for our adopted mum more than it was for who we were/are. Of course today we’re accepted,but to this day,I feel like I don’t belong anywhere. My date of birth,place of birth,real age,real name and everything about me is unknown and was given to me as a child,it makes everything worse. Finding love is impossible,I only have failed relationships and 3 kids by 3 different fathers that I never really loved.
    Adoptees are highly misunderstood and lonely.

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