By Esther Mann, LCSW
I’ve been reading your columns for many years now. I enjoy the varied topics that are discussed and find them all interesting and usually helpful in some way. But I’ve been waiting this entire time for you to address a topic that is particularly important to me. Each week I wait excitedly, hoping that this week will be the week it comes up.
Since that has not happened, I decided it’s time that I wrote in to you myself and maybe there are other people in the same boat as I who will be happy that I brought up this topic.
My parents adopted me as an infant many years ago. I am now in my mid-twenties. Somehow, a few years after my adoption, my mother was miraculously able to conceive, even though she had been told by doctors that she would never be able to have children of her own. She and my father ultimately went on to have three children.
I have to be honest about what wonderful parents I have. They told me at an early age that I was adopted, so it just became a fact of my life early on and there was never that bombshell moment when they had to reveal the truth. I think it was a wise approach on their part. In general, they are smart, caring, and loving people. They never made me feel like I was different from my siblings. I never felt that I was loved less because I was adopted or different. Yet I am very different.
The family is basically on the fair side. I have dark hair, eyes, and skin.
They also are not particularly tall, and tend to me more on the slender side. I am broad and have always struggled with my weight; I can’t remember a time in my life when I was thin. I’m what people would probably call “a big girl.”
They enjoy sports and are athletic, more or less. They love to ski and sometimes even go on a family hike. I am a sedentary type. To me, the best kind of day is one when I’m vegging out, reading or watching TV and staying in my pajamas all day. I tried pushing myself for years to go along and try to be what I am not by nature. But I gave up on that years ago and am honest with myself and my family that I just don’t enjoy doing the same sorts of things that they enjoy.
Even with all of that, I can’t say that I feel judged. Maybe by some of my siblings. I sometimes think two of them think of me as a lazy bum. But my parents were always accepting of me in every way, and I am grateful for that.
The problem is that despite winding up with such wonderful parents, I still feel like there is an emptiness inside of me. As though one day I just fell off a random truck and was taken in and cared for, but that was not supposed to be my final destination. Some days I kind of feel like an alien. I’m just so different. It’s hard to shake this feeling, and I spend a great deal of time obsessing over who I am and where I am supposed to be.
I sometimes think that I owe it to myself to search out my biological parents, but I believe that my adoptive parents would view it as a terrible betrayal. After all, they have been my parents for 25 years and were there for me in every way possible. I really have nothing to complain about in that regard. But this hole inside of me just doesn’t seem to go away.
Incidentally, I’m still single. I’m not sure if there is a connection or not, but I sometimes think that if I don’t totally know who I am, how could I be an honest wife of someone else? Maybe if I discovered my real parents, I’d have a better sense of myself and then be able to fully open up to others. So this is my dilemma.
I don’t know if other people who were adopted feel the same way. I haven’t been friends with anyone else who was adopted, so I never really got to know anyone else living my life. And of course my siblings can’t for a minute understand how I feel.
Would it be a betrayal against my parents? What are your thoughts on it? As I’ve said, I’ve considered “going there” for some time now, but lately I feel a real urgency.
No doubt such are not unusual for someone like yourself. Though you are blessed to be part of an amazing family and appreciate what fantastic parents you have, that is not the entire story that you are interested in knowing. Perhaps there are some adopted children who aren’t as curious as you are, but your need to know is absolutely understandable. It certainly doesn’t reflect any dissatisfaction on your part regarding your parents but rather a desire to discover the truth regarding your creation.
In terms of your basic question as to whether such a journey of disclosure would be experienced by your parents as a terrible act of betrayal, my gut tells me that such wonderful parents as you’ve described would be sensitive enough and therefore capable of appreciating your needs in this regard. They are most likely open and intelligent people. Therefore, my advice would be to simply sit down and talk to them.
I don’t get the impression that you’ve had this conversation with them, perhaps out of a sense of respect and possibly fear of hurting their feelings. But I would like to believe that they can handle this conversation and hopefully encourage you to do whatever you need to do right now. With their permission and possibly even encouragement, you may or may not at that point decide that you must follow through. Sometimes, just knowing that it’s OK to move forward on a dream has the potential to dispel some of its urgency. But either way, the key is to have an open and honest dialogue with both your parents, so that you no longer have to feel that you are carrying around this dark secret of potential betrayal.
Again, though it’s understandable why you are curious about your biological parents, try not to lose sight of the importance of nurture versus nature. Yes, genes can be quite powerful in determining who we become. But the environment in which we are nurtured, cherished, and loved is also a most powerful ingredient. Despite your brown eyes and brown hair, in matters of your heart and soul, you may be a dead ringer for your real parents, the ones who raised you.
Finally, you should know that it’s not only adopted children who sometimes have to deal with issues of identity and self-awareness. Many people struggle with these doubts their entire lives. When one feels that these unanswered questions are getting in the way of living a healthier and more successful life, therapy is often helpful in leading the way toward a greater understanding of self. Perhaps you may want to begin your journey in this way and discover the answers to many of your questions in the safety of a good therapist’s office.
Wherever your life’s journey takes you, I wish you the very best.
Esther Mann, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Lawrence. Esther works with individuals and couples. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 516-314-2295.