What’s Love Got To Do With It? Why Adopted Children Can’t “Feel The Love.”

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from one of our parents.

It is such a common story. A child is adopted at a very young age, or even at birth and the adoptive family pours every single ounce of their love and attention into the child. There are elaborate birthday parties and cartoon character footed pajamas worn to family pancake breakfasts every Sunday.

If you are to ask the adoptive parents if they feel in any way, shape or form that they love the child any less or any differently than they would their biological children, and almost all will vehemently defend their love for their adoptive children with absolute abandon.

And we all want to believe that all we need is love.

Which is why it is so perplexing, alarming and downright confusing when so many adopted children begin to develop emotions and behaviors months or years post adoption placement that mimic those who have been through war, or left completely neglected, or abused by someone they love. It is why so many adults, when first faced with confronting this strong and overwhelming sense of being “unloved” within their adopted children, absolutely reject the notion that such an emotion could be true, or worse fail to validate that emotion as real. It is because of the defense to what has been “given” or “done” for these children that so many adopted children are left with such deep shame and fear of these powerful feelings and act out to prove this unworthiness to be true. Struggles at school, depression, anxiety, interpersonal problems, emotional dysregulation, reactive attachment disorder, and rejection of the adoptive parents are just some of the ways this may present itself.

I remember the first time I tried disciplining my adopted child for a rather inconsequential and innocent misstep on his part and him reacting to that redirection as if I had punished him with absolute dire consequence. It was the very first of so many interactions in which I began to understand that he could never understand that he could do something “bad” (which again is a terrible word that no one should use) without it meaning that he was “bad.” You see, over time I came to learn that he truly believed that he was Bad. Unlovable. Unworthy. Undeserving”.

How could a child who has been loved so deeply with so much abandon be incapable of processing and feeling that love?

As a parent there truly is no worse feeling in the entire world than learning that your own child (lets be honest our adopted children are truly our own) has such limiting and paralyzing belief systems.

It is only natural to have that stir-up emotions in the adopted parent that they have not done enough, or worse that they simply are not enough for their own child. There is nothing worse in the entire world than the feeling of being “not enough.” It can wreck havoc on the entire family ecosystem.

It is because of this chain of events that so many adopted children struggle to process the inner workings of their emotional life against the outside world they live within. If you cant feel or believe what the grown up’s in your life are telling you is fact, then there simply must be something wrong with you and how you feel. You begin to not trust yourself.

It was less than a week ago when my college age adopted child, whose birth mother recently passed away confided in me that she was unable to be in relationship with me since her mother’s passing because of all the guilt it left her feeling. She felt so incredibly selfish that I had “done so much for her,” and yet it wasn’t enough to shelter her from the incredible pain she had been experiencing over her birth mother’s death. Essentially she felt guilty for the greater connection she felt to her birth mother as if it somehow made her a traitor to the love she felt for me. She also felt such deep guilt for how painful it felt to be around me.

If I were armed with fewer tools, less educated, or had engaged in less trauma centered therapy than I myself may feel slighted by her loyalty and compassion for the parent who had caused her so much pain and seen her need for space as complete disregard for me and how it may make me feel (and let me tell you it was painful). It would have been much harder for me to accept that she needed tools, and relationships and resources that I could not give her in order to move towards healing.

It is a very difficult thing to do; allowing your adopted children to have these big scary feelings without it meaning that you should have or could have or should be doing more. It is human to want validation for everything you have done for someone and to want to be loved in return. It is also a very difficult decision to allow your own children to need and receive help and assistance outside of what you can give.

But the truth is as adoptive parents we have to come to place of love and acceptance that regardless of how much love and adoration is given on our part, there is still such deep grief and loss over the primary attachment of the biological parent.

Biology is a tie that binds and the disruption of that tie and attachment leaves a loss that the adopted child will navigate for the rest of their life.

But there is HOPE.

What we have learned is that these traumas and losses need very specific treatments and specialty care. We have learned that trauma is a family problem and has to be healed from the inside out through connection. It is CALO Programs foundational relationship paradigm that goes #ToTheRoot of these issues and heals these inner belief systems of the adopted child (inside out) versus addressing the behaviors or depressions or anxieties from the top down. It is through these treatments that connection and joy is possible and the entire family can once again believe that they are love and they are enough..just as they are. #GoToTheRoot.