Adoptee Soul Dread

By: Becca Dragon

**That feeling when you are sitting in your third grade class, and you overhear a group of kids talking about someone’s birthday party, knowing you didn’t get an invitation: wondering what is so wrong with you that you don’t seem to be as accepted as the more socially fluent around you….

**That sense of longing and insecurity as you watch the other juniors find dates for prom, and you find yourself with the sad reality that you either have to go stag, or avoid the event altogether: but no matter, it is still self-evident something is wrong with you that no one wants to be your date….

**That immediate hit to the gut when you get the call from your dream job “I am sorry we decided to go a different direction…”

**The extreme panic when finding out the betrayal of a loved one…..

Rejection, disappointment, insecurity, and feeling alone are common human experiences.  Probably everyone reading, adopted or not, can relate to at least one of the feelings above, or something close to it.

However, I want to introduce into the public conversation the concept of “Adoptee Soul Dread”.  I think I have coined this term, but forgive me it if already exists and I just think I am clever where I have actually just absorbed some community understanding.  I have been wracking my brain lately over how to describe that “unique-to-adoptees” existential anilinism that we are commonly beset with…so I have finally arrived at “SOUL DREAD”, and ask my community to consider its introduction into our lexicon.  

 Adoptee Soul Dread is already spoken about in many other ways in our adoptee community such as “fear of rejection”, “abandonment issues”, and “RAD” (don’t get me started here).  It is frequently the cause of the good old adoptee “cut and run”, and more profoundly, a contributing factor in our elevated rates of addiction, self-harm, and suicidality. 

You can literally feel the presence of Soul Dread in the posts of our fellow adoptees, their reactions to experiences in their lives and online, and also (sadly) in the way we sometimes perpetuate harm on ourselves and each other in the places that are supposed to be the most safe.

I have been around long enough, and spoken to hundreds (maybe thousands at this point) of adoptees, and I can tell you that this experience and way of moving in our relationships is common.  There is an existential crisis that happens when many adoptees are faced with real or perceived rejection, “othering”, and exclusion.  It isn’t just the universal human reaction of “feeling the rug pulled out from beneath you”…it is the “feeling the rug has been pulled out from beneath you and there is no floor underneath but rather an endless freefall into the dangerous unknown.”

Modern therapeutic resources are designed to address the former kind of “rug-pulling”, rather, they address the outcome of the having the rug pulled out and the subsequent injury of hitting that hard floor beneath.  Therapy and healing is often focused on “HOW TO GET BACK UP AGAIN!”  However, there are slim to no resources that help to address the adoptee experience of having the rug pulled making them fall into that dark chasm with nothing to grasp on to on the descent.  It’s like applying a splint to a burn.  The splint is useful for one kind of injury, but not the other.  When adoptees seek out these therapies and unqualified gurus of healing that do not take into consideration their unique-to-relinquishment-and-adoption injuries and subsequent reactions, we become like bewildered burn victims wearing a splint then believing something is inherently wrong with us because the splint just won’t help us heal….but it does for everyone else!!  LOOK, even “healing” modalities don’t work for me because I am just inherently broken.

As is common when adoptees speak of their emotional landscape and reactional experiences, we are met with “everyone deals with rejection”, or “that isn’t unique to adoptees”…or ye old “not all adoptees react like you do, stop blaming adoption!”  In fact, I can predict with confidence that many reading these words (if this isn’t TLDR at this point) will be internally railing against the idea that adoptees might have unique psychological and emotional landscapes than the non-adopted.  Perhaps many will be gracious enough to place our experiences under the great umbrella of “trauma”, but usually this is without differentiation.  The moment an adoptee declares, NO it’s different….we are immediately told we are overreacting, self-victimizing, or “in need of prayers and healing”.

Now to address my fellow adoptees, and our adoptee community:

I think we are at a precipice in our advocacy and the way we interact with one another in adoptionland.

I have been seeing a growing trend of the creation of new social forms in adoptionland that I believe are a direct result of our shared Adoptee Soul Dread.  In our descent into the chasm, we attempt to grasp at anything….ANYTHING….that we can anchor on to in an attempt to stop the free fall.  Some of us grasp onto some good solid friends.  Others stop their fall by holding onto groups that offer a wider discussion and stronger support.  Some spend time in reading and visiting platforms that share adoptee words and experiences. All of these anchors and lifelines are essential to our community, and I am grateful for the ones I have been able to hold on to and even create in my tour of duty in adoptionland.  It is a privilege to be able to participate in these aspects of our shared experiences.

However, many of the things we grasp on to are not for our betterment.  In fact, many of them, even though perhaps on the surface seem innocent and even efficacious, are actually incredibly harmful. For instance, many take their self-panic and turn it outwards to call others out for minor infractions or differences in tone/opinion/approach and publicly shame them.  Others grasp on to the false anchor of “celebrity”, thinking that if they could just get their name and message on a larger platform, their Soul Dread would be salved.  Others of us take our Existential fear of the rug coming out and create hypervigilant, overly-facilitated, and inauthentic “new social forms”.  When these are the things we grasp onto, we are actually recreating, again and again, the exact right conditions for ongoing repetitive soul dread responses. 

What we call “HEALING” is often actually just us playing out our soul dread on one another.  We create spaces and connections that are extensions of the kind of harm that got us here in the first place. When we do this, we create factions and “cool kids tables”.  We elevate ourselves over the most vulnerable among us.  We create a social hierarchy, where the more extroverted and “socially competent” get the most support and credit for their contributions to our conversations. These are the ones who get to “be seen”, when one of the deepest needs of the adoptee is to be solidly seen in authenticity and autonomy. When we create ways and platforms that are about the people instead of “the work”, we are making sure that some are “extra-seen”…putting others at greater risk of getting lost in the margins.

I do not begrudge adoptees their ways, methods, and style of “being” in adoptionland….until those ways are used (intentionally or unintentionally) to exclude portions of those who are just as integral parts of our community.  An adoptee does not need to be a loud voice, have a platform, have tons of connections, or even be brave enough to comment or reach out to be seen as an equal and integral part of this great work that is supposed to be happening among our ranks.  When we create, or even simply unthinkingly USE a form/tool that has an exclusionary aspect to it, we are helping to fortify, solidify, and perpetuate community harm.

You might have guessed by now that I am reacting to learning about the introduction of a benign social media app (the app itself I have absolutely NO objection to) into our “safe” spaces. This app has an “invitation only” aspect to it, and apparently once you are on it…it actually shows next to your name who invited you.  On the surface, so what: what’s the big deal?  It’s just in beta mode, that’s why…the app isn’t trying to hurt your feelings.  I had a young birth mother who has not yet had to face the Adoptee Soul Dread of the adoptee she created double down on “there is no reason ANYONE should take offense to this”. 

I responded, “the question isn’t why ‘ANYONE’ would take offense to it…it’s why would an ADOPTEE take offense.”  When we declare “there is no reason”, or even “sure, I can understand why you might feel that way BUT..” we are actively using a harmless/non-malevolent tool to carelessly exclude, other, and harm.

This is in NO WAY a direct call-out to those using the app.  I don’t even know where this happened or who initiated it. I don’t want to know, I prefer to stay under my rock on this. The only thing I know about the situation is its reverberations in the lives of these adoptees. I am speaking in a general way, and asking for careful consideration of how the introduction of this app (or other similar things that require connections to join) may have activated Adoptee Soul Dread in members of our community.  I am attempting to use my voice to advocate for the adoptees who quietly reached out to me and talked about how this rollout affected them personally. These are not adoptees who want their names out there, have large platforms or platforms at all, or want an adoptionland dumpster fire at their door…they are just members of our community who were and are hurt by not being invited to the cool kids table.

Also, I do not, and never would, denigrate any good work being done on and through that platform.  I would never want to rob adoptees of things that help, and from what I understand, there is a lot of mutual support happening there.  However, like all things adoption….adoptees live in that space between both/and and walk a fine line of contradictory circumstances.  Sometimes the things we find to be the most beneficial and wonderful also hold the complexity of despair and unintentional harm.

We need to be better than this.  And I ask for a community-wide careful re-evaluation of how we move and interact in adoptee spaces.  A slower, more methodical and intentional approach to advocacy may not give the quick adrenaline hit that a hundred likes and a well-attended live event may give…but in that approach we are less likely to create exclusionary social forms at the expense of the most vulnerable and quiet among us. 

Love to you all.  My goal is to be kind, but in so doing to also not stop speaking or bringing light to the less savory places in our advocacy.  We have a responsibility to be more thoughtful and cautious towards each other.  If you find yourself personally targeted by my words, trust me…you are NOT. I mean it when I say I don’t know anything except the outcome of the app’s introduction on some very hurt adoptees. I have no desire to make this a finger pointing…because really…who am I anyway? I am no more important than anyone else, and the very least, I support every adoptee’s autonomy to conduct themselves and create content as they see fit….even when we don’t see eye to eye.

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