Toxic Shame

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INIS MEÁIN“I’m a mistake.”

“I am not worthy.”

I must have been bad.

All of the above are sentiments that commonly plague the mind of the adopted child, even when they know their entire story. At the heart of these thoughts lay rejection and fear that he may again be abandoned, this time by you.

Regardless of his story, the child (because children are egocentric) often feels abandoned by his birth mother. Depending on the temperament of the child, the emotional trauma can create the feeing of toxic shame—the ingrained belief that there was something inherently wrong with him, and that is why his birth mother rejected him, gave him up, away, chose not to parent him. This child can feel a sense of worthlessness, emptiness.

Developmentally, until the age of seven or so, when the ability to reason is present, the child cannot comprehend an imperfect parent. So instead he sees himself as the flawed one. Unaddressed, this belief can take up residence in his mind and defense system, affecting the development of a false image and/or behavior (addictions, compulsions and obsessions) as he adapts to hide the false belief of defectiveness.

Some of indicators of this belief can be compliant behaviors, as in always being well behaved or super-sensitive to others’ feelings. As parent, you will need to discern if this comes from pain or health. Examples of of rebellious behavior or acting out are rage, stealing, rejecting others so he won’t be rejected first, and hurting others before he can be hurt.

In order to help your child, you must first understand what shame is and how it manifests. Then help your child dump the illegitimate beliefs by challenging any that are uttered, for example, “I was a bad baby.” If a child has stated this, the response would be something like, “No you weren’t. Your birth parents weren’t able to parent you …” and tell his story, the truth every time (in age-appropriate language).

Help your child ferret out and identify shameful thoughts as he grows older. When he shares that is he “such a loser,” explain that such a claim is false and why that is so. Encourage him to challenge the belief, dump it. Continue to be empathetic and supportive, keep talking with him and also affirm how wonderful he is. A hug, along with a smile, eye contact, and a genuine, “You’re awesome!” will help him feel valued.

Food for Thought: As parent, your job is to teach your child that what happened was not his fault. That nothing is or ever was wrong with him. How will you help your child confront his false shame and embrace that he is worthy?

~ Photo by Fergal of Claddagh

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Von March 28, 2012 at 1:06 am

And what about the ambiguous loss adoptees suffer, how will that be dealt with?


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