As discussed in the previous two parts of this series, shame can have a serious impact on members of the adoption triad. Adoptees are the most important members of the triad, and often the most affected by shame. I talked to five adoptees about their experience with shame. Here are the 4 things people said and did that hurt them the most.

Saying “You’re adopted? I’m so sorry!”

Sorry for what? Being adopted doesn’t automatically make you damaged. It doesn’t have to be a bad thing. There are so many adoptees who have had a great adoption story and are at peace. Apologizing for the simple fact that someone is adopted feeds into the idea that adoption is automatically hard or bad. Some people truly do have hard stories, and sympathizing with those stories is important. But the mere fact that someone was adopted isn’t bad.

Hiding the adoption

Every adoptee I talked to said that their parents had the biggest impact on the way they felt about adoption. Those whose parents were open about the fact that they were adopted and spoke positively about their story and their birth parents reported a higher level of satisfaction with their lives, and closeness with their adoptive family. Those who were not told that they were adopted or not allowed to talk about their feelings about being adopted tended to feel more isolated and ashamed of the fact that they were adopted. Not telling a child that they’re adopted implies that adoption is something to be ashamed of, and that’s just not true.

Calling adoptive parents saviors

“You are so lucky your adoptive parents took you in and saved you from the system.” Most of the adoptees I talked to had been told this at least once. Adoptive parents are wonderful – just like any other parent. Telling a child that they are lucky their adoptive parents adopted them not only invalidates any grief they might feel over their birth family, it also has the potential to damage their self esteem. Making a child feel like a burden to their parents will make them feel ashamed and second class. Most adoptive parents will agree and say that they are the lucky ones.

Discouraging adoption conversations

Is there a reason other than shame that an adoptee should not be allowed to talk about their story? Adoption is not a dirty secret, it’s just a fact. Adoptees have the right to process their feelings with those they love, and shutting that down will only strain the relationship and make the adoptee shut down.

Read the other articles in the “Adoption and Shame” series here and here.