When I imagine bottled-up emotions, I picture a soda that’s been shaken. When it’s opened, the contents explode and shoot out everywhere. Fizz in your face, streams spraying out in every direction, and a sticky mess all over your hands, clothes, and floor. Not at all fun to clean up.
That’s a lot what it is like when I don’t take the time to address my emotions head-on as they happen. The buildup leads to an explosion. It is something I am notoriously good at! So, I will not preach to you about how you should NEVER bottle up your adoption emotions, but I will tell you how poorly it affects me and how I try to avoid it at all costs.
If you are part of an open adoption, there are bound to be some bumps in the road. This is a relationship formed with a specific purpose and often without much time to build a solid foundation. You may come from different backgrounds or have very different life experiences that make it difficult to relate to one another. One may prefer phone calls while the other only wants to text. It’s a recipe for communication disasters and hiccups along the way.
As in all areas of life, if something goes awry, you have a few options on how to handle the situation. Do you:
- Ignore the problem and hope it will go away?
- Immediately react to the problem with no filter?
- Retreat from the person and problem altogether?
- Sit on the problem and ponder how you can learn from it?
- Take a moment to process the problem and then devise a plan to address it?
Every situation is different. We are all different people. Every person, every situation, will evoke a different response. But it seems the people who carry the least burden have something in common: the way they resolve conflict with poise and thought. I look up to these people who seem like they are just pros at dealing with stressful situations. They may feel a great deal of inner turmoil, but handling their business is what they do well. The lessons I am learning from them are:
1. Don’t ignore the problem. It won’t go away.
2. Don’t react to your emotions. It usually doesn’t end well.
3. Don’t cut the person out of your life. It will leave you with regret.
4. Do sleep on it. How can you see this from a different point of view and grow as a person?
5. Do address it. How can you walk through the problem together?
While exploding may feel good in the moment, I have found that my rash words and actions often fill me with regret. I am embarrassed that I was unable to stay calm and may have done more damage than anything. I may think I am “schooling” the person I have unleashed my wrath on, and maybe they’ll even stick around to have it happen again, but not only have I hurt them, but my anger has added another layer of complication to the problem. Rather than exploding, take time to think about what is happening, why it has happened, what you can learn from it, and how you can strengthen your relationship by addressing the problem.
The times I thought I was doing everyone a favor by keeping my emotions locked up inside, I found myself resenting the person—and they had no idea what they were doing was causing me such distress. Avoiding conflict doesn’t avoid the problem, it often heightens it. I felt like a prisoner of my emotions. They made me pull away.
Think about the delicate nature of the relationship between birth and adoptive parents in an open adoption. If someone begins to resent the other person because of a problem that could be addressed, but isn’t being addressed because it may hurt feelings or cause drama, then the resentment will turn to hate and damage the relationship. It is best to find a solution, chose your words carefully, and be strong. Mutual respect and honesty will strengthen a relationship far more than explosions, closing off, and distrust.