How can you be true to yourself if you grew up not being allowed to know who you are?
‘This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man. – Polonius in William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”
As an adoptee, hiding behind the mask of being “normal,” of masquerading as the “real” daughter, I could never live my life authentically. Early on, I assumed that there was something shameful about not being born to my mom and dad. The best way to behave was to strive for perfection in everything.
No matter how I tried, however, it was never enough. In lieu of facts, my imagination took over. I was competing with that other daughter that my parents couldn’t have: A ghost of a girl who looked like my adoptive parents and resembled them in ways that I simply could not. I had to make them proud, to prove myself.
At age five, I had (symbolically) been “born again.” That old life was just a warm up and I was supposed to forget about it. Never ask about those first parents. Don’t think about those years before being “rescued.” If I wasn’t successful in my role, I could be sent back to careless people who never should have been foster parents. Maybe it was fear that kept me from pressing for answers about my first years.
That said, I had wonderful adoptive parents. They helped me accomplish and excel in many ways. Striving is not necessarily a bad thing. I did well academically, worked at age 16 to save money for college and graduate school, embraced writing at an early age as what I really wanted to do. My ambition was boundless. In many ways, that has served me well.
The downside is that I never “arrived.” Instead of being able to savor my successes, I kept raising the bar. Only now can I relax and quit being an overachiever.
Do I have advice to those who cannot accept their adoption? I can offer only some thoughts I would like to share. Knowing ones parents certainly has value, but if that knowledge must be incomplete or even missing, SEARCH FOR WHO YOU REALLY ARE.
If possible, avoid people who sap your energy. Vow to do something good for yourself every day, even a small act. Try a week of being your own best friend., and see if you start feeling better, especially about being an adoptee!
This above all: to thine own self be true
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