Monday, March 05, 2007

The Fixer, The Pleaser, The Desperate Seeker

Fellow adoptee Mia recently blogged about some of the things we have in common. Things like a narcissistic adoptive parent, an equally unhealthy first mother and a big fat question mark for a father. Mia has the additional burden of dealing with a bio family who mostly refuses contact and an adoptive brother who is the golden child of a her a-parents.

Still, the similarities!

I'd like to add my two cents to some of her points:

Mia:
"I am convinced they adopted me so I could take the full burden of responsibilityfor their behavior. In other words if it were just the two of them they would have nobody to blame for their dysfunction. So I was forced into the roll of the source of all that was wrong, the scapegoat. Yet I worked my butt off trying to FIX everything for years. Honestly Istill feel like I have to fix everything. It’s a hard habit to break."

It's interesting to size up your parents - their strengths and weaknesses and skills or lack thereof - from the point of view of an adult. When we're kids, we have no clue. They are big and powerful and even when it feels wrong, we believe they are right. How can they not be? They are the people in charge. Except when they are not. These kinds of couples may have thought they wanted a child, but what they really wanted was a fixer. A child to fix their marriage, their infertility, their loneliness, their fear of growing old without a daughter to help care for them.

Adoptees of such parents can sense this. Our needs as unique individuals are rarely addressed and never taken seriously. It is the way we are treated and not treated. There is the unwavering expectation that we will listen and comfort and not rock the boat and solve problems.

Adoptees like us become FIXERS. And when we finally realize we don't like the role, we have to fight against it. Not just our Pavlovian panting at the sight of a problem, but the insistence of others that we continue in our Role as Fixer. Not only did we fix our a-parents problems, we help others, too. Case in point, my troubled sister-in-law. Over the years, I spent time, energy and money as she careened from one problem to the other. I bought her clothes, took her in several times. When I finally woke up and realized she didn't even like me - in fact, wished I'd never married her brother, I stopped. Cold turkey. But my new role as neutral spectator must be threatening to the family system. My mother-in-law keeps trying to rope me back into my old role as Fixer. Couldn't I call my SIL and talk some sense into her? After all, I have a family responsibility. No. No way.

And then there's the People Pleasing! We adoptees must grow little antennaes on our heads because we're hyper-sensitive to others moods. We meet someone new and have to win them over. We compliment others. Try to make them feel good. We stay at parties longer than we want to with people we don't even like that much. We volunteer to do all sorts of crazy things in our children's school, even when we don't have time, because we need approval from the teacher. In fact, we allow ourselves to get roped into all sorts of things because we have a hard time setting boundaries. Others first. Us last.

And one more point raised by Mia:

"I suppose if I were to be totally honest there was a huge part of me that desperately wanted to find a healthy version of a mother in my natural mother E. I told myself I wanted the usual; “to know where I came from”, “to say thank you” and all of the otherload of crap sayings we feed ourselves as an excuse for wanting the most natural thingin the world which is to simply know our mother. I didn’t find a healthy anything, instead I found an equally weak and self absorbed mother."

This is tragic. I mean, you're placed in a home where the parent(s) needed a parent and not a child and you were forced to become their emotional (and/or physical) caretaker, is it any wonder that we desperately hoped for at least one parent who can act like a real parent? How pathetic! Recently, I talked to my adoptive mother's oldest friend about some of this. She had no clue. I always really liked her. She listened without interruption and asked some questions. Of course, I was apologetic for taking up so much of her time and thanked her profusely for the gift of letting me talk for what, maybe five minutes?

Of course, I would have loved for my mother to do that. But she's not capable either. She had a horrible childhood and is self-centered and is child-like and needs attention. What disappointment! What crushing disappointment! It is this fact that keeps me from calling her after reunion.

What makes it especially hard to even raise such issues is the extent to which we have internalized our roles. The good, grateful daughter should not discuss her adoptive parents faults, even giant ugly ones like narcissism. What right have we to criticize? And when we find our first mothers or fathers disappointing, we struggle to voice that too because we feel guilty. After all, we found them and now stand in judgment. How dare we? What right have we to our disappointment that our mother is not the mother we had hoped for, often desperately. After all, we have no claim on her. We sought her out and now stand, a little surprised and maybe even bereft. But at least it's finally real. She's no longer someone who haunts us. She may trouble us, as a real person can only do. When she is no longer a ghost, neither are we. And when we admit that our adoptive parents weren't so nice and maybe even narcissistic, then can become real people, too instead of Problem Fixing, People Pleasing Pretend Children.

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19 Comments:

Blogger suz said...

hmmm, so interesting nina. thanks for sharing. i always see so much of my daughter in many of your posts..and it helps me be aware, more respectful, etc.

i can totally relate to struggling with admiting/seeing our parents faults. even in my own therapy, telling my story of what happened to me during my pregnancy, what my mother did and did not do, i rush to defend her. to explain away her actions, to make her treatment of me "okay".

i feel disloyal talking negatively about her...(she hard life, she had an alchoholic husband). the best thing my therapist ever said to me was "so. so what about your mothers life. what about YOU".

Huh? Me? What? You mean I matter? My feelings matter?

Ugh.

Thanks again. Hugely helpful to me as a daughter, a mother in reunion, a woman.

4:38 PM  
Blogger Nina said...

Thank you, Suz! I'm am so glad to hear you got something out of this post because I was thinking of pulling it earlier because it left me feeling weird and guilty. Not exactly sure why. It's such a taboo to speak the unvarnished truth about one's parents. We are supposed to love and honor and respect them, no questions asked. No questions about how they treated us. A good friend's mother once said to her, "Why do you always remember the bad things about me? That wasn't how I raised you, to be so disrespectful." Her mother treated her with so harshly and with such disrespect with she was young. And even though her mother has improved w/age and regrets her past behavior, she says her daughter is wrong to ever raise it...it should all be glossed over and only the good things recalled.

And yes! YOUR feelings matter!

6:32 PM  
Blogger Possum said...

Another great post Nina.
I have to run - I'm off to my daughters preschool parents committee meeting - seriously. Yep - I have a big S - for sucker - tattooed right on my forehead. I just didn't realize that I'd been stamped with it soon after birth. (can only but laugh really!!!!)
Biggest hugs, Poss. xx

11:31 PM  
Blogger LeRoy Dissing said...

Even when not adopted, there are some similarities if you have parents less than adequate, if not totally inept. However, when you are an adoptee, you can get a double whammy if both the aparents and parents are similarly dysfunctional like yours were Nina. Even in non-adoptive families, adults have kids because they think it will strengthen their marriage or solve all their problems or as in your case, give the parents someone to focus on so they don't have to focus on the problems in the marriage or themselves.

Even non-adoptees have a difficult time asserting themselves with their parents and falling back into childhood roles around them.

I am not trying to minimize the complexities of adoptees, just wanting to point out that there can be some similarities with non-adoptee children.

I just find the fact that you can strike out twice sad. Getting dealt bad aparents and then searching for your parents and finding out they were not any better or worse then the aparents.

As always Nina...very insightful post!

12:34 AM  
Blogger Nina said...

Run Possum! The great thing about getting so involved in the kiddie's schools is that, when they are young, they seem to really love it and maybe even do better in school. The trick for people pleasers is to know one's limits...that I don't have to sign up for three committees AND bake the cupcakes! And I read your post about university work and the studying your doing...and that's great for your children to see, too...that mama takes HER studies seriously and they will probably be more inclined to when the time comes for them.

LEROY, You know, I think you nailed what was bugging me about this post and it's exactly what you pointed out...that I 1) forgot to acknowledge that this can happen to the non-adopted, too and it's a universal drag; and 2) when it happens to adoptees, mostly us older ones when there were more babies to be had that a) we get the feeling we were GOT or ACQUIRED for a certain purpose which is different that just being born; b) these older generation adoptive parents were working with little or no information about adoption issues so were free to develop their own ideas and often, included the expectation of lifelong gratitude and loyalty in exchange for parental services rendered.

Sigh. Yes. Striking out twice is sad. Really sad. It's something I struggle with. A lot. It makes me angry and then, I think, Buck Up Baby, You're Middle Aged. Get Over It. And then I'm reminded how important Good Parents are in our lives and what a difference they can make. That even we're aging, we still want to be parented. I heard an NPR anchor do a piece on her mother who also has Lewey Bodies dementia like my a-father. And even though her mom was having a hard time, she still acted like the anchor's mother. Somehow, this old, sick lady was able to provide comfort. She took her parenting skills along with her and didn't lose 'em. The NPR anchor herself had been very sick with a flu on their trip and seemed to find comfort in her mom's reassurance that they'd struggle through, just like they'd always had, no problem.

8:35 AM  
Blogger Being Me said...

Nina,

I'm glad you've kept this post, even though I find it disturbing. I appreciate being disturbed sometimes.

I recall something Joy posted after her trip to Paris -- included another view of FIXING. Fixing humans is sooo dysfunctional.

I do like the part about no longer being a ghost.

2:03 PM  
Blogger Nina said...

Being Me,

That's very open minded of you! I myself don't like being disturbed but maybe I'll learn to appreciate it as a special challenge. Maybe I can search what Joy said about fixing b/c she always has such an interesting, fresh perspective.

8:11 PM  
Anonymous mia said...

I have so many thoughts running through my head. I would really love to give you a comment worthy of the post but everything is swirling around at the the speed of light.

The word EXACTLY is what I am coming up with at this moment.

6:43 AM  
Blogger Erika said...

i completely agree with you nina. too many ppl adopt to suit their own needs and wants without giving any thought to the child. i ran past a webpage that had a stupid ad about wanting to foster adopt. the woman said: recently reconciled with my husband, we have one son but im unable to have anymore. i really want to foster/adopt a girl so my son can have a sibling to grow up with.always wanted to have a daughter. please donate money so we can get a 3 bdrm house so we can make our dream come true.

yeah i kno. sick on so many levels.

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