Her Absence filled the world   The R Word The R Word

by Joe Soll, LCSW, Psychotherapist, Author of "Adoption Healing... a path to recovery" (
1 for moms, 1 for adoptees, 1 for both). 
Co-author of "Evil Exchange" and "Fatal Flight"

When facilitating my support groups or nightly chat or in a session with one of my clients, I often hear someone say that they are afraid of getting “rejected” again. This is referring to what might happen if one searches and gets turned down, or if a reunion goes awry.

As adoptees, what we need to understand is that we were not ”rejected” when we lost our mothers. We need to understand that all babies are lovable, without exception and therefore, no matter what happened it was not rejection. For me to be rejected there has to be something about me that is not likeable, not lovable. Since all babies are lovable then I could not have been rejected. If a mother, for some reason does not love her baby that is about the mom.

It cannot be about her baby, so it cannot be rejection. The pain of adoption loss is just as profound for a mom as it is for an adoptee. We all survive our losses by pushing them away.

When a mom is contacted the hidden feelings of pain, anger and sadness start knocking at her consciousness. If she cannot face her hidden feelings because they are so terrifying then she may not be able agree to contact.

When someone is truly terrified they usually do not have the ability to confront their fears. This works both ways and we need to respect the feelings of someone who is truly terrified that their feelings will destroy them.

If I choose to search and when I make contact, I am turned down by my mother (or in the case of a mom searching turned down by the child she lost to adoption) that is not rejection of me but an unwillingness of the person found to face her pain. It cannot be about the searcher because the searcher is unknown to the person found. Aside from the terror of facing her pain, a mom might fear severe consequences from her family members who may not know her secret.

Now comes the inner child work. What we think affects how we feel. The words I say about myself, the words I think about myself greatly affect my emotions. If I can stop thinking the R word. If I can remove the word “Rejection” from my vocabulary, I can do what I want with impunity because I know that: #1 I was not rejected at birth, #2, I cannot get rejected if I should choose to search for my family. I can get told “No” and that would be sad but it would not be devastating because it would not be “rejection” of me.

No matter what we do, being told no will be horribly sad and hurt like hell. However, if I’ve done my inner child work, in the end, knowing that it's not a 'rejection' of me, that it's not about me at all, it's about the other party's own experience and feelings is what makes the difference. Part of the preparation for search is to be aware of all the things that can happen, both good and bad. If we do this preparation along with the inner child work, no matter what happens, we will be ok. Yes, we may hurt like hell but we will be ok.

I often hear, “I feel rejected, or I feel abandoned.” To be clear, abandoned and rejection are not feelings. They are thoughts based on our past experience, thoughts that create great anguish. If we can recognize this and do the thought changing work of this chapter, we will remove a lot of anguish from our lives. If I hear myself thinking, “I feel rejected” and stop a moment and ponder... “Am I being rejected? Am I being abandoned?”, I will usually see that neither of those thoughts is true.

Also, adults can’t be abandoned. To truly be abandoned, one has to be left in a position from which she cannot survive. I suspect that none of us need to worry about that happening. Yes, someone can leave us and that would be sad, but it’s not abandonment. Usually these thoughts are the thoughts of our IC so we immediately need to go to IC and reassure her that what she fears is not happening and cannot happen.

As trauma victims our inner core expects the past to repeat. As adults, we need to be aware that what happened at the beginning cannot possibly repeat as we are adults now and in charge of our lives.

For us to do the above, the first step is to intellectually know that all babies are lovable and then make sure our inner child owns this fact.

Next we have to do the intellectual work of knowing that we were not rejected at the beginning and then make sure that our inner child knows that he/she was not rejected at the beginning.

Next we have to intellectually understand that we cannot get rejected if we search and then make sure our inner child knows that. The inner child work I refer to consists of our “talking” out loud in our head to our seven year old self (for an adoptee) and telling her/him the intellectual truth that it was not rejection in the past and cannot be rejection now. To do this, we have to have previously done the work of helping our inner child know that she/he was lovable and still is.

If we do this, we will be at a place to never fear losing a relationship ever again. Sure, it is sad to lose relationships, but when one knows it cannot be a 2nd rejection, one is free of one of the biggest adoption issues we all face. I’m not saying this is easy. It takes a lot time and a lot of work but the payoff is a wonderful reward.

Please do me a favor. Throw out the “R” word. It will change your life.