Communication Skills/Opening up to my mother about my adoption issues
I am a 32 year old married woman who was adopted at the age of 6 months. I have known about my adoption since I was about 5, and until recently I never felt that I had issues with this fact about myself because I always had a general positive sense from my adoptive parents that they care about me and love me. I also have an adopted brother who is 3 years older than I am, so I never felt out of place in my family with respect to being adopted. Whenever I brought up questions out of curiosity to my mother about being adopted or the possibility of searching for my birth family someday, I was always told that she would support me.
Now my issue comes up with information I recently discovered about how adoption affects babies and permeates into their lives as they grow up and deal with other types of relationships, and how they feel about themselves in general. I learned about this information through reading books such as "The Primal Wound" and "Coming Home to Self" by Nancy Newton Verrier who is an expert on the subject.
As a child I didn't understand a lot of things that my parents did or didn't do, but now that I am older I realize that like any other parents they were only doing the best they knew how to do. As a teenager, I felt neglected and like they didn't care about me as much as my brother who got in trouble a lot for ditching school and partying too much. I stayed to myself most of the time, had trouble making friends, and watched too much TV. My parents always "reassured" me that they didn't have to worry about me because I never got in to trouble. I simply felt ignored by them during a time in my life when I needed them most.
My relationship with my mother has always been a bit tense. If I was in a good mood, things would be good and she would be happy, but anytime I tried to express myself whether I was screaming at her in frustration or calm and collected about it, she would start to back off from me like I'm getting ready to destroy her. She's told me many times that she is not an expressive person, but when I see her with the rest of our family (her sisters, the cousins she grew up with, her nieces and nephews, etc.) she is very receptive towards them and doesn't seem to have any problems expressing herself.
My whole life I have had trust issues which I believe is one of the main reasons why I've had trouble making and keeping friends. I have always had a strong sense of anger about different things and people. My parents did not raise me to properly express myself, so I tend to bottle up my feelings when I'm around people and in cases when I get upset, it just boils until I can't take it anymore and I end up lashing out. I did this a lot with my mother growing up, and I have done it many times to my husband who I have been with for over 7 years (we've only been married for about 6 months though).
In an effort to try to fix my behavior towards my husband, I started going to couples therapy with him, and while taking on the counselors advice and doing some research on my own about how to handle myself when I'm feeling angry is how I came about finding the books I have recently finished reading on adoption issues. Much of the explanation behind the distrust and anger I have felt my entire life finally made sense to me and I am coming to terms with this information and want to continue to move forward.
In order to do this, I would like to talk with my adoptive mother about it before moving on to any steps involving an adoptee support group or a possible search for my birth family. I can talk to my mom about general topics that don't involve emotional involvement like shopping or cooking or what I did at work today, but as soon as I bring up something with emotion, she backs away or tries to distract herself with what is on TV or her little chihuahua. My mom is a 67 year old widow who lives by herself in the house where she and my father raised my brother and I. My brother lives about 5 minutes from her and I live 20 minutes away. I feel as though not having my dad in her life for the past 10 years, and being an elderly woman now has made her more impatient to deal with serious issues because she hasn't had to take care of or worry about anyone the way that she use to when my dad was alive and when she had kids in the house.
I am a lot calmer now in the way that I handle my feelings because I am older and have matured a lot since being a teenager, plus I am fortunate to have met a man who has been able and willing to teach me how to appropriately express myself. His patience and understanding have been a profound influence on me in the 7 years we have been together.
Finally, after saying all of that, I feel like I am ready to talk to mother about my issues, but I just do not know the best way to approach her. I feel like I still need a lot of practice and work in the way I verbally communicate with others which is why I am now at a standstill with this issue.
Thank you for taking the time to read my extremely long explanation, and I appreciate any advice you can offer me.
It sounds like your past communication with your mom was very volatile and you recognize that it was. You've also said that you've gotten a lot better and learned certain skills in order to help you be patient. All of this is wonderful and a congratulations are in order! You did a tremendous amount of hard work.
Now how to go about approaching your mom? That's going to be a bit tricky. It's really hard for anyone to let go of an image they have of someone based on their repeated past behavior. Your mom was clearly scared and didn't know how to cope with your outbursts in your youth, so she just avoided you altogether when it came to serious discussions. I've seen this MANY times before.
I think what it's going to take is time and patience on your end and a building up of trust on your mom's end.
From the sounds of it, your mom doesn't feel quite safe talking to you about deeper subjects yet. I don't think you've gotten the chance to show her that you're much better and more patient than you used to be. That trust will take time to rebuild.
I would start off telling her what you told me:
"I realize in the past I was difficult to talk to because I would blow up. I apologize for how I was in the past, but I'm much better now and more patient. I'd really like to be able to talk to you about some more serious issues. Would you please give me a chance?"
And see how it goes from there. Just see if your mom is even receptive to a more serious conversation. Give her some time to think it over and be patient with her. You can even tell her that you'll give her time to think it over. This behavior of approaching her with kindness, a calm attitude, and even patience to let her think it over will be the first step in rebuilding the trust between you two and it will be wonderful example to your mom of how much you have changed.
Best of luck and please feel free to email me any followup questions you may have.