350,000,000 – The number of people worldwide who are affected by Depression.
This single stat is just one of many that show how prevalent mental illness is both in the United States and around the world.
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This single stat is just one of many that show how prevalent mental illness is both in the United States and around the world.
Every year in September SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) sponsors National Recovery Month in an effort to increase awareness and understanding of mental health and substance abuse issues. Each year is given a theme and 2018 is no different with the theme being Join The Voices of Recovery: Invest in Health, Home, Purpose and Community. This theme for 2018 explores how integrated care, strong communities, sense of purpose and leadership contributes to effective treatments that sustain the long-term recovery of persons with mental health and substance use disorders.
In reality, recovery is so much more widespread than just in respect to substances. This begs the question, what is recovery? Well according to Merriam-Webster’s definition recovery is, “the process of combating a disorder (such as alcoholism) or a real or perceived problem.” Well, I think that definition itself helps us to understand why most people automatically think of drugs and alcohol when talking about someone in recovery.
SAMHSA began tackling the issue of defining recovery in 2012 and to this very day it is still referred to as the “working definition of recovery from mental health and/or substance use disorders.” This working definition states recovery is, “a process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live a self directed life, and strive to reach their full potential.”
Taking it a step further, SAMHSA through the Recovery Support Initiative has delineated four major dimensions that support a life in recovery — health, home, purpose and community. And again, going even further, they went on to set forth the ten guiding principles of recovery. Essentially these guiding principles conceptualize the belief that recovery is person-driven, emerges from hope, occurs via many pathways, is holistic, is supported by peers and allies, is supported through relationships and social networks, is culturally-based and influenced, is supported by addressing trauma, involves both self and community strengths and responsibility, and is based on respect.
This working definition and it’s inclusivity of all mental health disorders is definitely something we can “work” with — no pun intended!
Our friends at the Southern Utah Veterans Home invited ATC to come make crafts with their residents. Each resident was given a wooden kit, which they could transform into an airplane, jewelry box, car, or birdhouse.Our guys were able to help these veterans assemble, paint and decorate each of the items. The best part of the afternoon was getting to listen to the amazing stories these men have been apart of and being able to form friendships with these great veterans.
It’s Thanksgiving time with our friends at The Meadows Assisted Living. ATC had the opportunity to take an ordinary red delicious apple and turn it into a turkey! We poked feathers, stuck eyes, taped gobblers, inserted toothpick feet and last but not least carefully placed a piece of candy corn for the beak.
We are so grateful for the food that we have in our life especially around the Thanksgiving holiday but we also know there are a lot of people that go without food on a daily basis. The Utah Food Bank does a great job raising the food needed to help those that don’t have the means. Our guys and gals spent a couple weeks collecting food and donating itto our local food bank. We were able to raise close to 80lbs worth of food!
The Be the Change student committee has been working their tails off with service projects, activities and being leaders in their individual homes. We took the opportunity to reward their efforts by going to Las Vegas and watch a little college basketball at the new T-Mobile arena.
It’s chow time! Our first annual chili cookoff was a big success! Each home was in charge of bringing their best chili. It was a close race between the 400 and Red House but the deciding factor was the level of spice. Our judges consisted of our graduate students and some of them couldn’t handle the heat from the 400 house and the Red house ended upraising the coveted Chili Cook Off Champ wooden spoon!
Northstar Advocates invited ATC to sit side by side with young adults who suffer from mental disabilities and create gingerbread homes. This is the same group that ATC spends bowling every Thursday afternoon. Every time we walk into the same room as this group, they automatically light up and you are instantly their best friend for life.
Every Thursday ATC joins forces with Northstar Advocates and participates in special Olympic bowling. It is such a blessing to form relationships with these individuals. Joy comes naturally when hanging out with this group.
Who would’ve thought St George would be home to one of the best residential Christmas light shows in the country?! In fact ABC broadcasts a national Christmas light show called the Christmas Light Fight every December and the past 2 years a St George home has taken home the trophy. January through November this home is a normal 3 bedroom, 1500 Sq Ft home but come December it turns into a Christmas palace!With dozens of props, tens of thousands of lights and an electric bill that we wouldn’t wish on anyone.
We are back at The Meadows Assisted Living and popcorn ball snowman ornaments are on the menu! We took mini marshmallows, butter, popcorn and a lot of cooking spray to assemble our best (some de-constructed) snowmen. With a ton of sugar to decorate and a fancy candy cane to act as the hook on top we were able to make a completely edible craft. Now our hope is that blood sugar levels don’t get out of control.
Throughout the month of December our guys and gals participated in our first annual coin drive.Each house was given a 5-gallon water jug in which they were responsible for adding nickels, dimes, and quarters to their jugs and pennies into the other jugs. Each penny was the equivalent of -1 point and the other coins were the equivalent of their value. By the end of the coin drive the 400 house collected over $35 worth of coins, unfortunate they also collected over 500 pennies making the Red house the winners!As a group, we collected nearly $90 worth of coins and then our wonderful parents helped by matching our efforts bringing our grand total to over $700!!! The money was then donated to a local charity called Kony Coins for Kids, which raises money for Christmas presents for the less fortunate children in our community.
ATC spent a Saturday morning in the local soup kitchen preparing meals and personally handing them out to the homeless in our community. We had multiple stations where guys prepared the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cut them in half, placed them into Ziplock bags and packed the sandwiches and other food into a brown paper bag. We then split into two groups where one group hand delivered each individual bag at a park and the other group delivered their lunches in a Wal-Mart parking lot.
The evening of December 19 was designated as shopping night for Kony Coins for Kids. A group of us showed up at Wal-Mart,were given a family, and told to shop for each kid in that family. It was like Black Friday without the rage and anger. It was so packed but everyone was very pleasant and it was an awesome atmosphere!
On December 21 a few of us got to be Santa Claus and his helpers. All the gifts that were purchased were divided into individual bags and hand delivered to each family in the community. Nothing can describe the faces of these kids as Santa knocked on their door! The fact that Santa was a 7 footer had no effect on these kids or parents. All they knew was gratitude for being able to offer their children a proper Christmas. It was a great lesson for the guys that helped out as they felt the impact of giving back to those that have very little. The Grinch said it best, the spirit of Christmas doesn’t come from a store, Christmas is much much more.
At ATC we hold a weekly co-ed recovery support group that meets on Tuesday afternoons at our clubhouse. Not all members of the group have a primary substance use disorder or are necessarily substance dependent. The qualification to be in the group is simply a desire to be sober while at ATC and wanting a supportive group of peers to help enable this. The group is not 12-step based (although principles of AA/NA are discussed in the group) but is more of a psychoeducational process group.
Often we discuss such topics as triggers, relapse symptoms, cross addiction or process addictions, relapse prevention techniques and most importantly attempt to build a positive and supportive peer culture based on attraction.
At times clients are challenged and asked to be held accountable by myself or their peers. We face current issues within the program that our clients may be facing in the moment. The intention with this is on accountability and solutions, not on punishment or shame and we try to demystify the shame around relapse but rather build a desire for sobriety through support and positive reinforcement.
We have a board in our group room that lists each client’s names and sobriety dates. We celebrate 90 days, 6 months and 1 year sobriety dates and clients are offered incentives in gift cards and ATC “swag” to acknowledge these dates. (This is no way takes away from clients who wish to participate in our 12 step based community groups in St. George in the way sobriety dates are celebrated in those group rooms).
The group participated recently in an experiential exercise where we created a substance abuse sculpture. Group members started in a horizontal line standing shoulder to shoulder with one another. They were asked a series of 20 questions involving their drugs and alcohol use history. Each question that could be answered in the affirmative required them taking one step forward. This created a continuum of substance use severity among group members.
We then processed each group member’s feelings about where they ended up on this continuum. One member that was on the most severe end of the continuum shared how differently he feels being in that position now versus when he was actively using and saw it more as a sign of social status and pride. The group was then asked to repeat this exercise a second time but respond to the questions over the past 30 days only.
Each member of the group ended up much further down the continuum and we discussed how this is reflective of progress being made in their respective recovery. Even the most severe group member was able to see in a tangible way how he far he’s come over the past 6 months.
Her husband and her were going through a very difficult time. He had done things to seriously damage the relationship and she felt betrayed, unappreciated, and unloved. The tornado of emotions that come with trying to forgive and work through difficult times led her one day to pick up a bat and destroy her entertainment center. She cried in anguish, frustration, and deep sorrow as she hit each blow to pieces. Once her anger and intense pent up emotions were spent, in tears she slowly went to go start cleaning up the huge mess she had made. As she reached for the first piece to pick up and put in the trash, her husband stopped her. He looked her deep into her eyes and said these powerful words; “This is my mess, I’m so sorry for what I have done and that it has led you to feel so deeply upset and betrayed. This is my mess, don’t touch it, it is mine to clean up.”
It would have been easier to look at this woman in her time of upset and call her crazy, or out of line, or being over reactive. The power of this moment is that her husband saw beyond the outward frustration and behavior of destroying something and recognized his actions of hurting her had led her to want to destroy the entertainment center in the first place. His ability to see the deeper piece in this moment led to a heartfelt apology which then opened the ground for healing and mending in the relationship to take place and build on. Rather than continue to decay the relationship: hope was able to flourish instead of pain and sorrow.
A sincere apology often has three parts: 1) I am sorry 2) I own what I have done (it is my fault, no blame anywhere else) 3) What can I do to make this/it right
We are human and will make mistakes. When we do this we aren’t just being bad people, or weak people. Our mistakes make us human and so they will happen and will we impact our relationships with our human “ness”. Even when we don’t think that we’ve made a mistake, other people will at times still feel hurt with how they perceive we have treated them. We human beings are walking offenders even if we don’t mean to be.
Here’s the real question: If we’ve done something that offends someone else—whether or not we feel we are to blame—should we apologize? Absolutely, it always serves our highest good to apologize if we’ve hurt or offended someone else—even if we think the offended person’s anger is unjustified, or if we have a perfectly good excuse for what happened.
Making the situation right can be the most difficult part of an apology and holding the space as long as it takes for the other person to step into forgiving and letting the relationship repair is hard because our timing is not their timing and it can be difficult to wait that process out.
Good apologies include reparation of some kind. For example, creating an opportunity for the person you embarrassed or hurt to regain credibility, or help them understand you get what you did to hurt them, and you are truly sorry. Or perhaps you admit your mistake to others, too, as a part of the reparation. In many relationships, a hug or physical connection is good reparation. Either way it is so important to repair and mend, not just in words only. Rebuilding trust takes time to truly repair the relationship. If you aren’t sure how to make it right, just ask, “Is there anything I can do to make this up to you, or make this right?” Make sure to deliver on any promises you make, so make realistic suggestions when doing repair work. When we feel guilty or embarrassed, sometimes we over-correct in our attempt to gain forgiveness.
When we work with young adults at ATC, we are teaching them the power of accountability, and that when they get messy with life, and make chaotic or poor choices, that they learn how to care more about how these choices impact themselves and others, including their parents.
As parents it can be frustrating to wait for what seems like genuine accountability and an apology for when they go array in life. The framework of a genuine apology is key to learn and understand on both ends. Parents can at times fall into the trap of enabling their young adults and not treating them like adults, but still treating them like kids. In these moments it is powerful for their adult children to hear their ownership surrounding the struggle to let them grow up, make mistakes, learn from them, and doing so without fixing or making it better. In these moments saying, “I apologize for enabling your ability to stay a child, you are not a child, and I can do better to treat you as an adult.” This powerful statement will be a part of the collective push to grow young adults into being the very adults we are hoping they become. It also pushes them to be accountable for their lives and their choices, and when they make mistakes be able to repair and mend in mature ways.
It goes both ways; parent to child, child to parents, husband to wife, friend to friend, etc. Good repair work in relationships is a learned skill and needs to be practiced often. Ownership instead of blaming when we make mistakes is so powerful in maintaining healthy connections. May we all continue to learn and grow surrounding how we manage our relationships and connections with those we care about. The relationships we have with our parents, significant others, children, siblings, friends, etc, these are the most sacred and precious things we can make and hold in this life, and so it behooves us to tend to them well and often.
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is the fastest growing group of developmental disabilities. Given the growing prevalence of ASD, there is increasing focus, understandably, on the screening, diagnosis, and interventions for young children. However, there is less attention placed on the challenges faced by young adults with ASD who are making the transition from the education entitlement system to an adult system based on available funding.
In May 2014, the Legislative Program Review and Investigations Committee (PRI) authorized a study to identify the needs of, and services available for, individuals with ASD, focusing on the transition from secondary school completion to young adulthood (up to age 25).
As we look at the answers that this study come up with state agency supported employment, independent living and other programs; We found that the answers for these questions were coming from a traditional services system that has and is continue to build a lot of knowledge of the intended people to serve but little understanding of who they are and what they truly need.
We discovered the video “Knowledge Doesn’t Equal Understanding” from the Youtube channel “Smarter Everyday”. The experiment of the backwards bike sparked a series of discussion and thoughts of how to provide a different approach for ASD individuals to attain independence and navigate the barriers and traditional approaches that may hinder their pursuits.
The common expression about a person being “stuck in his ways” is correctly used to describe someone who can’t or won’t change his habits that he/she has developed over time. However, we know that this label is unfair when looking at the actions, thinking and patterns we see in individuals with ASD.
At The Crossroads (ATC) believes that Education, Experiences and Empowerment make us who we are. Through change and growth, our personal beliefs can be developed or strengthened in understanding what is most important to us; serving people, pursuing excellence, embracing change, acting with integrity and being an asset to our communities.
We followed the suggestions of the video that a well-structured traditional learning environment cannot allow for success in a non-traditional approach. The student, colleagues, clinician and families would carefully designed outlines and preparation material to further assist the students in developing their approach to independence. However, there is a lot of room for the Students life to get messy.
The mess is where a lot of the learning and opportunities to change come from. The Mess or the unknown is the hardest part of this idea. Messy and unknown are scary, nevertheless we all plunge into these depths time and time again in order for us to achieve the success we crave.
We know it’s good for us but we don’t always allow young adults with ASD the same opportunities cause we don’t want them harmed. By looking at life in a backward bike way, we might be able to gain understanding into the way young adults perceive these messy situations and apply the knowledge that we possess to provide a full meaningful journey through the rest of their lives.
I have worked solely with young adults over the past 12 years of my career and have had the joy and pleasure of experiencing many clients that are enjoying the benefits of long-term recovery. After interviewing several of my previous clients about what they learned following one year of sobriety, I summarized their responses into 12 reoccurring themes.
1. The more I practice doing something the more normal it becomes.
Even sobriety. Even when it seems like it will never get better or easier it does.
2. I’ve learned who my real friends are.
These may be different then the friends I partied with. Some of my “party friends” still love and support me but they support and love the sober me. In fact, some of these friends even love and support me more than they did before.
3. There are so many people out there who suffer from or are affected by addiction. It’s interesting how when I choose to be sober my eyes opened to see how many people related to me and are so similar. Recovery creates an immediate connection to other recovering addicts, an immediate mutual understanding and respect.
4. Honesty is always best.
Honesty with myself is key but is also applies to my relationships with the people that are meaningful to me in my life. The more people know what is going on, the more support and accountability I have.
5. A parent’s love is unconditional.
Even when I have felt undeserving of their love they are there for me. Sobriety strengthens those bonds and helps me appreciate the sacrifices my parents have made to support me.
6. Looking like an idiot at a party or on the dance floor is okay.
At first, going to a concert or a social event was hard. Dancing sober was awkward initially. Now I just look around and realize that everyone is a) drunk and dancing like an idiot and b) no one knows that I am sober and no one cares. I’m more comfortable just being me and not caring what others think.
7. I’ve learned how to cope with feelings instead of use to avoid them.
Tough emotions can be hard to deal with. Feeling things isn’t always pleasant or fun but in the long run it is so much healthier and more productive and the plus side is I can also feel the full extent of my positive emotions when I’m sober.
8. My relationships have become real and meaningful.
Most of my relationships when I was using were just superficial. Some people were just my drinking or using buddies, nothing more. Relationship maintenance also becomes a lot simpler when I am not blacking out and making decisions that have a negative impact on my friends and family.
9. Balance is key.
I’ve come to learn that people still genuinely want me around and enjoy my company even as a sober person. Sometimes being social can be more challenging sober but connection with others is critical. Maintaining a balance socially, educationally/occupationally and spiritually makes all the difference.
10. Not using can be hard and frustrating at times, especially in college.
I’ve learned to be okay admitting this and struggling with it if I acknowledge and face it. It’s normal and okay to struggle with this, as long as I face it somehow. Whether this is talking to a friend, a sponsor or writing about it.
11. I have more money!
Using drugs and alcohol is expensive. Not only that but using decreases motivation and results in bad choices that can lead to losing employment or paying consequences through the legal system. Sobriety puts more money in my pocket and helps me sustain my responsibilities as an adult.
12. Sober or not, bad days are still going to be a part of my life.
The difference now is they are easier to deal with and as I mature they become easier to navigate over time. My worst days sober are still significantly better than my worst days using.
There is a great movie called “A River Runs Through It” about family ties and learning how to unconditionally love those who challenge us with decisions and choices in their life that we may not agree with or understand.
“Each one of us here today will at one time in our lives look upon a loved one who is in need and ask the same question: We are willing to help, but what, if anything, is needed? For it is true we can seldom help those closest to us. Either we don’t know what part of ourselves to give or, more often than not, the part we have to give is not wanted. And so it is those we live with and should know who elude us. But we can still love them – we can love completely without complete understanding.”
― Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It
When I work with young adults and their parents this is often a constant issue. The common questions are: How do I help my child? They have such potential, how do they see what we see as parents? How do we help them thrive and be happy? Or how do we help them become more independent? How do we stop them from making poor choices?
Our program here At The Crossroads is named such because we believe that young adults need to live and learn from the mess of life as they navigate different crossroads in their journey to independence. As parents this is a difficult process to watch as young adults wade along, create messes, and as parents not want to fix it or make it better. As parents we can be so used to cleaning up, fixing, problem solving and making sure they are always OKAY, making sure they can be happy, and that they don’t struggle or suffer unnecessarily.
However it is that very struggle that pushes a young adult to grow up. Life experiences and the upsets that come with it, help young adults examine choice points and hopefully mature as they grow and gain insight into how they want to better live their lives. It helps them learn to make different choices and learn from mistakes even if it takes multiple times of the same mistake to finally learn the lesson.
A young adult can resist or fight growing up because they don’t want to take on the fullness of responsibility that comes with being an adult. They will push their parents to enable and rescue when times are tough. As parents we need to not enable and to instead hold the space of them BEING an adult, and weather the discomfort that comes as you experience them struggle without fixing it or making it better.
The tricky balance we ask our parents to walk is the fine line between support and help, without enabling. In her book The Conscious Parent, Shefali Tsabary, PhD notes that “bad” behavior is really a search for our inherent goodness. When young adults struggle, as parents it is important to have boundaries that are clear and fair.
A young adult may complain and pull on a parent’s heart by saying you don’t love me, or you want me to fail or you what have you. Our children know how to push our buttons and activate the shame we can hold as parents at not being good enough or failing our kids somehow.
I think it is important to remember poor choices and “bad” behavior is their’s to own and be accountable for, and this behavior is not WHO they are but more of a reflection of them trying to figure out their place in the world, deep down who they are, and where they fit collectively in the world outside the family system.
Getting out of the dance of enabling young adults and letting them grow up is easier said than done. Having clear and realistic boundaries can be subjective and each young adult and family is different in regard to setting boundaries and making them effective. In general it is important to set up realistic expectations for your young adult, and expect they will push every angle of your boundary to see how intact the boundary remains.
When these boundaries falter is often when I see the most difficulty for a family system to change and make space for young adult to grow up. When the same dance is enabled to continue, then a young adult cannot grow up. Fundamentally changing the nature of your relationship with a young adult is key.
There is rupture, disconnection, repair, and re-connection in any relationship. Letting the old relationship with your child rupture and change doesn’t have to be a bad thing, this process allows for healing, repair and even deeper re-connection as maturity grows and the ability to be an adult opens up, rather than hold the space of them remaining a child emotionally.
It is also important to hold the space of mature communication with a young adult as a parent, and when this is lacking hold them accountable for doing so. Letting a young adult tantrum on the phone or face to face with you, continuing to listen to demands and disrespect is holding the space of them being a tantruming child, not the young adult you expect them to be. Ending these communication promptly with the expectation for it to be better and respectful before engaging with them again is crucial.
In closing nothing is easy about parenting. Nothing is easy about becoming a young adult either. Both take willingness for parent and young adult to change what was when they were a child, and shift expectations on both ends. In the book How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk the author notes in the encouraging autonomy chapter to let go of your kids learning from YOUR mistakes.
As parents we want to tell our children as loudly as we can at times, “HELLO!!! I know that road, don’t go down it, it won’t bode well for you, this, this and this outcome is what is going to happen!! WHY AREN’T YOU LISTENING TO ME!! See, that thing I told you would happen did happen.”
While often times we can be right as parents in regard to messy outcomes, if we want to have or maintain the ability for our words to matter for a young adult we need to INVITE them to listen, INVITE them to care about what we think not assume that they should.
Some examples of this kind of communication are: “It sounds like a tough road you are walking, in my own experience I struggled with those kinds of things as well. Would you like to know more?” “If you ever want my perspective on that I am here for you let me know.” Again those types of ways of communicating invite a conversation not demand one.
When you are a curious parent and curious about your young adults life, and life choices even when it looks a mess, you have much more of a chance I believe to have and maintain influence than when we come across mad, reactive, disapproving and judgmental.
Becoming a parent we commit to be there when things are the most bleak and the most hard, and as parents I believe you can learn to be there for your young adult at all times without enabling them. This begins with consistent boundaries and the expectation that they DO grow up, mature, and be an adult.
This means allowing them the messy experiences that come with trying the adulting process on, failing, and going back at it without major enabling parent interference. Essentially as parents we are “fishing” for the most appropriate ways to interact with our young adult, and hold the space of that place with them. When we do this as parents, it gives them more room to actually become the independent young adults with balance in their lives, we are hoping they become.
During a recent group therapy session, I asked several of my clients to write about what they perceive are the benefits of sobriety. Below are several examples of what they identified:
“To experience and appreciate the smaller joys in life and not be blinded by numbing myself. In contrast, to also not miss out on all the feelings associated with the struggles that are also a necessary part of life. To not lose sight of who I am. To not be held back from opportunities in life. To not require something other the life to experience the joy that can come from living my life. To not lose authenticity to self and therefore real connection with others.”
“Benefits of being sober: family relationships, maintaining a job, healthier relationships, more income, healthier appearance, not relying on something to self-medicate, more fun to be around, not treated poorly by others, no judgment, no limitations, self-respect, can help others, self-care, set an example for younger siblings, don’t need to sell my sense of self for the drug, trust and reliability, more freedom to do things, see life more clearly and not putting my life at risk.”
“It’s good to be sober because you are able to live life clean, content and happy. I have been able to experience life more without looking over my shoulder, staying up all night, trying to stay awake during college and going to jail. I have been able to maintain a good job with a good income, and I am able to focus on my needs and wants instead of just immediate wants. Although I want to revert to my old habits a lot, I don’t want to because I believe I can do it, be sober and would feel so bad to relapse.
The benefits of sobriety to me are more trust and respect of self and from others, more money, good friends, being happy, safety, less chances of being taken advantage of, no legal trouble, better relationships with family and friends and a good job.”
From a rational perspective, the benefits of sobriety clearly outweigh the benefits of using drugs and alcohol. Unfortunately, addiction distorts one’s ability to see things rationally and despite the limited benefits of using drugs and alcohol, these benefits can take on more power and influence despite being limited in contrast. During early recovery, it’s imperative that clients acknowledge and then are validated for the positive benefits they are experiencing with sobriety.
Positive validation of these benefits, versus ruminating on what they feel they are missing out on or losing by being sober, can help build momentum in sustaining long-term recovery. The more they can reframe their perspective of sobriety by focusing on these benefits, the less willing they will be to risk losing those benefits by inviting drugs and alcohol back into their lives. Validation must be reinforced repeatedly in early recovery as part of the process of changing the brain’s cognitive response to addiction.
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The percentage of adopted children in the U.S. is anywhere from 2-4% of the population. I would estimate that anywhere from 20-30% of our clients are adopted. This is significantly higher than the national percentage of adoptees.
I don’t think that adopted children have more mental health, behavioral or addiction related issues that bring them into treatment. Many adopted children act out because they are struggling like most young people to develop their own sense of identity but unlike biological children, they have gaps in knowing where they came from and what they inherited from their families of origin. In addition, they can struggle feeling acceptance when such things as race, physical characteristics and intellectual ability may differ significantly from their adopted parents.
These children often feel an underlying fear of rejection and abandonment and therefore can push boundaries with their parents to test them to see how they can push them away, even to the point of pushing them to a point where they end up creating what they fear most, disconnection from their adopted families.
One of the most important developmental periods for adolescents and young adults involves healthy identity development. Adopted children take on the added challenge of forming their identity while living in adopted families that may be of a different race, culture, physical characteristics, intellectual ability and other biological characteristics then they possess. In addition, they have gaps in their family history often having little to no information about their birth parents and families of origin, making it more difficult to put together the pieces of who they are and where they came from. These issues are particularly present in children that are internationally adopted.
Some of these children have experienced real neglect and trauma that can cause significant attachment related issues that create challenges in relationships and intimacy by the time they reach adolescence and adulthood.
I encourage adopted clients to open themselves to the possibilities of how being adopted may have an impact on what brought them to treatment. Many adoptees are unaware of this and have spent little to no time being aware of how being adopted can have an influence. Seeking out birth parents is a very individual process and is not something I would encourage unless the client expressed a willingness and readiness to do this. For some reconnecting with birth parents can be a vital part of their identity and healing process but this must proceed cautiously so that the adoptee is emotionally strong enough to work through the unknown outcomes of such a search.
They must also feel validation and trust from their adopted parents that such a search will not result in a sense of betrayal from them. One female client I worked with carried around deep insecurity in feeling unworthy of being loved because her birth parents didn’t want her. After going through wilderness treatment followed by a long-term residential treatment center as an adolescent, she ended up back in wilderness as a college student several years later.
She realized that the one issue she hadn’t been ready to confront prior was her adoption and it had now become the big elephant in her closet that required attention now. She was able to connect with her birth parents while in wilderness and the outcome was very favorable. She learned that her parents were young college age students with bright futures but were not ready for parenthood at that time. They made the difficult choice to give her adopted parents the gift of becoming parents while offering her a much more favorable future than they would be able to provide. This changed her entire self-image, that she wasn’t inherently bad and unlovable but was worthy of being loved and loving herself.
About 80% of young women express a willingness to seek out their birth parents while only about 20% of young men have this desire.
Relationships can be more intense for adopted kids. They either form a really strong attachment, or really weak because they’re afraid of rejection and having people leave them. They can often sabotage relationships so that they do the rejecting first before they can be rejected. This leaves them feeling the upper hand in relationships but at the cost of preventing them from more emotionally healthy relationships and intimacy with others.
Talk with other adopted parents. Be involved in your own therapy while your child is away. Work to better understand your own feelings as your child experiences exploration of their adoption while working through your own fears of rejection by your adopted child. I would recommend Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew by Sherrie Eldridge to help adopted parents better understand what their adopted child is likely feeling and experiencing that they may be unaware of. Call Us Today | 1-866-439-0354 or 435-627-1788