The Legacy and Impacts of Abuse in Adoption

Part 2 of a 3 part series on Sexual Abuse within Adoption

When abuse happens to a child from the very people who are supposed to protect it, a devastating legacy of impacts is created. I lived with my adoptive family for 19 years until they left to go overseas to be missionaries. Up until that point in my life, I had learnt to suppress my truths and bury it deep within my body.

How can one ever describe the impacts and legacy we are left with as a victim of sexual abuse within an adoptive family? Words feel inadequate.

The Worst Crime is Being Expected Not to Tell – Darrell Hammond

I watched Darryl Hammond’s Cracked Up life story on Netflix – it helped me find the words. I highly recommend watching it for those who seriously want to understand childhood trauma and the legacy it leaves. I related to his story on so many levels: the anger at self for having been so vulnerable, the conflicting emotions about these very people who are your parents who others only see as amazing and wonderful people, the memories of abuse where my body felt violated, disrespected and used for their own purposes, the coping mechanisms I developed to survive, the trail of devastation left behind in early relationships and choices because I knew no better until I got professional help, the attempts to take my life because the pain was so unbearable, the depression, the darkness that would consume me. So many parallels with the life I lived until I found help and healing. Thankfully it didn’t take me over 50 years, but it certainly consumed a large part of my prime adult life and I still continue to deal with the impacts to this day. I think this is the part most people don’t understand which Darryl’s documentary highlights – our trauma never leaves us – what can get better, is that we learn to forgive ourselves for our survival and coping mechanisms, and we can learn to reconnect with and care about ourselves. It is a lifetime journey of healing and coming to terms with what was taken from us – our innocence and potential to live life without those brutal scars.

Each day, each week, each year I struggle to comprehend my adoptive family. My childhood mind just can’t integrate that they could have been so cruel, nasty, neglectful, mean — but yet they were also my saviours, my lifeline to surviving a war, my rescuers. It is their unspoken expectation that I should just get on with life as if nothing has happened that continues to hurt the most. I did this for many years but it becomes harder the older I get and I can no longer accept this anymore. I can no longer deny the emotional impact I feel each time I interact with them. It’s been so hard to pretend that I don’t hurt, I can’t do it anymore. What they choose to see is a strong, resilient survivor who has overcome. Yes that is part of who I am, but what they don’t want to see, is the other half – the hurt, traumatised inner child me who wants to be protected, loved and nurtured. I have had to learn to give to myself because they have not been capable. Not one member of my adoptive family wants to know how I’m impacted or understand my struggle. This is because their shame is deeper than my pain. This is what no-one will talk about. It did not escape my notice that Darryl Hammond tells his story publicly after both his parents have deceased. I recognise we subconsciously protect our parents if they’ve abused us and it’s at our cost in mental health, to do so. This is the sad reality of childhood trauma inflicted upon us by our supposedly “loving” parents.

I’ve barely written about this topic in over 20 years – in places I refer to it briefly but rarely in-depth. It’s not a topic I love nor is it a topic I talk about to shame my family. I do so now, to encourage others who are tortured by the shame of what happened to them — to speak out, find their voice and empower themselves. The first article I wrote on this topic I kept anonymous out of my own shame and desire to protect my adoptive family. I look back at how ridiculous it is that I should have ever felt I had to protect them. As an adopted person, there is nothing worse than being relinquished by my first family then being unprotected by my second. My layers of loss and grief are multiplied!

We never forget what happens to us as survivors of sexual abuse, we can only simply move forward from the hate and anger that is so valid, to realising it only damages ourselves if we allow it to fester or hurt ourself. For my own survival, I have to live with it and move on – somehow I’ve learnt to remain true to my own needs and ensure my life is no longer controlled by the thoughtless actions of the perpetrators many years ago, or the shame and guilt that controls them now.

My sexual life is forever tarnished and damaged. I will never have a relationship with my partner that I might have had, had I not been sexually interfered with. Being abused in this manner has always compounded my ability to trust, to want to be close, to feel safe with people and figures in power, it destroys my belief in a greater power – my spirituality. It was not surprising that after the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Sexual Abuse, the documentary Revelation revealed that many children had suicided whom the investigators attributed directly to having been sexually abused. It is no secret that many of us who have been abused end up self intoxicating, destroying ourselves because our soul is so damaged and hurt. We just want the pain to end, we want someone to reach out and help us.

I cry for the child within me who was so vulnerable and trusting but was so misled and taken advantage of by the males in my adoptive family (extended and immediate). I cry for those all over the world who have to live with this horrendous crime to us as innocent children. Sexual abuse is a terrible reality for anyone but having it done to you from within an adoptive family adds so many more complex layers of trauma that become almost impossible to unravel and deal with. Relinquishment trauma in and of itself is terrible enough. Relinquishment and then abuse in adoptive family is just soul destroying. I hope one day people will stop talking about adoption as if it always saves us and awaken to the realisation that sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse is too prevalent in adoptive family environments. We need to change this!

I want to note that I have met many amazing adoptive parents and I am not that bitter and twisted to label them all with this brush stroke, but I do want to awaken our society to the biggest myth that adoption saves us. From a place of honesty – for those of us who live abuse in adoptive families, it is likely the biggest silent killer of adoptees!

I never spoke up while I was young because I was constantly told how lucky I was by friends and strangers. I never spoke up because I was made to feel like shit in my adoptive family, picked on, singled out, the family slave, called names like “tree trunks” or “monkey face”. I remember one young man Matthew, I never forgot him, he was a rare one who was kind to me and could sense what was going on. Matthew was employed as our new farm hand by my father to help out. He was blonde, blue eyed, respectful and strong. I remember he stood up to my adoptive father questioning why he was so tough on me, forcing me to do the labour a young man like himself could do, but yet I was pubescent girl. My father quickly got rid of him. I never heard or saw from Matthew again.

I wonder how Matthew is today and whether he found another job. I felt bad that it was because of me that he lost his job but to this day, I always remember him for being kind without sexual implications and very respectful of me. He had shown pure concern for me. I wish he’d reported my father and his ways. Little does he know how far my father went with the abuse and if he knew, he’d probably hate that he didn’t do something.

My friends at church and school sometimes saw how my father treated me but it seems no-one reported anything. Why would they? My mother was the school Principal, my parents both seen as strong Christians with a missionary background, active in the church and community, leading the youth groups, hosting the fire brigade. I wasn’t acting out. I was a school academic and high achiever. I wasn’t into drugs. But I retreated within myself. I always thought I was an introvert until my adoptive family left while I remained behind to start Year 12 while they went to live and work overseas as missionaries.

In reconnecting with some of my extended adoptive family in the past few years, it has confirmed that some had concerns about how I was being treated from as early as toddler years. Some have said to me they wish in hindsight, that they had done more, reported their suspicions. As an adopted person, I’ve just never experienced a protective or safe parent. I grieve that!

I have the resilience these days to watch things like Revelation and Cracked Up. I use to avoid because I’d be such a wreck watching anything that closely resembled my traumas. I have learnt to turn my emotional churning into something constructive. I write to share with the wider world about how we can better protect vulnerable children. I turn my childhood tragedy into an opportunity to speak out and empower others to do likewise. I advocate for those who are still struggling to find their voices. I talk about the hushed up topics that people don’t want to discuss. I speak out to give hope to other adoptees like me, with the message that your life doesn’t have to be destroyed. There is a way to heal and move forward. We don’t have to stay ashamed. We have nothing to be ashamed of! We can speak up even if we don’t get legal justice. We can help encourage our fellow sufferers to find their braveness and shed off their mantles of shame. It’s not ours to carry, it is the system and the adults who fail to protect the most vulnerable!

I speak out to bring light to this hidden tragedy of sexual abuse within adoptive families. We don’t even know what our rates of sexual abuse are because nobody captures it or researches whether we are more prone to sexual abuse in adoptive families than others. I can only refer to research in similar situations like foster care and if our statistics somewhat mirrored foster care, then we really are the silent victims because we don’t have any one monitoring us once we join our adoptive family. We have no avenues to call out for help. We are totally vulnerable within our adoptive family. We have to do better to protect vulnerable children and ensure we are placed in better environments than what we have already lost. Sexual abuse in adoption must be talked about for this change to happen!

Coming Next: Part 3 – What Needs to be Done about Abuse within Adoptive Families

Trauma Informed Resources

Who am I now?

By Maria Diemar from her blog at I own my Story Maria Diemar

Who I am now, after my life story changed

I always thought that my mom gave me up for adoption
I was an abandoned child
I learnt to believe that adoption is something beautiful
Even though it hurt
Even though I felt abandoned
Even though I felt alone

I searched for my mom for so many years,
it was almost impossible to find her
until I got in contact with Ana Maria in Chile

When Ana Maria found my mom
I learnt the truth
I was stolen from my mom
at the hospital
right after she gave birth to me
My mom wasn’t allowed to see me or hold me
People at the hospital, a social assistant really tried to force her
to sign papers that she wanted to give me up for adoption
my mom refused to sign any papers

84 days went by,
from the day they separated me from my mom
in the small town on the country side in Chile
until I arrived in an airplane to Stockholm in Sweden.

I came to Sweden with documentation
it said I didn’t have any family that could care for me
it said my mom had left me for adoption
I never question that
But I felt abandoned and alone

Today I know the truth
I was stolen and
forcefully separated from my mom

Few people want to see the truth
as society has taught us that
adoption is something beautiful

I have learnt that adoption is filthy
business, and that
people make money
I have learnt that adoption
is an industry

And I am not sure,
who I am anymore
if I am not that abandoned child

I have been forced to go back
to face all my fears and
to look at my choices and experiences

Today when I see the picture of that little girl
in my Chilean passport
I see a sad girl,
all alone in the world
with no legal rights because
no-one took the time to make sure
I came from the situation
that was stated in the documents

After 6 moths I was adopted,
according to the law in Sweden
despite the law in Chile

What does adoption mean to you?

And please, before you answer that question,
Who are you?

Trauma Triggers

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Why do some adoptees need to be on the defensive, overly criticizing, put each other down, and posture themselves as aggressors?

I understand and respect that we all have varied opinions, thoughts, and information on a very complex subject. We all have unique stories and ideas to share. I think people do  this because their trauma gets triggered. They feel like they need to have an outburst and they don’t understand why – they lash out in an onslaught of misspelled, poorly written, hateful words but it does nothing to win people over to their argument and it definitely doesn’t give one any credibility.

When I was a small boy, I was told that I would cry and scream when I became frustrated. I think this was me finding relief from the pending frustrations I faced as a child. Being intercountry adopted, I had to learn a new language, was forced to eat foods I didn’t like, I was unfamiliar with my adoptive culture, and worst of all, I was paired with impatient adopters who were strict and unempathetic to my situation. My “father” once smashed my face into a pile of mashed potatoes when I was unable to recall the name for gravy. I was told that children are meant to be seen and not heard. Their ultra-conservative life would not allow me to act out in any way. I think many of us face trauma triggers from our past – unknowingly. We yell when we think we are marginalized. We curse when we feel insecure.

I am regularly attacked for being outspoken. Today I was attacked by two different individuals. One was a very disturbed man who threw a barrage of expletives at me and other people. He posed initially as a calm, loving individual but immediately exposed his true colors – a very aggressive and demeaning individual. He initially drew people in with his looks and charm but the constant belittling soon soured the relationship. The next individual was a woman, threatened by academia or anyone espousing to be semi-intelligent. This woman always knows better, has to show she is well read, wants to show she has the bigger appendage (brain). If one wants to share information with others – it can be done without tearing the other apart. She could have asked clarifying questions or enquired about my thoughts or sought more information to understand my direction. None of this was done.

The forum I want to foster is one with the notion: “let’s share and learn”.

I had a wonderful conversation with a friend today about what transpired and I learned a ton from her. She said to me, “You can’t fix trauma, in my experience, you have to find healthy ways to cope.” My mind was blown away! I know this is true but in the moment, I forget to see the correlation. My first instinct was to write about these two individuals and find ways to tear them apart. I see this “reaction” a lot in adoptee forums. My friend also said, “Another thing to consider is how people act out when overwhelmed. It’s something I think about when considering compatibility.”

I think this is a wonderful idea and requirement. We need to find partners that can see past our outbursts and help us off the ledge. I found her words to be wise and something I’ve not considered before. If we found healthier ways to deal with our triggers, many of these fights could be prevented. We all have them and some wear it on their sleeves and others bury it deep inside. It can build up and be released onto strangers or colleagues who might be unfamiliar with what’s going on in our lives.

So, what triggers you? How do you cope? Have you witnessed any trauma triggers recently?

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