Bear’s recently begun struggling to resolve some uncomfortable feelings about her adoption. This is just a bit unsettling for me. She’s always been our happy go lucky girl, so it’s tough to hear some of the painful things she’s going through. On the other hand, I’m extraordinarily grateful that at least she’s talking about it.
Bear is definitely a daddy’s girl, so BrightSide is typically the one she’ll open up to first. Last month she dropped a real doozy on him, and after they spent some time together he asked me to join them in her room to talk.
Bear’s sadness that day? “I don’t feel like I was wanted.” And a piece of my heart broke at the pain and sorrow in her voice.
Everybody wants to be wanted. It’s smack dab in the middle of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the first thing humans crave after their physiological and safety needs are met, and is a crucial part of being able to maintain healthy relationships of any kind. This is an especially strong need in childhood, so much so that it can even override a child’s drive to get their basic needs met. The feeling of belonging is that important.
Simply put, humans need to love and be loved. Missing this key element of psychological development puts us at greater risk for loneliness, social anxiety, and clinical depression.
So hearing Bear say that she didn’t feel wanted (because her birthmother chose adoption) was crushing. Not because I wondered why she didn’t know how desperately we wanted her…I knew that being released from your first mother to be raised by other parents was abandonment on a level I simply couldn’t understand. I also knew reiterating how very much she was wanted as our daughter wasn’t what she needed to hear, so I took an entirely different approach.
I’ve been reading this book called Loving What Is by Byron Katie, and it has been life changing. It requires more attention than what I’ll give it here, but her essential point is that the only time we suffer is when we believe a thought that argues with what is. When the mind is perfectly clear, what is is what we want.
To reach the point of a clear mind, you take any thought causing you pain and put it up against the four questions and turnaround (called inquiry or The Work). Once you work through and resolve the thought, you’ll no longer feel the pain.
(I will freely admit this sounds rather hippy dippy, and I was a serious skeptic at first. But I’ve been using it on some of my own issues and I’ll be damned if it doesn’t work. I’ll write a more extensive post on this another time; just roll with me for now.)
Instead of trying to convince Bear that she was mistaken (we wanted her, her birthmother wanted her or she wouldn’t have had her, there were reasons she couldn’t stay with Miss M that had nothing to do with Bear), I decided to help her work through her own thought. This is how that looked.
Bear: I don’t feel like I was wanted.
me: You mean when you were born? By Miss M?
Bear: (teary) Yeah.
me: Because she didn’t keep you with her.
me: Okay. I can see this is hurting you. It looks like you feel very sad, and I can understand why. Let’s look at it, okay? You don’t feel like you were wanted. Is that true?
me: Okay. Well, how do you feel when you think that thought? When you think “I don’t feel like I was wanted”?
Bear: Sad. Really sad.
me: Of course you do. Thinking that makes you feel sad. How would you feel without that thought?
Bear: I don’t know.
me: Okay. Well, can you think of any reason to hold onto that thought? Any good reason why you should keep thinking it?
me: Right. Because thinking it makes you sad, and since you know it’s not true there’s no reason to hold onto it. So how do you think you’d feel if you didn’t think that thought?
me: So the next time that thought creeps up on you – the next time you start to think “I wasn’t wanted” – what would happen if you just kicked it back out of your head? If you didn’t let the thought in?
Bear: I’d feel better.
me: Okay, baby, then let’s do that.
It was late and Bear was sleepy so we skipped the turnaround. I’d probably tweak her sentence to “Miss M didn’t want me” and then the turnarounds would look like this:
- I didn’t want me.
- I didn’t want Miss M.
- Miss M did want me.
I walked out of Bear’s room that night and stared at BrightSide in shock. It was a combination of I can’t believe my baby doesn’t feel like she was wanted and I can’t believe that just worked!! (I’m new enough to inquiry that the results still surprise me sometimes.)
It was a tough talk. I could tell that thought had really been causing Bear pain, and she looked genuinely relieved when she realized that since it wasn’t true there wasn’t any reason to keep thinking it. Bear did wonderful work that night…hopefully we can keep knocking down the tough stuff together.