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ADOPTION EDUCATION, LLC


GUILT, SHAME, AND THE ADOPTED CHILD

One is a healthy reaction to wrongdoing, one is toxic.

By Jean MacLeod


Shame is similar to guilt, except guilt is externalized ("I did something bad") and shame is internalized ("I am bad"). Shame in adopted kids can be traced in part to our children being abandoned or relinquished, and their resulting feeling of worthlessness:

  • I must have been a very bad baby to make my mother give me away.
  • I am so bad inside, that my own mother didn't love me.
  • Everyone will know I am bad inside when they find out I am adopted.
  • What do I say when kids ask "Why didn't your real mother keep you?".
  • I was a bad baby so I'm a bad kid and I am powerless to become good.
  • My adoptive parents don't understand how bad, how worthless, I really am.

Kids get stuck in shame because it becomes a vicious cycle: the child feels she is a bad person at her inner core, so why attempt goodness (or repair a mistake) when there is no hope to 'be' good? Shame feeds shame, and keeps the child frozen in place, unable to break the cycle. Shame needs to be addressed as an adoption issue, as a by-product of losing birthparents, abandonment and institutionalization. Kids need reinforcement and coping skills when learning to deal with feeling shame, and a parent's 'attuning' disciplinary choices are a key element of the learning process.

 

The materials for this course have been reprinted with permission from the book Adoption Parenting: Creating a Toolbox Building Connections, edited by Jean MacLeod and Sheena Macrae Copyright 2006 EMK Press, all rights reserved. The complete 520 page book covering all aspects of becoming and being an adoptive family is available at Amazon.com.

 

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