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Attachment Disorder -
The "Child's" Point Of View
by Kathy Gordon

I am 52 years old and finally in a position to try to sort out the misery and pain I suffered as an adoptee. I believe that I bonded with my birthmother and rejected my adopted mother from infancy. I am just beginning to entertain the concept that perhaps my adoptive mother really did love me.

As an adopted child I went through many vicious battles with my mother. I wanted to connect with her, but I wanted to connect with her on my terms. I totally blamed my mother for my inability to get my needs met, and the war was constant. I was thoroughly unhappy and I don't think a day went by until I was in my twenties that I didn't toy with the idea of suicide on a daily basis. When a child's self-esteem is very low, the last thing he needs is to be compared to someone who is achieving well or to be put on an agenda for improvement.

My mother often withheld affection as a tool to get what she wanted. "If you love me you will..." or "I don't want to be around you if you're going to act that way..." I wanted her attention, praise, and love, but I was also very self contained. I relied on her for my physical needs, I did not allow myself to rely on her emotionally, and therefore her ultimate weapon never worked. The more she withdrew, the more obnoxious I became, and the more she struggled for control.

By the time I was 5 or 6 her attempt to love me had pretty well burned out, and we settled into a very destructive pattern described in AA literature as the "Persecutor, Victim, Rescuer Triangle". I added compulsive overeating and showing off to my repertoire. My adoptive mother made it very clear that I was fat, obnoxious, and ungrateful.

I was so sensitive to her every glance that I could instantly tell when she was ashamed of me (which was most of the time). Her own low self esteem caused her to be overly worried about what others would think of me (and ultimately of her) and further enhanced the dynamics. My longsuffering father worked all the time was pretty nonexistent except at the end of the day when he would get a full report of how bad I had been. Then he would tuck me in and have to listen to my side of how mean my mother was. Nobody ever won.

I had a brother who was 7 years older than me, also adopted. I guess he was a handful too, but unlike me, he was the shining star of the family - good grades, football scholarship, handsome and personable. He also molested me when I was 7, so I knew that he wasn't all he was cracked up to be. Since I was so estranged from my mother, and because we weren't encouraged to "tell" back then I settled for talking about it with my cousin because I knew she told everything to her mom. This may be the one thing she never "told". There was no intervention, and I felt further betrayed and alone.

My mom appeared to be depressed all the time, and it probably took a huge effort for her to even get up in the morning, not to mention having to square off with me every day. I believe now that she suffered from clinical depression, but as a child I internalized he moods as being my fault. By the end of her life she finally got medication which allowed her true sweetness to come out, but by then there was no hope for us to establish any kind of relationship. Even though I understand her better now, the pain of guilt, rage and rejection I suffered as a young person is still very real.

The pain your adopted child feels is just as great and just as long lasting as your own, but regardless of how they push you away, they will always need your love, and as much as they are able they will love you back. The stronger you are, the better able you are to take care of yourself, the more chance there is that you and your child will survive this battle of wills, but don't give up and withdraw your love.

I appreciate my adoptive parents who gave up so much and worked so hard to try to make things "right". I'm sorry for all of us that it never was "right". Many adoptive parents have gone beyond the realms of "normal" sacrifice to raise unloving, ungrateful, children. Some have even put their biological families at risk to shelter an "outsider", but we "outsiders" never forget that the place made for us in an adoptive family is never truly ours.

You have not failed by trying. You have learned. If you are exhausted, depressed, and feel your situation is hopeless, I am here to tell you things CAN change. The earlier you seek intervention, the better. If you find yourself in the "Persecutor, Victim, Rescuer Triangle" with your adopted child and other family members, get help immediately. You can see what alienation is doing to your child, but perhaps you don't see the damage it's doing to you and those around you. Attend an Al-Anon meeting to gather the literature they provide. The mood swings and manipulative behaviors of some adopted children are very similar to techniques used by alcoholics.

I have worked with children very successfully all my life, and I am good with them because I can almost always sense where they're coming from (especially the disruptive ones). I've made my living as a professional clown for the last 16 years, and I can enjoy myself and get the instant love and feedback I need through my work. I am still a controlling, manipulative attention seeker, but now I get paid to do it! One thing I always tell my audiences is, "Sometimes it is better to be kind than to be right."

Kathy Gordon
Portland, Oregon


"Men can only be happy when they do not assume that the object of life is happiness."
         George Orwell

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