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Exploring Kaplan and Silverstein’s seven lifelong issues common in adoption, rejection is a common issue that may influence one’s perception of self, relationships and how the world functions. This can impact individuals at various times with different levels of intensity.

Some rejection concepts related to adoption are fairly well known in the adoption community. For adoptees, it may initially relate to feeling rejected by birthfamily. Later, it may surface in peer relationships if an adoptee struggles with feeling similar to peers during adolescent development. For adoptive families, parents may experience rejection by others who see their family or adopted child as second-best. For birth parents, rejection may represent how they feel society views them or their child.

For some touched by adoption, rejection can become an internalized theme - a lens through which thoughts and feelings are filtered. Consider the following scenarios and how a person sensitive to rejection might internalize these comments.

  • School-aged peer says, “Why did your mother give you up?” Adopted child may hear, “Why did your mother reject you as her child or refuse to raise you?”
  • Relative says to adoptive mother, “Is it a good idea to keep a relationship with his birthmother?” Adoptive mother may hear, “Won’t your child reject you as his mother with his birthmother in the picture?”
  • Friend says to birth parent, “I don’t think I could choose adoption for my child.” Birthparent may hear, “You rejected the child you created, so I reject you.”

When we care for someone who is hurting, it can feel uncomfortable to sit with their pain, and our natural instinct may be to “fix the problem” or change the topic. It’s important to remember that an individual’s feelings cannot be wrong, so feeling rejected is not “problem” and attempting to change the person’s perspective or feeling is generally ineffective.  If the goal is to help the person feel better, offering empathy can go a long way.

 In Theresa Wiseman’s article, A concept analysis of empathy, four components of empathy are identified.

  • See the world as others see it: This means looking from another’s perspective, not just seeing what they see but understanding how they could see the situation the way that they do.
  • Understand another’s current feelings: Understanding is more than identifying. Understanding one’s feelings means recognizing having had those feelings and feelings them with the person.
  • Non-judgmental: Judgement can be of the person or the situation. “You’re awful/wrong to feel that way” or “You’re reading the situation wrong.” Rating the situation for another person which can devalue their rating.
  • Communicate the understanding: Empathy cannot be felt is it is not expressed. Try to put the three other components in words. “Wow. You’re really hurting. If you’d like to tell me more about it, I’d like to be here for you.”

For a fun illustration of the concepts in this article, Brene Brown offers this clip on empathy vs. sympathy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Evwgu369Jw