*"self-proclaimed experts" in adoption?

Do adoptive parents frequently experience Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)? And do these parents who are “victimized” by the process go on to become “self-proclaimed experts” in adoption?

Certainly a provocative question! Unfortunately, far too many people confuse Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) with Traumatic Stress. The former is a psychiatric disorder that is applied to a relatively small percentage of individuals who have experienced, witnessed, or have been confronted with an event (or events) that involved actual or threatened death or serious injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of self or others. The individual’s response involves intense fear, helplessness and/or horror. Traumatic Stress, on the other hand, refers to the normal reactions that we experience in the face of abnormal events. I often say to people that, “It’s okay not to be okay” during challenging times in our lives (www.ItsOKNotToBeOK.com).

I have used the term “Adoption Stress” to refer to the unique experience of people who are involved in the adoptive process. I believe that it more appropriately describes the impact of adoption on all parties involved (e.g., birth mother, adoptive parents, etc.) than the term, Traumatic Stress (www.AdoptionPsychologist.com).

I am profoundly committed to the belief that people who have experienced adversity can learn to harness the energy from a painful experience and use it to propel them to cultivate a mission and purpose. I often refer to this as the “Oprah Factor!” However, it is critical for people to understand and resolve their own conflicts prior to becoming an “expert” in helping others. Those who do not address their own issues often become sympathetic listeners, rather than empathic listeners. The sympathetic listener is often all too eager to try to solve someone else’s problem and runs the risk of becoming a part of the problem—the “self-proclaimed expert” (e.g., “When I adopted my first child from Russia, I….”) rather than the empathic individual (e.g., “I see that you’re scared of what will happen when you begin to integrate your adoptive child into your family.”).

This question taps into the enormity of stress that is experienced by many people who are involved in the adoptive process. It also points to the need for those who have been emotionally scared by the adoptive experience to address their own feelings, rather than running the risk of projecting those feelings onto others who are beginning to walk down the exciting, but often challenging, road of adoption.

Written by Dr. Mark Lerner