Overwhelming anger


Overwhelming anger


your avatar   M, 40-year-old woman

About a year ago, when I was in my late thirties, I found out by accident that I was adopted at birth. It also transpires that my older brother was also adopted at birth from a different set of birth parents and was told by our adoptive parents when he was 21, over 2 decades ago. (This was due to one of his biological siblings contacting our adoptive parents and insisting on contact once he turned 21). Indeed, everyone in the extended family, as well as my brother's friends, knew I was adopted. Yet no one told me due to the insistence of my adoptive parents.

My brother has a good relationship with a large handful of genetic siblings and has met his birth parents. I have been unable to locate my birth parents or the 1 half-brother I know I have, despite the fact that I have their names. I am anxious (as well as ambivalent) about making contact, but as someone with already 1 inherited disorder (developing deafness) and who would like to get pregnant, I feel I have to know my full medical inheritance. As for developing any type of personal relationship with my biological family, I am undecided as to what I'd like to do. The real problem, however, is that I am so, so angry with my entire adoptive family, and I do not know how to get over it. Relations with all of them have almost ceased except for e-mails from my mother.

My relationship with my adoptive parents has never been easy and I've always been viewed as the troublesome, mentally and emotionally unstable, "bad" child, albeit also the one of greater intellectual capacity. My degrees from world-class universities were taken for granted, as have my varied personal and professional attainments. For most of my life I was labeled by my adoptive parents all sorts of negative things; my mother especially had a habit of unpredictably screaming abuse at me. This started when I was in my mid-teens and the bouts sometimes went on for hours, while my father and brother would refuse to intervene because she'd then "turn on me" as each told me more than once. I not only left their home when I was 17 but moved far away, and used to visit only once a year, although for a few weeks at a time. I kept hoping the situation would improve as everyone got older but it didn't; in fact, it has gotten worse as my adoptive parents have aged. So I started going "home" once every 2 years and now never intend to again.

Incidentally, I believe my adoptive mother has Narcissistic Personality Disorder, a conclusion I came to with the help of a wonderful therapist I saw for about 6 months before I had to move to the city for work. My adoptive parents were horrible for some months about my finding out that I was adopted - they wished me ill on possible wedding plans, called my partner threatening to call the police to report me as missing person (since I wasn't speaking to them), and implying he had somehow taken me against my will. They asserted in e-mail after e-mail that I really was too emotionally unstable to have ever been told about my adoption and should just "get over it." My partner and I then moved to the city and they had only an e-mail address - no telephone number or house address - and there was a change. E-mails become kind and caring, unsolicited cash gifts have been sent, and I am told over and over again how much they love me. And what I mainly feel towards them is still intense anger! Plus I don't trust them enough to even give them a telephone number, as I fear that it would open the door to yet another cycle of eventual verbal abuse.

As for my brother, I am even angrier with him (if that is possible). He was always the "good" child who needed help - if it wasn't our mother doing his homework in 8th grade it was my father buying him an over-sized new house, since my brother (who for some years has been a well-paid IT professional) "couldn't afford one of his own". This is particularly an issue since I've just bought my own home with a loan and despite the fact that I am less financially well-off than my brother.

How can I get over being so viscerally angry about all this? Will I ever get over it? My partner is wonderfully supportive, but I find my anger - as well as my sadness - taking up too much space in my life; I dwell on it for some time almost every day. I feel like my family situation has blighted my life forever and I find it acutely depressing. I want to move on but just can't seem to. Advice welcome!


    Bob Rich, Ph.D.

Dear M,

I can understand your hurt, long-term feeling of betrayal and intense ongoing anger. I think anyone in your situation would feel like you do. In fact, I have had lots of clients with very much the same set of feelings toward their parents, for much the same reason. The interesting thing is that none of them had been adopted.

My guess is that if you were your adoptive mother's biological daughter, you would have received exactly the same scapegoat behavior, abuse and discrimination. The reason is that you described your mother as having a pattern of problems that makes this likely. You caught the flak for someone else's problems, and being adopted may have had nothing to do with it. Sadly, some families seem to have the need to victimize one of their children, and you were it. All the more credit to you for having had the strength to break free, and to find a loving and supportive man.

The question is, where to go from here? And the answer is in your last paragraph. I think you have already started moving on from a decade-long pattern. You wrote: "I find my anger - as well as my sadness - taking up too much space in my life; I dwell on it for some time almost every day." What I read there is that you no longer want to do this. Intention is the first step on the journey.

You are an adult, with the right to choose your own company and the people you care about. You can, if you wish, divorce yourself from your adoptive parents. You can, if you choose, divorce yourself from the entire family or from selected members of it.

Many people in your situation find it liberating to go through some form of ritual or ceremony. At the least, write a formal letter. Make it honest, strong, but not in any way blaming or angry. Simply say that in order to bury past hurts, you will henceforth not be a part of the family, but will go your own way.

The next step is to realize that blame is irrelevant. Our society is built on blame, and yet if you think about it "Who is at fault?" doesn't solve any problems. A murderer is sent to jail or executed. Does this bring the victim back or heal the hurt of the grieving friends and relatives?

Sadly, no.

Therefore, I think you have already taken the second step towards recovering your life. While you rightly assign responsibility, you are already motivated to let go of blame and anger. Is that right?

The past is a prison only if we don't realize that we hold the key. I have no doubt that your mother did the best she could at the time. She suffered from problems, no doubt imposed on her by the adults in her childhood or other important influences on her development. Just as you are responsible for your reactions but not to be blamed, she is responsible for not exercising the choice of breaking away from her childhood conditioning - but not to be blamed.

I hope these thoughts help you on the positive road you have started on. Since you didn't leave an email address, I cannot send you a copy directly. Do email me at bobrich@bobswriting.com if you read this.

Have a good life,


This question was answered by Dr. Bob Rich. Dr. Rich has 30+ years of experience as a psychotherapist. Dr. Rich is also a writer and a "mudsmith". Bob is now retired from psychological practice, but still works with people as a counselor.For more information visit: http://anxietyanddepression-help.com


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