Fears – Will they leave me?

As we continue the discussion on how adoption impacts our children, I want to address fear. Fear is definitely one of the most common issues that parents want to talk about when we are planning a Heritage Journey – their fears as well as their children’s fears.

As we continue the discussion on how adoption impacts our children, I want to address fear. Fear is definitely one of the most common issues that parents want to talk about when we are planning a Heritage Journey – their fears as well as their children’s fears.

As a reminder from my original post entitled How Does Being Adopted Impact Our Children, “Adopted children can be in a constant state of fear. They fear finding their birthparent and what this will look like. Will their birthparent love them? Will finding their birthparent hurt their adoptive parent(s)? They fear not fitting in socially, not being liked by their peers because they are different. Adopted children fear that they will never be good enough. Adopted children fear abandonment or lack of permanence. “Will they give me back if I am not good?” “Will they leave me?” Sleep issues often stem from lack of trust or issues with abandonment and are thus, more prevalent in adopted children, especially internationally adopted children. It is not uncommon for adopted children to even fear sleep. But the most pervasive fear, “Do they love (want) me?” or “Am I loveable?” “Do I deserve love?”

Fears are tough to let go of and as parents of adopted children, we likely need to address our own fears if we want to help our children face theirs.

When you feel frightened or seriously anxious, your mind and body work very quickly. These are some of the things that might happen:

  • Your heart beats very fast – maybe it feels irregular
  • You breathe very fast
  • Your muscles feel weak
  • You sweat a lot
  • Your stomach churns or your bowels feel loose
  • You find it hard to concentrate on anything else
  • You feel dizzy
  • You feel frozen to the spot
  • You can’t eat
  • You have hot and cold sweats
  • You get a dry mouth
  • You get very tense muscles

Let’s face it we all have fears. Some fears are more pervasive (i.e. heights, spiders, drowning) than others and some people experience more fears and anxiety than others. But being afraid is a part of our survival toolkit. Without fear (and the fight or flight state that goes along with it), we’d all have been eaten by saber tooth tigers many moons ago. Fear is required for humans and animals alike. It’s our survival instinct.

The best way to conquer our fears is to hit them head-on. We need to understand where they are coming from and face them. We need to question whether or not they are based in reality. If you have a fear of heights and you are clipped onto a zip line, ask yourself and your guide, “has anyone ever fallen from this zip line? How much weight does this cable hold? Have clips ever broken?” Sometimes simply being rational about our fears lessens the overwhelming anxiety we experience during the moment.

“Time and again, I have seen men and women risk and give their lives for an idea. I have seen men stand up to attacks and torture without breaking, showing a strength and resiliency that defies the imagination. I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. I felt fear myself more times than I can remember, but I hid it behind a mask of boldness. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” – Nelson Mandela

Tackling the more pervasive fears almost seem easier than watching our children being afraid of fitting in, of being loved, of being abandoned. The good news is that fear is fear no matter how it presents itself and we can deal with it in the same manner.

Judith Lief, a Buddhist teacher of Tibetan meditation says, “The essential cause of our suffering and anxiety is ignorance of the nature of reality.” The movement toward fearlessness is in accepting whatever is happening in the moment and looking deeply into what is feared.

So we need to help our children logically walk through their fears as well. The Mental Health Foundation of the UK has a great article on overcoming your fears. They outline several steps that make a huge difference in how you internalize your fears.

Face your fear if you can – Avoiding situations that scare you will keep you from doing things that you love. You have to be able to ‘test out’ situations so you can judge whether or not they are really as scary as your perception of them. Anxiety only increases if you refuse to face your fears. If we can coach our kids (and ourselves) to face our fears, it is an effective way to overcome our anxieties.

Know yourself – List your fears. Journal about them. Talk to them and ask them questions. Rationalize them. Talk about them openly and honestly – with your self and your child. Sometimes you will have to draw this out of them. If they are pushing you away you might ask if they really want you to leave or if they are pushing you away because they fear you will leave. If the answer if the latter, talk about it. Hitting it head on with love and logic (and it may have to happen time and time again) is the only real way to deal with these deep-seated fears and anxieties. Understanding what fears your child is harboring is an effective way of addressing the underlying beliefs that are behind their anxiety.

Try to learn more about the specific fear or anxiety. – Like I said above, keep a journal, or help your child keep a journal. When you have a record of when the fears are most likely to appear and how those anxieties present (crying, hiding, anger, etc.), you’ll be able to plot their course more readily and hit them before they overwhelm your child.

Exercise – When you feel the fear or anxiety coming into your body or you see it in your child, take a walk. Go to the gym. Any kind of physical exertion will take your mind off of your fears and help you begin to think more rationally.

Relax — Learning relaxation and meditation techniques are very helpful in dealing with the mental and physical feelings of fear. Be proactive about this. When the anxieties begin to bubble up, drop your shoulders, breathe deeply into your belly and out of your nose. Try this several times. And while you are breathing, imagine being in a relaxing place (at the ocean, in bed snuggled up with your cat, sitting by a campfire). These are all ways to bring you back in touch with your body and give you the ability to rationalize the fears and anxieties before they get out of control.

Healthy eating/drinking– We know that caffeine is a stimulant so if you are prone to bouts of high anxiety avoid caffeine. It will increase the feeling of anxiety. We also know that alcohol is a depressant and although you might think it will relax you and make you feel less anxious, the after effect is often even higher anxiety. If you are prone to mood swings and depression, avoid alcohol and caffeine – it’ll make a world of difference quickly.
Seek a therapist – Sometimes we just need someone else to talk to and so do our kids. Your child will likely take the advice of a therapist over your advice anyway, so bite the bullet and take them in. Be honest with the therapist about all the known fears and anxieties and allow them to help you and/or your child cope with them. Bring your journals – it’ll save a ton of time and money if you give your therapist a head start!

Faith/spirituality— If you are religious or spiritual, this may help you feel more connected to something bigger than yourself. Faith provides many people with a way of coping with everyday stress and attending church and other faith groups can connect you with a valuable support network.

Bottom line, be open, be honest and don’t shy away from real conversations. Even when you are afraid of your child’s answers (their fears) you must be brave enough to face them. This is what we signed up for so step up to the plate and go to bat for your child. Helping our child face their fears may be the toughest task yet as a parent of an adopted child but that is likely the single most valuable parenting tool we have at our disposal.

And as I say over and over again, if you want to connect more deeply with your child, it begins with the tough conversations, time spent in the trenches understanding, being patient and present but most of all, loving them right where they are.

When you are ready to explore the world with your family, please schedule a 30-minute Discovery Session with me at www.calendly.com/bambi. I’d LOVE to help!

All my best,

Bambi Wineland is the mother of two internationally adopted children, a traveler, a Certified Professional Coach, and the Founder and CEO of Motherland Travel. Motherland Travel began by designing Heritage Journeys for families with internationally adopted children. The emphasis of those Heritage Journeys has always been on deepening family connections, building self-esteem and cultivating pride in a family’s multi-cultural heritage. Motherland Travel also uses the philosophies of transformative Travel for designing family trips with purpose – building rich connections, with each other and the world! Read more about her here >> http://motherlandtravel.com/

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