What To Do (And Not Do) When Faced With Rejection Or Alienation
One of the hardest decisions you’ll ever face in life is choosing whether to walk away or try harder. ~ Author unknown
You’ve done everything right, followed the best advice you could find. You have been respectful, discrete, and kind, and yet you have been rejected. Your family member refuses to speak with you. Or, at some point after connection, they stop communicating and cut off contact, ignore your emails, and don’t return your phone calls. What do you do now?
First, the “do not’s” ~
Try not to take it personally or get angry. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, it’s not you, personally, they are rejecting. (How could they? They don’t really know you, after all.) More likely, it’s the shock of suddenly having to come face-to-face with the pain and heartache stemming from whatever caused the separation that they have suppressed for so many years. If you become upset and lash out, you risk losing whatever hope there may have been of repairing the connection.
Do not internalize someone else’s trauma and dysfunction. Absolutely nothing will be gained if you do. You cannot solve other people’s problems for them, and you will only compound your own by taking on theirs, making it more difficult for you to improve and maintain your own emotional and physical health.
Don’t try to go through this alone. Go to a counselor or psychologist, if you can afford one (hopefully someone who is qualified in adoption loss, abandonment, and rejection issues); find an in-person or on-line support group; confide in a close friend or share with your partner or spouse – a “true friend” who will double your joys and halve your sorrows.
Read Why Isn't My Mother Looking For Me?for some of the reasons mothers and other family members might be unable to make a connection. And understand that none of these things have anything to do with you. You were not responsible for their hurt and pain, and it is doubtful you can fix it. All we can hope to do is eventually work through it.
Allow yourself to grieve. And bear in mind that at least you know more of your truth now. We can never get beyond the unknown; we will continue wondering, fantasizing, worrying until we know. On the other hand, we can always get beyond the truth. If it’s good news, we can wrap our hearts around it, celebrate it, and move on, happier and wiser. If it’s bad news, we can analyze and understand it, grieve it, put it aside, and move on, sadder, but wiser.
Decide whether to reach out one more time. Send a pretty card by post with a note (in your own words) along the lines: “I’m sorry if I upset you.” “I realize this must be a terrific shock after all these years.” “I did not mean to intrude and certainly would not intentionally do anything to make you unhappy.” “I have always thought of you with love and longing to know you.” “My door is always open.” Enclose photos of yourself and your spouse and children.
Continue your research on the family and decide if there is anyone else to take a chance on contacting. I know of several adoptees rejected by their mothers, who eventually made contact with grandparents, siblings, aunts, and uncles and were warmly and happily received. One heartwarming example is Holly, whose elderly mother would not accept contact. Holly eventually called her mother’s ex-husband, who turned out to be very kind and receptive, and although he had not spoken to his ex-wife in 50 years, took it upon himself to call her and plead with her to open her heart. Thankfully, she did; Holly and her mother have enjoyed five years of very loving reunion. Another adoptee, Michelle, decided to call her mother’s mother when she saw a newspaper article relating that she and grandma shared a love for, of all things, sewing historical costumes (no such thing as coincidence!). The grandparents were ecstatic to have Michelle back in their lives. Mother, not so much. The damage wrought by losing her first-born to adoption was just too great; she simply cannot face Michelle. Most amazing, Michael, an adoptee who was cruelly and nastily rejected by his parents, has been joyously united with full-blooded siblings. The parents had married after giving up their first-born as unmarried parents over 45 years ago, have become prominent and successful members of their community, and are afraid of the public shame and disgrace if anyone knew.
Do your genealogy. Invest in a family history database. Sign up for classes on-line or at your county genealogical society or local LDS (Mormon) Family History Center. If you cannot afford a membership in genealogy databases, work from your local library where access is usually free. It is definitely a worthwhile endeavor. The ancestors will never reject us, and you will learn about your background at the same time meeting relatives and other genealogists who will share your enthusiasm for history.
Participate in the DNA Family Matching programs (see my article What You Need To Know To Start Your Family Member Search for details), and you will be matched with relatives from close to distant cousins, who will be welcoming and forthcoming (why else would they be participating in genetic genealogy databases?). Before you know it, you will have many new relatives and friends and, hopefully, some new treasures to cherish. I have amassed several family heirlooms since beginning my genealogy journey 30 years ago. The best was from a distant cousin who drove 300 miles to bring me in person the first photograph I ever saw of my great-grandmother.
Above all, be kind to yourself. Know and believe in your heart that it truly is their loss. Know when to walk away, and try to forgive them, for they really “know not what they do.”