Detachment of Adult Adoptees—and Self-help!

Are you thinking, Oh, c’mon, I weathered the storm of being a child adoptee. I’m beyond all that—and now I am an adult adoptee, and I am not telling you that I still have detachment issues!

Define Adult Adoptee Detachment . . . please!

Detachment is often described as the state of being dispassionate, indifferent, aloof (my favorite word), withdrawn, or avoiding emotional involvement. We learn it from when we are abandoned and adopted.

I never sought psychological help when I was a young adult adoptee, but I really worked on those aspects that helped release me from all those negative words that described who I was—detached, but, hey, it took courage, honesty, and tenacity. If you don’t believe me, read my memoir My  Mother My Daughter.

Some of us have heard of reactive attachment disorder (RAD), a potential effect of abandonment as an infant or young child, when our adoptive parents become “nurturing enemies” ; we had early trauma and pushed away our new parents who attempted to get close to us emotionally. It is not always about RAD, but just plain aloofness. Others are afraid to get close to someone else for fear of rejection or loss—simply, abandonment.

What can adoptees do for self-help?

First and foremost, we should learn about our own emotions and our reason for emotional detachment . Some adult adoptees never heard of detachment disorder or RAD. If the shoe fits, wear it! It’s an eye opener. Then, we should start little by little to release those feelings of the past, start letting the past go. What happened in the past is no indicator of the present and future–unless we have allowed ourselves to be victims. We then should look forward, and slowly mend. When we become grateful for things related to the past and present, we know we are on the path to healing.

I am curious what others have done to overcome detachment. I literally forced myself to be charming, compassionate, and engaging. I forced myself to hug or touch all the right people. Before I engaged with others, I gave myself a “compassion pill,” i.e., I gave myself a lecture on how to show interest in others. I also stood in front of a mirror and practiced facial expressions of various emotions. I really did. I studied intensely others, who appeared to seamlessly react with proper emotions, and tried to emulate some of their characteristics. Eventually practicing became easier, and now, I’m still a little rough around the edges when it comes to the feeling of attachment, but I certainly smile a lot more, and I now let people into my life.

“Mirror, mirror on the wall . . . show me compassion . . . and concern . . . and interest . . . and . . . .”

adoptees find joy


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Marita Malone

Marita Malone, Ph.D., is a former assistant professor and a former special agent of the FBI. She was adopted from Germany after World War II. She is an author of several books, blogs, and articles: the memoir My Mother My Daughter, Managing Law Enforcement Change, and several articles and blogs on management, professional ethics, and adult adoptee issues. Dr. Malone authors the interactive website .