Adoptee: Worthiness, Vulnerability, Shame and Courage — Where The Light Shines

I have written this for myself and in honour of all adopted people, and especially those in my community, who may need to feel seen today.

“Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack, a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in.” Leonard Cohen (Anthem)

Drawing on Brene Brown’s work, this piece briefly highlights points from two of her Ted talks on: vulnerability, vulnerability hangover, shame, courage & worthiness. As an adoptee, I struggle with all of these and I know that I am not an anomaly.


According to Brown’s research, there’s only one variable that separated the people who have a strong sense of love and belonging as opposed to those who really struggle. Those who have a strong or deep sense of love and belonging believe they are worthy.

Many adopted people, including myself, have started life being relinquished, abandoned or taken from our mother and kin. This is a shaking foundation on which to build a sense of worthiness and belonging. It can be difficult to feel worthy or forge a sense of belonging when faced with such traumatic beginnings. This issue is still frequently dismissed in the mainstream population and yet, those in my community (and researchers) know this struggle is real. I know the courage it take for so many of us to function!


According to Brown some of the following attributes, which we can aspire to achieve, were found amongst people who felt worthy. They had:

· The courage to be imperfect.

· The compassion to be kind to themselves first.

· The courage to be authentic to themselves.

· To believe that they’re enough.

·Alongside this, is the courage to be vulnerable.


Brown contends that vulnerability is not a sign of weakness but rather when we are vulnerable, we take an emotional risk & we can feel exposed. She states that “vulnerability is our most accurate measurement of courage.”

Yet, when adoptees try to speak out on various platforms and reveal their vulnerability, they are shutdown, ridiculed or often dismissed. It takes enormous strength to expose our inner, intimate accounts. I too have deleted tweets because I felt too exposed or felt a sense of shame. Brown calls this the ‘vulnerability hangover.’


I know I’m not alone in experiencing a ‘vulnerability hangover’ and this is why I step away from adoptionland and social media which is oft necessary for my wellbeing. But, the fact that I, and others, apologise for practicing self-care is a problem. I/we need to stop that and normalise the courage to show self-compassion. I’m doing the best I can and members of my community are too!


Shame can frequently silence adoptees and this can render us feeling alone or that we are not good enough. According to Brown, shame is correlated with many things including addiction and suicide. I know this will resonate with many in my community and we are overrepresented in both (and in other areas).

Shame embedded itself early on and manifested in my need for reassurance & why I struggled to feel worthy. This was especially true in my teenage years and my 20’s, which probably explains why I stayed too long in toxic relationships (including being subjected to domestic violence by a then boyfriend).

Although I can outwardly appear to exude confidence, this can sometimes feel like a mask (we all wear a mask from time to time and it is called ‘Imposter Syndrome’) and winning academic awards hasn’t ameliorated this. When this feeling is triggered, I feel the shame and anxiety that I experienced as a young girl in primary school: an adoptee who was teased (eg., your parents don’t love you because you are not their real child), I had a lisp (which caused learning difficulties in my early years) and I would wonder why my natural mother abandoned me.

I can now recognise when I am triggered and I have been taught coping mechanisms but it’s not necessarily easy. I am sharing these strategies for reference but I am by no means recommending these — it’s what I have learned. They are:

·Making room for uncomfortable emotions.

·Having a cry (very cathartic).

·Attention training.


·Taking social media breaks.

· Spending time reading a book or watching a movie.

· Connecting with loved ones.

These are just a few in my toolkit of strategies and each one of us have to find our own that works for us. Personally, I have to be mindful of avoidance behaviours, which is generally not the best coping strategy because it can, in the long-term, increase anxiety.

That said, knowing when to step away and practice self-care is imperative, and differentiating this from avoidance is important especially as adoptee activists/voices we are frequently invalidated. I have previously written about the trauma of invisibility and we know that it is important to be been seen and to have our voices validated, but this continues to be a battle.


Brown notes, it takes courage to be ‘SEEN.’

To that end, thank you to all adoptees who bravely share their truth & who’ve been vulnerable. We don’t owe the non-adopted population (or the adoptee community) our time, tears or pain at the expense of our own wellbeing. This is a complex area that we navigate daily.

While it takes courage to be vulnerable, it also takes courage to love & respect ourselves and to set boundaries.

· It’s okay to take social media breaks.

· It’s okay to not attend adoptee meetings.

· It’s okay to not be an activist.

· It’s okay to NOT be okay and ask for help.

In that spirit, I also want to say thank you to the adoptee community and to say that despite my absence of late, I see you.

Thank you to the adoptees who have had the courage to be vulnerable, to step away and to hold space for those close in their lives. I see you.

Thank you to the adoptees who run support groups and family preservation sites. I see you.

Thank you to the adoptees who’ve had the strength to able to hold the hand of another adoptee who was struggling. I see you.

Thank you to the adoptees who continue to fight for our voices to be amplified, some of whom work tirelessly and quietly such as members of Adoptee Rights Australia and international voices. I see you.

To the adoptees who battle every day just to survive and who don’t have the luxury to speak out or write. I see you.

The inequalities and issues we face shouldn’t be invisible.

Finally, to myself and all of adopted people, I don’t know who needs to hear this today:

We are enough.

We are worthy.

“There is a crack, a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in” (L. Cohen).

I hope through the cracks, the light shines for you today.



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