Adoptee Community Conflict
by JS LEE
After approximately fifteen years of my own involvement in the adoptee community, I can tell you with absolute certainty that: We’re not all going to get along all the time. It’s impossible to think we can. We’ve been raised in extremely different environments and families, hold conflicting views on politics and adoption, have varying amounts of racial awareness, and a collective fuck-ton of unresolved trauma.
Adoptee trauma still isn’t socially validated. We continue to fight against the public misconception that we should all be lucky to have been saved. Many are still in what we call the fog—a state born out of survival—which takes an incredible amount of bravery to clear. Coming out of the fog often costs us the only family we’ve ever known.
I believe a lifetime of invalidation and living with the impending fear of losing people contributes to competitive and toxic community behaviors. I also believe we need to do better at recognizing when we’re reacting from a place of unresolved trauma, take ownership of our feelings and behavior, and stop causing others harm.
I’m not claiming to be perfect. I’ve had my share of conflict gone wrong. But here are some things that I wish we could all practice more often:
Good Faith Conversations
So much damage is done from a lack of careful communication. When we talk to one another, we must show up in good faith. That entails speaking from the heart and listening to understand. If we do, we’ll get our chance to be heard.
In example: Last month, someone made a comment that upset me on one of my posts. I deleted it and sidebarred her to express why. She listened and said that she understood. Then I was able to hear what she intended without thinking she was using it as an excuse—and that was the end of it. No resentment built. We’ve gotten along well since.
With social media, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that behind profiles are (usually) actual people with complicated histories and feelings. It’s healthy to disagree with someone or their actions—but unless they’re acting hateful or bigoted, they deserve our respect. Let’s try to be mindful we’re dealing with real live people who are more than the embodiment of our disagreement.
Being a Good Guest
If someone’s sharing their pain or trauma, it’s probably not helpful to chime in on their post unless you have relevant words of witness or comfort. It’s neither the time to brag about how you’ve had a better experience, nor list paragraphs of one-up trauma bombs. Contrary to popular belief, most people don’t feel better hearing others had it worse. In doing this, you’re adding weight to their already heavy load and asking them to now empathize or sympathize with you—while minimizing their situation.
It can be hard to accept that our voices aren’t always warranted. I used to express disagreement on other people’s posts way more than was healthy. Looking back, I was likely triggered and operating from my own pain. These days, I try to limit my strong feelings to my own posts rather than jumping into a fight. If I offer another opinion on someone else’s post, it’s because I respect them and trust we can have a healthy dialogue.
An Openness to Being Debated or Wrong
Adoptee groups, on the other hand, are built for community input. If it weren’t for heated group discussions, I’d still probably be embarrassingly naive. I owe so much of my adoption industry knowledge to those who challenged my thinking over a decade ago and piqued my interest to learn more. I spent countless nights arguing with more informed adoptees on the other side of the world who probably rolled their eyes and groaned in agony. Today, I’m thankful for their service.
Attributing Credit When Due
I often come across memes that echo my own words, thoughts, and beliefs—and enjoy how they validate. Art is often a reflection of relatable observations. Yet, some things seem beyond relatable or coincidental. When there’s a pattern, there’s likely a problem.
I’ve also noticed some riffing too closely off personal posts. Don’t farm people’s accounts for content. There’s a difference between organic parallel thinking and abusing one’s connection. I understand that everyone wants to be heard, but if you’re elaborating on another community member’s words: credit them. Or better yet, let them have the floor and join in. Find your own topic to lead and dissect.
That said, when sharing an article or Instagram story repost, you don’t have to thank the source that led you to the source.
Refraining from Stirring the Pot
Please don’t be a troll. Don’t act sociopathic by purposely trying to hurt people’s feelings and then cop out by claiming you were joking because “people are too damn sensitive these days”. Don’t play Devil’s Advocate on serious topics just for fun. Don’t start group posts about how people need to be more positive after they’ve spent a lifetime not having anywhere safe to vent. If you’re a shit poster, join or start another group. If you can’t handle adoptees sharing difficult experiences, don’t frequent spaces where it often occurs. There are plenty of adoptee spaces today, and room for us all.
If you notice other adoptees in conflict, let them be. Unless they come to you, don’t pry. Leave them to work through whatever it is on their own. That said, if you’re witnessing someone causing another actual harm, you may want to address it. Just be careful you’re not merely thriving off drama.
Disengaging when Necessary
If someone’s behaviors are constantly grating, it’s okay to disengage, unfriend, or block. I need to take my own advice more. And honestly, I wish some would have unfriended me instead of jumping in with invalidating comments after so many years of silence that I’d forgotten their name.
While it’s true that adoptees can have abandonment issues and are said to be four times more likely to attempt suicide, sometimes distancing is better for everyone’s mental health.
I know it’s a major adoptee trauma challenge, but we have to be able to walk away and allow others to do the same. It’s not always as personal as it feels. Sometimes our energies just don’t vibe, or where we are on our journeys trigger one another. It could be healthy to reconnect down the road, but nobody owes anyone their connection. Please don’t harass, stalk, or bully someone who decides to disconnect. We all deserve space to heal and grow, and be surrounded by those who help rather than hinder.
Owning Our Shit
We are bound to say and do things that upset other people. We may cause harm without ill intention. When people are triggered or voicing their feelings against what you said or did, you may feel pulled to deflect or shift blame. But, if you’re the reason why people are hurting, confront it. Some will appreciate it and some won’t, but most will respect that you cared to address it head on. Community disapproval can hurt, but we need to take ownership of our decisions and accept that not everyone will like what we say or do.
As a writer who chooses to address controversial subject matters, some days are rough. There are people I held dear but had to disconnect from because they couldn’t disagree without lashing insults—and that’s a strong boundary for me. Part of why I write is because I was censored and silenced as a kid. Using my voice empowers the girl I once was and I won’t give that up to be better liked. If you’re more sensitive to social criticism, choose your topics with that in mind. This doesn’t, however, mean anyone deserves to be threatened, badgered, or harmed in retaliation.
Giving the Benefit of the Doubt
More than likely, unless you are named, what someone else shares is not about you. If someone doesn’t respond right away or as you were hoping, they might be tending to other things in their life. If they unexpectedly laugh at your serious post, it could be their clumsy finger, child, or cat. The truth can usually be brought to light with a non-accusative inquiry. Start there.
Honoring Others’ Stories
Trauma recovery is a nonlinear and often lifelong journey. People share what they feel comfortable sharing at the time. They might not list all the details in every retelling. Sometimes it’s too overwhelming to say or it feels irrelevant in the moment. We can also unlock trauma later in life.
Each person’s story is sacred. Trying to find holes to discredit someone’s trauma is never okay. If you’re fixating on theirs, it might be a sign that you should put more energy towards tending to your own.
Consider that people often subconsciously repeat what’s done to them if left unresolved. Adoptee trauma is denied every day. Food for thought.
Avoiding Hyperbolic Shame
Voicing an opinion on a controversial topic is not being divisive. Being open about trauma is not attention-seeking. Sharing one’s work or joy is not narcissistic. Speaking the truth is not an attack. The list goes on.
Resisting Tone Policing
All of that said, anger is a valid emotion. When it comes to adoption and other forms of injustice, we have a right to express it. Tone policing is especially prevalent in conversations where there’s an imbalance of power. Unfortunately, some purposely wind people up and then point to them as if they’re the problem. We’re allowed our warranted human emotions. (Thank you, JG, for the reminder.)
Building Authentic Connections
The beauty of friendship is to feel and help someone else feel connected, seen, valued, and understood. It’s not about clout or social currency. Networking is valid but without non-business talk, the relationship can feel insincere. Upon acceptance of a friend request, it’s uncomfortable to be bombarded to like your product, page, or contribute to your fundraiser. I’d rather take interest in it through what you share over time.
There’s undoubtedly a lot of competitive community behavior. Some will disagree but in my opinion, there’s no place for competitiveness among friends. You can admire where they shine and recognize where you lack, but it shouldn’t be an issue between you. Friends can inspire and encourage, cheer each other on, and hold space when needed.
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While it’s impossible to always get along, I want to believe we can live among each other more peacefully—and take appropriate steps when we can’t.
Many of us spent the bulk of our lives feeling isolated and disconnected. Too many survived suicide attempts. Too many haven’t. Now that we have this community, we have the chance to do better. We should always be mindful of the power and influence of our actions. While we’re only truly responsible for ourselves, we can act more responsibly with each other.