Leave-takings are hard. They are harder for some than for others. If you are someone who has had a lot of loss in your life, you may actually dread separations and goodbyes. You may avoid them. You may feel ambivalent about them. In some cases, the feelings of loss and grief that were planted and imprinted a long time ago, may cause you to behave in ways that even you don’t understand. You may, or may not be aware of the reasons for the feelings of fear, sadness, despair, confusion or even anger. You may not even recognize these feelings, or may attribute them to something false.
One example of this ambivalence might be when an adult child moves out. You may have looked forward to this for ages. You believe you wanted it so much that you were ready to dance on the dining room table in celebration, and yet the house feels strangely empty when it happens. You find that you are sad, and that there is a gloom hanging over you that is reminiscent of earlier times and feelings experienced after the loss of loved ones through death. You are happy about the fact that your child is finally ready to grow up and create an independent life. You are thrilled with the simple things, such as how neat your home seems to stay now, and you don’t miss the clutter. You like the quiet and the chance to work in peace, to “control” your own kitchen, etc. You are excited about the longed-for increase in closet and shelf space. Still, you feel strange, and at times, maybe even depressed.
If you are the adult child, you may believe with all your heart that you are ready to fly the coop. You may be straining at the leash you imagine yourself to be wearing. You may feel ready to throw off the yoke of slavery, (as you perceive it) and are sick of being told to pick up after yourself, or of following your family’s rules.
Yet you are probably not fully conscious of how your existing loss issues have an impact on your ability to separate. Even though you want to make this move into adulthood and autonomy, there is something tugging at you. This is why many young people who have experienced loss (though death, divorce, foster care, adoption, as some examples) have to separate with a bang. Instead of a smooth transition and a positive leave-taking, they may need to generate drama and one or multiple blow ups within the family. It hurts too much to separate and to move on, whether they acknowledge this or not, so they sometimes need to create a rift, and to “blow out” in anger, convincing themselves that this is justified. This is the only way they can go without letting the raw nerve endings of their emotions begin to throb with the terrible pain of earlier loss.
This can happen too, with some younger adopted or foster kids, who find any type of separation difficult, and who often don’t know how to handle these, so they sabotage themselves. Their loss and anger may be tied to the original loss of their birth families. A child who is very much looking forward to a sleep-away camp experience, for example, may, prior to leaving, become angry with the adoptive parents, and most often with the adoptive mom, transferring emotions about earlier loss of a birthmother onto her. The only way some kids can handle going away from home is to convince themselves they are angry with, or hate the adoptive family, and thus, they may precipitate a crisis, become defiant, or break some important family rule that will result in punishment, or perhaps with the removal of the privilege of going to the camp. They don’t necessarily consciously think this through, but the feelings of loss can be overwhelming, and can act as triggers for such behaviors. Or they will express anger and rage to enable themselves to believe that they won’t miss the adoptive family when they are at camp, and thus, in an odd way, this makes them better able to leave home , head to camp and have the camp experience.
If you are someone who has lived through one or more significant life losses, try to think of a time when you felt such ambivalence about a leave-taking. You may have been the person “left behind” in the scenario, or the person leaving, confronting an important life stage change or milestone. Were you aware of your conflicts at the time you were going through this? What happened? Was there anything that made the separation more doable and less painful for you? What helped you get through that time? Was there something that anyone said or did that eased the change or leave-taking for you? Did you ever sabotage yourself? Have you learned anything from the past to help you cope better with similar situations now?
Want to tell your story? I am doing a series of interviews with people who are survivors of various life trials, and who have emerged as stronger and more capable individuals. Your hard-earned skills, awareness and coping tools can help somebody else. Let me know if you would be interested in doing a phone interview with me, please.
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Iris J. Arenson-Fuller is a Life Stage, Family, Relationship Changes Certified Coach who helps people who have lived with loss, trauma and difficult life changes learn to find a new normal, and to build new hope and joy into their lives. She also specializes in adoption loss issues and all other issues pertaining to the Adoption Community.
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