How Adoptees Can Manage COVID-19 Pandemic Stress
How are my fellow adoptees doing during this pandemic the world is currently facing? I know that my own anxiety has been spiking in recent weeks, and we are human to feel this way. Virtually everyone is stressed out to varying degrees, but those with complex trauma from childhood might have even higher anxiety than usual. This can bring on feelings of being overwhelmed and then we feel guilty for not reacting the way we think we should. This happens because our nervous systems are dysregulated due to trauma, but there are practices we can do to regulate ourselves. Adoptees are vulnerable to toxic stress right at the beginning of our lives, therefore we need to learn to care for ourselves and our nervous systems during these challenging times, so we can come out stronger on the other side. In this post, I will share practices and insights that I use with my clients and in my own life to combat fear and anxiety, and I hope to show adoptees how resilient they are.
Adoptees begin life by losing their mothers and many experience traumas in the womb, so their nervous systems develop in response to that trauma. They might become fearful of abandonment or rejection, hypervigilant, or experience a loss of identity or trust. Life can feel anything but safe and predictable, and adoptees might believe that their whole world has fallen apart. If the trauma and grief cannot be processed, they will continue to create dysregulation in the brain and body. When feelings are suppressed, this prolongs the trauma and it creates much greater suffering.
We can look back at particularly traumatic memories, and we can trace those memories to younger parts of ourselves who are stuck in their traumas. I love to do parts work to get in touch with these hurting parts who are controlling our behavior today. These parts simply need to be heard and validated. There is a hurting inner child within each one of us who we can help to heal. We are triggered in the present day with the very real fears we are facing now, but our unresolved trauma also becomes re-activated and we become that terrified child again. The first thing we need to do is to build awareness of when this is happening, and we can realize that what we are feeling now is about a past traumatic bodily memory that our bodies are ready to process and release.
We can begin to feel all the feelings that we have suppressed for many years, and we can start to connect to our bodies. We can hold space for whatever feelings arise from the past, while at the same time staying calm and grounded in the present. The pandemic can exacerbate fears of being abandoned, not having control, or not having enough. These are definite fears, but they are lessened when we realize they are about the fears of young parts. It is helpful to close the eyes, take several deep breaths, and scan the body from the top of the head to the soles of the feet. What do you notice?
If there is anxiety, then we can realize that anxiety is a defense for feeling fear or sadness. We can tune into the underlying emotion, tie that to a part, and allow the emotion to flow through our bodies rather than remaining stuck.
If there is fear, we can ask the inner child what she is feeling and what she needs from the present-day adult. This would look like this: Is she feeling overwhelmed? Is she feeling exhausted? Does she need safety? Does she need security? Does she need connection?
There are countless feelings and needs guesses to make, and when you hit on the right emotion, the feeling will flow out of your body, and you will feel better. Feelings are the deepest expression of who we are, and they must be felt. They will flow through the body and subside in 90 seconds, if we allow them to, which is much better than ruminating in anxiety. When we can comfort the younger parts, there will be more of the adult available to handle the current challenges. The adult self will be present, and the energy will feel lighter.
Meditation is essential to staying calm and grounded and connecting with the parts, and making feelings and needs guesses are at the heart of meditation. Consistency is the key to meditation or any other practice, and I find it helpful to practice at the same time each day. You must keep going even if you do not initially notice a difference, and eventually there will be a change. Meditation helps to heal the brain, and it aids the brain in forming new neural pathways.
I like to use essential oils, such as lavender, to help come back into the body and relax. It is necessary to involve the body in becoming more present and centered, and bilateral tapping is beneficial. You can place both hands on your knees, as you sit, and alternately tap each knee. You can cross your arms on your chest and alternately tap on each shoulder. You can even alternately tap each toe in your shoe if you want to be inconspicuous. It is calming to place your right hand under your left armpit and wrap the other arm around your body as if you are giving yourself a hug. Any kind of movement will help the nervous system to discharge negative energy, and it is fun to dance, jump, or run. You can sway from side to side in a chair. You may explore to see what feels good to you and your body. You can hold an object in your hand, such as a pen, and look at and feel the object in your hand. Finally, you may look around the room you are in, and you can pick one object to focus on. What do you notice happening in your body? You may continue to scan for an object until you find one that calms you, and you can look at that however long you wish. These are some of my favorite ways to become more present, and I encourage you to experiment until you find one that works for you.
People are having various reactions to the pandemic, and whatever feelings you are having are okay. It is imperative to be with your feelings and to validate whatever is there. Adoptees do not have any choice about being adopted, but we can choose to be responsible for our healing. We can let our inner children know that we are safe, we survived, and we are well. We can have the felt sense of emotional safety that many of us never had as children, and we can heal from our traumas. We are more resilient than we might believe we are, and we will make it through this pandemic, because we survived adoption trauma. Please seek professional help if you need support, and I want you to remember that you are worth the time and effort it takes to heal and thrive.