Learning About Internal Family Systems, Identifying Parts, and Honoring My SELF in The Process

My close friend Stephani has hipped me to the world of Internal Family Systems – IFS, and it’s changed my life. I will be candid, Stephani has been talking about doing “Parts Work” for as long as I’ve known her, but I had no idea what the context of “Parts Work” meant. As my relationship with Stephani has gotten stronger over the last few years, she’s helped me identify different parts of me when we’ve had conversations about life experiences.

Over time, it’s sparked my interest in wanting to get to the bottom of what “parts of me” even means.

The IFS – Institute Website Says

What is Internal Family Systems?

IFS is a transformative, evidence-based psychotherapy that helps people heal by accessing and loving their protective and wounded inner parts. We believe the mind is naturally multiple, and that is a good thing. Just like members of a family, inner parts are forced from their valuable states into extreme roles within us. We also all have a core Self.

Self is in everyone. It can’t be damaged. It knows how to heal.

By helping people first access their Self and, from that core, come to understand and heal their parts, IFS creates inner and outer connectedness. Read more about the aspects of the Evolution of the IFS model.

The more I learned about IFS, the more I began to identify different parts of me, and I started to evaluate what role these parts have played in my life currently and back to my childhood at my earliest memories. I am still at the beginning stages of learning about IFS, so my writing might be based on the level of understanding and experience I currently have with IFS. I feel the need to share this because I am still learning.

One of the many IFS dynamics I am drawn towards is the concept that we all have parts, and we all have SELF. Self is the true us and who we are. IFS guides each of us to know that we have no bad or negative parts, and all of our parts have served a great purpose. These parts have been protectors to help protect SELF from harmful experiences at some point along our journeys. They can surface at different areas of life as protectors, and sometimes they stay in the background, not surfacing at all.

Moving forward, I want to share some of the parts of me that I identify as I move forward with the Internal Family Systems Model. Example – I have already identified one of my teenage parts. I’ve named her and acknowledged different times when she shows up in my current life and what she protected me from in my teen years. I’ve been able to identify and tap into her feelings, and she’s already shared a lot of her role with other people. In doing this, she already feels she has a voice, which has never happened. She’s shared things about her that have been locked inside for 46 years. Sharing is healing, so even this small step has created an extended-release for me.

I’ve identified one of my five-year-old parts, and I’ve also named her. She played a pivotal role in my childhood. I want to share more about her in a separate article. I’ve identified one of my pre-five-year-old parts, and I haven’t come up with a name for her yet. She holds the terror and trauma from relinquishment separation from being given up for adoption. As I navigate my IFS journey and move forward with understanding these parts, I hope to know how these parts impact me to this day and what they have protected me from in the past.

This all might seem like a strange foreign language because I can relate. Those were my thoughts in the beginning. However, when I have tried EVERYTHING under the sun to heal my adoptee/relinquishee issues, and nothing has worked, it leaves me in a state of mind where I’m willing to try anything. The more I learn about IFS – the more it makes sense to me. It’s given me a new tool to discover and learn about layers of myself, which has given me a new fresh wind at trying to figure it all out. It’s given me a chance to provide a voice for all the parts of me who have so desperately wanted to be heard, but no one has been available to listen.  

Some of the questions I have –

Why am I the way I am?

Are my ways serving me a good purpose?

What do I need to identify and change?

Now I can begin to understand my sensitivities and where they come from?

Healing can happen from these discoveries. I’m excited to start the IFS process and share some of my self-discoveries with you. I feel this model might be something that other adopted individuals might consider learning more about. One thing is for certain; healing isn’t going to come knocking on our doors. It’s up to each of us to seek healing ways out, and that’s going to look different for each of us. As I move forward with learning more about IFS, and the process of seeing a new adoptee/therapist I want to share my discoveries with you all. Even if it helps one adoptee, it’s worth the share.

A special shout out to my close friend Stephani – Thank you for your willingness in sharing your parts with me, thank you for encouraging me to learn my parts. Thank you for listening to me share about my parts. Thank you for your transparency, and most of all THANK YOU FOR YOUR FRIENDSHIP! XOXO P

To my fellow adoptees, do you know anything about IFS? Have you tried using it in the past? Are you currently using this model? If so, what’s your experience been like? Has it helped you? If so, how?

The views and opinions expressed in this article are that of the author, Pamela A. Karanova. Reproduction of the material contained in this publication may be made only with the written permission of Pamela A. Karanova

When Your Biggest Blessing Invalidates My Greatest Trauma

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When your biggest blessing invalidates my greatest trauma it sets me up for a lifetime of pain, suffering and isolation. It facilitates a lifetime of suicidal ideation, because the pain is just too great to process. It makes me feel more isolated and alone than non-adopted individuals can ever imagine. It makes me wish I was aborted and feeling like I want to die for most of my life, because my pain is greater than my desire to want to live. It drives me to attempt to take my life as a teenager, because you fail to admit I have lost anything. It drives me to a place of addiction, because at the end of every day the only way to manage every day life is to numb the pain. When you use bible scriptures to defend your blessing, it makes me question the bible and the God you are speaking of. When your biggest blessing outshines my reality, it makes me feel unimportant and insignificant. When you refer to me as a blessing, it hurts because you are invalidating my adoptee and relinquishee reality.

My story went something like this:

Me: Mommy, did I come out of your tummy?

Adoptive Mom: No, you were adopted. Your birth mother’s choice to surrender you for adoption was my biggest blessing and a dream come true.

Me: What do you mean?

Adoptive Mom: She loved you so much she gave you to me to raise, and I will always love her and be thankful for her decision.

Me: Who is she? Where is she?

Adoptive Mom: We don’t know, honey.

Me: Experienced the most significant mental mind fu*k of my entire lifetime.

I was approximately five years old when this conversation took place, and it’s clear to me that my life was never the same. Every day, I was haunted every hour and every minute wondering, wishing, and dreaming about finding HER.

No matter what questions I had or what mental torment I experienced from this moment forward, my adoptive mom’s joy and happiness trumped everything. My feelings didn’t matter when I was her biggest blessing in life, and her joy  of being a mother trumped my feelings of sadness every damn day.

If I’m transparent, my adoptive mom likely didn’t know the pain and heartache I was experiencing but if she did, her happiness was highlighted over my pain. I was adopted in August of 1974, and my adoptive parents were told to sweep the entire idea of adoption and what it meant under the rug. They were also told the less we talked about it; the better things would be. This is how many adoptions were back in those days, but today is a new day and a new year. It’s 2020, and when you know better, you do better.

However, I ask myself if my adoptive parents knew this, would it have changed anything for my five-year-old self, who was desperately searching for my REAL MOTHER?

I genuinely believe as a 46-year-old woman, if I were able to process my trauma at as early of an age as possible, my healing journey wouldn’t have started at 36+ years old. I wouldn’t have been addicted to substances for 27 years of my life. I recently celebrated 8 years sobriety, however I feel like I’ve spent my entire life not only suffering from the trauma of relinquishment and adoption but healing from the lifelong aftermath of these experiences.

I have barely started living my life yet, and if I’m lucky, it’s over half over. That’s a hard pill to swallow, but I try to remain grateful that I’m here and I’m alive because I know so many of my fellow adoptees are not. This is why I keep sharing and writing. Adoptees are dying!

Adoptions continue to happen all over the world. We cannot continue to fail to acknowledge that before the blessing of an adopted child is brought into a family, it is equally intertwined into the very beginnings of our life, which is a traumatic experience. We must also recognize that relinquishment is trauma, and so is adoption. These are two very different dynamics to the adoptee experience. The sooner society steps out of denial about these truths; the sooner adoptees will start to heal.

Better yet, if our adoptive parents knew these truths from the beginning, would they still choose to adopt anyway? In my experience spending the last ten years networking in the adoption community, most all adoptive parents I have talked to have expressed they TRULY had no idea what they were getting themselves into when they adopted. The adoption agencies and attorneys never shared the truth with them. When they learned what they were up against, it was too late, and they were stuck with this child who has come with deep-rooted relinquishment trauma, or they rehome them and send them back.

Let me be clear, we can have wonderful and loving adoptive homes and love our adoptive families greatly, but the original trauma of relinquishment still remains the same. Networking with adoptees for over 10+ years and hearing their stories, building relationships with them, I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt most of us don’t get happy and loving adoptive homes! If you are that one adoptee or know that one adoptee who’s “Just fine” with being adopted, spend more time getting to know more adoptees. That one adoptee story doesn’t compare to the hundreds of thousands of adoptees who have nightmare adoption stories and adoptive homes. Remember, adoption trauma always compacts the original relinquishment trauma.

In what ways does relinquishment and adoption trauma surface in an adopted individual? It can be acting out at an early age or teen/adult years with anger, rage, self-harm, substance abuse, breaking the law, running away, testing the waters in every way possible. Depression, anxiety, abandonment, mental health issues, self love, self hate, rejection, and Complex – PTSD. Let’s not forget grief and loss. Grief and loss show up in more ways than non-adoptees can even imagine and it lasts a lifetime! We struggle with these things for our entire lifetimes and many adoptees never get the help they deserve, taking this pain to their graves. We don’t wake up one day and it’s gone. It follows us, like ball and chain. For many of us, it feels like we’re doing a life sentence for a crime we didn’t commit.

While our adoptive parents, their friends, and family are celebrating adoption blessings, the truth is that adoptees will continue to attempt suicide at 4x the rate of non-adopted individuals. We will continue to grieve our grief and process our loss alone for a lifetime. We will continue to feel helpless in a world that celebrates our relinquishment trauma and adoption trauma. We will continue to live a life riddled with anxiety, depression, and sadness. We will continue to feel isolated and alone. Many and most of us take these things to our graves, because there has never been any help for us.

Instead, you celebrate our trauma and normalize the separation of a mother and her baby. Nothing about relinquishment and adoption is normal, and all the feelings adoptees feel and how we respond to relinquishment and adoption trauma is normal considering the circumstances. What’s not normal is relinquishment and adoption trauma!

Back in 1974, adoptees weren’t baring their souls to share their stories in hopes of shining a light on the truth about adoption and how it’s made them feel. If they were, there might have been very few of them. Today they are, and it’s making a difference. One of the biggest things I have experienced that’s been a significant hurdle to overcome is that our world celebrates adoption the way they do. Can you imagine our world celebrating rape or child abuse? Can you imagine our world celebrating someone being held hostage at gunpoint? Can you imagine our world celebrating a mother and child dying in childbirth?

Only in adoption is our most tremendous trauma of relinquishment not acknowledged, but it’s celebrated. The mental mind fu*k this causes for relinquished and adopted individuals can’t even be explained. Let me be frank; it’s a big giant clusterfu*k.

While our adoptive parents and society are celebrating, they don’t equally acknowledge that we are being is severed from our roots before any adoption occurs. This is the most significant loss of our lifetimes. We lose genetic mirrors, biological connections, medical history, siblings, grandparents, ethnicity, homeland, and so much more on top of YOU CELEBRATING IT. Stop celebrating mothers and babies being separated!

If you’ve made it this far, I will encourage you to challenge yourself in stepping out of denial about the FACTS that what you were told and what you learned about adoption might not be accurate information. I ask you to open your eyes, ears, and hearts to the truth that relinquished and adopted individuals need you to equally acknowledge all we have lost before you consider celebrating it.

We’re not your blessing. Until you can do this vital step to help aid us in our healing process you have no business celebrating us or calling us a blessing. When our adoptive parents are our elders, we follow suit in what they acknowledge as we are children. If you recognize this, we will realize this. Conversations about grief, loss, relinquishment, abandonment, rejection, culture, genetic mirroring, searching, and reunion need to happen. As children, we will NOT be able or equipped to open these conversations on our own. Without the support of our adoptive parents, we will suffer, and we will suffer greatly.

I hate to shatter the fantasy that your adoption is a blessing, but the truth is before every adoption takes place, relinquishment trauma happens first. Adoptees are dying. Please stop celebrating our relinquishment trauma and adoption trauma, and if even after learning all this, you still choose to celebrate, at least equally share the truth by sharing the painful pieces as well. If you don’t, you will regret it, and please know you are assisting in the stalling of your adopted child’s healing. A lifetime of pain will follow no matter what, but if you choose to assist by opening these difficult conversations, it will help!

If you are the adoptive parent of an adult adoptee, you can still apply this information to your journey, life, and relationship with the adopted individual in your life. I don’t know your story, nor do I need to know it. Start talking about the TRUTH in adoption. Start talking about uncomfortable topics. It could save your relinquishee/adoptees life.

Thanks for reading.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are that of the author, Pamela A. Karanova. Reproduction of the material contained in this publication may be made only with the written permission of Pamela A. Karanova

I’ve Got Nothing for National Adoption Awareness Month 2020

Photo Credit: UNSPLASH by Jed Owen

I’ve spent years pouring my heart and soul into NAAM, and at the end of November, my heart and entire soul feel completely exhausted, not to mention my emotional and mental health take a tremendous toll. National Adoption Awareness Month is heavy, like a duffle bag filled with bricks.

Something about living 46 years being adopted, fighting the world for my truth, and then taking every ounce of energy for an entire month by pouring into the occasion is just way too much than what my mental health can take these days.  

Adoptee Remembrance Day was created and set for October 30th each year is to send shockwaves in the adoption community about the ADOPTEE REALITIES of adoption and how it impacts adoptees all over the world BEFORE NAAM HITS. This is where I will be spending my energies for the years to come, and this is where I will be pouring my heart into.

I would love to extend my sincere thanks and gratitude to my friends and fellow adoptees who have chosen to buckle up their bootstraps in pouring into November. I know this isn’t an easy time for adoptees, and it seems we all take an extra beating this month when we choose to participate. As if living being adopted isn’t hard enough, we have to look online and see adoption praise parties worldwide. It’s tough, beyond it. I salute each of you! I love you and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for pouring your soul into the adoptee community.

As the middle of November approaches, I would love to encourage anyone reading to be sure to take care of yourself and take breaks as your mental health truly needs it. No one is going to do it for us. I also encourage you to consider pausing from social media as it’s one sure way to stay consumed in ADOPTIONLAND. Be ruthless in your self-care routine, and learn that you don’t have to explain your actions to anyone.

I no longer explain my decisions or actions to anyone regarding my role in adoptionland. Once upon a time, I used to seek guidance or others’ approval before I made decisions. Today, I ask myself daily, where I am concerning my adoption journey. Reflecting on this topic is how I accurately decide my role within the adoptee community. It changes frequently, and I am okay with this.  

Whatever you are doing to participate in NAAM, and even for those who are passing it up this year, please put yourself first. You deserve it.