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Clearing the Adoption Fog = Change. Deal with it.

by Laura on April 10th, 2013

“Human beings for the most part are resistant to change… of any kind.” — Corie Skolnick in yesterday’s Heart-to-Heart with a Therapist, Adoption Reunion and Resistance to Change.

Laura – How does this resistance to change relate to “adoption fog,” specifically in adoptees who don’t want to search?

For me this is so. hard. … I simply cannot relate to the feeling of being adopted, and not being curious, not wanting and needing to know the real story straight from the horse’s mouth.

The connection between adoption fog and resistance to change

Corie – “Adoption fog” describes a state that is personally emotional, mental, physical and psychological. At a systemic level, the “fog” extends to the entire social system that revolves around a child that is not being raised by its biological parents. “Adoption fog” is REALLY complex and entirely subjective.

No two adoptees will experience “adoption fog” in exactly the same way. No family system will maneuver the fog in the same way. (The complexity of such a phenomenon requires a lot more research and study and as more and more people within the adoption community “come out” I hope we see a dedicated professional interest in this topic.)

For the purpose of this discussion though, when you talk about “adoption fog” (as it pertains to adoptees who don’t want to search), I’m going to assume that you are talking about adoptees who have not yet come to terms with the reality of their feelings. In the fog, everything is “fine, fine, fine.” In the fog, the denial of reality, i.e. typically, “my mother didn’t want me” may not be entirely possible, but the denial of the adoptee’s feelings about that reality are.

Denial is the name of the game in the fog.

Nobody has any bad feelings as long as the fog is maintained. The adoptee has no anger, no fear, no resentment… none that can be seen in the fog anyway. You put this very well in terms of your own experience. It sounds like the thing that dispelled the fog in your case was your overwhelming curiosity about the truth of your life’s experiences. All of them.

But, again, each person’s fog is their own.

What does or doesn’t bring a person out of the fog and into a “need to know” that activates a search and reunion will be unique to them. It’s important to remember that the fog is protective. The who, how and why someone needs to be protected from reunion and all the feelings about it is going to be completely idiosyncratic, even within the same family.

An adoptee might be certain that their adoptive parents need to be protected from their curiosity to find their birth parents and they may be pre-supposing that a reunion represents catastrophe for their entire family. At the very same time, adoptive parents might be encouraging the fog because they believe that they are protecting the adoptee from a search that might result in a bad outcome.

Laura – The fog is protective, as in the fog is a coping mechanism. And, this makes perfect sense as to why, when adoptees have children of their own (whether they adopt or not) … this is when they begin to emerge. Or, turning 18 and having the records unsealed. Or, a health crisis created an absolute medical necessity for an adoptee to find out his biological medical history.

I’d like to ask readers … what triggers caused you, or someone you know, to emerge? Please comment below!

*  *  *  *  *

Thanks, Corie!

Corie and I will be talking more in coming weeks about adoption fog, resistance to change and how that relates to Corie’s amazing book, ORFAN, available on Amazon. I highly recommend it!

About Corie Skolnick – Born in Oak Park, Illinois, and raised on Chicago’s south side, Corie Skolnick has lived her entire adult life in Southern California. She is a California licensed marriage and family therapist and a psychology instructor at California State University, Northridge and Moorpark College.

coffee image from bplanet and fog image, both

  1. Apart from a fear of facing emotions, I should think this adoption fog also has to with a fear of questioning identity, which operates on a high (deep) level and is held stable by values and beliefs.

    • Laura permalink

      Belinda — YES! If you question your biological identity, maybe you'll find things you don't like? That is an interesting notion–and yes, I'm sure it operates on a deep level, especially given the Puritanical societal moors of the "whorish" birth mother. And then the adoptee wonders if she's like her biology. These (skewed) perceptions often run very, very deep. Great point!

  2. Since my kids are international adoptees they'll probably never have the opportunity to know very much more than they know now. We're not even sure the race of my oldest child. Not that it matters, but it's an example of the extent of things unknown. Like fetal alcohol effects, which we also suspect.

    • Christine permalink

      I think knowing race and ethnicity will someday, if not already, be very important to the child. I do think it matters and if it is unknown perhaps some genetic testing can be of help. Not knowing where we came from is a core issue for many adoptees.

  3. Ahhh…it can be so hard to know, then, how to "help" someone in the fog (and I suspect there are other situations about which someone can be in the fog besides adoption).

    Better to gently life the fog? Or to yank someone out of it like ripping off a band-aid? Or let the person self-navigate — stay or go?

    I know there is no one answer, and that each situation is different. But the ideas you present here highlight for me that the less obfuscation that happens in adoption, the less likely the person will have to deal with the fog dilemma.

    • Laura permalink


      Yes, I agree "the less obfuscation that happens in adoption, the less likely the person will have to deal with the fog dilemma."

      It's also the issue of shame — in addition to the secrecy and lies and foggy thinking. Holding onto the shame can lead to adoption fog as a coping mechanism–a way of living in denial.

      Yes, how to "help"? I know, I know–I just want to get the fog out, but I do think people have to do it in their own time, and even then it is hard to admit to having been in the fog. I'll be talking more with Corie about this in future posts … there is so much to discuss!


  4. I'm so glad you interviewed Corie again.. . she is so with it for a non-adoptee! lol I think she makes some great points about the fog. I would like to hear from Corie on what specific things parents can do to prevent the adoption fog in the first place, if there is such a thing.

    • Laura permalink

      I know, right? Corie is great and so *very* with-it for a non-adoptee. Preventing adoption fog in the first place — this is a great question, and I'll try to touch on it in my future conversations with Corie!

  5. Thanks again, Laura! This is a great discussion and I want to add to it. I'm rushing off this morning (to meet an adoptee)

    so I'll be back later to chime in.

  6. So, I was thinking about this link you bring up between "shame" and "secrecy" and the" fog". Obviously culture plays a huge role in the big picture as Belinda implies when she addresses the issue of identity formation. Plenty of families (and indeed whole cultures) do NOT value individuation and the notion that an adolescent has the freedom to differentiate from their family without severe sanctions is ridiculous. I think this adds another aspect of difficulty to challenging an adoptee's fog, because as Belinda says, such a challenge may be perceived as an attack on their belief system and their values. Maybe what you are all doing is the very best strategy. Live your fully conscious, self actualized lives in full view for others to see. Talk about it openly and display your honesty and integrity with challenging the secrecy code. And, continue to write about it. Even through the fog, they will be attracted by the sheer intensity of your existence (because you are NOT living in a fog) and they will be curious. You are all teachers by example just by doing what you are doing. And, you are creating an alternative culture, an "adoptee culture" that values honesty and challenges shame and secrecy. What adoptee wouldn't want to belong to THAT culture?

  7. Lee H. permalink

    I met my original father, and what my first mother thought about him may not have all been true based on lies and coverup. In her eyes he was a bad guy who abandoned her (and she rightfully thought this was true). When he treated me well and documentation I received told a different story it floored me…

    • Laura permalink

      Lee–Thanks for sharing this. Yes, we have to have the courage to discover our own truth, and not take the word of others. An important reminder.

  8. Melissa permalink

    This is so fascinating! I was in the fog…..until we adopted our two children and I went to grad school to become an adoption social worker! My older sister is still in the fog. However, my mom (adoptive) is fully accepting of my "reunion" and she even flew with me to attend my 1/2 brother's funeral. My dad (adoptive) passed away and my sister felt very close to him. I stopped sharing any information with my sister or her family (my adult nephews) because whenever I shared something, they were either silent or said something to the effect of "oh, that's nice". It's so sad because it has left them out of a huge experience in my life for the past 8 years.

    • Laura permalink


      It's great to have you commenting here. Thanks. First, I'm so sorry about your half-brother; my condolences. It is amazing how adoptive families may be supportive, but it's "supportive," in quotes and extremely limited. Like you said, How nice for you! (now keep it to yourself, please). For me, it's also sad for your nephews because they don't have access to half of their biological medical history.

      I hope you'll continue reading and commenting. How is your relationship with your first family now?

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