7 Core Issues in Adoption. & Permanency: Shame & Guilt

Jul 26, 2020

Rejection leads to feelings of shame and/or guilt.

Shame and guilt impact an individual’s self-esteem and self-worth and may create anxiety. Shame is maladaptive, while guilt is generally an adaptive emotion. Shame relates to self, guilt to others. Shame is the painful feeling that one is bad and undeserving of deep connections and happiness. Guilt is a feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offence, crime or wrong, whether real or imagined. Shame is about “being” (I’m bad) and guilt is about “doing” (I did something bad).

When shame is intensely experienced from infancy through the formative years, an inner critic is developed that creates a negative or harsh view of the self, caretakers and the world. Shame greatly impacts self-esteem. Shame leaves a person believing that their core self is “less worthy” than other people. These beliefs increase anxiety and may lead to defensive behaviours. Shame and guilt discourage people from thinking of themselves in a constructive or positive way. It can limit individuals from loving and receiving love as they do not feel worthy.

Guilt develops from our earliest parent-child attachment experiences.

Guilt is a learned social emotion. Consistent, secure and healthy primary attachment relationships allow the child to experience and internalize the attachment figures’ values and beliefs upon which a conscience develops. The conscience allows for guilt to be felt and develops as the child internalizes the primary attachment figures’ voices, actions and images, which are subsequently carried within an individual for the rest of their lives.

Family members, religious institutions and societal expectations have long created shame and guilt that impact birth/first parents and extended family. Adoptive, foster and kinship parents can also experience shame and guilt from those same sources. Children impacted by foster, adoption and kinship caregiving often experience both shame and guilt ongoingly as their understanding of what happened to them unfolds developmentally over time.

Shame and guilt have long been created by the secrecy attached to adoption and permanency. Secrecy has been used as an element of control over constellation members in the name of privacy.

Constellation members may experience shame and guilt when:

Attachments have been broken

Relational trauma, violence, abuse and neglect occur

Stigmatizing words and labels are used

Parents withhold important information from the child, adolescent or adult

People are lied to, manipulated, coerced or important information is withheld

Professionals and “systems of care” criticize or demean (intentionally or unintentionally)