Adoptees – On Being “A Mistake”

Many adoptees have been told in their lives that they are a mistake. That their birth mother “got in trouble,” and that this “trouble” was a “mistake.”

What the adopted person hears is – “YOU are / were the trouble,” and “YOU are / were the mistake.”

Those who are reading and who are not adopted, sit with the idea of that for a moment.

I want to say out loud to every adoptee here – baby is never a “mistake.” 

I have been flipping this word, “mistake,” around in my body for a long time. I have been trying to figure out where “mistake” starts and ends and where “I” start and end. For a long time, there was no distance between me and it, and there was no boundary. I was the mistake and the mistake was me. This word, above all other words in the adopted vernacular has caused me the most distress.

The word, when referring to a group or person, is so hurtful and painful that it causes tears and a deep ache of recognition in my spine. I feel slumped over even as I write about “mistake.”

Not too long ago, here is what I decided to do about this word, this feeling, this slumping over of self due to the weight of my own mistakedness:  I decided to try an experiment. I would step into the word, the feeling, the fear, the hurt and the shame. I have decided to just sit with it, mistake and me, looking at each other and holding space. My question to self was, “What if I moved into that horrid word to see it differently?”

I stared it down. I let it know it did not, could not, would not any longer own me. It was as if I was with another human being, a human being that I once was terrified of and did not like, at all.

And you know what happened? I had a thought – “What if I assumed I am not a mistake?”

So, in my staring down, I told mistake, “I am NOT a mistake.” I said it over and over in that moment, and for days afterwards in my mind. “I am NOT a mistake. I am NOT a mistake. I am NOT a mistake. I am NOT a mistake. I am NOT a mistake. I am NOT a mistake. I am NOT a mistake. I am NOT a mistake.” Over and over again.  

I assumed I was not, and I found that this word, “mistake,” is a lie.

This was an experiment my mind decided to try, with my body’s support and it seemed to work. With the right support of my whole self, I was able to face the dreaded word in a very real, mind’s eye kind of way, and I was able to stay with it, even though I abhor the word, the feeling, the connotation of the word. I stayed present. I took the power out of the word and from my body. I took back my own power from a word that owned me for many years. This is the power of mind over words. Of positive thinking. Of acceptance of the parts of a whole self. And, the power of a determined soul to let go of shame.

What is the learning and the lesson here? I think that it is about facing fears, even if the fear is a word.

For adoptees, we are born as tiny, innocent babies. An adoptee, at birth, seems to be handed this back back of unearned history, pain and sorrows. It is as if we are energetically told, “good luck with all this stuff in your back back,” and sent home with people who are not our people.

The work of healing our adopted-ness is to face down the things that scare us the most. Words hold energy and power. They become parts of our whole selves. They control and malign us. They poke fun at our efforts to become loving and successful. They hold us back. And, they slowly, methodically bring us to the depths of physical pain and despair.

What we can do as an experiment is to “Assume we are not the _________________” (what ever word you are hampered by and which holds you back)

You can write out your assumptions. The KEY word is “NOT.”  Examples, “what if I were NOT a unloveable?”  “What is I were NOT an outcast?” “What if I were NOT abandoned?(and this is the feeling of abandonment, more than the actual left behind)”

Once we can imagine the NOT of the energy of the word, and the lie,  we can find the truth in our beings.

YOU ARE NOT A MISTAKE.        You are pure love. 




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Robyn Gobbel, LCSW

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