Adoption and “Xenophobia Parentis Syndrome”

“Xenophobic parentis syndrome” are the negative feelings, dislikes and fears of children who are orphaned, fostered, and adopted that are directed against unfamiliar, mysterious and lesser known birth parents. They fear their birth parents may be persons of ill character, mental illness, debauchery, perversion, immorality, ethnically different, uniquely political or religious individuals, who will reflect poorly on their self-image. They fear strangers who may be killers, thieves, cheaters, wanderers, diseased, drug users and prostitutes. The psychological ‘fight or flight’ response triggers them to nervously cling to the safety of their adoptive family surroundings and privileged status as the ‘chosen one’.” Judith Land

Jean Paton | Judith Land | Orphan Voyage | The Adopted Break Silence | Adoption Detective

Jean Paton and Judith Land preparing to speak on adoption issues to Rotary International. Judith Land, adoptee and author of the book Adoption Detective, coined the term “Xenophobia Parentis Syndrome” when describing fears adoptees have of contacting birth parents. She first used the term during a presentation to Rotary International in 1983 co-hosted by Jean Paton, author of The Adopted Break Silence, and Founder of Ocean Voyage, the original adoptee support and search network. Xenophobia Parentis Syndrome is not a term found in medical literature. However, this does not necessarily make it a non-psychological condition.

Fear is related to the specific behaviors of escape and avoidance; a basic survival mechanism occurring in response to a specific stimulus related to future events, or a situation that is unacceptable. Fear is an emotion induced by a perceived threat which causes entities to quickly pull far away from it and usually hide, or in extreme cases a freeze or paralysis response is possible. Fear can be a manipulating and controlling factor in an individual’s life whether it is a fear of people, being a failure, fear of public speaking, fear of heights, fear of animals, or fear of the unknown. Many adoptees are too scared to take the path they want to because of what may lie ahead. They have a persistent fear of a foreboding situation in which the sufferer commits to great lengths in avoiding because the fear of their birth parents causes apprehension, consternation and dismay.

It is normal for all parents to tell their children not to talk to strangers in order to protect them from potential harm. Whether the threat is factual or imagined, the feeling or condition of being afraid is bona fide. When describing birth parents they know almost nothing about, adoptees with acute ‘xenophobia parentis’ may develop vivid imaginations leading to creative visualizations, or even hallucinations worthy of a good novelist describing perverted, deranged mentally ill individuals plotting to harm others. Parental alienation exacerbates the situation when adoptive parents excessively harp on the negative qualities of the birth parents to instill fear in the adopted child, eventually manifested as a social phobia based on a fear of public scrutiny leading to embarrassment and humiliation. Exposure to the feared social situation without preparation invariably provokes anxiety, or even full-fledged panic attacks with all the associated disabling symptoms.

There has been an increasing number of adoptees expressing a desire to communicate with birth parents over the years. Jean Paton was a firm believer in open adoption records and her theories about the emotional need for a curative and breakthrough reality that would finally make sense out of the disrupted life stories of adoptees has had a significant effect on the adoption community. I credit her personal advice, counseling and mentoring as an essential step needed to overcome my ‘xenophobia parentis’ before initiating my epic quest to locate my birth parents.

Judith Land


Related term: Parental Alienation Syndrome is a pathological alignment dynamic associated with divorce, separation and adoption.

http://www.adoptiondetectivejudithland.comJudith Land | Adoption Detective Book

The Biography of Jean Paton by E. Wayne Carp

Open Adoption | Adoption Search | Adoption Reunion




About Judith Land

Judith Land lives in Colorado and Arizona with husband and coauthor Martin Land. Judith is a former nurse, retail shop owner, college instructor and avid outdoor person. Her book "Adoption Detective: Memoir of an Adopted Child" is a true story detailing the journey of Judith Romano, foster child and adoptee, as she discovers fragments of her background, and then sets out to solve the mystery as an adult. She has reached readers in 192 countries. "Mothers and fathers everywhere in the world need to understand that children are forever and always." --Judith Land
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18 Responses to Adoption and “Xenophobia Parentis Syndrome”

  1. Hi Judith,
    I apologize for not replying to your earlier e-mail. I will chalk it up to revising my biography of Jean Paton and academic responsibilities. I just want to say that I am enjoying your blog and in particular this great photo of Jean. Now that the book is off to the press, I will have more time to catchup on your blog and even contribute a few additional items to my own.
    Best regards,
    E. Wayne Carp
    Check out my forthcoming book Jean Paton and the Struggle to Reform American Adoption at:

  2. Judith Land says:

    E. Wayne Carp,
    Thank you for chronicling the history of the adoption reform movement in the biography of Jean Paton, Mother of the Adoption Reform Movement. Every library should have a copy of your book.

  3. Judith Land says:

    Reblogged this on Adoption Detective | A Novel By Judith Land and commented:

    New book about Jean Paton by E. Wayne Carp.

  4. The professor cannot relate to it! The topic can be a tough one with lightening the load with a bit of Punchyish nature. Don’t you agree?

    • Judith Land says:

      No magazine in the world has a finer record than Punch, a British magazine of higher literary standard, 1841-2002, internationally known for its wit and humor. Primarily aimed at intellectual audiences, it became a staple for British drawing rooms because of its sophisticated humor and absence of offensive material. I recommend The Punch Tavern, London, as a unique all-day pub bar and restaurant with a Victorian past. (Punchyish nature)

  5. Every pregnant woman should be told how extremely poisoned their children will be. Livid

  6. Lynne Miller says:

    You raise interesting points and I can relate to the issues. I am adopted and searching for information about my bio dad, a man I never knew. While I am very curious to find out about him, I also have moments of fear. What if he’s alive and kicking? The thought of actually meeting my father in person fills me with terror.

    • Judith Land says:

      Lynne – Please keep us informed about the outcome of your search for your bio dad, the man you never knew. I can relate to your situation and wish you godspeed in all you hope to achieve. I faced the same inner turmoil and fears during my adoption search. The psychological responses evoked by circumstances many adoptees face may trigger extreme emotional responses outside the natural range of variability for healthy living. Vanquishing internal primal fears is the most difficult challenge seekers must overcome before they can face the truth, but conquering doubts and overcoming internal turmoil is more easily said than done. Passionately seeking knowledge and understanding about the past to achieve a more comprehensive self-identity and resolve issues of genealogical bewilderment is a difficult thing to do from many perspectives. Adoptees are often forced to work alone because no other person understands the depths of their feelings and there is no one there to guide them other than God. Hoping their journey to the hallowed ground of their birth will be sublime, they must demonstrate courage and fortitude, remain mentally strong, and stay focused in their quest to discover their roots. They must learn to tenaciously overcome obstacles and barriers placed in their path as they relentlessly retrace their tracks in the sands of time. Along the way, they may encounter hardships that are emotionally difficult to endure, mysteries that are difficult to solve, experiences that euphorically swell the heart, and humiliations that depressingly deflate the ego. It is a long way from the top of the diving platform to the water—seekers must know before they leap that the results can produce euphoric success or extremely enduring emotional pain. Perhaps, that is why many adoptees choose spirituality and prayer as the best way to find answers. Judith

  7. Lara/Trace says:

    Reblogged this on LARA/TRACE (author) and commented:
    YES! “Whether the threat is factual or imagined, the feeling or condition of being afraid is bona fide. When describing birth parents they know almost nothing about, adoptees with acute ‘xenophobia parentis’ may develop vivid imaginations leading to creative visualizations, or even hallucinations, worthy of a good novelist describing perverted, deranged mentally ill individuals, plotting to harm others….”

  8. eagoodlife says:

    Reblogged this on The Life Of Von and commented:
    The fear adoptee’s may have of taking their own path or being who they are……..

  9. Pingback: “Adoption and Parental Alienation” Judith Land | Adoption Detective | Adoption Detective | A Novel By Judith Land

  10. Henrik Eger says:

    And here is a more detailed review of the play based on the playwright’s experiences in connecting with his biological child over 30 years after she was born.

    • Judith Land says:

      Henrik Eger, Thank you for sharing information about ‘Beautiful Boy’ at the Walnut Theater, “A Male Alice in a Catholic World”, about a young man’s search for his roots as a memorable experience. Striving for well-being and making sense of one’s life is at the core of human nature. The way home for many adoptees is a pilgrimage of the road and an ethereal journey of the mind. With maturity, most individuals view their parents with growing wisdom and in the spirit of forgiveness. Judith

  11. Henrik Eger says:

    Here’s my interview with the biological father who had no idea that he had a child (who was given up for adoption).

  12. Pingback: “Adoption—picking up the pieces from here on after” | Adoption Detective | A True Story by Judith Land

  13. Pingback: “Adoption and self-determinism” | Adoption Detective | A True Story by Judith Land

  14. Mirah Riben says:

    The fear is very real. What adoptive parents really fear is alienation of affection. They fear blood is thicker than water. They fear being cast aside and as a reult some try to fill their adopted children with fear of their origin al family members to prevent that from happening.

    • Judith Land says:

      The fear of alienation and feelings of being cast aside and less appreciated by adoptive parents seems to be universal. If a parent can love more than one child, a child should be able to love more than one parent. My search to find my roots ended with an increase in love and admiration and appreciation for my adoptive parents. With age comes wisdom and an ever increasing sense of forgiveness.

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