How good are your listening skills? The best stories and memoirs are those that carry along the personal experiences and ideals of the audience. The most common response to a good story being: “Oh my! But, that’s nothing! Let me tell you my story.” Judith Land, Adoptee
“Diddli-squat—wait until you hear about my bad back and artificial knees!” The phenomenon of comparing stories is particularly rampant in retirement communities where half the population has artificial hips and knees, grandkids, and dwindling savings accounts. The idea of trumping one story with another newer story is a common element of human psychology and ancient dialogue. It is a behavior that is common in sports, travel adventures, life experiences, and injuries. This way of responding is especially common in adoption. If you have ever had the experience of listening to an adoptee passionately describing their life experiences to another person, the audience will inevitably interrupt the adoptee and trump the story with an elaborate fabrication of an even more exciting, dramatic, and harrowing personal story of their own. Unfortunately for many adoptees and old people, this way of responding doesn’t provide the comfort and warm sympathetic response they feel intimately personal and sensitive about, nor does it provide the emotional support they may have anticipated.
Thoughts about yesteryear stimulates a nostalgic sense of a bygone era, an olden time that stirs up murkiness, mysteriousness, and dreams about the reasons for an adoption. The effects of a lack of knowledge of one’s true self-identity, place of origin, and heritage are difficult for many adoptees to assess and nearly unfathomable for some of them to put into words. The topic of adoption is highly personal and each story is unique. Adoptees suffering from post traumatic stress and other symptoms attributed to adoption have a difficult time exposing their deepest thoughts, and often remain guarded about exposing their true feelings and emotions to others. Telling someone else about how they genuinely and sincerely feel about their adoption, their relationship with the birth parents, their deepest secrets about the people in their lives, and the pivotal events in their life are difficult for them. They prefer to confine their remarks to close friends when exposing their true and confidential feelings. They do so because they seek sympathy, reassurance, and advice, but the responses they receive are often less than satisfying, irrelevant, and in the worst cases unsympathetic to their feelings, especially if the listener responds by telling their own stories and exposing their own problems.
The best things listeners can do for an adoptee speaking from the heart about the unexplained variations in their life’s trajectory, or an old timer quietly complaining about creaky old knees and a sore back, are to express sympathy and offer support—be a mentor and lend a helping hand. A sympathetic response starts by putting on your bat ears and being a good listener—there will be plenty of opportunities in the future to share stories of your own.