Benefits of Participating in Support Groups
By Bernadette Rymer
First published in Adoption Circles #74, Summer 2015 by the Forget Me Not Family Society
Given all we have read about support groups so far in this issue of Adoption Circles I wonder if you need any more convincing about the benefits of participating in support groups, so long as it is the right group for your current needs.
But something tells me we aren’t done yet. Having spent 35 years in my professional career in education and as a speech-language pathologist I am always interested in the science behind why and how something works. So as I often do, I took to Google research sites for fact based evidence about the benefits of support groups.
If you need further convincing, or if, like me, you wonder about the science behind the how and why of the benefit of support groups, below is my summary of information from many research based sources.
Being a member of a support group can bring you a sense of belonging, enlightenment and awareness, strength, hope, and empowerment.
Decreased Sense of Isolation Leading to Increased Sense of Identity and Belonging
Perhaps one of the most important benefits of participating in a support group is a decreased sense of isolation. People are free to express feelings of loss, grief, anger, depression, terror, guilt and anxiety in an atmosphere of mutual respect and confidentiality, and most importantly, with peers who have had similar experiences. Because their feelings and experiences are validated by peers, they identify with others in the group, and develop a sense of belonging. Participants often experience an overwhelming ‘AHA Moment:’ “I am not odd, crazy or losing my mind – finally someone understands!”.
Enlightenment and Awareness
Awareness and education, whether formal or informal, are a huge benefit of participating in support groups. Learning the facts and the truth about adoption trauma for natural mothers, adoptees and adoptive parents helps us understand our own story, the adoption context in general and the context of the time and place in history when our personal trauma originally occurred. This awareness helps us understand how and why we can be re-traumatized over and over, by other events that may or may not be directly related to our adoption loss trauma.
Strength through Developing New Coping Skills
While this awareness and enlightenment does not take away our pain, it can help us develop new coping skills, which leads to new/renewed strength. Our peers can offer valuable support. By sharing information and resources, learning how others have coped with similar situations, we can improve our own coping and problem-solving abilities. We develop new strategies for managing our situation, which for us means, search, reunion, reconnection and, sadly for some of us, severing or discontinuation of our reconnection with our loved ones lost through adoption.
When we develop new coping abilities and unique strategies for managing our situation, this then leads to enhanced self-esteem. A sense of emotional strength can return as we gain a sense identity and belonging, and a sense of perspective and control during a difficult crisis.
Hope and Empowerment
When we feel emotionally strong and ready to face the world, our sense of hope for our future begins to develop. Then slowly but surely we come to understand that we have the strength, courage, skills and support we need to move forward and to deal with whatever comes our way. We know with certainty that we are not alone, or crazy, or helpless. We are in truth, strong, courageous, skillful and perhaps most importantly, hopeful.
The websites of the following organizations are the main sources of information for this article:
American Psychological Association, WebMED, Mayo Clinic, HRMWC: H.R. Mental Wellness Clinic, Community Tool Box, and RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association.
Why Not Go?
By Amy Newman
I sometimes wonder why more people don’t avail themselves of the Forget Me Not support groups. I strongly recommend it to any of my “adoption search” clients who live near one. When they hear “support group” do they think this is a place where they will be confronted or have to bare their soul? Do they feel that it’s a sign of weakness to “need” a support group? If that’s your idea of a support group then think of it as an “adoption reunion networking group” instead.. We offer peer support, not therapy.
Our support group meetings are structured in a way that fosters fairness, mutual respect and confidentiality. “What’s said in the room, stays in the room.” This is one of the most important factors to creating a safe environment.
No one has to share their story at our groups unless they feel comfortable doing so. You can just sit back and listen or bring an adoption related issue that is bothering you. Everyone is there to learn from one another. Whether you are an adoptee or birth parent it’s a great way to understand where the “other side” is coming from. Occasionally we have had adoptive parents attend, because they are concerned about their adult adoptee and want to understand them better. Adoptive parents benefit from listening to birth moms and other adoptees besides their own.
While some members continue to attend because they are having a problem with their reunion, it is also valuable for people whose reunion was successful, or who have done a lot of healing work and feel complete, to attend and share. We learn so much from you.
Hearing the experiences of others can help you prepare for possible reactions and outcomes before, during and after reunion. Preparation is key to a successful reunion. So before you just blunder in, attend some support groups if you can. Read up on adoption reunion issues and get the perspective of others.
A smart person learns from their own mistakes, but it’s a wise person who learns from the mistakes of others.
Why not go?
Amy Newman is a probate genealogist, who locates missing heirs to estates, but finds that helping to reunite adoptees and birth parents is the most rewarding part of her business. www.NRSfind.com