guiltatude – the intentional or unintentional use of guilt and/or gratitude to manipulate behavior; guilt-trip
Now that’s a funny one. Kevin at Borrowed Notes posted a blog post that touches on guiltatude and one way in which is it used. This kind of gratitude/guilt-trip seems to be something many adoptees find cast upon them some time during their lives. In all honesty, I truly am “grateful” for the opportunities I’ve been given, but I no longer allow it to be used as a tool to (intentionally or otherwise) manipulate my thinking. Given the circumstances from which I’ve always been told I escaped, there’s a certain amount of survivor’s guilt as well. The combination of the two can do funny things to a person.
Pulling from the files of TRA Sume 101 (because I’ve already mentioned this several times on my blog) – I sensed my parents’ reluctance to talk about my adoption in depth. My gratitude to them thus made me feel guilty about pushing the matter. It was my right to know, yet I felt guilty over pushing the matter. The burden of pretense that all was well was placed squarely on my young shoulders.
I believe it was an unintentional, self-inflicted consequence of a combination of factors. The universal need for approval and acceptance from parents, love for them and the need to belong all had a role to play. True, those are usually involved in any parent/child relationship. However, add in the knowledge you were “saved” and are “different” from your parents, and I think it somehow doubles the effect.
Even as a young child, I was under the impression that I had escaped something horrible. I knew what war and poverty meant, knew other children had been left behind and didn’t need anyone to tell me I was somehow “lucky” to have gotten out. I don’t remember my mother ever intentionally driving that point home, but she didn’t have to. Other people did that for her by telling me flat out how lucky I must feel. Yet even without that, television, movies, classroom lessons and my own ability to put two and two together would have sufficed. This kind of guiltatude was subtle and some might argue more dangerous in its effects on my young psyche, because it wasn’t obvious.
Hopefully, we are past the days when adoptees are so blatantly subjected to manipulations of guiltatude. Anyone who does even a cursory check into adoptee literature will discover it just isn’t kosher to remind an adoptee of their “good fortune.” Still, as Kevin reminds us, the attitude still exists and can be used to justify guilt-tripping an adoptee. Appeal to the sense of obligation that’s often the result of guilt/gratitude in an adoptee and you can’t go wrong, right? Bad.
For anyone out there reading this and thinking that it’s a good idea to tell adoptees (either directly or indirectly) of how fortunate they are and then try to use that to “recruit” an adoptee to your cause, I hope you think twice after reading this.
If you’re out there helping people, I commend you. I would never think to demean someone’s dedication to helping others, but using guiltatude as a recruiting tool is manipulative, patronizing and may result in the exact opposite of what you want. I was aware of my “saved” status at an early age and didn’t need additional reminders from anyone. The total negation of the loss involved felt as if they’d just rubbed salt in my eyes.
In his post, Kevin asks, “How much longer do we have to pay for your kindness?” I would also ask, “In how many ways?” When does the debt and assigning of roles end? Cultural bridges, anyone? And who is anyone to presume to consider it their privilege to assign those roles? I don’t care how many awards you have or how much you think people love you. The whole thing smells of a savior complex.
And people tell adoptees to “get over themselves.”