Pamela Cordano, MFT is a psychotherapist who specializes in resilience and meaning
The Extraordinary Superpowers of Adoptees
08/06/2017 08:05 pm ET Updated Aug 08, 2017
“You’re much stronger than you think you are, trust me.” Superman
I woke up this morning thinking about Superman. We share an eerily similar story.
Our Planets Exploded. The enormity of this disaster for Kal-El (Superman’s original name) and for his parents, is essential to everything that follows. Without this gargantuan and permanent catastrophe, there would be no Superman.
Naturally conceived and birthed by our parents, Superman and I lived on our native planet, with all its flaws and delights. We were the newest additions to a long familial lineage. We basked in genetic resonance, if only for a short time. We had names chosen for us by our parents. For a moment, our lives were intact, though destruction was looming.
My name was Diana Lynn, and Like Kal-El’s parents, my mom tried very hard to keep me. I had grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, and sisters on the horizon. I had stories behind me of strong women and lunatics; noble men and criminals. These people, though I might never have wanted to meet them, belonged to me.
My mom made it 6 months before our planet exploded. And she, too, left me with a piece of Kryptonite—Rejection. It was the one thing that would have the power to undo me for the rest of my life.
Kryptonite. People have asked, if Kryptonite was from Superman’s original planet, why would it hurt him so? The answer has to do with a biochemical change on his long journey to Earth. Between there and here, Kryptonite mutated and interacted with his cells, inducing weakness, blocking his ability to access his power, leaving him vulnerable, even to death.
I had a similar biochemical change in my journey. My open, receptive-to-love cells shut down hard. Under threat, I pulled deep into my bones. I stopped smiling and crying before I could talk. “My Planet Exploded” morphed into “I Am Deeply Flawed and My Own Family Didn’t Want Me.” I carried this humiliation around in a heavy sack for the whole of my childhood and beyond.
When rejected, I go weak, lose access to my strengths in a way that can feel dangerous, threatening my life force. All it takes is a conflict with a loved one or the sense I’ve made an unforgivable mistake. I buckle at the knees and pull in, as if my place on earth is in jeopardy. I can lose a whole night of sleep in a fight/flight response to my Kryptonite, and when that takes over, the world loses me.
Irreversible. As with Planet Krypton being gone forever, the legal separation from my lineage, the complete destruction of my planet, could never be reversed. Even if I had an ideal reunion with my birth family years later and we celebrated holidays, caught up with stories, communicated daily, my original planet is gone, lost, history. There’s no going back to Krypton. Only life after Krypton.
Between Two Worlds. Since our planets exploded, Superman and I have lived between two worlds. Part that and part this. Part there and part here. It’s lonely living between worlds, because only other Kal-Els get this. I mean really really get this. What it’s like to lose a whole planet, the original planet, forever.
Jonathon Kent: You’re Clark Kent. You’re our son. Clark Kent: But I’m also someone else, Pa. It’s time I started finding out who he really is.
With both Superman and me, knowledge came slowly that our original planets had some issues. That we might be better off here on Earth. But it’s complicated, and how could it not be. We don’t quite fit in here. Part human, part alien. We want to settle in on Planet Earth, live and give fully, yet there’s that vexing Kryptonite problem which never goes away.
“Why am I so different from them?” Superman
Superpowers. Superman discovered his Superpowers in childhood with the support of his adoptive parents, but I didn’t discover mine until college.
They showed up my junior year. I had been tutoring a Brazilian neighbor with his English essays. I recognized him as a someone from a far away land, and I loved helping him adapt to life here in the U.S.
I sought out the Chair of the English Department and asked if I could be an English as a Second Language tutor for her program. She said her year-long course was for graduate students only, so no.
But we continued chatting, and my passion for helping international students (who, like me, came from other worlds) touched her. She made an exception, allowing me into her graduate program, and I taught students older than I for the next 2 years.
I didn’t just teach them, I served as an ambassador, bridging them from their old world to the new one. I gave them tips, invested myself in their troubles, showed them special places that only locals knew about. Supporting their transition was my joy.
When I graduated, the Chair wrote me a 3-page letter of recommendation and I got a terrific job at UC Berkeley and Mills College at the age of 23. I taught and bridged people from other worlds for the next 11 years.
I thought this was just luck, but Resourcefulness and Generosity were my first Superpowers.
I discovered the next two Superpowers when I started a psychology internship with cancer patients and their families. These were people with advanced cancer, disfigured and dying. The work was raw and intense, authentic and traumatic. I could handle it. No, more than that. I could fly, I had X-ray vision.
To my surprise I had extraordinary Grit and Sensitivity with people in trouble. When other people lost their home planet, I understood it in my bones, resonated with their calamity. I could sit with someone in the hospital and feel every cell in my body awake and crystal clear, sensing what was needed, offering freely what I could. It’s no accident that the best of me shows up in devastating loss.
Courage and Generosity are Superpowers
Once, when visiting a friend failing in the ICU, I said, “Let’s name everything in your body that is working right now. Your eyes are blinking, your heart is beating, your skin is holding in your organs…” We were in it together, the fight to stay alive, and I gave her my all. And she made it.
The Large Picture. Like Superman, my commitment is to humanity. Planet Earth is my home. How could he or I think of ourselves as only American when we’ve been through the destruction of an entire planet?
“The World is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion.” Thomas Paine
Add Resilience, the ability to recover from setbacks, adapt to change, and thrive in the face of adversity. Superman and I have this.
When we are Resilient, we tap into what we are passionate about and build a life that’s meaningful, a life that transcends ourselves and seeks to serve others. Superman and I do this when we’re not battling Kryptonite.
The destruction of my planet has been my biggest sadness, and rejection has weakened and distracted me. When I feel rejected I forget who I am. I check out. I eat sugar and drink beer. I get angry and bitter. My vision gets muddy, and I see only a depressing haze of a world where I don’t belong. I get hopeless about my future, believing that Kryptonite is all I have, my biggest truth, the only relic from my Original Life, my Real Life, the one I’ve lost forever.
Adoptees, though plagued with addiction, eating disorders, mental illness and suicide at much higher rates than the non-adopted population, are full of Superpowers just waiting to present themselves and be expressed for the betterment of humanity.
Look at Simone Biles, foster child and adoptee, who won a combined total of 19 Olympic and World Champion medals. Recently she wrote a book about her journey, and Courage, Soaring and Hard Work are among her Superpowers.
Adoptee Sarah McLaughlin, who launched a School of Music in 2002 for at-risk populations in Vancouver, has inspired us for years with her songs. She offers us Creativity, Generosity and Connection.
John Lennon, adopted at age 5 by his aunt and uncle, brought us to our feet with Creativity, Social Justice, Leadership and Talent.
“When I was about twelve, I used to think I must be a genius, but nobody’s noticed. Either I’m a genius or I’m mad, which is it? I can’t be mad because nobody’s put me away, therefore I’m a genius.” John Lennon
He was discovering his Superpowers.
My hero, Nelson Mandela, was adopted at age 9. His first name was Rolihlahla Mandela. His Superpowers—Vision, Justice, Patience, Inclusion, Forgiveness have been a north star for me when I’ve been hit with Kryptonite over the years.
Adoptees and Superman—we go way back.
Pamela Cordano, MFT is a California-based psychotherapist who specializes in illness and grief. For twenty years she has worked with individuals, couples, families and groups. She is passionate about the power of meaning in building resilience. www.pamelacordanomft.com