‘My social worker called me ‘difficult to place’ due to my ethnic background. I felt powerless, hopeless.’: Adoptee shares self-worth journey

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“Adoption – it’s the word that has molded so much of my life experience. It’s broken me, raised me, taught me, cursed me, blessed me, and ultimately helped make me the person I am today. I was born in the United Kingdom and placed in foster care. My social worker called me ‘difficult to place’ due to my circumstance as an ‘unwanted child of unmarried parents.’ I was apparently also seen as a ‘difficult placement’ due to my ethnic background. There was a whole lot of external labeling going on, within the system, long before I knew what labels were.

The dangerous thing about labels is they stick. They have a sticky residue, which can follow a person throughout their lifetime. External labels can become internal beliefs. I grew up believing I was not only difficult to place, but also difficult to love. This belief was further seeded after I was adopted by Americans. My adoptive father was an alcoholic. Growing up inside of my parents’ dysfunctional home only served to further shatter my fragile sense of self-worth.

international adoptee wearing a plaid shirt with her arms crossed on a table
Courtesy of Michelle Branch

You see, adoption doesn’t always make life better, but it always makes life different. I was adopted and shifted into a different set of challenges and obstacles. Adoption wasn’t a fairytale ending for me. It was, however, the life event that marked the beginning of a journey to discover my own truth, worth, and value and to transform those early limiting labels into a life-affirming identity—on my own terms.

Today, I’m an empowerment coach for adult adoptees. I guide each individual to find the innate power they possess to begin healing those hurting places within. We start with the acknowledgment adoption is rooted in loss—a family had to come apart for another family to come together. Adoptees feel this loss from a very early age. Often, they silence the grief because they fear being rejected. Once they are safe to grieve their loss, they begin feeling safe to grow.

Empowerment coach for adult adoptees wearing a shirt with the word strength
Courtesy of Michelle Branch

A big part of their growth centers around mindset and the ability to choose the thoughts and beliefs they allow in their life—to transform any limiting beliefs into limitless truth. So, here’s a little coaching on mindset, because it’s really essential to understand the power of our thoughts, words, and beliefs. Mindset is a set of thoughts and beliefs, which shape how you make sense of the world and yourself. Other words for mindset include mentality, way of thinking, outlook, psychology…or even, what makes you tick.

Mindset impacts the way we think about everything. Our thoughts and beliefs create our reality. If you want to change your reality, change your mindset from a fixed one (the belief we don’t have the power to change or improve our life) to a mindset of growth. Growth mindset is the belief that with focus and persistence we can face setbacks, transform and find success. Arriving at a place of growth mindset was key for me along my own journey of self-discovery and self-acceptance as an adoptee. I developed this mental asset through these two focused practices:

1. Change of self-talk: Changing your words can change your life because words can harm us or can heal us. It’s important to choose our words wisely. The words used around me and about me as a foster child, and international adoptee, became the limiting labels that defined me. For far too long, these labels kept me in a place of fixed mindset. I felt powerless and hopeless—until I discovered I possessed the power to choose the words, thoughts, and beliefs that would accompany me through my day and, ultimately, my life.

Method: Notice your narrative. I began the practice of noticing the narrative going on in my head. What were the words, thoughts, and beliefs taking up space in my mind? Were they limiting or limitless? If my answer was limiting, then I’d stop and redirect my focus. I’d change the word, thought, or belief to one of service to my highest good. For example, the label ‘difficult to place’ was transformed to ‘far too valuable to lose.’ This shift assisted me in stepping into the identity of being a person of immense value. That shift in identity deepened my commitment to becoming the fullest expression of who I’m here to be.

Empowerment coach for adult adoptees during an Indian ceremony
Courtesy of Michelle Branch

2. Practice visualization: Seeing is believing, right? Well, we have the ability to see the life we desire and the way we want to show up in this life. It just takes a few minutes a day to prime yourself and take charge of your mindset and emotions.

Method: Fix your focus. ‘Where focus goes, energy flows.’ This was a key learning for me, as an adoptee and human being desiring a change in my life. Where you place your focus is where you set your intention. When you focus on your vision, you can accomplish anything. But, you’ve got to take the time to focus on the vision.

Empowerment coach for adult adoptees taking a selfie with the sunlight of the left side of her face and wearing a mustard yellow top
Courtesy of Michelle Branch

Ask yourself this question: What would bring me lasting contentment and joy in my life? This is about being true to yourself and claiming your ideal life. Once your answer comes to you, take 5-10 minutes, close your eyes and begin to visualize your desires. Breathe deep into the vision. How does it make you feel? Carry this feeling into your day and begin living in alignment with your vision. Fix your focus on what you desire!

Changing my self-talk and envisioning what I desire for my life has helped me step into and sustain a growth mindset. Sure, I have days where my mindset is challenged, but I now have tools to help me get back on track. I didn’t have these tools growing up as an adoptee. I felt stuck in a fixed mindset of loss and lack. It’s such a place of suffering, and adopted people don’t have to live like this. It’s why I do what I do today! Empowering adoptees is my passion.

Empowerment coach for adult adoptees during a ceremony with the crowd placing the right hand on top of their hearts in purple lighting
Courtesy of Michelle Branch

Please remember, the past doesn’t define you. The labels can’t permanently brand you. The power to change starts within—with a commitment to step into a growth mindset and begin building this muscle, daily. Adoption doesn’t mold my life experience, anymore. I craft my life, now. Every single day, I get up and claim my desires. I notice my narrative and change it when needed. I fix my focus on what is meaningful and whole for me. I step into the identity of ‘far too valuable to lose.’

Might you contemplate you too are far too valuable to lose? Don’t let your dreams drift away. Don’t let your past punish you. Your future is waiting and it’s brilliant. Step into a growth mindset and begin the transformation.”

Empowerment coach for adult adoptees hugging her interracial adopted daughter
Courtesy of Michelle Branch
Empowerment coach for adult adoptees wearing a nude halter top
Courtesy of Michelle Branch

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Michelle Madrid-Branch, Empowerment Coach, Writer and Int’l Adoptee. You can follow her journey on her websiteDo you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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‘I got on the bus. 3 boys yelled at me, ‘Hey white boy!’ ‘Mom, I was nervous.’ After all, I was the only white boy on the bus. They asked if I use the N-word. ‘No,’ my Stepdad is black. He’s my family.’

‘If you ask my boy, he’d tell you, he has two dads and two moms. All 4 of us kept Jaden’s needs before our own. A loving, crazy, enormous, blended family.’

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