Ok, full disclosure: I am wordy-nerdy.
I have been thinking about how we define ourselves as either adopted or as adoptees.
Both of these words feel very much about action that happened TO us. One EFL site referred to adjectives ending in ‘ed’ as words that “show what has happened to a person or thing.” Both adopted and adoptee make me feel like an object who received an action. This may seem somewhat benign and maybe I’m making some mountains here. But given the fact that I’ve seen a number of adoptees struggle with how to be proactive, how to make decisions, how to real take charge of their life and destiny, I wonder if there might be a connection with how we consistently identify ourselves.
These words seem especially out of place when I contextualize it with other ways I identify myself: writer, singer, teacher, friend, partner, dancer, dreamer, actor, lover, listener, wise-cracker, adoptee.
According to dictionary.com, the suffix ee refers to “a person who is the object or beneficiary of the act specified by the verb (addressee; employee; grantee).” But here’s the interesting thing: “recent formations now also mark the performer of an act, with the base being an intransitive verb ( escapee; returnee; standee).” So this seems to be a more proactive usage, but in that case, adoptee would mean adoptER, as the suffix then would connote someone who performs that specific action (adoption).
What words we use to frame ourselves and our experiences are very powerful. I see it often with clients who use words a lot like never and always when describing their behavior and don’t see the connection between this framing and their difficulty changing patterns. Saying things like “I’m such a dick” or “I’m a klutz” seems like a way of warning people about our behavior or a way to stay humble, but really, we are reinforcing ideas about ourselves in a way that shapes our present and future.
I have no alternative word, label, or category that feels more proactive. But I’m wondering if anyone else might have a suggestion. Additionally, perhaps we need to reinforce the idea that this happened TO us, that it was something beyond our control at an age when we were vulnerable and unable to consent? I’ve not reached any conclusions about this yet, but what I do know is that the stories we tell about ourselves and the words we choose to use are incredibly potent and beg some critical reflection.