Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Beyond the Box

Identity is a complex issue.

Duh. Stating the obvious.


I say this, though, because, honestly, I forget the obvious sometimes. And when I forget that identity formation is complex, I get frustrated with myself and with everyone around me. I want to scream at myself, and I want to plead with others, "Why don't you understand this?! Why is this so hard?!" And then I proceed to rip every hair from every pore in my body. Okay, not really, but you get the idea.

Conversely, though, when I remind myself of the so-called obvious fact that identity formation is not a linear development, but rather a very convoluted path, I am once again able to grasp sanity.

For some, it is true that identity has never really been a complicated matter. For others, however, it has been and can continue to be a painful process.

What am I trying to say here?

Basically, I want to be more than just an adoptee. I am more than simply an adoptee. I want to define myself and my life beyond being an adoptee.

But, alas, like many adoption issues, this is a challenging task; no matter how I might try to minimize its influences, my experiences as an adoptee always rise to the top and want to rule over me. Not that this is a negative thing. I, personally, just don't want it to be the only thing.

It's not that I don't want to acknowledge that being adopted influences who I am in ways that are poignant and often beyond my control. Don't get me wrong, I am fully aware, often too aware, of the irrevocable fact that, indeed, being adopted is a gi-normous (that's not a word...), pink-elephant-in-the-middle-of-the-living room part of who I am. Again, this is one of those not-so-obvious obvious truths.

So, yes, I absolutely acknowledge that my experience in life as an adoptee, and specifically a Korean-adoptee, no doubt is and will always be a part of my identity.

But what I don't want to do is to allow being an adoptee to overcome and reign over my whole identity. I don't want it to "steal the stage." Rather, I want it to be a single part within the plexus of my identity. I want to take that pink elephant out of the living room and let it back out into the wild where it belongs, not cooped up in some stuffy house with shag carpet and plastic-coated furniture.

I want it to be an element that is healthfully assimilated within the entirety of my identity. Simply stated, I don't want being an adoptee to define who I am as a person. I want to define who I am going to be as a person--that is, in the ways that are within my influence.

Does this make sense?

We're all more than a single quality defining our identity. I'm Korean and American. I'm a sister, daughter, wife, friend, and the list goes on.

Just like my friend is African and American. She's a student, an executive assistant, a daughter, an aunt, a sister. She's also hilarious. And the girl has got some serious skill when it comes to dancing. She's deeply passionate. She has fantabulous (again, not a word) people skills. A movie producer would have a heyday with her family story. Truly, to be cliche, because cliches just say it best sometimes, we are more than the sum of our parts.

(Identity formation presents its challenges for just about anyone. However, since I am addressing the issue of adoption at the moment, that is what I am going to discuss. But I also want to recognize that identity formation is a complex process for so many people...Hence, we are never alone in our struggles, yes?).

The point is that I don't want to live inside a box. It's cramped and hard to breath. And well, the world beyond the box is so rich and beautiful, so perplexing and astounding. The box only offers so much.

Now, of course, there are certain qualities and experiences that may influence our identity more prominently than others. No doubt, the experience of adoption has affected and, I believe, will continue to affect, my identity intensely.

For instance, often those who grow up with their birth parents look to their parents to define parts of who they are. They can connect certain things and feel confident that they are the way they are because of the genetic and hereditary influences of their parents.

For me, forming an identity has been quite a labyrinth of experience. At times, it has felt like walking in the dark, stumbling upon an object but having no way to immediately discern or identify the details of the object.

Children exposed to their biological parents can infer characteristics about themselves based on their observations of their parents and feel a sense of belonging. On the other hand, often for me, while I was growing up, I didn't know why I was the way I was or even if the way I was could be identified as positive.

For example, I am what some often refer to as, well, dramatic? And that's an understatement. My show of drama and emotion would put any Oscar nominee to shame. My American mom would often joke about how she was convinced that my birth mother must have been in show biz.

Now, as an adult, I can accept this difference about myself from my parents and pretty much anyone else I encounter and even joke about it.

However, for the longest time, being noticeably more emotional than anyone in my family or anyone that I befriended, always gave me a sense of alienation and separation and, consequently, a sense of emotional disconnection.

I felt awkward, like the odd ball, defective, weak, and that somehow the qualities of my temperament and personality were undesirable and that I should somehow change them. There is the chance that had I had my birth parents available to me, I may have been able to identify similar qualities and, subsequently, may have been able to feel a sense of endowment, reinforcement, and confidence about my temperament and personality instead of the uncertainty, insecurity, and disdain that I felt overall.

I can't look at my mom and say to myself, "Aw, I'm dramatic just like my mom." I have often viewed many of my traits with a negative light because they deviate so drastically from my American parents.

I want to clarify that this is no fault of theirs, of course. It's no one's fault that my adoptive parents and I are different. Even birth parents and their children can turn out completely different from one another. Genes are tricky artists, and one can never be certain of what they will decide to create. But I digress.

Ultimately, this is just one example of the complicated emotional and social process that an adoptee might encounter when attempting to form an identity. And it is only natural to compare oneself to his or her surroundings when answering the question, "Who am I?"

Of course, one of our primary and most crucial surroundings when we're growing up is our family. When an adoptee struggles to find qualities in other family members to which she can relate or connect, the process of identity formation may become a source of pain and confusion.

Again, their is no "blame" to assign, and honestly, prevention of such experiences isn't necessarily the goal or even realistically possible. Rather, understanding and being sensitive to such experiences ecountered by adoptees is the goal. If we can help them reach beyond the box, to help them embrace their experiences whether positive or negative, then perhaps they, we can find peace with an identity that is continually undergoing construction, transformation, and renewal.

So, really, that's all I hope for--an identity that will allow me to grow and mature beyond the boxes that try to close me in.


rachel k said...

Melissa you are such a great writer. I see these blog entries turning into a book someday. Identity is such a tricky thing. I am trying to figure out my new identity as a stay-at-home mom. I enjoyed hearing your thoughts. You go girl!

Konoyoomo said...

Actually, part of why I want to blog is to try to motivate myself to practice writing & to try to strengthen my writing, THANK YOU for your encouragement. It seems common for women to go through an adjustment when shifting from the work force to a stay-at-home mom...but i think it is a very noble & worthy thing you are doing! And if Mike & I ever do have children, I hope to be able to be in a position to do the same...I admire your decision--i think it is a very selfless & loving decision!

Mia_h_n said...

I totally agree with Rachel. You should write a book! :) I've been thinking this since I first started reading your blog.
I know it would be fantastic and moving and educational and very well written.
Perhaps a signed copy from the author would be available..?