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Posts Tagged ‘gaslighting’

Today I expanded my vocabulary with the word gaslighting. Gaslighting is a form of manipulation and brainwashing that seeks to make the victim to doubt her or himself, to make him/her question  her/his own memory, perception and sanity.

I had actually seen the word before but I had never bothered to read its definition until I saw it again today. I’m glad I took the time to read it because it perfectly fits what I’ve experienced as a child (and also as adult) in my adoptive family. However I will not tell my experiences of being gaslighted by my adoptive parents,  because there are many articles on internet that give examples of gasligthing in a family, in a relationship or at work and also because it’s a painful memory that I’m not ready to tell on a blog. Although equally painful, this post is about my experiences of being gaslighted by Holt adoption agency as a child (and later as young adult), because there is no example of an organisation gaslighting a child.

It’s not too difficult for an adoption agency to gaslight a child. All they need to do in a first step is to change the identity of the child. That’s what Holt agency did to me. They changed my birth date, my age and made a fake story to sell me to a Canadian couple.

I started to talk about my life and my family in Korea  15-16 months after my arrival. I could have talked earlier, probably six months earlier, if we hadn’t moved to Quebec, which forced me to learn another new language (and forget the little bit of English I had learned) only seven months after my arrival to the USA. One of the first thing I told my parents was that my birthday was not my birthday. I told them that a man had asked me my birthday only to give me a  different birthday and age and that he had ordered me to give my new birthday if someone would question me later.

As I was becoming more fluent in my new language, I would often recount  my life in Korea to them. They never told me directly I was a liar, but they would ignore everything I said and remain silent or act as if I was  lying.

For examples, if I said, “my mother died in a bus accident when I was six years old,” my mother would reply, “No. You were only four when your biological mother died.” If I said that I got lost after visiting my older sister at the house where she worked as a maid, she wouldn’t say a word. If I recounted the day I got lost with more details, such as, “I didn’t find my father where he was supposed to wait for me after I went to see my sister, so I left the street…”, then she would say, “No. Your father abandoned you to his landlord and after four days, the landlord brought you to a home for abandoned children. ”  Some time later, I told  my parents a couple of times that I believed I was not abandoned after all. I panicked when I didn’t see my father and I didn’t even wait a second for him to return, so I left believing that he had abandoned me and I got lost. Maybe he returned to the place  but  I was gone. My mother said that  he would have searched for me and found me if I was lost and I must accept the fact that I was abandoned.

(As I’m writing this, I’m in tears. I feel like I’m going to lose my mind  just like I felt when I was kid. So I have to take a break now …  )

Sometimes I felt angry but I never showed my anger. I often felt  like I would lose my mind. But I didn’t doubt myself. I continued to recount my past life, because I was so nostalgic I needed to talk about my past life. I told her about my sisters, my brother, my nephew, the games we played together, the food we ate, etc. My mother would listen to me without contradicting me when I told her about life in general in Korea. For example if I said there was no modern toilets in Korea, but there were outhouses, she would say, “So, Korea is thirty five years late compare to Canada” or “It was like that here too thirty five years ago.” That encouraged me to tell her more about Korea. But every time I spoke about my life in Korea involving my family or a member of my family, she would either remain silent or contradict me.

I gradually stopped talking about it… until the day, on the second year of my adoption, I read my adoption papers which were never hidden from me.

The papers were filled with lies and omissions.
Example of lies: “parents: unknown”. Example of omissions: the place I lived; my three siblings. (About 35 years later, I obtained an additional paper from Holt, my family background information, which only contains lies. “Myung-Sook says she has neither brother nor sister. She does not remember, either, where she lived before her coming to Seoul.” Read details here.)

I cried. I told my father that it was all lies. I felt like I would go crazy. I still remembered  my mother’s name. I told him her name and that I had one brother and two sisters. I told him their names too, except my elder sister’s and my father’s names which I had already forgotten since long time. I told him that I gave them my former address in Seoul where we lived before my biological father and I moved to the country side. There was nothing new in what I said that moment.  He yelled at me to stop crying, it was not a reason to cry. I stopped immediately, but it hurt like hell.

I imagined all kind of scenarios to explain the lies and the omissions. In each scenario, I imagined my elder sister  telling to write the lies because she didn’t want me in her life.

We knew a Korean-American man. It happened he called us and told us he was going to Korea soon. My parents asked him to stop by St-Paul’s orphanage to ask the nuns about my siblings.

The nuns told him I had never spoken about my siblings to them. (It was partially true. I never talked about my siblings to the nuns because they never questioned me. However I had often talked about my siblings to my friends in front of one of the nuns and other staff including my housemother. I also repeatedly talked about my siblings to the housemother of another group, and I told her that the director had promised me to search my elder sister’s house to bring me to her.  I also talked about my brother and sisters to the director of the orphanage. Click here for more details). The nuns also said they didn’t deal with adoptions, they only took care of the kids, and only Holt dealt with adoptions.”

My parents said it was true, that only Holt took care of adoptions. It was the first time I heard the name of Holt. Before then, I thought everyone I had met worked for the orphanage. They explained me that Holt was an adoption agency that placed children for adoption while St. Paul was an orphanage where I lived. That day I learned Holt and St. Paul were entirely separate.

I had told them that St. Paul’s director had written my address in Seoul when he had came to my first orphanage. If he didn’t keep it, then  Holt or my first orphanage must have kept it. But I didn’t know the name of my first orphanage. I don’t know if the Korean American man asked them or not, but we didn’t get any answer about it.

They asked Holt. Holt said I had no sibling. And there was no additional information.

Again I felt going crazy.

My father placed an ad in a Korean newspaper, to no vail.

Did I imagine my life? There were brief moments I doubted myself. It must be a bad dream… I have to forget… No I can’t forget, I must not forget if I want to be reunited with my father…. Those are the kind of thoughts that came to my mind whenever my family came to my mind.

In 1988, the Seoul Olympics reminded me I had a family in Korea. My father placed another ad in a Korean newspaper, without result. I also asked a Quebec journalist who was in Korea during the Olympics for help, he promised me he would help me but he never contacted me again.

Bear in mind that I don’t blame my adoptive parents for this gaslighting.   They believed the lies they were told by Holt agency. I only blame the adoption agency… However, I never blamed Holt as a kid. On the contrary, I admired Holt agency and the Holts because I had often heard my mother praising them for having saved thousands of unwanted babies after the Korean war. But I was unconsciously angry at Holt for their lies.

In 1989, fourteen years after my adoption,  we went to Korea  with Holt Family Tour. I was 23, the oldest of the adoptees participating the tour. My anger at Holt that was buried deep surfaced once before and a few times during the trip. At the same time I admired the Holts for saving unwanted and orphaned babies, I especially admired them when they brought us to Holt Ilsan Center for handicapped children. Besides they ( Holt staff and the Holts, mother and daughter) were so nice that I felt I had no right to be angry at the saints.

On one of the papers we had received before the tour, my father had highlighted a paragraph that said, “You will be able to meet the staff at the Holt office. They are willing to help you if you are particularly interested in seeking information about your background. If you were abandoned, however, there is no where to turn further information.”
He had told me, “You understand. You were abandoned, so they cannot help you.”  I felt angry, but I had replied calmly that I was abandoned but old enough to remember I had given them an address, old enough to remember the names of my parents.

Old enough to remember, but not old enough to retain my mother language.

When I lost my mother language, I also lost the names of my friends and of most of my family members. Names, proper nouns, common nouns, all became foreign words. I was able to retain only the names of my mother, my brother and my second sister.

I tore the page of the telephone directory that contained the name of my brother in my hotel room. I asked a staff member to telephone each number by the name of my brother, Kim Daeyeul. The man laughed  saying, “Oh! My name is Kim Daeyeul too.” But he ignored my request. It was very frustrating I felt I would burst with anger, but I stayed stoic by habit. I asked the name of my first orphanage (I also asked to a St. Paul’s nun), they wouldn’t answer.

My only reason for wanting to be part of the Family Tour was to search for my natural family. For my mother, it was only to honour a promise she had made me a year after my arrival, that’s to bring me to Korea.  At the same time, it was going to be her last gift to me, our last trip as a family together, before their divorce. Killing two birds with one stone, she was keeping a promise she had made a Korean girl we had fostered for six months in 1987 and with whom we had lost contact with. So my parents spent the only free days at the end of the trip to search for her and forced me to follow them and I didn’t get to search my family as I wanted. (I wanted to search only by walking in the streets of Seoul.) We managed to find the girl and meet her with the help of someone who had worked for the organization that had placed her with us and a Holt staff  member (We lost .contact again a year later!)

But Holt wouldn’t help me find my family. Nobody would help me. I found it extremely unfair that to help my parents find the girl they had foster for six months, a man had telephoned every school an entire day until he found her, while nobody wanted to call a few numbers on a telephone directory page to find my brother whom I lived with for the 8 first years of my life.

The tour leader said we could write any request on a piece of paper, such as a special place to visit. I wrote I would like to go spend time with  Korean family, to eat together, to sleep on the floor a night (just like I used to with my family), to visit places that were not touristic (I had in mind that I might miraculously find the place I used to live) and the name of my first orphanage. My requests were simply ignored. Meanwhile, an adoptive mother’s request to visit a school was granted.

In 2001,  a Korean friend I met at University invited me to go to Korea to search for my family. She found me a family to stay with. I wrote my story in 4 pages for the TV program that helped to reunite families. I’ve been so brainwashed to think the Holts were saints that the first thing I thought was to bring gifts to the kids of Holt Ilsan Center and money  to donate (a meager sum but earned  on a hard working by painting job). When I had visited Holt Ilsan in 1989, I had convinced myself that people taking care of disabled people couldn’t be bad and that their lies were only a mistake. But I was still very angry at Holt for their big big mistake. (Confused I was!) I called Molly Holt and emailed her.  She was so nice that I was impressed. She told me to send her my story, she would help me find my family, which surprised me.
I went to Holt office a week after my arrival to Korea. Again I was confused and surprised. The man who received me was extremely nice. He took note of what I said. He was going to help me find my family. I had a moment of anger and was extremely hurt when he brought me to a room where they prayed for the babies that were going to leave for adoption that day. He introduced me to a staff member who was an adoptee. For the first time I was with someone who could understand me completely.  She said I should go stay at Molly Holt’s house for the rest of my trip, and suddenly all was decided (I should say she decided and arranged everything, and I moved to Molly’s house). A few days later, I was volunteering at Ilsan Center. I talked to Molly about my anger at Holt. She admitted there had been some mistakes. She told me about three siblings who had been processed for adoption, but thanks God, their father had found them on time before they were sent to a foreign country, another story of a boy who was lost and sent for adoption (by another agency). She even told me another adoptee was abused by her adoptive father…. Everybody was extremely nice. Everyone was willing to help me and I had forgiven their mistakes.  Suddenly all was fine, I had forgotten everything.  After all they were all good Christians and I too was Christian. I thought I judged them wrongly, there must have been one person who made a mistake, but Holt was a good organisation.

I found my family through TV two weeks before the end of my stay. I stayed with my sisters the last week of my trip. I felt guilty for not being able to volunteer during that week and thankful that they didn’t say anything about it.

When I came back from the trip, I sent a thank you card to Molly for helping me find my family.

In 2003, I went back to Korea. at Molly’s house at Ilsan Center again. It’s during that stay I started opening my eyes to their ugly business of selling babies and started feeling again extremely angry at Holt. I found another place to stay for the remaining of my trip because I was too angry to continue to be at Holt Ilsan. But I was still confused, I was angry more at Korea than  at Holt. Molly had told me, “what can we do, if they (Koreans) abandon them?”
“It’s not Holt’s fault, it’s Korea’s fault,” I repeated myself. I bought a cloth for an abandoned baby who was at Ilsan. When I went to Holt office to bring the gift, I saw the foster mothers coming out from the office crying. Again I felt angry at Korea for selling babies and extremely sad.

A few weeks after I came back home, I realized that Holt hadn’t help me at all to find my family in 2001.  I had written alone my story which was translated from French to English before going to Korea. I had received the call from KBS to appear on TV before I had moved to Molly’s house, when I was still at the family’s home my friend had found. The only help I had gotten from Holt was  to go to KBS station, Ilsan Center’s driver drove me there. But it was his job to drive anyone working or volunteering at Ilsan Center.

According to wikipedia, gaslighting is a form of manipulation that seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or in members of a targeted group, hoping to make them question their own memory, perception, and sanity. Using persistent denial, misdirection, contradiction, and lying, it attempts to destabilize the target and delegitimize the target’s belief. Instances may range from the denial by an abuser that previous abusive incidents ever occurred up to the staging of bizarre events by the abuser with the intention of disorienting the victim.

Holt has lied about my identity, my family history, and made me question my memory, perception and sanity.

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