For the longest time, there was a strong stigma surrounding the concept of adoption with many treating it as a secondary or last resort for having children instead of the viable choice that it is. Even biological siblings unwittingly added to this stigma by continuously teasing one another that they were adopted, as if this was somehow an insult. As a direct result of society’s treatment of adoption and how adopted children and adults are perceived, adopted people often grow up developing feelings of inadequacy, misplaced anger, self-doubt, and low self-worth. Adoption counselling can help families and their adopted children sort through these emotions, while leading emotionally stable lives.
Adoption Trauma in Children and Adolescents
Even if children are adopted at birth, many adoptees can end up feeling a mixed bag of emotions throughout their lives. It’s not uncommon for adoptees to feel a sense of abandonment, which can cause them to develop fight-or-flight responses as a coping strategy. They might feel as if every relationship in their lives is fleeting and this can cause them to isolate themselves from their loved ones. Some might even engage self-harming behaviour or substance abuse as a coping mechanism.
It’s important to understand that all adoption, even amicable ones, initially start with a major loss; birth parents must part with their children and adoptees must part with their birth families. The ramifications of this trauma, even at a young age that precedes mental development, can start to manifest themselves early on in childhood and continue well into adulthood.
Every adoption situation is unique in its own right. Whether the parents willingly put their child up for adoption or they were forced to do so due to uncontrollable life circumstances, there’s no telling what the long-term effects of the adoption will be on all parties involved. During the adoption process, it’s advised that you seek the assistance of a certified family counsellor to help you and your adopted child adjust to this situation.
Common Issues Faced by Adopted Children and Adults
As mentioned, many adoptees tend to experience a sense of loss or grief over losing their biological families at one point or another. These feelings can come up unexpectedly, even if the adoption was amicable and the biological parents still play a role in the adoptee’s life. Of course, every adoption is different and every adoptee handles their emotions differently. Some adoptees might go through their entire childhood and adolescent years without experiencing any uncomfortable feelings regarding their adoption. However, certain events or milestones in life such as birthdays, anniversaries, or weddings can trigger these feelings.
Aside from the internal emotional turmoil that’s common amongst adoptees, some adoptive parents might also put up emotional roadblocks by refusing to talk about the adoption altogether. In some cases, adoptive parents even hide the fact that their kids are adopted or prevent them from seeking out their biological family for fear of losing their children.
There are a few problems with this. Firstly, it can cause the adopted children to feel resentment towards their adoptive parents and create a rift in their relationship. Second, it can instill feelings of shame, leaving the child or adolescent believing there is something wrong with both them, as well as adoption due the secretive nature of withholding this important information. It is vital for children to know their story. Familial history is important as well. Medical history, mental health history, and other records can help diagnose, assuage, and treat a number of physical and emotional conditions. Without this knowledge, many adoptees can go their entire lives without being diagnosed or receiving the appropriate care and support they need.
Another adoption-related issue has to do with the fact that not knowing where you come from or why you look and behave differently from your family members can create a major disconnect, particularly during the period of self-discovery that many people experience during adolescence.
Some adoptive parents might vow to educate their adopted children about their cultural, historical, and religious roots. Others might shy away from this out of fear that it’ll only highlight the familial differences between themselves and their adopted children instead of reinforcing acceptance.
Many adoptive parents also don’t want to veer too far outside of their comfort zones, thinking that it will drive a wedge between themselves and their adopted children.
Dealing With Adoption Trauma
When it comes to adoption and cultivating a relationship between adoptive parents and adopted children, honesty is the best policy on both ends. Adoptive parents should try to be forthcoming with their adopted children from a young age and let them know that they might not be biologically related, but that they’re still a part of the family and are loved unconditionally. Explaining to adopted children that they were chosen to be part of the family won’t take away their feelings of anger or sadness at the fact that they were given up for adoption, however, it will help with trust and the necessary reassurance that they are in fact loved unconditionally.
This knowledge also empowers them to embark on their own personal journey of self-discovery and truly explore who they are by finding the answers to the age-old question, “Who am I?”.
It’s important to give adopted children the resources and encouragement they need to learn about where they come from to help alleviate some of the guilt they might be feeling for showing an interest in learning about their roots. Despite having an inherent desire to learn about their cultural and historical backgrounds, many adopted children might feel like pursuing this interest is a betrayal against their adoptive parents. For that reason, adoptive parents need to make it clear from the very beginning that it’s perfectly acceptable for their adopted children to explore who they are and where they come from.
The truth is going to come out eventually; it’s just a matter of when and how. How families handle this revelation is also important.