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Adoptee Issues: Understanding Adoption Trauma, Loss and More

Every adoption situation is unique, just as the people touched by the adoption are unique. Everyone will be affected by their adoption journey differently, and no two experiences are alike.

Even though your adoption may be a generally positive experience, adoption is a lifelong exploration, and you may experience challenges, mixed feelings toward your adoption, or other issues as you work through your adoption experiences.

The following are some common adoptee issues and suggestions for how to cope with any adoption pain you may experience:

Struggles with Self-Esteem or Identity

Much of our identity is shaped by family ties. In a society that still views families created through adoption as non-traditional, this can lead to long-term issues for the adopted child as they struggle to define where they fit into their family — both their biological family and their adoptive family.

This can be exacerbated for some adoptees who struggle with feeling different from their family or peers or who feel a sense of rejection from their birth family, which can sometimes lead to lower self-esteem or other adoption issues in adults. Issues with self-esteem or identity can be helped through counseling or therapy, especially with a counselor who specializes in adoption trauma.

Attachment and Other Emotional Problems in Adopted Children and Adults

For some adoptees, particularly those who’ve experienced early childhood trauma such as neglect or abuse, it may be difficult to form emotional bonds. Some studies suggest that adoptees may also be at higher risk for depression, anxiety, learning disabilities, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or substance abuse.

If you are an adopted person struggling with attachment difficulties or other emotional struggles, you may benefit from counseling to address the source of your pain.

Adoptive families who observe adopted child behavior problems that may be a result of early trauma should also seek training in how to support their child through these specific issues. Early intervention may help prevent new or worsening attachment and emotional issues in adoptees.

Adoption Loss

Despite a positive outcome for many, all adoptions are first created through loss. Birth parents must part with their child, and adoptees must part with their birth family. Even for adoptees who were placed as newborns, this can create adult adoptee issues that leave them with a sense of grief and loss toward their adoption, often mixed with joy at being placed with their adoptive family and sometimes even guilt that they feel sad about missing their birth family.

While this complex mixture of emotions can sometimes be difficult for you or your family to understand, it’s important to recognize that everyone within the adoption triad has experienced both loss and gain to some degree, including adoptees. This affects all adopted persons differently. Sometimes this adoptee pain can occur sporadically at certain milestones or anniversaries, even after years without grieving your early loss. Some adoptees may never experience this loss the way other adoptees do.

As an adoptee, it’s important to be open and honest about any feelings of grief and loss you may experience. Seek out resources on emotional healing for adoptees, and consult a professional counselor if you need additional support as you process any challenging emotions.

For adoptive families who want to help an adoptee, the best way to address adopted children problems relating to adoption grief is to remain understanding and patient and to listen to their thoughts and feelings about this loss. Because adoptees may experience this sense of loss intermittently over long periods of time, it’s something that requires ongoing support.

How to Deal with Adopted Child Psychological Problems

Adoption issues can affect adoptees at any age, and may crop up at any point in their lives. Many adoptees will never experience any negative issues as a result of their adoption. Again, all adoptees and adoption situations are different, and no two people will have the same experiences.

The best thing you can do to help yourself overcome any challenges arising from your adoption is to educate yourself about adoptee issues and reach out for help when needed. Here are four basic tips to help prevent emotional struggles with your adoption from getting worse:

  • If possible, and if you feel it will give you some emotional resolution, maintain a relationship with your birth family or learn more about your pre-adoption history. For some adoptees, this provides answers to questions you may have, and keeps a connection to biological family open to ease any feelings of isolation or loss. Remember that it’s ok if you don’t feel ready to explore this aspect of your adoption, or if you don’t have a desire to connect with your pre-adoption history at all. All these feelings are valid.
  • Be gentle with yourself when it comes to change. Adoptees who struggle with self-esteem often experience less anxiety when they have a sense of consistency. Change can be alarming for children and adults who experienced such dramatic changes so early in their lives, so practice incorporating changes into your adult life slowly and regularly.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Consulting professional counselors or therapists who have experience in adopted kids issues can help you learn how to begin addressing issues relating to adoption, and can hopefully prevent some adopted adult issues.

While not all adoptees will experience emotional struggles related to their adoption, all adoptees deserve love, patience and support as they continue to explore their adoption experiences. Adoption is an ongoing journey for everyone involved, so never be afraid to reach out for support if you’re struggling with your journey.