Updated: Apr 8
Most often, it isn't until a person who was adopted, an adoptee, grows up into adulthood, that they begin to realize the impact adoption has had on their life.
The number of challenges and vulnerabilities they face every day can be daunting to keep hidden inside. These "invisible wounds" that society doesn't want adoptees to talk about, and speak to, are what causes more mental health challenges for adoptees today.
For years of their life, they have to hide, and push away their deep feelings of inadequacy and push through their vulnerable mental health challenges, which are still not recognized by society as valid. Adoptees are often told, "you're so lucky" or "you shouldn't feel that way" or "when are you going to get over it" and "why can't you stop thinking about what happened, it's in the past, it's over with, get over it!" We don't get over it, we are continuously working through it......
"Adoptees have, by the very act of adoption, have gone through a lot. By the time adoptees are adults, they have survived separation from their birth parents, have acclimated to a new family, have dealt with fantasy and fears, have confronted identity issues, and have navigated relationships. The awareness of having survived such stages and transitions can give adoptees strength and determination in various areas of their lives. The downside of this feeling of survival is that some adoptees find it difficult to depend on others and instead are very independent. It is important for adoptees to realize that healthy relationships involve interdependence- depending on one's self and depending on others." (Russell, 1996)
Many adoptees today, struggle with the following symptomatic experiences:
have challenges maintaining and trusting healthy relationships
have boundary issues, they don't know where they end and another person begins
feel overwhelmed and anxious in their bodies, with no cognitive reason why
they feel a lack of belonging or fitting in with others
they don't feel competent or confident in their ability to show up in the world as authentic
they don't know who they are and oftentimes feel inadequate
they have genealogical bewilderment
they don't feel valued and feel a lack of self-worth
they can feel overwhelmed with grief, which feels like a never-ending 'abyss"
they can feel easily victimized and shamed by others
they can believe the core of who they are is "un-fixable"
they can feel so enraged at times and have no reason why
they can feel isolated and alone in their pain
they feel scared and don't know where to turn for help
the world feels overwhelming and often times hard to navigate
they can feel helpless, hopeless and powerless
Many adoptees attempt to cope with these symptoms in the following ways:
they can avoid intimate relationships completely
they can shut down emotionally and pretend "I'm fine"
they can become people pleasers
they have chameleon-like "adaptee" powers and do what others want them to do
they can become achieve-aholics, and work excessively
they can attempt to gain self-worth by being perfect and appear without flaws
they can become addicted to alcohol to numb the pain
they can become addicted to opioid drugs to numb the pain
they can attempt suicide to spare others of their internal pain oftentimes dismissed
they can commit suicide, adoptees are 4x more likely to do so than non adoptees.
If you are an adopted person and you resonate with this list, you are not alone. Know that, in the 21st Century, you can come to terms with these vulnerabilities as valid, important, necessary, and you are given permission to honor your emotional and psychological life now, and in other words, "your emotional life can matter to yourself now."
There is nothing wrong with you, all of these symptoms are a result of "what has happened to you."
With treatment, you will be able to manage these feelings, not feel so lost, find a new connection to the core of who you are, and find new ways of coping. You will be able to reconcile the past, without having the past wrestle with you.
I recommend working with an adoption competent therapist who understands the following:
- The psychological impact of adoption - Loss as a core issue in adoption
- The impact of pre-adoption trauma, early separation from the mother
- The role and impact of attachment on the mind and body of the developing child
If you have experienced additional traumas such as:
witnessing domestic violence
substance misuse within the household
mental illness within the household
parental separation or divorce
incarceration of a household member
a sudden death in the family
a stressful divorce
caring for someone with a chronic or debilitating illness
These therapies will also help you find a sense of relief and move through your experience.
Here are 10 Treatments Recommended for Adult Adoptees To Utilize with an
Adoption Competent Therapist: Disclaimer: Not every treatment will be helpful for each individual. You will want to explore each treatment and see which one fits best for you!
Attachment-Based Family Therapy is an evidence-based approach for treating depression related to grief and preventing suicide in adolescents. This therapeutic modality utilizes a structured methodology that focuses on revitalizing empathy and authentic connection within the parent-child relationship.
Neurofeedback, also called electroencephalogram (EEG) biofeedback or neurotherapy, is an adjunctive treatment used for psychiatric conditions such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, phobic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder
Attachment-focused EMDR (AF-EMDR) is client-centered and emphasizes a reparative therapeutic relationship using a combination of (1) Resource Tapping™ (Parnell, 2008) to strengthen clients and repair developmental deficits, (2) EMDR to process traumas, and (3) talk therapy to help integrate the information from EMDR sessions and to provide the healing derived from therapist-client interactions.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a mindfully oriented behavioral therapy that uses an eclectic and humanistic approach to develop ‘psychological flexibility or ‘mental plasticity’ resulting in positive actions and life choices. This approach assists people with stress, anxiety, and depression related to grief. Most human struggles are the result of four factors. They called these the ‘F-E-A-R’ factors, which is an acronym for F – Fusion of thoughts. E – Evaluation of experiences. A – Avoidance of thoughts and actions. R – Reasoning.
Mindfulness-based stress reduction (M.B.S.R.) is an evidence-based program offering secular, intensive mindfulness training to assist people with stress, anxiety, depression related to grief, and pain. Mindfulness training, is a practical approach which trains attention, allowing people to cultivate awareness and to have more choices. MBSR uses a combination of mindfulness meditation, body awareness, yoga and exploration of patterns of behavior, thinking, feeling and action.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is an evidence-based psychotherapy that began with efforts to treat borderline personality disorder. There is evidence that DBT can be useful in treating mood disorders, suicidal ideation, and changes in behavioral patterns such as self-harm and substance use.
Somatic Experiencing® (SE™) was developed by Peter A. Levine, PhD to address the effects of trauma. Levine developed this approach after observing that prey animals, whose lives are routinely threatened in the wild, are able to recover readily by physically releasing the energy they accumulate during stressful events. Humans, on the other hand, often override these natural ways of regulating the nervous system with feelings of shame and pervasive thoughts, judgments, and fears. Somatic Experiencing aims to help people move past the place where they might be “stuck” in processing a traumatic event.
Expressive Arts Therapy combines psychology and the creative process to promote emotional growth and healing. This multi-arts, or intermodal, approach to psychotherapy and counseling uses our inborn desire to create—be it music, theater, poetry, dance, or other artistic forms—as a therapeutic tool to help initiate change.
Experiential Therapy is not just one form of therapeutic intervention but a number of different types of therapy and therapeutic interventions designed to focus on actual involvement with different types of experiences, including emotional processing, interactions with others, creativity, and reflections of events that go beyond traditional “talk therapy.” Such as animal-assisted therapies (e.g., wolf connection, equine-assisted therapy), psychodrama, recreational therapy, art therapy, music therapy, adventure therapy, wilderness therapy,
Internal Family Systems Therapy is a powerfully transformative, evidence-based model of psychotherapy. This type of therapy, identifies and acknowledges the internal family systems in the mind from the past and brings them into the present. Inner parts work contains valuable qualities, and the core Self knows how to heal them, allowing the mind to become integrated and whole. In IFS all parts are welcome. I hope this article helps you understand that you are not alone, that your mental health matters, and that your life is the equivalent to the value you place on your well-being, especially when your early life was uprooted, by no choice of your own. But today you have a choice, it is a new dawn, a new day, a new life to plant the seeds for your future. For your greatest self awaits a newfound sense of being and seeing the world!
Russell, Marlou. (1996). Adoption Wisdom. Santa Monica, CA: Broken Branch Productions.