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Reconciling Adoption and Identity as an Adopted Individual

When you’re an adoptee, one of the biggest aspects of your personal identity is something you had no choice in. Coming to terms with that can be difficult, and it’s not uncommon for adoptees to experience an adoption identity crisis at one point or another.

If you’re struggling with adoption identity issues, know this: You are not alone, and there is nothing “wrong” with you. Even in the best adoption stories, there are challenges that must be worked through by all members of the triad. And, unlike adoptive parents and birth parents, you didn’t receive counseling and education prior to the adoption process — it’s just an experience you’re living every day.

While you had no control over this part of your identity, you do have control over how you frame it. In the article below, you’ll find some helpful information to guide you through that acceptance process. At the end of the day, however, it’s up to you to sort out what adoption and identity mean to you — and how to move forward with both in a positive, healthy manner.

Remember: American Adoptions is not a mental health professional. If you are struggling with your adoption and self-identity, please reach out to a licensed counselor for guidance. However, if you were adopted through our agency and have questions about your adoption story, we will do our best to help when you call us at 1-800-ADOPTION.

Why is Adoption and Self-Identity So Complicated?

Determining a sense of self-identity is difficult for anyone. Knowing who you are — and, by extension, who you want to be in the future — is not an easy task. But, when you’re an adoptee, it’s a little more complicated.

As an adoptee, you know that. Whether or not you were raised in a closed adoption, you’ve probably had some lingering questions about your adoption since as early as you can remember:

  • Why was I placed for adoption?
  • Why didn’t my birth parents keep me?
  • Where do I fit in — with my adoptive family and my biological family?

We won’t pretend that these questions are easy to answer. Sometimes, sorting out adoption and identity takes years. However, it’s a crucial step to adoption healing and living your life with a positive outlook.

Reconciling adoption and self-identity can be exceedingly difficult due to the nature of adoption itself. Some adoptees (especially transracial adoptees) may feel torn between birth and adoptive families; connecting with one may seem like betraying the other. Individuals in closed adoptions have an even tougher task; how can they move past adoption identity issues when they know little to nothing about their past?

It’s not easy – but putting the work in will be worth it.

While we can’t answer these abovementioned questions for you, we do want you to know one thing: Adoption is not the only part of your story. It may seem like a big part of it, but many adoptees have defined themselves in other ways — and you can, too.

However, the only one who can put in the work to do that is you.

How You Can Address Adoption Identity Issues

No two adoptees are the same. What helps some adoptees move forward from their adoption identity issues will simply serve to embroil others in the trauma and challenges of their past. But making the effort is necessary to accepting your adoptee identity and finding peace in who you are.

Below, find a few tips for working through your adoption and self-identity challenges. Try a few different methods to determine what works best for you.

1. Work Through the 5 Stages of Adoption and Identity

While every adoptee’s journey through adoption and self-identity is different, researchers in 2007 identified a common process that most individuals move through to reconcile the two aspects. In studying 100 adult adoptees (age 35 to 55), researchers concluded that the five stages of the acceptance process are:

1. No Awareness, in which an adoptee only sees adoption as a positive influence in their life and does not acknowledge the more complicated issues involved

2. Emerging Awareness, in which an adoptee recognizes some of those issues (curiosity about birth family, feelings of loss) but is hesitant to explore them

3. Drowning in Awareness, in which an adoptee is only focused on the losses in adoption and the anger and grief they feel

4. Reemerging from Awareness, in which an adoptee recognizes these losses but also recognizes the gains from their adoption journey

5. Finding Peace, in which an adoptee has reconciled the challenges and advantages of adoption and feels at peace about their adoption journey

If you’re struggling with adoption identity issues, you very well may be stuck in one of these phases. Moving through this process takes time, so be gentle with yourself – but remember that this is a journey you must want to complete. It can be tempting to lash out at others who caused your adoption, but focusing on the negatives will not help you move forward in a productive way.

Trying to see the benefits in your adoption is the first step to finding the peace you need.

2. Learn More About Your Adoption

Many times, individuals struggle with adoption identity issues because of a lack of answers. While most adoptions today (including those completed by our agency) are open in nature, adoptions completed decades ago were commonly closed – providing no information to the adoptee or adoptive parents about the birth parents’ situation.

If you have no information about your birth parents, it’s impossible to answer questions like, “Where did I come from?” But you can take steps to get the information you need.

Have you considered an adoption search and reunion?

Finding your birth parents or opening up your adoption records can cause many complicated emotions, especially if the circumstances surrounding your birth and adoption are traumatic. Still, grieving that loss with the proper insight can go a long way to solving your adoption identity crisis. As difficult as it may be, you will finally know where you came from and why you were placed for adoption.

Consider reaching out to the professional who facilitated your adoption for answers. You could also open your adoption records (depending on state laws) or contact the Search Angels for assistance through your adoption search.

As always, any adoptee placed through American Adoptions is welcome to reach out to our team for more information.

3. Be Patient and Understanding with Yourself

Grief and acceptance are very personal processes. Some adoptees move through this very quickly, satisfied with the information they have about their adoption. Others take a little longer to grieve and accept their adoption losses, spending many years thinking about their adoption and self-identity.

There’s no one “right” way to do this, and there’s no timeline, either. Your adoption experience is uniquely your own, as are any adoption identity issues you may have.

Give yourself permission to feel the emotions you have. Listen to your own needs and do things at your own pace. For example, only reach out to and create a relationship with birth family if it’s right for you. Incorporate adoption into your life only as much or as little as you think is best.

At the end of the day, don’t be afraid to support yourself. You’re going through a unique journey, and you need to do what is right for you.

4. Reach Out for Help

We tend to think of self-identity as a personal issue. But that doesn’t mean that others can’t help you in this journey.

If you’re struggling with adoption and self-identity, it might help to reach out to other adoptees. Join a support group, or read books and blogs by those who have worked through their own journeys. See what support they can offer and what advice they can give. Don’t be afraid to reach out to an adoption-trained counselor, either; they may provide the objective advice you’re looking for at this time.

We know adoption and identity can be complicated issues to explore, but you owe it to yourself. Remember: You are not alone and, with a little bit of effort, you can always find the support you need during this journey.

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