A book called Seven Core Issues in Adoption and Permanency, co-authored by Sharon Kaplan Roszia and Allison Davis Maxon, outlines seven lifelong issues experienced by all members of the adoption circle: adoptees, birth parents, and adoptive parents. These seven core issues are loss, rejection, guilt/shame, grief, identity, intimacy, master/control. Understanding these core issues, and how they impact your life, can be validating and help us all to better understand the lasting effects of the adoption experience. Here we briefly dive into each of the seven issues, as identified in the book. For a deeper dive, visit Allison Davis Maxon’s website.
Adoption is created through loss. Without loss, there would be no adoption. Adoptees suffer their first loss at the initial separation from the birth family and that loss affects the adoptee on a very profound level; subsequent losses are more fearsome for adopted people.
Feelings of loss are intensified by feelings of rejection, and often people cope by personalizing those feelings. Even at a young age, most adoptees understand the concept that to be “chosen” means first that one was “un-chosen.”
Rejection can be real, imagined or implied. Adopted individuals can be sensitive to rejection and may push people away to avoid rejection or provoke rejection.
Rejection can lead to feelings of shame and guilt. The shame of having been given up remains unspoken, often as an unconscious motivator.
Adoptees may suggest that something about themselves caused the adoption. Shame and guilt discourage people from thinking of themselves in a constructive or positive way. It can limit individuals from loving and receiving love as they do not feel worthy.
Loss impacts all members of the adoption circle, and every loss must be grieved. As the authors note, “parents are grieving unborn children, children are grieving as their understanding of what happened to them unfolds, birth parents are grieving the loss of their baby/child that they hope is alive and well.” While it may be hard to grieve in a fast-paced society, it is necessary for the expression of one’s feelings.
Identity is defined both by what one is and what one is not. Many adopted individuals experience adoption-related identity issues throughout their lives and may feel as though their identity is incomplete, as if missing pieces to a puzzle. This may lead them to seek answers to questions such as:
- Genetic makeup
- Medical history
- Cultural, ethnic and racial information
- Why an adoption plan was made and what similarities or traits they get from their birth parents
Some adopted individuals say they lack feelings of well-being, integration or solidity associated with a fully developed identity.
Intimacy requires an individual to know who they are and what they need in relationships and believe they have value. The multiple, ongoing losses in adoption—paired with feelings of rejection, shame and grief and an incomplete sense of self—may hinder the development of intimacy. The adoptee’s intimacy issues are particularly evident in relationships with a significant other: One way to avoid possible rejection or reenactment of previous losses is to avoid closeness and commitment.
As the co-authors note, “unnamed, unacknowledged and ungrieved” losses can create intense feelings of powerlessness and loss of control. For adoptees, the early loss of control that moved them from one family tree to another, resulted in the ultimate loss of power and control. Human beings need to feel in control to feel secure. The ultimate goal is Mastery, which is a regaining of power and control over one’s life. Feeling empowered gives a person the ability to have an effect on others, feel that they have authority and rights, be hopeful and create change. The achievement of mastery in various aspects of ones’ life is a process, a journey, which includes adapting, learning, self-awareness and forgiving.
Want to speak to a Cradle therapist about any of these issues? Our therapists offer adoption expertise and can work with all members of birth or adoptive families at any stage of life. We offer both in-person and telehealth sessions. To make an appointment, please call 847-475-5800. You may also request counseling through our online form.