Therapy for Adolescent + Adult Adoptees
Do you have adoption questions? Such as…
Are my internal struggles related to being adopted? Am I struggling with relationships because of early attachment trauma? Why do I feel alone even when with people, such as my adoptive parents or partner? Should I find my birth parents?
The impact of adoption is very real. It can appear long after we might expect. When the adverse effects of being adopted arise in early childhood, they may be easier to notice. Attachment trauma is often cited, and Reactive Attachment Disorder is often diagnosed.
But when adoption issues don't begin until adolescence or even adulthood, they may come as a surprise. It may be puzzling to outsiders why the adoptee is suddenly struggling to such a degree. And, of course, it may be even more confusing for the teenage or adult adoptee themselves.
Troubling symptoms can set in, seemingly at random. Or, extreme symptoms related to being given up for adoption can be stimulated by another traumatic event. I say another traumatic event, because being given up for adoption can be the first, and most severely traumatizing, event in one’s life. It most certainly was for me, and research tells us it can result in adopted adult problems with attachment, higher prevalence of externalizing disorders in adolescent adoptees, and classroom challenges for adopted children.
Adopted Adult Concerns
If we made it through childhood without adoptions issues arising, they may still develop later on. We may begin to feel inexplicably lonely. Disconnected from those around us, no matter how much these people love us.
We may begin to notice that we feel estranged from our adoptive parents and siblings. We may know that mutual love is shared, but we simply cannot feel a connection. We may notice this in friend groups, or other communities. Or, we may simply feel like we do not fit in anywhere. Like this world is not our home.
We may struggle with authority, acting out in defiant or aggressive ways. We may develop a constant sense of unease. Feel unsettled, edgy, or hyper-vigilant. We may find abnormally strong responses to relationships. We may doubt that others will meet our needs, and so avoid them all together. We may develop strong emotional attachments very quickly, and cling on to them for dear life. Or, we may outright fear them, and conclude that becoming close to others is simply too dangerous.
We may begin to drink, use drugs, or develop compulsive behaviors that offer us a minute of relief from our unease through numbing. Or, our addictive activities such as pornography, gambling, or getting high feel like the only time we are alive, or not alone.
We may begin to wonder: should I contact my birth parents? We may wonder about the pros and cons of contacting our birth parents? Or, maybe we have already contacted them, and the feeling of being alone is still present?
At full-risk of sounding like an after-school special:
If you have experienced any of these things as an adoptee, you are not alone.
You may be wondering what adoption counseling can do to help, and how might it differ from psychotherapy you have done before?
Firstly, I want to normalize the adoption issues you may have had. There is a common and altogether heart-felt belief in many adoption communities that unless you were adopted, you will never know some of the feelings that come with it. I believe this is true, and it can be such an empowering relief to acknowledge this for yourself. Nevertheless, it may also come with grief to face this fact head-on. This can be an important element in adoption therapy.
Different adoption counselors work in different ways. I perform this type of work in a similar way to all my work: mindfulness-based, somatic, and attachment trauma informed. I use mindfulness-based methods associated with the modalities of Somatic Experiencing (SE) and Dynamic Attachment Repatterning experience (DARe). This means that we strive to work in present-moment awareness with an emphasis on bodily sensation and relationship patterns.
Why is this so relevant to adoption counseling? Because the adverse effects occurring from adoption trauma arise from memories that cannot be accessed with normal recollection. As an infant, we do not have access to our frontal cortex (as it is not yet developed), and all our memories become implicit, aka stored in our body. (See this article from my blog to read more about this phenomenon.)
Healing is Possible
Working with the body in this way, gives us greater access to nervous system states, feelings, and beliefs that may have formed around early childhood trauma such as adoption. And in this form of adoption counseling, we do all this while staying attuned to its impact on relationship. Being given up for adoption is the ultimate relational blow for an infant, and healing in relationship is the best way to recover.
The life of an adolescent or adult adoptee may already feel like a long, and difficult one. Often times, as adoptees, we hear that we will have to forgive our birth parents, find our birth mother, or develop a great relationship with our adoptive parents. For some, these may be vital steps to healing. But for some, they may not. Fortunately, we can heal in a multitude of settings. I believe, adoption counseling is one of these.