An important part of every person’s growth is developing a clear identity (sense of who they are). You began developing your identity as a young child, by noticing how you were similar to—or different from—other children. This is especially important for teenagers but continues throughout adulthood. Your genetics, culture, environment, life experiences and your interpretations of those combined make you unique.
Adoption makes this more complex. For example, as an adoptee, it may be more complicated to understand who you are when your adoptive family does not share your same genetic or medical history, ethnicity, physical features, or natural gifts.
Because of this, you may have questions about why you were adopted or you may want to reconnect with your cultural heritage or biological family to discover more about who you are.
As you search to learn what you can about both of your families—biological and adoptive—there may be gaps in information, making it difficult to know when and where to search for answers. While some questions may never be answered, not knowing a part of your history does not take away from what you do know about yourself. You can celebrate what you know while acknowledging the loss and sadness that comes from the unknown or from information that is painful.
Finding a way to help make your adoption experience as positive as possible is an important step for those struggling to come to terms with their journey. This can come through the simple act of helping other adoptees. For example, some adoptees choose to become advocates for adoptee rights in politics, law or the educational system. Others develop services to help other adoptees in their own searches.
For adoptees who discover information about their biological families that is difficult, it is common to struggle with a wide range of emotions from sadness to fear. In these cases, it’s important to remember that just because your biological parents had bad experiences or made poor choices, you are not “fated’ to do the same. And, more importantly, you do not need to repeat them to connect with your birthparents.
If there is openness in your adoption, you may be able to talk with your birthparents about your questions. Try to be sensitive—there may be issues or choices that are difficult for them to discuss. Give them time and the benefit of the doubt. They may want to share information with you, but hesitate because of a sense of loss or shame. Try to respect and honor them for making choices for you that they felt were best at that time.
Some of the choices your birthparents made—even the choice to make an adoption plan for you—may trigger strong feelings of anger and doubt about your self-worth or interfere with your ability to enjoy close, committed relationships. If you struggle with this, remember, this is common to many adoptees. It may help to find a therapist who understands adoption or a support group of other adoptees to talk to.
If you are living at home with your adoptive parents, it may be hard to talk to them. You may worry that sharing your feelings with them would be disloyal in some way or may not be well-received. If you are concerned about hurting their feelings or about how they will respond, we suggest that they visit the section of this site that is for adoptive parents. It has information about how they can support you in your adoption journey.
- The Impact of Adoption on Adopted Persons (from the Child Welfare Information Gateway)
- Forming a Sense of Self: Multiple Choices for Adoptees Adolescence and Identity Development (from the Center for Adoption Support and Education); primarily written for parents
- Adoption and Adolescence (from The Center for Adoption Support and Education); primarily written for parents
- Our Reflections (from Adoption Today magazine) Features responses from adoptees to common questions
This list of resources is for your convenience. This list does not imply an endorsement from Bethany Christian Services for the organization, website, or individual. We have no control over or responsibility for the accuracy or relevance of their information.