When it comes to identity there are fundamental questions that human beings have: Who am I? Where do I belong? Who are my “tribe” or people? For those adoptees with no information about their biological family’s medical background, culture, or genetic makeup, they deal with these questions on a much deeper level than non adoptees can understand. Even if they have information about their background, some adoptees still struggle with their identity. They may wonder who they take after most – their birth or adopted family? They may experience feelings of disconnectedness to others and lack feelings of integration or solidness associated with a fully developed identity. This may be compounded for male adoptees by the lack of attention and information about birth fathers. If adoptees do not have fully developed identities by the time they reach adolescence, they may seek acceptance in extreme measures by running away, becoming pregnant, and getting involved in substance use.
Adoptive parents can help mitigate any difficulties their children are experiencing in developing an integrated identity. They can ensure they have accurate, positive information about birth family history so that the adoptee can have role models and options in choosing what aspects of birth family members they identify with and/or see within themselves. This enables them to normalize some of those areas in their make-up that may fall outside those of the adoptive family. Adoptees need to feel seen and heard by adoptive parents, have a safe space to make mistakes as they gain independence and identity formation, and have open and honest communication with adoptive parents. Adoptees may be more inquisitive about their birth family when they reach adolescence and may express a desire to search for them if they do not already know them. Adoptive parents should prepare for this in advance and be willing to be supportive and affirm to adoptees that their commitment and love will not disappear.
Adult adoptees who believe they did not have the opportunity to form a fully integrated identity can still form one as adults and build a stronger sense of self. Identifying values and personal beliefs, creating and maintaining healthy boundaries, and spending time alone journaling and meditating are just some of the ways in which to begin building a stronger self. If you find you are becoming overwhelmed and are experiencing depression, anxiety, and workplace or relationship concerns, it may be time to reach out for help. Issues related to personal identity, such as a distorted self-image and lack of healthy boundaries can sometimes occur as symptoms of mental health disorders such as borderline or histrionic personality disorder, dissociative disorder, schizophrenia and PTSD. The good news is that these conditions are treatable and a trained mental health professional can help you identify symptoms and discuss treatment options. A therapist can help you identify your values, discover any unhealthy attachment or relationship patterns, and help you work through any issues related to identity.
If any of this resonates with you and you would like more information or to schedule an appointment with me, call me today at 402-325-0117 x4 or book an appointment online today!
Carla Hammer, MS, PLMHP
1001 S. 70th Street, Suite #225
Lincoln, NE 68510