Being adopted isn’t easy.
It can be hard to form a connection with a new family. Even as a child grows up, perhaps they continue feeling out of place and never fully integrated into the household.
Eventually, as an adult, they may also find it difficult to cope with significant life transitions—always feeling anxious and sensitive to potential threats.
These are all issues that are related to what is called adoption trauma.
For children who have grown up in an adopted family, the separation process can have effects that carry on into adulthood.
However, it is possible to get help for adoption trauma.
What Is Adoption Trauma?
Psychological trauma, in general, is a kind of injury that occurs due to having witnessed or lived through a certain event (or multiple events). These events are usually difficult, painful, emotionally distressing, even violent.
For adopted children, the traumatic event can be the process of being adopted and separated from their birth family. This separations, especially from their mother, can be traumatic for any child, regardless of age. Even infants can have felt-sense memories associated with adoption trauma.
But in the case of older children, for example, they already have developed a relationship with their birth mother. Although, that connection may not necessarily be healthy. It can be hard to understand, but even when birth parents act terribly towards their children, they still want to be loved by their parents.
Therefore, even when a child is forced to leave their parents (child protective services), it is an emotionally painful experience for them.
And adopted children can carry that pain with them throughout their lives. It can affect them into adulthood and can cause emotional distress. It can even lead to a reaction that is quite like post-traumatic stress disorder.
The Ripple Effect of Adoption Trauma on Adults
If this is your story, you need to be aware that, as you get older, the events surrounding your adoption can have a ripple effect. As an adult, you might struggle with issues related to anxiety, shame, or even anger.
For instance, perhaps you have a hard time when it comes to major life transitions, such as graduating or getting a new job. This might be because you had a very negative experience in regards to the major life event of adoption.
Moreover, having been adopted as a child, you may also struggle with attachment issues. Some of my clients who were adopted tell me that they struggle with creating a healthy bond with others. They report becoming anxious when separated from people with whom they have developed a strong attachment. Or they struggle with a kind of insecurity.
One of my clients describes it like this. “I always feel a bit nervous. Even when people are great to me, I feel like I’m an alien amongst people. It’s like I’m waiting for them to discover me and banish me”.
What does this mean for you?
What this means for you as an adult is that the adoption trauma can have a major impact on your life. It can make it become hard to have consistency in your life- and especially in your relationships. Perhaps you struggle to find meaningful connections with other people. Or, you simply withdraw and isolate yourself.
On the other hand, you may also swing to the exact opposite of the spectrum. Maybe you have become very controlling to ensure that there is no instability at all in your life or personal relationships.
Sadly, coping with the feelings and emotions surrounding adoption trauma may also cause you to resort to substance abuse. This happens in an effort to “numb” your feelings associated with the trauma.
How to Heal from Adoption Trauma
The key to healing from adoption trauma is to work with a therapist who understands the adoption experience and its impacts.
Keep in mind when you are with a therapist, the goal isn’t to open old wounds causing you emotional pain. Rather, the objective is to understand how the adoptive experience has affected you as an adult. Then you can enact a plan to help you feel better. A good therapist can also help you find practical techniques that can resolve and process those painful memories.
One way to do this is by utilizing eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR).
Although adoption should be a positive and happy moment, a time when a child is joined with a loving new home, it’s not always so. The experience can carry with it heavy emotional baggage.
Adopted children may carry the weight of adoption trauma and separation for years. It can even affect them as adults. However, therapy, including EMDR, can help with resolving this trauma.
If you would like to know more about my approach to trauma therapy, please contact me or read more by clicking on the link.