Motivation and emotion/Book/2014/Adoption and emotion

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Adoption and emotion:
What are the emotional impacts of adoption?

Overview[edit | edit source]

Mary Slessor and Four Children, Old Calabar, late 19th century, Mary Slessor was a Scottish missionary known for her work in Africa and here she adopted abandoned children

Adoption is a legal process that is filled with emotions for those who are giving up their child for adoption, the adoptive parent and the adopted child. These emotions can be full of happiness and joy, but can also be full of loss and grief. As children grow and mature, each one goes through periods of adjustment and each faces important development issues. In addition to the typical growth and development issues, an adopted child faces some issues and concerns that are different than those faced by a child that has been biologically born into the family (Adoption Services, 2013) .

While it is challenging to make sweeping statements about such a large and diverse group as adopted persons, adopted persons generally lead lives that are no different from the lives of non-adopted persons; however, they have experiences that are unique to being adopted, and these experiences may have an impact on their lives at various times (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2013) .

There are several themes that emerge from personal accounts and data from academic studies about the emotional issues that those involved with adoption may face. This chapter aims to addresses the emotional effects adoption has upon the adopted child, the biological parents and the adoptive parent or family.

Adoption Theory[edit | edit source]

Sigmund Freud, had a significant influence on modern adoption theory and practice. So did his daughter Anna Freud, who carried on her father’s legacy after his death in 1939 and became well known in her own right as a developmental researcher, a child analyst, and a theorist of “psychological parenthood” (Herman, 2012).

Freudian concepts about unconscious desires, erotic instincts, and critical childhood stages in the foundation of adult personality and behaviour shaped the way that many parents and professionals thought about adoption, especially its special challenges and potential hazards (Herman, 2012).

Freud’s theories had many connections to adoption. Freud believed that children in general need to mentally “escape” from parent control which they often did by having an active fantasy life. In ‘family romance’ images, children might imagine an adoption scenario in which their imaginary parents were kinder and gentler than their real parents. But with children who were adopted, the “story” was reality (Moe, 2007).

Because the loss of natal parents was an all-too-real component of adoption, the family romances of adopted children pointed toward unanswered and sometimes unanswerable questions. Who were my birth parents? Why did they give me away? Was there something wrong with me? Such painful dilemmas were deeply implicated in the problematic self-images and flawed relationships that some adoptees manifested, and that came to the attention of clinicians (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2013).

The convergence of fantasy and real life was the key issue for psychoanalytically-inclined clinicians in social work and psychiatry whose interests included adoption. Viola Bernard, Florence Clothier, Leontine Young, and Marshall Schechter were just a few examples. Psychoanalytic ideas crowded the adoption world from World War II onwards. Erik Erikson’s concepts of “identity” and “identity crisis” were among the most widely disseminated Freudian ideas, applicable to adolescent development and youth movements in general as well as adoption in particular (Herman, 2012).

Adoptees’ family romances were more like nightmares than daydreams, and they had the potential to produce deep sadness and distress[factual?]. Knowing that they had indeed been given away, and feeling that their very self-hood was divided and incomplete, adoptees were at special risk for a range of psychopathologies. Freud’s developmental theory implied that adoptees faced emotional challenges inseparable from the adoption process itself, hence anticipating and helping to bring into being more recent concerns with loss and attachment (Psychologist World and partners, 2014).

Attachment Theory in Adoption[edit | edit source]

The use of Attachment Theory has been specifically questioned when applied to foster children or those who have been adopted (Barnardos Australia, 2013). Attachment Theory is focused on the relationships and bonds between people, particularly long-term relationships including those between a parent and child and between romantic partners. Attachment is an emotional bond to another person. Psychologist John Bowlby was the first attachment theorist, describing attachment as a "lasting psychological connectedness between human beings" (Barth, 2005) Bowlby believed that the earliest bonds formed by children with their caregivers have a tremendous impact that continues throughout life. He suggested attachment also serves to keep the infant close to the mother, thus improving the child's chances of survival (Bowlby, 2004).

Attachment Theory is one among many theories that try to explain the progress of a child from pre-birth to adulthood. Attachment Theory as [spelling?] important in helping us to understand the children who grow up in foster care or within adoptive homes. Attachment Theory is concerned with the early years of life, the time of life that is most troubling for fostered and adopted children. The impact of this early experience on later social and emotional development, and subsequently on cognitive development, is explained within the context of these early relationships (Golding, 2007).

Researchers have found that attachment patterns established early in life can lead to a number of outcomes. For example, children who are securely attached as infants tend to develop stronger self-esteem and better self-reliance as they grow older. These children also tend to be more independent, perform better in school, have successful social relationships, and experience less depression and anxiety (Golding, 2007).

children adopted after the age of six months have a higher risk of attachment problems (Barth, 2005)

What happens to children who do not form secure attachments? Research suggests that failure to form secure attachments early in life can have a negative impact on behavior in later childhood and throughout the life. Children diagnosed with oppositional-defiant disorder (ODD), conduct disorder (CD) or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) frequently display attachment problems, possibly due to early abuse, neglect or trauma. Clinicians suggest that children adopted after the age of six months have a higher risk of attachment problems (Barth, 2005).

Why is it important?[edit | edit source]

The attachment relationship is the foundation relationship of a child’s life. While later experience will influence and even alter the child’s developmental pathway, it is likely that the early relationship will continue to impact on this (Bowlby, 2004). For children living in foster care or adoptive homes these early experiences are likely to be difficult, as children experience separation and loss of biological parents, often following an experience of inadequate and sometimes frightening parenting (Golding, 2007).

Often these children grow up with attachment difficulties, making it harder for them to settle into their new homes. Attachment Theory can provide us with a framework for understanding the resulting behaviour of the children (Bowlby, 2004). It can also provide guidance about ways of parenting the children that fosters increased trust and feelings of security. Within environments of responsive, available care, the children can begin to recover from early experience and learn to organise their behaviour around their belief in the continued availability and trustworthiness of their foster or adoptive parent (Barnardos Australia, 2013).

What are Emotions?[edit | edit source]

Hockenbury (2007) defines emotion as "a complex psychological state that involves three distinct components: a subjective experience, a physiological response, and a behavioural or expressive response." Emotions seem to rule our daily lives. We make decisions based on whether we are happy, angry, sad, bored, or frustrated. We choose activities and hobbies based on the emotions they incite.

In psychology, emotion is often defined as a complex state of feeling that results in physical and psychological changes that influence thought and behaviour. Emotionality is associated with a range of psychological phenomena including temperament, personality, mood and motivation (Cherry, 2014). Studies have found that adopted children are more likely to develop social, intellectual, or emotional problems (Humphreys, 2010).

Emotions and issues faced by the adopted child[edit | edit source]

It is very common for those who are adopted to feel rejected and abandoned by their birth parents[factual?]. This is accompanied by feelings of grief and loss. There is no set time or age when these feelings will surface. Feelings of loss and rejection are accompanied by a sense of self-esteem. There is an understandable tendency to think that “something must be wrong with me for my birth parents to have to give me away”[factual?]. It must be understood that these feelings and thoughts are unrelated to the amount of love and support received from the adoptive parents and family.

Loss and grief[edit | edit source]

The loss of birth parents as a result of adoption may set the stage for feelings of grief for many adopted persons. The loss experienced by adopted persons may be characterized as ambiguous loss, or the loss of someone who still is (or who may be) alive (Afifi, 2005). This type of loss also may increase the feelings of uncertainty (e.g., “Do I resemble my biological parents?”) an adopted person feels. Adopted persons who feel secure in their adoption and have open adoptive family communication may be better able to manage their uncertainty and grief (Afifi, 2005). Additionally, adopted persons may have difficulty finding an outlet because their grief may not be recognized by others.

PikiWiki Israel Children for adoption

Feelings of loss and grief, as well as anger, anxiety, or fear, may especially occur during emotionally charged milestones, such as marriage, the birth of a child, or the death of a parent[factual?]. Adopted persons may also suffer secondary losses. For instance, along with the loss of their birth mother and birth father, adopted persons may experience the loss of brothers and sisters, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins. There also may be a loss of cultural connection or language (in cases of inter-country or trans-racial adoption). For those who were adopted as older children, there may be a loss of friends, foster families, pets, schools, neighbourhoods, and familiar surroundings.

Development of Identity[edit | edit source]

Identity formation begins in childhood and takes on increased importance and prominence during adolescence (Grotevant, 1997). Adoption is a significant aspect of identity for adopted persons, even when they are adults (Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, 2009). The task of identity development may be more difficult for an adopted person because of the additional issues related to adoption, such as why he or she was placed for adoption, what became of the birth parents, does he or she have siblings, and whether he or she resembles the birth parents in looks or in other characteristics. Adoption remains an important aspect of identity throughout adulthood, and one study described the development of adult adoptive identity as having five phases:

  • No awareness/denying awareness: The adopted person does not overtly acknowledge adoption issues.
  • Emerging awareness: The adopted person views adoption as a positive influence and recognizes some issues, but he or she is not ready to explore these issues.
  • Drowning in awareness: The adopted person has feelings of loss, anger, and sadness about the adoption.
  • Reemerging from awareness: The adopted person recognizes the issues related to the adoption, but also sees the positive aspects and is working toward acceptance.
  • Finding peace: The adopted person has worked through his or her issues with the adoption and is moving toward peace and acceptance (Penny, Borders, & Portnoy, 2007).

Self-esteem[edit | edit source]

Often accompanying the issues of identity are issues of self-esteem – that is, how the adopted person feels about him or herself. A number of studies have found that, while adopted persons are similar to non-adopted persons in most ways, they often appear to score lower in measure [grammar?] of self-esteem and self-confidence (Borders, Penny, & Portnoy, 2000). This may reflect the fact that some adopted persons may view themselves as different, out of place, un-welcomed, or rejected.

Some of these feelings may result from the initial loss of birth parents, siblings, and extended family members. They also may be caused by an ongoing feeling of being different from non-adopted people who know about their genetic background and birth family and who may be more secure about their own identity as a result. Additionally, some adopted persons report that secrecy surrounding their adoption contributes to low- self-esteem[factual?].

Emotions and issues faced by the birth parents[edit | edit source]

Grieving the Loss of the Child[edit | edit source]

Young mother's in third world countries, often cannot afford to car for their children. putting them up for adoption is sometimes the only option.

Placing a child for adoption can be traumatic for the birth parents (Henney 2007). Most parents considering placing their child for adoption struggle with the decision. Parents who decide to place their child for adoption begin to plan for a great loss in their own lives with the hope that the decision will result in a better life for their baby and for themselves. The birth and the actual surrendering of the baby may prompt various phases of grief in the birth parents, including shock and denial, sorrow and depression, anger, guilt, and acceptance (Romanchik, 1999).

Many birth parents continue to mourn the loss of their child throughout their lifetime, but with varying intensity. In a study of birth mothers 12 to 20 years after placement, approximately three-quarters continued to experience some feelings of grief and loss, and one-quarter reported no current grief or loss (Henney 2007). Some of the factors that have been found to be associated with longstanding grief include:

  • A birth parent’s feeling that she was pressured into placing her child for adoption against her will (De Simone, 1996)
  • Feelings of guilt and shame regarding the placement (De Simone)
  • Lack of opportunity to express feelings about the placement (De Simone)
  • Dissatisfaction with an open adoption (Henney)
  • Having a closed[explain?] adoption (Henney)

Guilt and Shame[edit | edit source]

Birth parents may experience guilt and shame for having placed their child for adoption due to the social stigma that some attach to this (De Simone, 1996; Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, 2007). This guilt and shame may exacerbate the grief being felt by the birth parents. Some birth parents may feel shame in admitting the situation to parents, friends, coworkers, and others. Once the child is born, the decision to place the child for adoption may prompt new feelings of guilt about “rejecting” the child, no matter how thoughtful the decision or what the circumstances of the adoption. Other birth parents may feel guilt or shame because they kept the pregnancy or adoption a secret.

Identity Issues[edit | edit source]

Placing a child for adoption may trigger identity issues in some birth parents. They may need to determine who the child will be in their lives and how the child will be in their lives (Lewis Fravel et al., 2000). Birth parents will need to redefine their relationship to the child (Romanchik, 1999). Their status as parents may not be acknowledged among family and friends, and if they go on to have other children whom they raise, this may also affect how the birth parents view their own identity, as well as that of all their children. Birth parents in open or mediated (i.e., semi-open) adoptions may face additional identity issues as they interact with the adoptive family. In one study, adolescents who were adopted and in contact with their birth mothers most frequently noted their birth mother’s role as a friend, with some also reporting relative, another parent, or birth mother role (Gro tevant et al., 2007). In another study, birth mothers most frequently desired to play a nonkin role in the birth child’s life (Ayers-Lopez, Henney,McRoy, Hanna, & Grotevant, 2008). This relationship, as well as the birth parent’s perception of his or her identity, may change over time due to various issues, such as formal changes to the level of openness or the adopted child’s wishes.

Effect on Other Relationships[edit | edit source]

Some birth parents may have trouble forming and maintaining relationships (Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, 2007). This may be due to lingering feelings of loss and guilt, or it may be due to a fear of repeating the loss. Other birth parents may attempt to fill the loss quickly by establishing a new relationship, marrying, or giving birth again—without having dealt with the grief of the adoptive placement. In a study comparing teens who had placed their infants for adoption and those who parented them, though, birth mothers who placed their children had a more positive quality of relationship with their partners (Namerow, Kalmuss, & Cushman, 1997). A few birth parents report being overprotective of their subsequent children because they are afraid of repeating the experience of separation and loss (Askren & Bloom, 1999). For some birth parents, the ability to establish a successful marriage or long-term relationship may depend on the openness with which they can discuss their past experiences of birth and adoption placement. Some birth parents never tell their spouses or subsequent children of their earlier child (Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, 2007). Others are comfortable enough with their decision to be able to share their past.

Emotions and issues faced by the adoptive parents[edit | edit source]

Depression[edit | edit source]

After months or years of anticipating parenthood, the excitement of the actual adoption can give way to a feeling of being “let down” or sadness in some parents. Researchers have dubbed this “post-adoption depression syndrome,” or PADS, and it may occur within a few weeks of the adoption finalization. The realities of parenthood, including the tedium, lack of sleep (for parents of infants or children with behavioural or sleep issues), and the weight of parental responsibilities can be overwhelming. Parents may have difficulty attaching to the new child and may question their parenting capabilities. They also may be hesitant to admit that there are any problems after the long-awaited adoption.

In some cases, the depression evolves on its own as the parent adjusts to the new life. In cases in which depression lasts for more than a few weeks or interferes with the individual’s ability to parent, peer support or professional help (with an adoption competence therapist) may help the parent to address the issues causing depression and regain the confidence to resume the parenting role.

Identity and Attachment[edit | edit source]

Adoption is a life event that changes the identity of the parties as well as the identity of the involved families. Sometimes, adoptive parents are slow to adjust to their new identity, or they wonder what expectations accompany the new identity. Adoptive parents may worry that they don’t “feel” like parents, even after the adoption is complete. They wonder whether they are really entitled to parent their new son or daughter. Or, after years of keeping their parenting desire in check, either as foster parents or because of an uncertain legal outcome, they are reluctant to fully embrace parenthood or to believe they are truly parents like other people are. Parents may even question why they don’t immediately love their new child or wonder if they love their child enough. For these new parents, parenting may seem like a tentative status at best. Furthermore, the lack of role models for adoptive parents may give them a sense of best. Furthermore, the lack of role models for adoptive parents may give them a sense of isolation.

Managing adoption issues[edit | edit source]

Most adopted adults overcome any adoption-related issues they experience during childhood and adolescence and are as well-adjusted as non-adopted persons (Borders et al., 2000; Corder, 2012). However, there is also significant research that suggests that many adopted persons struggle with issues such as grief, loss, identity development, and self-esteem[factual?]. The following describes some ways that adopted persons manage these and other issues.

Support groups[edit | edit source]

Many adopted persons are helped by support groups in which they can talk about their feelings with others who have similar experiences. The support group may provide a long-needed outlet for any lingering feelings related to the adoption, such as loss or grief. In addition, support groups may provide help with the decision of whether to search for birth relatives.

Counselling[edit | edit source]

Some adopted persons may need more help than they find from family and friends or through a support group. In these instances, adopted persons may seek professional counselling. Many mental health practitioners report not having enough training in adoption-related issues, so it is important for adopted adults to find a counsellor who has the requisite skills, knowledge, and outlook (e.g., the counselor does not assume all issues are related to adoption) (Baden & Wiley, 2007; Corder, 2012).

Education[edit | edit source]

For many adopted persons, learning about the experiences of others, whether through first-person accounts or through adoption research, can be a helpful coping mechanism. There are an ever-increasing number of books, articles, videos, and websites (including blogs) that focus on a wide range of adoption-related topics. Adopted persons may be reassured discovering that others who have gone through similar experiences have had similar reactions availability of information, in large part due to the Internet, adopted persons now have access to widespread information and resources, which can greatly aid them in discovering information about their birth families or finding resources for support and encouragement.

Did you know?[edit | edit source]

Celebrities that[grammar?] were adopted[edit | edit source]

1. Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Monroe 1952

Marilyn Monroe was abandoned by her widowed mother, and she spent much of her childhood in foster homes.

2. Dave Thomas

Dave Thomas, the founder of Wendy’s, was adopted at six weeks old. He also created the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption.

3. Bill Clinton

Bill Clinton was born to a widowed mother and was sent to live with his grandparents as a child. He is only the second president in U.S. history to have been adopted (Gerald Ford is the other).

Clinton and Mandela

4. John Lennon

John Lennon’s father went AWOL while on a naval ship, and his mother was unable to care for him, so he was adopted by his aunt.

5. Nelson Mandela

After his father’s death, Nelson Mandela was adopted at the age of nine by Chief Jongintaba Dalindyebo, the acting regent of the Thembu people.

6. Priscilla Presley

Priscilla Presley’s father was a US Navy pilot and died in a plane crash when she was sixth months old. She was later adopted by her mother’s second husband.

7. Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs’ biological father was Abdulfattah Jandali, a Syrian Muslim. Jandali’s girlfriend at the time was Joanne Schieble, but her parents objected to their mixed relationship, resulting in Steve Jobs’ adoption at birth by Paul and Clara Jobs.

Steve Jobs with MacBook Air

8. Eleanor Roosevelt

Eleanor’s mother died in 1882, and her father died two years later, forcing her to move in with her adoptive grandmother.

9. Malcom X

Malcom X was put into an orphanage after his father died and his mother was admitted to a mental hospital.

10. Jamie Foxx

Actor Jamie Foxx was sent to live with his mother’s parents at a young age. Fun fact: Jamie’s mother was also adopted.

Celebrities that[grammar?] have adopted[edit | edit source]

Many people choose to adopt children. The reasons for wanting to adopt children vary depending on the situation and circumstances that are unique to each individual home relationship. This applies to the following celebs [spelling?] who have chosen to adopt one or more children over the years.

1.Brad and Angelina

Angelina Jolie Brad Pitt Cannes

On March 10, 2002, Jolie adopted her first child, seven-month-old Maddox Chivan, from an orphanage in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Jolie second adopted a daughter, six-month-old Zahara Marley, from an orphanage in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on July 6, 2005. Zahara was born as Yemsrach on January 8, 2005 in Awassa. On March 15, 2007, Jolie third adopted child, three-year-old Pax Thien, from an orphanage in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

2.Sandra Bullock

Actress, Bullock announced on April 28, 2010, that she had proceeded with plans to adopt a son born in January 2010 in New Orleans. Bullock and James had begun an initial adoption process four months earlier. Bullock's son began living with them in January 2010, but they chose to keep the news private until after the Oscars in March 2010. However, given the couple's separation and then divorce, Bullock continued the adoption of her son Louis Bardo Bullock, as a single parent.


In 2009 singer pop star Madonna adopted 3 year old Chifundo 'Mercy' James.

4.Julie Andrews

She and her second husband Blake Edwards adopted two children, Amy in 1974 and Joanna in 1975.

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

Adopted persons generally lead lives that are very similar to their non-adopted peers, but their adoption experience frequently can contribute to circumstances that the adopted person may need to overcome, such as feelings of loss and grief, questions about self-identity, or a lack of information about their medical background. The increasing occurrence of open adoption—and therefore the increased contact adopted persons have with their birth families has dramatically affected the issues faced by adopted persons over the past two decades. Whereas adopted persons from a past era may have more frequently dealt with issues of secrecy and large gaps in information, persons adopted recently may more often be faced with issues related to having contact with their birth parents. Additionally, with the seemingly limitless availability of information, in large part due to the Internet, adopted persons now have access to widespread information and resources, which can greatly aid them in discovering information about their birth families or finding resources for support and encouragement.

Test yourself[edit | edit source]

1 Who suggested attachment also serves to keep the infant close to the mother, thus improving the child's chances of survival ?

John Bowlby
Sigmund Freud
Erik Erikson
Florence Clothier

2 Who is the theorist of “psychological parenthood” ?

John Bowlby
Sigmund Freud
Erik Erikson
Florence Clothier

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Adoption Services. (2013, March 13th). Emotional Issues and Adoption. Retrieved from Adoption Services:

Afifi, A. P. (2005). Uncertainty management and adoptees’ ambiguous loss of their birth parents. . Journal of Social and Personal Relationships,, 129-155.

Barnardos Australia. (2013). Decision-making affecting children’s attachments. Retrieved from Barnardos, we believe in children:

Barth, R. C. (2005). Beyond attatchment theory and therapy: Towards sensitive and evidence-based interventions with foster and adoptive families in distress. Child and Family Social Work, 257-268.

Bowlby. (2004). Fifty Years of Attachment Theory: The Donald Winnicott Memorial lecture. London: Karnac.

Cherry, K. (2014). Theories of Emotion. Retrieved from

Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2013). Impact of Adoption on Adopted Persons. Washington: Children's Bureau.

Clothier, F. (1995). Mental Health Of The Adopted Child. Retrieved from Origins Inc Supporting People Separated by Adoption:

Dulmen, H. G. (2006). Antisocial behavior of adoptees and nonadoptees: Prediction from early history and adolescent relationships. Journal of Research on Adolescents, 105–131.

Evan, B. (2010). For the records II: An examination of the history and impact of adult adoptee access to original birth certificates. Retrieved from Donaldson Adoption Institute. :

Golding, K. (2007). Attachment Theory as a Support for Foster Carers and Adoptive Parents. Adoption & Fostering , 31. Retrieved from

Grotevant, H. D. (2007). Many faces of openness in adoption:. Perspectives of adopted adolescents and their parents. Adoption Quarterly, 79-101.

Henney, S. M.-L. (2007). Evolution and resolution: Birthmothers’ experience of grief and loss at different levels of openness. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 875–889 .

Herman, E. (2012, February 24th). Sigmund Freud. Retrieved from The Adoption History Project:

Hockenbury, D. (2007). Discovering Psychology 4th Edition. Worth Publishers, Inc.

Humphreys, K. (2010, June 21st). Mental health of adopted children: risks and protective factors. Retrieved from About Kids Health:

Lewis Fravel, D. M. (2000). Birthmother perceptions of the psychologically present adopted child. Adoption openness and boundary ambiguity. Family Relations, 425-433.

M, D. S. (1996). Birth mother loss: Contributing factors to unresolved grief,. Clinical Social Work Journal,, 65-76.

Moe, B. (2007). Adoption: A Reference Handbook. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO .

Namerow, P. B. (1997). The consequences of placing versus parenting among youth unmarried women. . Binghamton: Haworth Press.

Penny, J. B. (2007). Reconstruction of adoption issues: Delineation of five phases among adult adoptees. Journal of Counseling & Development, 30-41.

Psychologist World and partners. (2014). Sigmund Freud - Who was Sigmund Freud and how did his theories become so influential in psychology? Retrieved from Psychologist World:

External Links[edit | edit source]