This week we are very glad to welcome a guest post by Marcus Clarke, a regular blogger at PsySci. In his post Marcus examines seven of the most common psychological issues our adopted children may struggle with.
Developmental Psychology has highlighted the profound importance of formative years on the psychological makeup of adults. From the early formation of attachments to the support system of primary caregivers, a child’s upbringing can have far-reaching ramifications on the child’s outlook, behaviours and relationships with others. Children who have been through the process of adoption have experienced interrupted and fragmented development, and as a result may struggle with a multitude of issues. In this article, I discuss seven common psychological problems in adopted children.
#1 Rejection and Abandonment
Children who have been adopted may experience feelings of rejection and abandonment from their birth families, especially if the circumstances of the adoption involved deliberate relinquishment of the child. The child may experience confusion and anger that they were ‘given away’, perhaps believing they were unloved, and may develop trust issues for fear of future rejection.
#2 Fear and Trauma
Fear is a common emotion in adopted children; fear of being hurt or rejected again, fear of the unknown, fear of what happened to other siblings or family members. The reasons for the adoption and the adoption process itself can be traumatic experiences for a child, and a common reaction to trauma is fear. Fear may have been the only constant that the child has known throughout their life and they may have a difficult time abolishing known fear-response patterns.
#3 Grief and Loss
As well as feelings of rejection and abandonment, adopted children may experience grief about the loss of the previous familial environment. This loss may encompass physical loss such as the loss of a mother, father and siblings, environmental loss such as the loss of home or school, or a loss of the child’s perceived significance and self-worth.
#4 Guilt and Shame
Adopted children may experience feelings of guilt and shame, especially if they harbour the belief that the adoption was their ‘fault’. The child may believe if they’d been a better child, they wouldn’t have been ‘given away’, or that it was their fault the family unit fell apart. The perception of being rejected can be so shameful to a child it leaves them feeling tainted or somehow undeserving of future love and happiness.
#5 Low Self-Esteem
The adopted child who feels guilt and shame at their perception of being rejected may in turn have low self-esteem. Feeling internal blame for the rejection, the child may believe himself incapable of being loved. These feelings may be compounded as the child goes through their life stigmatised as an adopted child, always feeling left out or different than other children.
#6 Identity Issues
Developmental psychology has emphasised childhood and adolescence as crucial stages in the development of ‘identity’. The upheaval of adoption and change in the familial structure can impact negatively upon a child’s sense of identity. Further, it has been suggested that as a child moves through the phases of adoption, their sense of identity undergoes rapid and multiple change as they come to understand and accept the adoption placement.
#7 Depressive and Anxiety Disorders
Any one of these complex psychological problems, has the real possibility of bringing about depressive and anxiety disorders in the adopted child. The very act of trying to resist the negativity of such psychological disorders, may instead create a cycle of defensive or aggressive behaviours, further embedding feelings of guilt, shame, fear, trauma and potentially rejection again if the adopted family cannot cope with the child’s defence mechanisms.
The upheaval of one from home, family and indeed, very way of life, can be distressing and difficult at the best of times. Add to that, the upheaval occurring during the formative years when one is discovering their sense of ‘self’ and there is no real question as to why adopted children may experience a common set of psychological problems.