Counseling For Adult Adoptees

Do You Feel Like No One Understands What It’s Like To Be Adopted?

  • Have you been told that being adopted shouldn’t matter to you?
  • Are you wondering if there is something wrong with you because you want to know more about where you came from?
  • Are you afraid of upsetting your adoptive family if you search for your biological family?
  • Are you worried that your birth mother will reject you if you try to contact her?
  • Do you sometimes feel like you don’t belong or there is something wrong with you?
  • Do you wonder whether being adopted has affected your ability to feel close to others?

Most adoptees have been raised with the myth that being adopted is no different from being born into a family. We’re supposed to feel grateful for being adopted and pretend that it’s not important to us to know anything about our biological origins. If we do want to learn more about ourselves or talk about how it feels to be adopted, we risk being told there is something wrong with us, our adoptive family or how we were raised. The result is many adoptees feel isolated and alone with their questions, needs and feelings about life as an adoptee.

It’s Normal To Have Questions About Being Adopted

Until recently most adoptions were shrouded in secrecy due to societal shame about the “stigma of illegitimacy” and “out of wedlock” pregnancy.  Everyone involved was supposed to keep secrets and not ask questions. In recent years, however, secrecy has been recognized as harmful and has led to changes in adoption practices. Today 95% of adoptions are conducted with at least some degree of openness so that adoptive parents, birth parents, and the adoptee have more information about and/or know each other.

It’s fortunate that we now know that it’s normal and natural for adoptees to want to know more about their own identity, story, biological origins and medical history. But many adult adoptees are still living with the damaging consequences created by past shame-based practices.

The good news is that with the support and help of a counselor who understands what it’s like to be adopted you can safely explore your feelings, ask questions and take action to improve your life. You don’t have to suffer in silence.

Counseling Helps You Make Sense Of Your Adoption Experience

I am an adoptee with over two decades of experience counseling adoptees. I believe that having questions or concerns about being adopted is normal. While not every issue experienced by an adoptee is connected to being adopted, many are. What’s important is letting yourself explore what’s about being adopted and what isn’t. I will never dismiss or silence you about your adoption experience.

Often I find I am listening to an adoptee who may be sharing their deepest fears and concerns for the first time. Many adoptees fear there is something wrong with them for having questions about being adopted. I can assure you that this simply isn’t true. It’s normal to want to talk about the basic circumstances of your life and your existence. Where did I come from? How did I come to be in this family? Why couldn’t (or wouldn’t) my first family keep me? Where are they now? Do I have any siblings, cousins or other birth relatives?

It is an incredibly liberating experience to have someone be accepting of your adoption-related thoughts and feelings. Often feelings of shame or unworthiness that you didn’t realize were connected to being adopted ease or disappear entirely. An informed, adoption-attuned counselor can be a tremendous help.

My strengths-based approach helps you understand that you are the expert on your own adoption. You can let go of living your adoption experience based on your childhood beliefs or what society or others have taught you. As an adult you can choose what you want to do and say, and realize that being your own person doesn’t mean you are hurting others.

As you start to feel better about exploring your adoption you may also find it has been impacting your life in ways you didn’t realize. Some adoptees avoid intimacy out of an unconscious fear they will be “given away” or abandoned again. Some have learned “not to ask questions” and avoid talking about things that matter to them. As you unearth these unconscious patterns you may find you’re better able to have deeper, more meaningful conversations with your loved ones. This enriches your relationships and increases your sense of belonging and connection.

But You May Still Have Questions About Counseling…

What If My Adoptive Parents Get Hurt Or Angry?

One of the biggest concerns of adoptees is the fear of upsetting their adoptive family if they want to ask questions about being adopted or if they choose to search for their birth family. They feel disloyal or ungrateful for having these needs and yet bad for keeping their thoughts and wishes a secret. It takes courage to explore your real feelings and needs.

As an adult you have the right to choose whether or how much to share with your adoptive parents about your life. While it’s often the case that an adoptee’s fear of upsetting their adoptive parents is unfounded, sometimes parents or family can’t accept changes in the adoptee. Adoptees come to different decisions about discussing their new awareness with their adoptive parents. If you choose to share with your adoptive family counseling can help you prepare for this and learn how to navigate the process with as much compassion and integrity as possible.

What If My Birth Mother Rejects Me?

Some adoptees choose to search for their birth mother and families. Although discriminatory secrecy laws still exist in many states recent changes in laws, social media and DNA testing greatly increase the likelihood that a search will be successful. Emotional and educational preparation is very useful in ensuring the most positive outcome for all involved. Nevertheless, a small minority of birth mothers and relatives refuse contact either initially or at a later date. Ongoing counseling support is helpful to integrate both positive and difficult search experiences.

I Don’t Know If I Can Afford Counseling

Only you can know how to prioritize your resources. However it can be helpful to ask yourself what your life would be like if you were no longer troubled by the concerns that have brought you to consider counseling. Be sure to think about not only money but emotional, mental and spiritual energy that is being used up by these unresolved issues. Realistically evaluate your finances, consider possible insurance coverage and use of a Health Savings Account, and spacing the frequency of your sessions to accommodate your budget. I also offer a fee range that may make sessions more affordable for you.

It Helps To Talk To A Counselor Who Understands Being Adopted From The Inside Out 

Call or email me for a FREE 15 minute phone consultation!

Visit my online Q&A Column “Adoptees Ask” hosted by The Door Opener, Connecticut’s Spirituality & Holistic Health Resource Guide Online. Email your confidential, anonymous question to me at karen@karencaffrey.com.

 

Short List of Resources for Adoptees:

The Adoptee Survival Guide: Adoptees Share Their Wisdom and Tools.  I am one of the  Contributing Authors.

Adoption Therapy: Perspectives from Clients and Clinicians on Processing and Healing Post-Adoption Issues, I am one of the Contributing Authors.

Your Mind Matters Radio Show with Dr. Helen Evrard

      Episode 76
, activist, therapist, and contributing author to “The Adoptee Survival Guide: Adoptees Share Their Wisdom and Tools,” on the uncertainty and abandonment that can plague adopted persons, and the culture of silence that stifles learning about birth families.

The Lost Daughters blog.  Writing adoption from a place of empowerment and peace.

The Primal Wound and Coming Home to Self, by Nancy Verrier.

Lost And Found: The Adoption Experience , by Betty Jean Lifton, Ph.D.

For the Records: Restoring A Right To Adult Adoptees, research report prepared by Marilyn Freundlich, November, 2007 for The Evan B. Donaldson Institute, suggesting that all adult adoptees should have access to their original birth certificates.

On March 2, 2013, I was a guest on the Mary Jones Show, WDRC AM 1360, discussing legislation in Connecticut which would reinstate the right of adult adoptees to access their original birth certificates. Listen here:

      AdultAdopteeAccess

 

 

Karen Caffrey, LPC, JD, Counseling and Psychotherapy in West Hartford, CT 06107