Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Reconstruction of Adoption Issues: Delineation of Five Phases among Adult Adoptees

Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Reconstruction of Adoption Issues: Delineation of Five Phases among Adult Adoptees

Article excerpt

Today, adoption is typically described as a lifelong process or journey (e.g., Brodzinsky, Schechter, & Henig, 1992; E. R. Rosenberg, 1992) complicating one's ability to negotiate normal developmental tasks. For example, all adolescents must incorporate their family--their genealogical and cultural heritage--into their sense of identity; adoptees must integrate a cultural heritage from their adopted family as well as a genealogical and cultural heritage from a birth family, about which they probably have limited knowledge. Although both popular (Melina, 1989) and professional literature (Brodzinsky, 1987; Brodzinsky et al., 1992) describe the psychosocial developmental challenges of adoptees, these descriptions have little empirical basis (Peters, Atkins, & McKay, 1999). This is particularly true for adults (Zamostny, O'Brien, Baden, & Wiley, 2003). Most of the empirical literature on adult adoptees is concerned with searching (e.g., reasons for searching, satisfaction with the search) or with the existence of psychological distress (Borders, Penny, & Portnoy, 2000; Feigelman, 1997; Smyer, Gatz, Simi, & Pedersen, 1998). To date, the developmental tasks of adulthood--such as generativity and life review and how they are manifested by adult adoptees--have not been investigated empirically.

Researchers' focus on psychological functioning, or dysfunctioning, of adult adoptees reflects the problem-oriented, pathological emphasis found in the larger bodies of literature on adopted infants, children, and adolescents (Borders, Black, & Pasley, 1998; Grotevant & Kohler, 1999; Zamostny et al., 2003). Indeed, the numerous losses inherent in adoption supposedly have put adoptees at a much greater risk of dysfunction. Throughout their lives, adoptees must grieve or deal with losses particularly relevant to each developmental stage (e.g., an adolescent grieving the loss of cultural and genealogical heritage in defining identity). This theme of loss, however, has rarely been studied empirically by adoption researchers (Zamostny et al., 2003).

For the middle-aged adult, loss is often a predominant theme because these years typically involve issues such as physical changes and decline, death of family and friends, and unrealized career goals. For the middle-aged adult adoptee, there might be additional adoption-related losses, such as gaps in one's history that cannot be passed along to the next generation (generativity). Within the general developmental reassessment and reconciliation of one's life, then, adult adoptees also must consider what being adopted means--or has meant--in their lives (Borders et al., 2000).

The prevalent theme of loss in adoption as well as in middle adulthood suggests that adult adoptees might experience a grief process as they negotiate middle-age developmental tasks. Current views of the grief process (Neimeyer, 1998) emphasize reconstruction of meaning following a loss. Life purpose and meaning also are integral to middle-age developmental tasks. Thus, depictions of the grieving process also might characterize the reconstruction of the meaning of adoption-related losses during middle adulthood.

We found suggestions of such a connection in a serendipitous manner. Originally, we set out to test assumptions that adult adoptees exhibit greater psychosocial dysfunction than do adults who were not adopted. We found (Borders et al., 2000) that, with a few exceptions, the middle-aged adoptees were more similar than different in comparison with a matched group of nonadopted friends. We also discovered, however, that there was significantly more variation among the adult adoptees than among their friends; whether or not the adoptees had searched for their biological parents helped to explain this greater variability. As part of the original survey, we also solicited general comments about midlife and adoption. To our surprise, almost all (80%) of the adult adoptees wrote lengthy narrative responses that described their life stories, including relationships with adoptive parents, feelings about being adopted, and their efforts to deal with adoption issues, as well as their views of adoption policies and laws (e. …

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