Academic journal article Family Relations

Parental Bonding and Identity Style as Correlates of Self-Esteem among Adult Adoptees and Nonadoptees*

Academic journal article Family Relations

Parental Bonding and Identity Style as Correlates of Self-Esteem among Adult Adoptees and Nonadoptees*

Article excerpt


Adult adoptees (n = 100) and nonadoptees (n = 100) were compared with regard to self-esteem, identity processing style, and parental bonding. Although some differences were found with regard to self-esteem, maternal care, and maternal overprotection, these differences were qualified by reunion status such that only reunited adoptees differed significantly from nonadoptees. Moreover, hierarchical regression analyses indicated that parental bonding and identity processing style were more important than adoptive status per se in predicting self-esteem. Implications for practitioners who work with adoptees are discussed.

Key Words: adoptees, bonding, counseling, identity, reunion, self-esteem.

The development of a healthy self-esteem is an important indicator of psychological adjustment, with self-esteem being related to numerous emotional, cognitive, and behavioral variables (Leary & MacDonald, 2003). Compared with those who have low self-esteem, people with high self-esteem tend to be less anxious and depressed (Battle, Jarratt, Smit, & Precht, 1988), less likely to use illicit drugs (Taylor & Del Pilar, 1992), more socially skilled (Buhrmester, Furman, Wittenberg, & Reis, 1988), and more likely to have a secure attachment style (Meyers, 1998). A related concept, namely, the establishment of a well-integrated identity, is also indicative of optimal psychological functioning (Waterman, 1992). Indeed for Erikson (1980), self-esteem and identity development were linked inextricably. He argued that "self-esteem, confirmed at the end of each major crisis, grows to be a conviction that one is learning effective steps toward a tangible future, that one is developing a defined personality within a social reality which one understands" (pp. 94-95).

Although all individuals have to grapple with issues of self-esteem and identity throughout their lives, adoption has sometimes been conceptualized as a risk factor that undermines healthy development in these areas. For example, adoptees often score lower than nonadoptees on self-esteem (Levy-Shiff, 2001), and numerous authors have argued that the process of identity development is longer and more complex for adoptees (Grotevant, 1997b; Hoopes, 1990). Not only do adoptees have to come to terms with their emerging sense of self in the context of the family and culture into which they have been adopted (Grotevant, 1997a), but those who reunite with one or more birth relatives have the added task of integrating their biological and adoptive identities. Thus, in any study investigating self-esteem and identity development in adoptees, it would seem important to also include family variables and reunion data. We have done so in the current study by including parental bonding and reunion status as two of the variables of interest.

The current study has three main aims. First, we investigated the relationship between adoptive status and three psychosocial variables (i.e., self-esteem, identity processing style, and parental bonding) in a sample of adult adoptees and nonadoptees. In order to investigate the possible effects of reunion status, our second aim was to compare subgroups of adoptees (i.e., reunited and non-reunited) with nonadoptees on the dependent variables. Our third aim was to explore the relative contributions of adoptive status, identity processing style, and parental bonding to self-esteem. Thus, it should be possible to determine whether adoptive status is a risk factor for the development of poor self-esteem.

Before reviewing the literature regarding self-esteem, parental bonding, and identity style, we will briefly address issues pertaining to adoption research and the predominance of deficit approaches based on between-group comparison designs. A review of the main variables, along with specific hypotheses related to our main aims, will then follow.

Adoption Research, Deficit Approaches, and Between-Group Designs

Much of the empirical literature aimed at understanding the implications of childhood adoption for later psychological functioning tends to be based on simple comparisons between adoptees and nonadoptees on various psychosocial indicators. …

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