Sunday, November 27, 2005

Adoptee Identity

"Those who do not have power over the story that dominates their
lives, power to retell it, deconstruct it, joke about it, and change it as
times change, truly are powerless, because they cannot think new thoughts."
-Salman Rushdi
Erik Erikson's theories on identity development have influenced our modern ideas about how humans develop through their life cycle. He was an adoptee. Erikson was birthed and raised by his biological mother and adopted by her husband after losing his biological father. Much of Erikson's work, in regards to human development, began in the seeds of his childhood that created a strong desire to find his own identity as a result of his experience with adoption. "Life history intersects history," he wrote and clearly he felt perched precariously on his family tree as he searched for his likeness in his forefathers, both adopted and biological.

Erikson identified tasks that individuals must master from infancy until late in life as they become elderly. Adoptees fall into this developmental process because they are human, but as you will learn, if you read on, the adoptee has additional tasks at each developmental stage in which they must hurtle as they move through their life course.

The following are brief descriptions of Erik Erikson's
seven stages of human development:

Child Development:
Erikson's Oral-Sensory Stage Basic trust vs basic mistrust
Oral sensoryBirth to one year
Social mistrust demonstrated via ease of feeding, depth of sleep, bowel relaxation Depends on consistency and sameness of experience provided by caretakeer Second six-months teething and biting moves infant "from getting to taking" Weaning leads to "nostalgia for lost paradise" If basic trust is strong, child maintains hopeful attitude.
Erikson's Muscular-Anal Stage Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt
1 year to 3 years
Biologically includes learning to walk, feed self, talk Muscular maturation sets stage for "holding on and letting go" Need for outer control, firmness of caretaker prior to development of autonomy Shame occurs when child is overtly self-conscious via negative exposure Self-doubt can evolve if parents overly shame child, e.g. about elimination
Erikson's Locomotor Genital Stage Initiative vs. Guilt
3 to 5 years
Initiative arises in relation to tasks for the sake of activity, both motor and intellectual Guilt may arise over goals contemplated (especially aggressive) Desire to mimic adult world; involvement in oedipal struggle leads to resolution via social role identification. Sibling rivalry frequent
Erikson's Latency Stage
6 to 11 years
Child is busy building, creating, accomplishing Receives systematic instruction as well as fundamentals of technology Danger of sense of inadequacy and inferiority if child despairs of his tools/skills and status among peers Socially decisive age
Erikson's Adolescent Stage 11 years and through end of adolescence Struggle to develop ego identity (sense of inner sameness and continuity) Preoccupation with appearance, hero worship, ideology Group identity (peers) develops Danger of role confusion, doubts about sexual and vocational identity Psychosocial moratorium, a stage between morality learned by the child and the ethics to be developed by the adult
Erikson's Adult Stages:
Early Adulthood
Intimacy vs. Isolation
Middle Adulthood:
Generativity vs. Self-absorption
Erikson's Maturity Stage:
The Aging Years
Integrity vs. Despair
*(This information was quoted from on the web.)

There are seven core issues that face adoptees regardless of the circumstances of their adoption or characteristics of the individual adoptees. These coreissues are expected and evolve naturally from the nature of the adoptive experience.
These seven core issues for the adoptee are:

Guilt & Shame

The additional developmental tasks for the adoptee throughout their lives is the identifying and integrating of these seven core issues at each developmental stage. These core issues will challenge adoptees in mastering behaviors and feelings such as helplessness, impeding isolative behavior, lack of self-esteem, and obtaining and maintaining control over their lives. As the adoptee moves through these core issues at different developmental stages a sense of identity diffusion can be experienced. This might look like the adoptee having no clear path for their life, or an unrealistic sense of where their life is going, and a lack of a sense of who they are or what they believe and can lead to an inability to make a commitment to a particular identity.
The search for identity commonly takes place during adolescence and in early adulthood, but for the adoptee this inability to develop a sense of whole self due to loss, grief, rejection, shame etc. moves the process of finding their identity into adulthood. The adoptee's dilemma around fitting into their adopted family can bring up a sense of being different and for some a feeling that they do not quite fit in. The sense of not fitting into either their adopted family or their birth family creates a lack of confidence inside the adoptee that a place has not been reserved for them in either family and can extend as far as feeling that they literally do not belong to or have a right to be a part of the human race. Reunion and completing the fractured story offers fodder for developing a solid self. Empowerment and reconnection to their biological family and history have the power to connect the adoptee to themselves and to assist them in fixing upon their sense of self in a committed way so that a solid identity evolves over time.
At each stage of development the seven core issues will come into play and shape and mold the adoptee's identity by their ability to come to terms with the lack of knowledge of their history or the integration of their discovered and recovered history as a result of reunion with their biological family of origin. The adoptees sense of self or identity becomes more whole and solid over the life course when the issues around adoption are resolved and intergrated into their feelings of belonging and having the right to a place in the world.


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