In my work as a therapist with girls that have been adopted, I experience similar patterns of thinking and behavioral choices that led to these girls being placed in a therapeutic boarding school for at-risk teens. I work in one of these settings with approximately 22 girls of which around 50% are adopted.

One of the concerns I have is that I often see girls that are treated for the way they have coped with the underestimated pain of adoption such as drug and alcohol abuse, self-harm, and disrespect, but not the issue of adoption itself. Over and over I see girls who have had months to years of treatment in which the adoption issues where not or minimally addressed. This is concerning particularly when you look at the numbers of adopted students who end up in programs. It is much higher than what is reflected in the general population.

What I have discovered is that for some adolescents there is a weakening in what I call a resiliency factor. In some people this weaker resiliency factor allows for events in their lives to have greater power over what they decide about themselves. Unfortunately most of what they think is self-limiting and ultimately leads to making many non-working choices such as those mentioned above. What I have come to realize is that it is important to address this thinking driven by the fact they were adopted. To not address adoption issues means that the students will never really have the tools to resolve personal and relationship issues that come up as adults.

In the book Twenty Life Transforming Choices Adoptees Need to Make, Sherrie Eldridge addresses some of these thoughts and how to deal with them in a way that will not negatively affect a person’s life. She lists such thoughts as rejecting others before they reject me and feeling out of place even with an adoptive family. There are other common though patterns as well. One of the most profound is the feeling of abandonment.

For some adoptees, the feeling of being abandoned imprints in early life and then affects how they think and act. In my own experience as a mother of an adopted child I can say even now as she reaches midlife, my daughter still deals with feeling abandoned at times. It is not about logic. My daughter was adopted at birth. It is about feeling the loss even when it is a minor event. She can feel this way even if she cannot get me on the phone when she calls to ask me something. The feeling of abandonment can be compared to anorexic people who see themselves as fat. The adopted person can have the feeling of loss and being alone triggered by any number of events The goal in treatment is to get the person to recognize this feeling and all the other thought patterns and feelings that can come up and then to shift the thinking and seek help when needed.

When therapists working with adopted people do not address the issues around adoption, they are cutting off one of the most important components of their treatment. Adequate work on the issues surrounding adoption can mean the difference between a life of confusion and repeated non-working coping patterns and life of happiness and empowerment.