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The Adopted Teen’s Search for Self-Identity

The Adopted Teen’s Search for Self-Identity


The Adopted Teen’s Search for Self-Identity


There are many emotions that may arise when children learn they are adopted—grief, pain, confusion, anger, etc. These feelings can get more difficult to manage when they reach adolescence, a developmental stage that is inherently tumultuous because of biological changes, social pressures, and defining self-identity.

According to Debbie Riley, L.C.M.F.T. of the Center for Adoption Support and Education, “Adolescence is an exciting but often challenging time. For those parenting or working with adopted teens, it is important to understand how adoption adds to the complexities of the adolescent journey.”


Who Am I? The Search for a Sense of Self

As teens’ bodies kick into overdrive, they experience feelings they don’t understand, which can make them feel alone, afraid, and disoriented. As they try to define their identity, they may explore risky behavior that can make them seem like defiant and angry strangers.

Around this age, you will often hear them say, “I am not you!” or “It is not fair for you to control my life!” While your teen aims to be different from you, they may have no idea who they are or what they want to be. Even if they do, they may still have trouble finding their way there. A sense of self is something they need to develop to guide them in life, lest they become vulnerable to negative feelings and disruptive behaviors.

Discovering a sense of self and formulating an independent identity are important challenges in adolescence. However, this can be even more difficult and confusing for adopted teens who lack knowledge of their history or roots.


Anticipating Identity Issues

It is not only the search for self-identity that can make a teen’s life difficult. For adopted adolescents, there are other related issues that they must face, accept, and work on.

For instance, adopted children often want to learn more about their birth parents or meet them, whether out of curiosity or due to a practical need. The search can be difficult, particularly in cases involving convoluted, closed, or semi-open adoption rules. It can be frustrating, emotionally draining, time-consuming, and expensive.

The desire to trace their history can also be complicated by negative feelings, particularly guilt. If the adoptive parents have been selfless, loving, and caring to the adopted teen, it is not unusual for the teen to feel guilty. They may think that it is disloyal to trace their roots and that it will hurt their adoptive parents.

Adopted children may also be more vulnerable to low self-esteem. If they feel abandoned, unwanted, or rejected by their biological parents, they may think there must be something wrong with them. This can happen even if the adoptive parents have provided them love, support, security, and comfort while growing up.

They can also feel shame or insecurity if they perceive that they “do not belong” to their adoptive family, particularly in interracial adoptions. In addition, negative emotions can swamp them when they are reminded that they are adopted, such as when answering questions during medical interviews or on other occasions that require information about their birth family.


Help Your Adopted Teen Find Themselves

Adopted children may confront challenging emotions during adolescence: grief, low self-esteem, guilt, shame, etc. Adoption can complicate the adolescent search for self and make it more difficult to navigate through teen developmental tasks. You and your child may benefit from the help of a therapist independently contracted with Carolina Counseling Services – Pittsboro, NC.

It takes love, understanding, and strength for adoptive parents to help their adopted teens develop their identity. Your support will matter a lot at this critical stage. Don’t be afraid to step up; it is what all good parents do for their children. Call Carolina Counseling Services – Pittsboro, NC, to find the help you and your adopted child need to get through this challenge.


Serving Areas: Carolina Counseling Services

Counties: Chatham, Alamance, Durham, Harnett, Lee, Moore, Orange, Randolph, Wake, NC
Areas: Pittsboro NC, Gulf NC, Hickory Mountain NC, Hadley NC, Siler City NC, Wilsonville NC, Fearrington NC, Mandale NC, Bear Creek NC, Albright NC
Zip Codes: 27312, 27344, 27207, 27228, 27256, 27559


Gail Gustafson, MSW, LCSW

Specializes in: (Ages 9+) Adolescents and Adults, Individuals, Couples and Families. PTSD/Trauma, EMDR, Adoption, Drug/Alcohol/Substance Abuse addiction, Anxiety, Depression, Bi-polar, Life Transitions, Grief and Loss, Parenting, Family, couples and marriage counseling.
 Insurance: BCBS, Tricare/ Tricare Prime Tricare Select/Extra/Retired, Medicare and Cash (Credit Cards Accepted, HSA and FSA )
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68 Fayetteville St.
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