The psychology of adoption

I was adopted at birth so I think I am qualified to speak about the issues that arise from such a big event. As a psychotherapist I have also studied the importance of early life experiences particularly in relation to attachment issues. The attachment a baby makes with its mother in the womb and in the early stages of life literally shapes its brain. So therefore to be detached and separated at birth, as I was, is a deeply traumatic and destabilising event in an infants life.

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This early separation from a ‘secure base’ can lead to insecurity, anxiety or even substitute attachments like alcohol,drugs, porn or food. This is not to say that all adoptee’s would suffer these issues but some do. In terms of relationships the adoptee may feel an outsider, rather like a child with their face pressed to the window of the sweet shop. Looking in at life on the other side of the invisible wall. It can be hard to trust other people in relationships. Sometimes the person may go from wanting intense connection and intimacy to being cold and aloof. This is what psychologists refer to as an ambivalent attachment style.

These are just a few possible reactions that adoptees may have to life. The one thing that I have come to see as being central to all this is the experience of trauma. I used to think that trauma was a reaction to extreme catastrophic events like being in a war zone, a natural disaster or being physically attacked. But now I see the loss of bonding between an adoptee and their birth mother as traumatic for some. I emphasise the word some because some people have fantastic adoptive parents who enable them to recover some stability and security. For others though, even with great parents, it is difficult to get over this initial trauma.

I will probably write more on how to recover from such trauma but for now let me make one key comment on this. It is essential that the adoptee has compassion for themselves. So rather than being to hard, self-critical or judgemental toward oneself the adoptee can learn to adopt a kinder and more tolerant approach to their own vulnerabilities. This may sound obvious but some adoptees can be very hard on themselves, thereby perpetuating trauma from the first stages of life. Learning compassion for oneself is important for everyone but particularly for those of us who were adopted. So the message is don’t be to hard on yourself!

For more resources just visit my site click here, or contact me at adoption arena to get your questions answered/coaching (

Author: Andre Radmall

Psychologist, life coach and adoptee - What does it mean to be an adopted/fostered/in care person? Who am I? What problems do we as a community face? Brilliant psychologist Andre shares some amazing insights into this complex area. Read more

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