The year before I was born – glad they came up with this in time for my life:
was coined in 1964 by psychologist H. J. Sants, a colleague of Wellisch, referring to the plight of children who have uncertain, little, or no knowledge of one or both of their natural parents.
Normal psychological development requires knowledge of identity;
Normal psychological development requires knowledge of heredity.
Each of these arguments is supported by E. Wellisch in his 1952 letter to the Journal of Mental Health:
“Knowledge of and definite relationship to his genealogy is … necessary for a child to build up his complete body image and world picture. It is an inalienable and entitled right of every person. There is an urge, a call, in everybody to follow and fulfill the tradition of his family, race, nation, and the religious community into which he was born. The loss of this tradition is a deprivation which may result in the stunting of emotional development.”
These arguments are further supported by adoptee’s experience of abandonment, separation, and loss. They are no longer attached to their birth families, and so have lost a connection to their biological heritage. This loss is not considered as critical in infant adoptees, but is seen much more prominently in older adoptees. However, according to the “primal wound theory”, separation from the mother results in a lack of mother-child bond and separation trauma.
These children often have the most trouble with family integration. If placed in the third type of family structure, these issues will often take care of themselves without outside intervention. If placed in either of the other two systems, integration is much more difficult; sometimes resulting in the adoption being disrupted or ended entirely.
Adoptees with a need to search for their biological parents are often stigmatized as suffering from emotional deprivation as a result of poor relationships with their adoptive families. However, adoption reunion searches may stem from a variety of needs unrelated to the mental and emotional health and development of the adoptee. Among these may be the desire to reassert international citizenship rights as asserted and protected in the United Nations Charter on Human Rights; long-term health planning with respect to the advisability and utility of obtaining long-term biological family health histories; curiosity; and a sense of the personal and inalienable right to one’s own identity, which begins with life.
Some adoptees are concerned with a feeling of isolation and alienation from past generations; their adoption disrupts the continuity of generations that natural families have. This wall between the past and the present can create the perception that there is a wall between the present and the future as well. The feeling of genealogical bewilderment in these individuals is often seen as stronger during the adoptee’s marriage, birth of children, and the deaths of the adoptive parents.
In infant adoptees, behavior problems can be seen as the child comes to fully understand what adoption means- that to be chosen by their adoptive parents, their biological parents had to relinquish them. This realization can result in acting out, a common coping mechanism for grief in young children. This grief continues to be significant as the child realizes that they have no access to their biological parents; this realization can grow into feelings of genealogical bewilderment.
childhood adoptees exhibiting behavioral problems are often expressions of unresolved internal emotional issues like the “fear of becoming attached, unresolved grief, a poor sense of identity, depression, and strong underlying feelings such as anger and fear related to past trauma.”
“[An issue] that surfaces repeatedly in an adoptee’s life is that of identity. The development of an identity is a crucial building block for self-esteem, and an adoptee’s struggle to achieve a coherent story is often a daunting task. The sense of continuity, of a past and present that is necessary for identity formation (Glen, 1985/1986) is defied in mandates governing closed adoption” (p. 66).