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How do people feel when they find out they are adopted?

Shock and confusion are common initial reactions

When people first find out they are adopted, it is very common for them to feel shocked, confused, and overwhelmed. For some, it may feel like their sense of identity has been completely upended. Many adopted children report feeling like the rug has been pulled out from under them when they discover the people they believed were their biological parents are not actually related to them. The revelation can make adopted individuals question everything they thought they knew about themselves and their families. It’s an emotionally disruptive discovery.

In the initial moments after finding out about their adoption, most people are unable to process the magnitude of the news. The intensity of the shock may leave them speechless, numb, or in denial. They may wonder if it’s some kind of mistake or misunderstanding. The discovery forces them to re-evaluate their life history in a completely different light. Assumptions about their ancestry, medical background, and other aspects of their identity are suddenly called into question. It’s a lot to take in all at once.

Along with shock often comes a profound sense of confusion. Adoptees may be left wondering why they were given up for adoption in the first place and why their adoptive parents chose to keep it a secret. They may feel deeply conflicted, struggling to reconcile this revelation with their understanding of themselves, their family, and their place in the world. It’s natural for adopted children to have many unanswered questions swirling through their minds as they grapple with this new truth.

Overall, the initial emotions around finding out about being adopted are often extremely unsettling and disorienting. It takes time for the news to fully sink in. The confusion and shock don’t necessarily go away quickly. It’s the start of a challenging process of making sense of their adoption story and integrating this new reality into their identity.

Feelings of grief and loss are common

As the news settles in, many adopted individuals go through a grieving process related to feelings of loss surrounding their biological family and unknown history. They may mourn the loss of knowing their ancestry, their genetic and medical background, or their birth culture. There can be a profound sense of longing for that missing piece of their life story.

Some adoptees describe feeling like there is a hole or emptiness inside them that cannot be filled now that they know there are biological relatives out there they may never meet. They grieve the lost chance to grow up with their biological family, whether that would have been a positive experience or not. Even if their adoption was necessary and their adoptive family is loving, they often still experience sadness related to this aspect of their life that was beyond their control.

The grief may also be centered around feelings of rejection from their biological family. Adoptees may wrestle with painful questions about why their birth parents gave them up. They may feel inadequate or unlovable because of being given up for adoption, even if that is illogical. Working through these emotions is an important part of the adoptive identity development process for many.

There can also be feelings of anger that arise around adoption disclosure. Some adoptees express anger at their adoptive parents or birth parents for keeping their adoption a secret. The perceived betrayal of being denied the truth about their background can further fuel feelings of grief and loss. There are often complex emotions involved in coming to terms with the secrecy and circumstances surrounding their adoption.

Identity struggles often emerge

Discovering one’s adoptive status often sparks an identity crisis for the adoptee. Their sense of self is disrupted, causing confusion about who they really are. Adoptees often struggle with questions like:

– Where do I belong?

– How does my adoption shape me as a person?

– What parts of my identity are from my adoptive family versus my biological family?

– Who am I now that I know I’m adopted?

There can be a sense of disconnect between the identity they have lived with up until this point and their new adoptive identity. Their self-perception and future aspirations may be called into question as they re-evaluate everything through this new lens.

Adoptees may feel torn between loyalty to their adoptive and birth families as they figure out how to integrate these elements of themselves. Defining their personal identity within the context of their adoption story can be an ongoing journey as they learn to understand themselves in a more nuanced, holistic way.

Some adoptees struggle with feeling inauthentic or like a fraud because they were not honest with themselves or others about their adoptive status. Rediscovering oneself as adopted can be an emotionally exhausting process of wrestling with existential questions of belonging and purpose. But working through these conflicting feelings helps adopted individuals gain a deeper understanding of who they are.

Feeling different from peers and family is common

After learning they are adopted, it is normal for adoptees to start seeing themselves as fundamentally different from those around them. Where they once felt kinship with family and peers, adoptees may now feel a painful sense of separation.

There can be a jarring realization that they are not biologically connected to their adoptive family in the way they had assumed. Life milestones like family medical history or inheriting certain physical traits suddenly take on new meaning when considered through an adoptive lens. The adopted individual may struggle with feeling like an outsider who doesn’t fully belong in their family unit.

Similarly, the adoptee often starts to feel disconnected from peers who are not adopted. Friendships and other relationships can be affected by this feeling of being unable to relate. Adoptees describe it as being part of “the adoption club” that leads to isolation or not being understood by those with different life experiences. Even close friends who are supportive may not be able to grasp the complexity of emotions the adoptee is working through.

On top of emotional distance, the adoptee may perceive actual behavioral differences setting them apart. For example, they may see themselves as more inhibited or doubtful of affection because of feeling rejected due to adoption. Questioning one’s worthiness of relationships is common. These speculated differences, whether concrete or not, feed into the adoptee’s sense of isolation.

Navigating social situations can become repetitive and tiresome when one feels constantly reminded that they don’t entirely fit in. Adopted individuals long for connections but feel irreconcilably separated from others at the same time. Finding adoptive peer support can be tremendously helpful in decreasing feelings of loneliness.

Adoptees often experience profound self-doubt

Being adopted brings up many difficult questions about self-worth, abilities, and human value. The combination of rejection, secrecy, and social isolation often leads adoptees to doubt themselves and their fundamental lovability.

Many adoptees internalize the relinquishment by their birth parents as a sign that they were inherently unlovable or unwanted. No matter how loving the adoptive family, these primal doubts of being unwanted as an infant are painful to work through. There can be an underlying fear of abandonment that persists even in happy adopted families. Adoptees may live with constant anxiety about losing their new family that surfaces in times of conflict.

Being adopted can also cause some to doubt their abilities or talents since they don’t know biological relatives’ aptitudes for comparison. For example, an adopted athlete may worry they were given up because they lacked innate physical gifts and therefore overcompensate in striving to excel. Even high-achieving adoptees often struggle with confidence, feeling they have to perpetually prove their worth.

Living with self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy often leads adoptees to become overachievers striving for perfection. They may keep emotions bottled up, avoid risk, and have difficulty accepting failure. The desire to gain approval and security can drive adopted individuals to excel, yet they remain haunted by insecurities stemming from issues of abandonment. Adoptees who become aware of these destructive thought patterns can work to develop greater self-compassion.

Anger and resentment issues are common

While positive adoptive experiences help counteract this, many adoptees understandably struggle with feelings of anger and resentment related to their relinquishment. Even in the best circumstances, adoption involves tremendous loss. Grappling with the lifelong impacts of this loss can give rise to bitterness.

Adoptees may direct anger at birth parents for surrendering them or at adoptive parents for enabling separation from biological relatives. There can also be resentment toward social attitudes that promote adoption as if it were universally positive. Feelings of powerlessness around the entire institution of adoption fuel frustration for many adoptees.

The secrecy and stigma surrounding adoption historically have also generated justified anger. Adoptees resent having their personal histories hidden from them through closed adoptions. They are angered by the lack of emotional support and open conversation around adoption experiences.

Anger often motivates adopted individuals to search for birth families, openly acknowledge adoptive status, and advocate for reforming adoption policies. But repressed anger can also contribute to depression, anxiety, and lack of fulfillment if not expressed in a healthy way. Therapeutic support groups tailor to adoptees offer a constructive environment to process these challenging emotions.

Feelings of gratitude often coexist with difficult emotions

While adoptees struggle emotionally with learning of their adoption, most also feel profound gratitude for their adoptive families. They appreciate the loving home provided by selfless parents who were committed to raising someone else’s biological child. This gratitude typically grows stronger over time, even if the adoptee initially feels anger or grief about their adoption circumstances.

In an infant adoption, the adoptee is aware that their life literally began with an act of generosity. The adopted child often feels indebted to adoptive parents for the tremendous opportunity of life itself. Adoptees frequently express that any difficult feelings about being adopted don’t negate appreciation of their family’s sacrificed time, effort, and emotional investment.

Additionally, many adopted children recognize that their life circumstances would likely have been far worse had they not been adopted. This comparative outlook generates gratitude and compassion for adoptive parents, alongside any complex thoughts about the biological family. Even amidst emotional struggles over feeling rejected or disconnected, most adoptees deeply value becoming part of a loving family.

Searching for birth family connections is common

Learning they are adopted often motivates individuals to seek out connections with biological relatives, especially birth parents. Modern adopted children have more search resources available through online registries, DNA testing, and record unsealing. The drive to find biological family comes from the deep human need for belonging.

Despite loving adoptive families, many adoptees describe feeling there is a missing piece they need to find in order to understand who they are and where they come from. Curiosity about hereditary traits, family medical history, and seeing physical resemblance are also powerful motivators for initiating a birth family search. Additionally, some seek information about birth parents in order to better understand the relinquishment circumstances.

Reunions or introductions with biological family members can be highly emotional. There may be feelings of immediate connection but also discomfort or culture shock. Some searches end in disappointment if birth relatives choose not to meet. Maintaining realistic expectations helps adoptees navigate the risks and rewards. Taking things slowly allows relationships to develop organically, if all involved are open to it.

While not every adoptee seeks biological relatives, most at least desire basic background knowledge. Accessing information helps adopted individuals fill in gaps relating to identity, ancestry, and origin. This pursuit enables them to more fully integrate their adoption story into their evolving sense of self.

Adoption self-awareness develops over time

Discovering one’s adoption is just the beginning of a lifelong process of adoption self-awareness. In childhood or even adolescence, adoptees are just starting to comprehend the implications of being adopted. Their understanding deepens over many years as their cognitive skills and self-reflection abilities grow.

Often it takes adopted individuals until at least young adulthood to begin making meaning out of their relinquishment or integrate their dual family identities. They may not have the emotional capacity to process all the complex adoption issues until later. Their comprehension of biological ties and intergenerational patterns also increases with age and psychological maturity.

Additionally, many adoptees describe a grieving process that recurs at different developmental stages, such as becoming a parent. New perspectives shift the meaning made from the adoption experience. There can be a lifelong incremental journey of discovering oneself as an adopted person, evolving alongside other aspects of identity.

Greater adoption self-awareness is associated with better psychological adjustment. Finding compassion and gaining wisdom from the challenges of adoption allows individuals to grow in self-acceptance. Joining the adoptive community and having honest dialogue about adoption experiences helps deepen understanding over time. Embracing oneself fully as an adopted person is an empowering part of identity integration.

Counseling and peer support are recommended

Due to the complex emotional process that unfolds with adoption revelation, most experts advise counseling, peer support groups, or both for adopted children and families. Having guidance to navigate this life-changing news in a nurturing atmosphere provides tremendous value.

Talk therapy with a professional counselor equips adoptees to healthily process feelings like grief, anger, loneliness, and shame which often arise. Developing coping strategies and appreciating personal strengths can accelerate learning to thrive as an adopted individual. Counseling for adoptive family members fosters empathetic listening and bonding during this challenging transition.

In addition to professional counseling, connecting with fellow adoptees who understand the experience firsthand is invaluable. Support groups build community and allow people to share their story without fear of judgment. Hearing others describe similar struggles and breakthroughs helps normalize the tumult of emotions. Peer support provides ongoing empathy and practical guidance as new layers of the adoption journey unfold over the years.

While each adoption story is unique, common themes unite those whose lives have been touched by adoption. Therapeutic services offer reassurance that the spectrum of difficult feelings adoptees have is reasonable and surmountable. As they integrate their dual identity, adopted individuals learn they do not have to walk the path alone.

A sense of wholeness is possible over time

The complex journey of discovering and processing one’s adoption does not have to define a person entirely. With support, compassion, and self-discovery, adopted individuals can integrate this aspect of themselves into a complete identity.

While the initial emotions are often intensely painful, most adoptees ultimately adapt by reframing their story. They learn to understand how their adoption shaped them without wholly dictating their worth or purpose. By exploring opportunities like reconnecting with biological relatives, searching records, or joining communities for adopted persons, they can take control of their evolving narrative.

Adoptees describe moving toward wholeness by making peace with uncertainties about the past and focusing on fulfilling present relationships. Healing old wounds helps them act from a place of personal power rather than victimhood. Their adoption status becomes just one part of a mosaic identity embracing all life experiences.

Additionally, many adoptees are compelled to pay forward the generosity they received by supporting other adopted children and inspiring adoption advocacy. They increasingly feel defined not by their adoption itself but by what they make of its legacy. In this way, adopted individuals demonstrate resilience and redemption.

Though the emotions sparked by adoption disclosure present challenges, most adoptees ultimately describe feeling their way to wholeness. By neither denying their feelings nor being defined by them permanently, they discover profound self-love. Their lives become enriched by the hard-won wisdom gained through integrating all parts of themselves with compassion.


Discovering one’s adoption often sets off an emotional rollercoaster ranging from shock and grief to anger and isolation. But with loving support, adopted individuals can embark on a journey toward making peace with the past and forging an identity as a whole person. Processing the turbulent feelings by understanding their roots allows adopted persons to rewrite their story from victimhood into empowerment. Though adoption leaves an indelible mark, with self-awareness and compassion, it does not have to permanently brand someone as incomplete. By neither minimizing nor dramatizing their adoption experience, people who were adopted can find wholeness and purpose. Their lives become defined not by adoption itself but by the richness gained through weaving that part of themselves into their unique personal tapestry.