Attachment & Separation Issues in Adoptees

infant image by Mykola Velychko from

Adoption is a lifelong issue for all parties involved, but the greatest issues befall the adoptee. Adoptive families have the responsibility to address any questions the adoptee poses and to assist them in dealing with the feelings that arise given the circumstances. The level of support directly contributes to the severity of the attachment and separation issues felt by adoptees. Such issues often stem from feelings of grief and loss and directly correlate to proper development of self-esteem and trust. Coping with these issues may require professional advice.

Grief & Loss

Adoption is often viewed as an event that fixes a problem, not a problem in itself. According to, adoptees, whether they remember it or not, have suffered an enormous loss. Often, the grief is harder to deal with because the adoptee does not know for whom they are grieving. If the adoptee is surrounded with a loving family, grief may lead to shame and fear that they appear ungrateful for all that their adopted family has done. Feelings of loss that continue into adulthood can impact how the adoptee responds to social situations.


Adoptees often suffer from low self-esteem brought on by feelings of inadequacy. The Child Welfare Information Gateway attributes such feelings to the belief that the cause of their adoption was because something was inherently wrong with them, even as an infant. If there is no contact with the birth family and their genetic history is unknown identity issues may develop, especially in teenagers, causing low self-esteem that spills over into adulthood, affecting relationships and personal satisfaction.

Adoptees may feel that since they were chosen by their adoptive family that they must be perfect to show their appreciation. In her essay, "Adoption: Trauma that Lasts a Lifetime," Vicki Rummig, an adoptee, compares this chosen status with that of Jesus or Superman. When the adoptee inevitably fails to obtain perfection, self-esteem may suffer. Adoptees who feel that they have failed their adoptive parents may respond by engaging in increasingly negative behaviors like drugs, violence and unsafe sex. Subconsciously, this behavior may be a test of the level of commitment of the adoptive family where the adoptee sees whether he can push them away.


Lack of trust will affect all aspects of life. Adoptees may have trouble maintaining intimate relationships with lovers, friends and their children. The fear of abandonment, whether it happened at infancy or in memory, is inherent in adoption: the birth parents chose to leave the job of raising their child to someone else. Adoptees often fear that others who they become close to will eventually leave. The late Dr. Marshall Schechter, a former psychiatrist at the University of Pennsylvania and recognized authority on adoption, explained that loss is more obvious to adoptees; it is always in the back of their minds. This fear is often self-fulfilling because it can lead to the adoptee sabotaging all intimate relationships as a means to protect them from what they view as inevitable loss.