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Understanding the Seven Core Issues in Adoption: Exploring the Complexities of Loss and Ambiguity

I'm going to do a seven part series on the blog and the Original Origins podcast discussing each of the "Seven Core Issues in Adoption". In this article, I'm going to be focusing on loss.

The "Seven Core Issues in Adoption" framework, developed by adoption expert and therapist Sharon Kaplan Roszia, highlights the key psychological and emotional challenges that adoptees and their families may encounter. These core issues provide a framework for understanding the complexities of adoption and guide individuals in navigating their adoption journey. The seven core issues are as follows:

  1. Loss: Adoption involves multiple layers of loss, including the loss of biological family, cultural heritage, and genetic connections. Adoptees may experience grief and a sense of loss throughout their lives, requiring support and understanding to process these emotions effectively.

  2. Rejection: Adoptees may struggle with feelings of rejection, stemming from the fact that they were placed for adoption. Even if adoption was the best decision for their well-being, the knowledge of being "given up" can lead to internalized feelings of unworthiness and questioning of their value.

  3. Identity: Adoptees often grapple with questions of identity formation. They may seek to understand their genetic background, cultural heritage, and personal identity within the context of their adoptive family. The search for identity can be a lifelong process involving exploration, self-reflection, and integration of various aspects of their identity.

  4. Intimacy: Adoption can impact an individual's ability to form and maintain healthy, trusting relationships. Adoptees may struggle with attachment, vulnerability, and fear of abandonment due to early life experiences. Nurturing secure and supportive relationships is crucial to addressing these challenges.

  5. Control: Adoption involves a loss of control, as adoptees have no say in the decision-making process that led to their adoption. This lack of control can manifest in issues related to autonomy, trust, and the need for stability. Adoptees may struggle with a fear of being abandoned or losing control over their lives.

  6. Guilt and Shame: Adoptees may experience feelings of guilt and shame related to their adoption. They may feel guilty for having questions or curiosity about their birth family, or they may carry a sense of shame about being different from their adoptive family. Addressing these emotions is vital for healing and self-acceptance.

  7. Intergenerational Issues: Adoption can have a ripple effect on future generations within the adoptive family. Adoptees may struggle with their role in the family and their connection to biological and adoptive relatives. Understanding and navigating intergenerational dynamics can help address complex family relationships and foster healthy connections.

Not all adoptees will experience these core issues in the same way or to the same degree. Each individual's adoption experience is unique, and the seven core issues serve as a guide to better understand and support adoptees and their families as they navigate their adoption journey and address the challenges that arise.


Adoption is a profound life event that brings together children and families, providing love, stability, and a sense of belonging. However, it is essential to recognize that adoption is also accompanied by inherent loss. By understanding the complexities of adoption-related loss, we can foster empathy, support, and healing for all those involved in the adoption process.

In every adoption there is what we call the adoption triad: the three key parties involved in each and every adoption that’s ever occurred throughout history. Without any of these three parties, you don’t have an adoption. They are the adoptee, the adoptive parent(s), and the birth parent(s). Each of the three parties in the adoption triad experience their own unique form of loss.

  1. Loss for Adoptees: Adoptees experience various forms of loss throughout their adoption journey. They may mourn the loss of biological connection, cultural heritage, and the opportunity to grow up with their birth family. These losses can trigger a profound sense of grief, identity confusion, and a longing to understand their genetic roots.

  2. Loss for Birth Parents: Birth parents face a unique and complex form of loss in adoption. They may experience grief and a sense of relinquishment as they make the difficult decision to place their child for adoption. This loss can be accompanied by feelings of sorrow, guilt, and ongoing emotional struggles.

  3. Loss for Adoptive Parents: Adoptive parents may also grapple with their own experiences of loss in adoption. They may mourn the loss of biological connection and the opportunity to conceive and give birth to a child. This loss can lead to feelings of grief, infertility-related emotions, and the need to navigate their own complex emotions throughout the adoption process.

There are multiple dimensions to loss. In this article, I'm going to focus primarily on the loss that adoptees experience, and in later blog posts, we will discuss the loss that birth parents and adoptive parents experience.

Adoptees can experience loss throughout their lives in various ways, as adoption inherently involves multiple dimensions of loss. These ongoing experiences of loss can impact adoptees emotionally, psychologically, and socially. Here are some ways in which adoptees may experience loss throughout their lives:

  1. Loss of Biological Connection: Adoptees often grapple with the loss of their biological connection, which can create a deep longing to know their genetic heritage and their birth family. This loss may be felt more intensely during different life stages, such as adolescence or when becoming a parent themselves.

  2. Loss of Cultural Identity: Adoptees who are placed in families of a different cultural background may experience a sense of loss regarding their birth culture. They may feel disconnected from cultural traditions, language, customs, and may yearn to explore and understand their cultural heritage.

  3. Loss of Sibling Relationships: In cases of sibling separation through adoption, adoptees may experience ongoing loss due to being separated from their biological siblings. The absence of these relationships can create a void and lead to a sense of loss throughout their lives.

  4. Loss of Birth History and Information: Adoptees may face the loss of their birth history and information, including medical history, genetic predispositions, and personal narratives. This lack of knowledge can have long-lasting effects, especially when it comes to making informed decisions about their health or understanding their personal narrative.

  5. Loss of Connection to Birth Community: Some adoptees may feel a sense of loss regarding their connection to their birth community. They may not have the opportunity to grow up within their birth community or experience a sense of belonging to a specific cultural or ethnic group, which can lead to feelings of disconnection.

  6. Loss of Expectations and Fantasies: Adoptees may grapple with the loss of expectations and fantasies they may have had about their birth family or their adoption experience. These idealized notions can collide with the realities of their adoption journey, leading to a sense of loss and disappointment.

  7. Ambiguous Loss: Adoptees may experience a unique form of loss known as "ambiguous loss." This refers to the loss that occurs when there is uncertainty and lack of closure. In adoption, this can occur when adoptees have limited information about their birth family or when they experience feelings of divided loyalty between their birth and adoptive families.

Ambiguous loss is a unique form of loss that is characterized by uncertainty, lack of resolution, and conflicting emotions. Ambiguous loss can be particularly challenging to navigate as it does not provide the typical closure associated with traditional forms of loss. Here are two main types of ambiguous loss:

  1. Physical Presence, Psychological Absence: This type of ambiguous loss occurs when a person is physically present but psychologically absent. For example, it may arise when a family member or loved one develops dementia, severe mental illness, or addiction, resulting in a significant change in their behavior or identity. The person is still physically there, but the relationship and connection are altered due to their cognitive or emotional changes.

  2. Psychological Presence, Physical Absence: This type of ambiguous loss occurs when a person is psychologically present but physically absent. It is commonly experienced in situations where there is an unresolved separation, such as in cases of missing persons, parental alienation, or adoption where the birth family is unknown or inaccessible. The person is emotionally significant, but their physical presence is not available, leading to feelings of longing, uncertainty, and conflicting emotions.

Ambiguous loss can create unique challenges for individuals because there is no clear framework for grieving or resolving the loss. It can be emotionally distressing as individuals may experience a range of conflicting emotions, including sadness, grief, anger, guilt, and hope. The lack of closure and ambiguity can make it difficult to find a sense of resolution or fully process the loss.

Similarly to my disclaimer about the seven core issues, the experience of loss in adoption is unique to each adoptee, and not all adoptees will necessarily experience every aspect of loss mentioned. Additionally, the intensity and impact of these losses can vary based on individual circumstances and personal resilience. Recognizing and acknowledging these ongoing losses is crucial in providing support, validation, and understanding to adoptees as they navigate their adoption journey and seek healing and acceptance.

Addressing feelings of loss throughout life is an important part of the healing process for adoptees. While each individual's journey is unique, here are some strategies that adoptees can consider to address their feelings of loss:

  1. Acknowledge and Validate Emotions: Adoptees should acknowledge and validate their emotions related to loss. It is essential to recognize that feeling sadness, grief, or longing is a natural response to the losses experienced in adoption. By acknowledging and accepting these emotions, adoptees can begin to process them in a healthy way.

  2. Seek Support: Connecting with others who share similar experiences can be immensely beneficial. Joining support groups specifically for adoptees or participating in adoption-related communities can provide a safe space to express feelings, share stories, and gain support from individuals who understand the unique challenges of adoption.

  3. Educate Yourself: Learning about adoption-related issues, including loss, can help adoptees gain a deeper understanding of their own experiences. Reading books, attending workshops or conferences, and engaging in online resources focused on adoption can provide valuable insights and perspectives.

  4. Engage in Therapy: Seeking therapy from professionals experienced in adoption-related issues can offer adoptees a supportive and therapeutic environment. Therapists can help adoptees explore and process their feelings of loss, navigate identity concerns, and develop coping strategies to manage their emotions effectively.

  5. Connect with Birth Family: For adoptees who have the desire and opportunity to connect with their birth family, establishing contact can help address feelings of loss. Reconnecting with biological relatives can provide a sense of belonging, facilitate the exploration of genetic heritage, and foster a better understanding of one's identity.

  6. Explore Cultural Heritage: Adoptees can actively explore and embrace their cultural heritage, even if they were raised in a different cultural environment. This may involve learning the language, participating in cultural events, connecting with community organizations, or traveling to their birth country. Embracing their cultural heritage can help adoptees develop a stronger sense of identity and connection.

  7. Engage in Self-Reflection and Self-Care: Adoptees can engage in self-reflection to better understand their own needs and emotions related to loss. Engaging in self-care practices such as exercise, mindfulness, journaling, or engaging in creative outlets can also help manage and process feelings of loss throughout life.

  8. Build a Supportive Network: Cultivating a network of understanding and supportive individuals can be invaluable. This network may include adoptive family members, friends, mentors, or others who can provide a listening ear, empathy, and encouragement during times of emotional need.

Adoptive families can facilitate healing by encouraging open and honest communication about adoption-related loss. This can involve sharing adoption stories, discussing emotions, and promoting an atmosphere of empathy, understanding, and support.

Healing from loss is a lifelong process, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Adoptees should embrace their own unique journey, allow themselves time to grieve and heal, and seek support when needed. Through self-exploration, connection with others, and active engagement in their adoption story, adoptees can gradually find healing, acceptance, and a sense of empowerment.

Adoption is a journey intertwined with loss, encompassing the experiences of adoptees, birth parents, and adoptive families. Recognizing and understanding the multifaceted dimensions of loss in adoption is crucial for promoting empathy, healing, and support. By acknowledging the losses involved, we can create a more compassionate and inclusive adoption community that nurtures the emotional well-being of all individuals impacted by adoption.

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