Genealogical Bewilderment of Adopted Children
"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.
"[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).
"Whereas previous studies have documented adoption during childhood and adolescence, the findings of the present study suggest that during adulthood as well, adoptees are at a higher risk for psychological maladjustment. Thus they were found, on average, to have a less coherent and positive self-concept and to manifest more pathological symptomatology than did nonadoptees. ... It has been suggested (Sorosky et al., 1975; Verrier, 1987) that the difficulties in resolving a sense of coherent and positive self-identity is tied to four fundamental psychological issues: ... (4) confusion and uncertainty regarding genealogical continuity, tied to the lack of knowledge about one’s ancestors. Accordingly, the lack of ‘‘biological mutuality’’ among adoptive family members, such as shared biologically based characteristics regarding appearance, intellectual skills, personality traits, and so forth, impedes the adoptee’s ability to identify with adoptive parents. Moreover, the lack of information about one’s biological background is likely to create a ‘‘hereditary ghost’’ which may contribute to a confused, unstable, and distorted sense of self. It is possible that self development does not have closure in adolescence, especially among adoptees, but continues to evolve over the lifespan through reconciliation and integration of many complex perceptions, cognitive systems, and self-object representations. (p. 102)."
"The term genealogical bewilderment refers to a group of psychological problems stemming from lack of knowledge of one's ancestors. Adopted children and children conceived by artificial insemination from an anonymous donor are two examples of groups who may suffer from this problem. The literature is reviewed. Early papers suggested that not knowing about one's ancestors keeps one from developing a secure self-image. More recent work suggests that good surrogate family relationships lead to good development, regardless of the lack of information about biological ancestors, and that the drive to search out biological ancestors usually reflects poor relationships with the surrogate parents."
"Dissatisfaction with adoptive parents was originally thought to be a motivating factor related to adoptees' searching (Sorosky, et al., 1975; Triseliotis, 1973). However, more recent research has found that the vast majority of adoptees who search have positive relationships with adoptive parents (Pacheco & Eme, 1993) or that the quality of adoptive relationships (either positive or negative) is not associated with a decision to search (Sachdev, 1993).... In fact, the most common reasons for searching given by adoptees are related to four themes: "genealogical bewilderment" (adoptees' need for historical connection to resolve identity issues); a need for information, a need to reduce stigma, and a desire to assure the [natural parents] of the adoptees' wellbeing" (p. 38).
Judith and Martin Land (2011) address genealogical bewilderment as an important psychological motive for doing an adoption search, Adoption Detective: Memoir of an Adopted Child, pages 270 and 275. The uncertain state of genealogical bewilderment is a source of stress, perhaps leaving adoptees more prone to rebellion because they have no roots or foundation from which to judge their potential. Discovery of genealogical roots is a path to understanding the true inner being and potential source of psychological grounding. Exposure of this topic to a wider audience is encouraged. “Genealogical bewilderment evokes a nefarious air of uncertainty and befuddles a child’s ability to establish their true self-identity.” —Judith Land