There is no one’s size fits all to adoption journeys. In this Healthline article, Kiana Shelton, LCSW, explains how to talk with children about their identities as an adoptee.
Branca, now 43, grew up in Southern Italy but was adopted from Chile when she was about two years old.
She speaks fondly of her mother, saying she only ever knew love from her parents growing up. “She had so much love to give,” she says. “I grew up full of love.”
Despite this, she felt like something was missing from the time she was a child and was subject to discrimination, saying she’s never truly felt like an Italian woman.
Years later, Branca is working through the discrimination she faced, and the trauma connected to learning the truth of her birth.
Branca was very vocal about how the love she felt in her immediate family was not mirrored by her community.
“‘Italiani brava gente, Italians are good people,’ is what we say, but that’s not true,” Branca says, citing a common Italian phrase that comes from a 1964 movie of the same name.
“Even though people from Southern Italy are very dark because it’s a mix [due to the] colonization of people from the Middle East and Northern Africa, somehow my skin was always [seen as] darker.”
“I was treated badly because the color of my skin is different,” Branca says, talking about the perception of her skin color, the shape and color of her eyes, and how various people would point out these differences.
For Branca, the feeling of being othered led to self-hatred.
Kiana Shelton, LCSW, says that as a result of long periods of time with little to no validation of their internal experiences, being ostracized in this way can create hypersensitivity and lead to someone overanalyzing themselves.
“I started hating my body, hating the color of my skin, hating the color of my hair, the shape of my eyes, the shape of my nose,” Branca began.
She tried her best to “be an Italian woman,” but she was always reminded that she was different.
Feeling disconnected as an adoptee
People within the neighborhood and classmates prodding fueled Branca’s negative self-image, and this was coupled with her feeling off internally.
Branca talked about seeing how fervently people represent their countries, using soccer as an example of people’s pride for their homelands, and noting how she’s never felt anything like that.
“Italians — and many other people from different parts of the world – have a strong sense of identity,” she said.
“My sense of identity is still a problem. I never felt like an Italian woman.”
Branca shared that her first questions around her birth origins came when classmates teased her by saying she was adopted.
Shelton says that origin stories are part of the development of our sense of self.
“Not knowing that or not growing up with an opportunity to learn can impact a person. It is certainly not uncommon for adoptees to find themselves struggling to find connection” Shelton says.
The adoption process has the potential to weigh heavily on a person, regardless of how loving and supportive their home life may be.
Adoptees can sometimes struggle with a sense of identity or belonging, or have complicated feelings about their birth and adoption, and it’s important to let yourself feel those feelings and understand that curiosity, feelings of sadness or even anger are all common.
Kids welcomed into homes with cultures or backgrounds different from their biological families may have an additional layer of complication.
“Cultural identity is a part of personal identity and self-conception. But it is important to remember that feeling rooted is subjective for some and simply knowing [where they come from] is enough for others,” says Shelton.
Because of the negative effect discrimination can have on a person’s mental and physical well-being in addition to their self-esteem, these complications shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Read the full Healthline article with sources.