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How Art Helps Us Construct Identity After Adoption

Children who aren’t adopted, build identity through shared resemblance with their biological families. They walk through their homes as though walking in a hall of mirrors, with their parents and siblings reflecting back physical similarities, feelings, understandings and all the intangibles that DNA encodes in our bodies.

Such resemblances are missing from the childhoods of adopted people, particularly from children separated from their family as infants, and they must find other ways to construct identity.

This construction process is complicated by the silent nature of pre-verbal trauma which is sustained when a child is separated from their biological mother; and the disenfranchisement of that loss and grief, (i.e. a grief experienced when a loss is incurred that is not, or cannot be openly acknowledged, publicly mourned or socially supported).

As adopted people, we have to find other ways to help us construct identity and create an authentic self. One option is to explore our adoption through the arts - writing, painting, music and sculpting etc. If we do this mindfully, in conjunction with reading, self-exploration and allowing that work to filter into our art, then it can lead to profound revelations and personal growth.

Today, I was reflecting on this process in preparation for my upcoming workshop on ‘Constructing Identity After Adoption’ and sketched the above image (thankfully I’m a better writer than artist). To me it demonstrates how adoption and trauma shatters the ‘self’ and how through writing and practice-led research we can work to piece together the ‘missing body’ and create an authentic self who understands their own experience and who they are.

It isn’t an overnight discovery; in fact, I believe the process begins as soon as we begin to explore any part of our adoption experience. It’s also a process with no end…just as the adoption experience is a journey that we undertake over a lifetime.

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