From my perspective, identity has always been sort of a sticky topic. This is especially true in our highly individualistic western society, where self-development is very important. After all, you are what you want to be, and the key is authenticity. So, from the moment we set out to discover, we express ourselves truly in that journey– or the destination. As an adoptee from a multi-ethnic and multi-racial background, I have always desired homogeneity.
Carl Rogers, a famous psychologist, defined self-concept as three components: ideal self, self-image, and self-esteem. Self-esteem is probably the best known of the three. We are all aware of how self-esteem can impact our mental health. The ideal self is the self that one would like to be. Self-image is how we see ourselves in the present moment. From an adoptee perspective, the ideal self is always a belonging and adapted self.
I am no scholar or academic, but I find theories really helpful for making meaning of nuances of social-emotional development in the context of adoption. For me, identity went hand-in-hand with belonging. In fact, I would argue that for my journey, belonging was the underlying force in my desire to craft an identity. I mean, I would do almost anything to belong. This motivation is common for adolescents, but for adoptees, the desire to belong can be intensified.
Of course, belonging has layers like identity. However, belonging to a group requires a value-alignment with others. In some ways, value-alignment can make or break your access to the group. As an adoptee, my values were always parallel to where I belonged and my ideal self. My self-perception influenced my attitudes, behaviors, and my motivations.
A story I share with adoptive parents is the story of my experience with a bowl cut in the 90s. It must have been 1997 or 1998, and anyone from Leonardo DiCaprio to John Stamos had a bowl cut. I thought it was cool because it was popular at the time for young adult white males. My dad would cut my hair in those days, so I asked him to give me a bowl cut. After my hair was cut, I ran into the bathroom to check it out, and it hit me for the first time that my hair would not do that! It dawned on me that I was different.
Parents of adoptive children have a unique role in helping to guide their children through these experiences. The now infomous bowl cut was a peek into a situation that gave an opportunity for some proper direction and cultural nurturing! There was a cognizant dissonance between my self- perception and reality. I didn’t know what being white, black or multi-ethnic really was. This is just one example, but this period in my young life was really the birth of the ideal self in my life. In fact, when I met my biological father for the first time, this was more evident than ever– but that’s a story for another blog.