Feeling Felt: The Importance of Adoption Support Groups

Friends sitting in a circle at park“They say they understand, but how can someone who wasn’t adopted know what it feels like?”

Sixteen-year-old Lisa’s voice trails off as she explains the many frustrating conversations she’s had with her friends about adoption. The other teens sitting in the room nod their heads in agreement.

“I know, right?” adds Jake, 15. “How can they possibly know what it feels like to miss the mom who gave birth to you or why sometimes birthdays are really hard? Not to mention how uncomfortable it is to hear for the zillionth time, ‘Where were you born?’ because I’m a different race than my [adoptive] parents.”

More nods from the group.

“You guys get it,” laughs Adam. “That’s what’s so cool about this group. We don’t even have to explain ourselves.”

This conversation is one of many that seem to occur each time a group of adopted teens come together for the support group I co-facilitate in my community. In the group, teens can exchange stories and give and get support. Whether they are talking directly about adoption or not, the common thread of a shared experience puts them on a similar playing field and helps them “feel felt.”

Where Do You Belong?

The experience of “not belonging” is common among those who were adopted. Coming together with others dissolves separations. Most teens come to the first group coaxed by parents, who often explain, “She probably won’t say too much” or “I don’t think he’ll want to stay, so maybe I’ll just sit outside.” That said, we have a 100% return rate so far! The teens who “won’t say too much” are frequently the ones who open up and expose their vulnerabilities as they share intimate details of their adoption stories to a group that welcomes each detail and listens attentively.

Participants in Teen AdoptCONNECT, our support group, include teens who were adopted transracially and domestically, as well as foster and former foster youth. Bringing together teens with varying stories and experiences allows teens to normalize similar issues on a bigger scale. It also further emphasizes the fact that they are not alone, that they belong to a “tribe.”

AdoptCONNECT is another unique group that invites all adult members of the adoption and foster care community to come together to give and get support. Adult adoptees, adoptive parents, former foster youth, first/birth parents, and waiting parents sit side by side, exchanging stories, fears, challenges, struggles, and wisdom. Members share thoughts and emotions openly and honestly without the worry of hurting someone’s feelings, all while coming to the realization they are not alone.

You’re Not the Only One

Support groups are an essential place to express feelings, give and get support, build lasting connections, and ultimately “feel felt.” The importance of sharing experiences with those who are walking a similar path as you cannot be over emphasized. It is pretty powerful to witness the exchange between an adult adoptee and adoptive parents of an adolescent.

“What did you need?” the parents ask.

The adult adoptee takes a few seconds and tearfully responds, “I needed my parents to realize that I thought about adoption all of the time growing up and that being curious about my biological family wasn’t a threat to them. I wish I could have shared my thoughts with them.”

An adoptive mom cries in relief after hearing another adoptive parent express similar feelings about sometimes not feeling good enough as a parent. “Wow, I thought I was the only one who felt that way.”

Why Support Groups Can Be So Important

My colleague and I started these adoption support groups to serve an unmet need in our community. The groups provide a place for the adoption and foster care community to come together and share stories, ideas, and concerns in a safe environment. Support groups are an essential place to express feelings, give and get support, build lasting connections, and ultimately “feel felt.” The importance of sharing experiences with those who are walking a path similar to yours cannot be overemphasized.

I encourage you to join a group or start a group if you are a member of this community. If you need help with this, please contact me for guidance.

© Copyright 2015 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Lesli Johnson, MFT, Adoption / Foster Care Issues Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Whitney

    August 14th, 2015 at 7:27 AM

    Such a wonderful experience to meet with and share with others your own personal adoption experience and get to share with them how this has been a blessing for you. I understand that there have to be times when you may feel misunderstood but it helps to know that there are other people out there just like you who have gone through some of the same things… it just sometimes helps to know that you are not alone in this.

  • eleanor

    August 14th, 2015 at 6:29 PM

    I guess because I wasn’t adopted I have not really grasped until now just how lonely it must be to at certain points on your life think about what could have been in your life had things been different or how it must at times feel like there is not one other person out there who feels the same ways that you do.

  • Nelly

    November 18th, 2019 at 7:46 AM

    I want a good therapist por my adoptee adult

  • The GoodTherapy.org Team

    November 18th, 2019 at 10:16 AM

    Hi, Nelly! Thanks for visiting the GoodTherapy blog. If you would like to consult with a mental health professional, please feel free to return to our homepage, http://www.goodtherapy.org/, and enter your postal/zip code into the search field to find therapists in your area. If you’re looking for a counselor that practices a specific type of therapy, or who deals with specific concerns, you can make an advanced search by clicking here: http://www.goodtherapy.org/advanced-search.html

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  • DoRoThY

    August 15th, 2015 at 7:29 AM

    Groups such as this can serve a purpose that no other type of group can
    There will be significant challenges for many children who learn that they are adopted and what a wonderful thing to know that there are others who have your back!

  • lila

    August 16th, 2015 at 10:46 AM

    I suspect that these are the people who can make you feel validated, like you are being heard and that any concerns that you have about adoption or the adoption process all do have some answers that you are still seeking.

  • Laurel

    August 17th, 2015 at 9:08 AM

    No matter how wonderful your adoptive parents are there will always be this sense of not quite fitting in and feeling like you are on the outside looking in. I think that there is always this element of feeling like there is something out there that you could be missing out on even when otherwise you have a great life and you know that. It still can feel like there is a part of yourself that is not quite complete and these support groups could in all honesty go a long way toward helping with that.

  • Nola

    August 17th, 2015 at 3:08 PM

    Sadly I didn’t know that I was adopted until I was in my early teen years. Talk about terrible timing. I already felt geeky and awkward so you can imagine how this only made me feel even more different from my family and my peers.

  • Gayle

    August 17th, 2015 at 6:23 PM

    My children are now married adults. When they were small we participated actively in adoption support groups but slid away as they entered their teen years. They now tell s that they wished we’d continued to run the group because as teens they truly needed that steadying comfort of a peer group that “got” them. Sounds like Teen AdoptCONNECT is offering precisely what they need: a place where they can be authentically themselves and be with others who walk the same path

  • tia

    August 18th, 2015 at 8:01 AM

    My family is such an integral part of my life
    I would be so lonely knowing that they were not a part of that with me
    I know that there are people who are not lucky enough to have those special connections
    And it makes me very sad
    Because i know what a blessing that having those people in your life can be for you

  • Crystal

    August 18th, 2015 at 6:40 PM

    My fionce is adopted, hes 27 now and his adoptive parents mentally n his father occasionally physically abused him as a child. He found out he was adopted at age 16 after his adoptive father boxed his face pretty bad and said youre not my son. He got into a gang after that got arrested alot until we had our daughter 3 years ago. His adoptive parents are still mentally abusive to him on a daily basis and he says hed rather have them than no parents at all so he just takes it. I dont know how to help him because I truly dont understand. Can anyone give me some advice on how to help him reach out for some help and support?

  • Cade

    August 22nd, 2015 at 2:42 PM

    These are not the things that will show you where or how you belong. You have to first find the acceptance within yourself to know that you do.

  • Karen

    September 9th, 2015 at 3:41 PM

    What a gift these groups are for those in the adoption constellation!

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