“Genealogical bewilderment evokes a nefarious air of uncertainty and befuddles a child’s ability to establish their true self-identity.” —Judith Land
Genealogical bewilderment refers to potential identity problems that could be experienced by a child who was either fostered or adopted. Psychologist H. J. Sants, referring to the plight of children who have uncertain, little, or no knowledge of one or both of their natural parents, coined the term in 1964. He argued that genealogical bewilderment constituted a large part of the additional stress that adoptees experienced that is not experienced by children raised by their natural parents.
Sants wrote in the journal Mental Health: 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. Sorosky, Pannor and Baran drew upon the work of Sants in a number of publications during the 1970s, including a book entitled The Adoption Triangle, thus exposing the concept of genealogical bewilderment to a larger audience.
When birth parents intentionally wall themselves behind iron gates and stone walls (legally and metaphorically) to keep their identity secret from their own child, they make it impossible for the abandoned child to learn anything about their true identity, social and cultural heritage, meet family members or receive an inheritance.
Reference: Judith Land and Martin Land, Adoption Detective: Memoir of an Adopted Child, p. 275, ISBN 978-1-60494-570-6
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