The Stranger Within

The first unique characteristic of Parental Identity Discovery.

Posted Nov 07, 2018

Being on the Outside

What was it like the last time you felt you didn’t fit in? Was it as a kid at school?  Maybe it was a bad fit in a work environment. How would it feel to sense that you didn’t fit into your family? The roughly 1.5 million people who learn that their paternity is not what they believed report feeling that they were strangers within their family even before learning they weren't biologically related to their parent.

Benjamin Robyn/Unsplash
On the outside, looking for belonging
Source: Benjamin Robyn/Unsplash

Commercial DNA tests are getting lots of media coverage for the shocking results those 1.5 million people get—learning they are not biologically related to one or both parents who raised them. The media is not covering any other aspect aside from the Jerry Springer quality of arranged first meetings on air – a real shame and disservice to the people affected by this new phenomenon.

Before the DNA test, most people in this situation report feeling an intuitive sense that something wasn’t quite right: A gut reaction, if you will, that they don’t fit in, or are treated differently than others in the family for no apparent reason. That reason becomes clear once the DNA results come in and address the lifelong wonder they had learned to ignore. They were strangers within the family because they weren’t fully considered part of it.

This subtle but persistent feeling of not fitting in is the first of four characteristics of Parental Identity Discovery™or Non-Paternal Event (NPE). It happens quietly in the background throughout growing up in the family. It might be brought up randomly if something more obvious happens to highlight they are different, but family will quickly downplay it, make excuses or shame them for taking something personally. It may even be an open secret, where jokes are made about them being the milkman’s. One such story was made into a documentary film, The Stories We Tell.

Trying to Fit In

Most people experiencing this will go to great lengths to be accepted, ignoring their own boundaries and putting up with mistreatment in the hopes that something, someday will mean it was ultimately worth it.  This will never happen.  Instead, resentment will fester until they snap – often cutting off relationships. The family will still behave as if this is an overreaction because to them nothing has changed. They have always unconsciously suspected or known that person wasn’t “part of the family,” so, to them, nothing has changed.

Matt Atherton/Unsplash
Finding a way to fit in
Source: Matt Atherton/Unsplash

Rejection is a familiar emotion and sadly will continue to be as they struggle with managing the anger of known family for changing the status quo and bringing up sordid family lies. It might also continue if the biological family is not receptive to them reaching out. All of these situations begin with a lie, which means there’s shame and, quite often, infidelity. In many cases, biological family is unwilling to tell their families because it will disclose an infidelity and I know of many where bio parents will only introduce new adult bio children as family friends and not co-mingle them with the rest of their family. This is another example of rejection and staying in a stranger role.

Once the DNA test is understood, those questions about why they didn’t fit in will get answered then triggering a set of other problems. Namely an identity crisis, the second characteristic of Parental Identity Discovery™, the subject of my next post.