Misattributed Parentage, DNA Surprise, NPE/MPE

AdobeStock_100712730 (2).jpeg

First, Let's Get the Terminology Straight

We don't love the term "NPE" or "non-paternal event," which is a term used in genetics. It feels cold and clinical, and seems, somehow, to demean a person's experience to a single "event." It is not an event. It's a lifetime of concealed truth, secrets and shame, gaslighting, and outright lies, not to mention a lifetime of lost opportunities. And the term "MPE" or "misattributed parentage experience," is kind of...meh to us, too. But both terms, "NPE" and "MPE" have taken a noun form for people in the misattributed parentage community, as in "I'm an NPE" or "I'm an MPE" for example. We will use whatever term you are comfortable with, but when we talk about it here, we will use the term NPE. 

Non-paternity, (or maternity) which is often not disclosed to a child, may result from sperm donation, undisclosed or black-market adoption, extra-marital affairs, undisclosed stepparent adoption, paternity fraud, formal or informal adoption, or sexual assault, as well as medical mistakes involving in vitro or artificial insemination. It often comes with secrecy and deception. Concealing a person's true biological parent/s may result in a lifetime of false medical history, and chronic family system disruption, which can cause childhood trauma that affects people throughout their lives.

Therapists, friends, and family members may not know how to help, and in fact, may offer unsupportive comments, such as, "It doesn't matter. Your family is still your family," or "Don't dwell on it so much.... other people have it worse," leaving the NPE/MPE further isolated with their overwhelming emotions.

Family Lies Can Create a
Lifetime of Trauma

A misattributed parentage can unearth a lifetime of trauma that has often been dismissed or ignored by a person's family of origin.  Many NPE/MPEs have different experiences than their half siblings, even within the same family system. Often the MPE/NPE child knows on some level that something is not right, and they are often chided or shamed for questioning the truth. A lifetime of denying truth can be traumatic for a child, and childhood trauma affects the brain, as well as other aspects of your physical and mental health. Childhood trauma can show up in adulthood as: 


  • depression

  • substance abuse

  • eating disorders

  • trouble forming attachments  

  • shame

  • guilt

  • suicidal thoughts

  • autoimmune disease

  • other chronic disease

  • drug or alcohol or other addictions 

  • risky behavior

  • dissociation

  • family scapegoating

  • headaches

  • many other mental and physical ailments resulting from a lifetime of unidentified complex trauma

Image by Kristina Flour

NPE Discoveries Can Be Life-Altering

When a person discovers that what they thought they knew about their family history is wrong, it is often shocking and life altering. It may result in rejection by both the newly discovered biological family and by the family the person was raised with, leaving the NPE with a pile of ashes where a family used to be. Often when the person with misattributed parentage discovers the truth, whatever it is, he or she is blamed for causing trouble, upsetting the family system, or not "leaving things well enough alone."  

NPE/MPEs need support:​

  • navigating their way to a healthy new normal

  • setting boundaries with potentially toxic family behaviors

  • processing a lifetime of genetic bewilderment

  • identifying and locating missing family members

  • deciding how to contact their newly discovered biological families, if they so choose

  • integrating new family medical history into their lives

  • processing the loss or gain of a cultural identity

  • learning how to inform their children and more distant family members 

  • getting psychological support for the profound loss that often accompanies the discovery (we refer out to some fantastic therapists!)

  • developing coping strategies for processing grief