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Misattributed Parentage, DNA Surprise, NPE

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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. The term "NPE" has taken a noun form for people in the misattributed parentage community, as in "I'm an 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 affect 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 further isolated with their overwhelming emotions.

Family Lies Can Create a
Lifetime of Trauma

A misattributed parentage can unearth a lifetime of struggle that has often been dismissed or ignored by a person's family of origin.  Many NPEs have different experiences than their half siblings, even within the same family system. Often the 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. NPE struggles, like other adverse childhood events, can show up in adulthood as: 


  • depression

  • substance misuse 

  • 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."  

NPEs need support:​

  • Navigating their way to a healthy new normal.

  • Setting boundaries with potentially toxic family behaviors.

  • Processing a lifetime of genealogical 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.

We Work with NPE Parents

If you are the parent of an NPE child, no matter what his or her age, we encourage you to work with a coach to learn how to help your child process their feelings of shock, betrayal, anger, grief, and alienation that may come with their discovery. 

You may be meeting an adult child for the first time, and not know how to handle this surprising new situation. You may have other family members to support during this time, as well, such as other children or a current spouse. You may be experience your own grief at not having the chance to know your own child, or shame or guilt at having a "blast from the past" show up now. 

Or you may have been the secret keeper, and you now face explaining to your NPE child the decisions you made that caused you to avoid disclosing their  biological parent(s) earlier in life. Often secrets stem from shame and lack of opportunity, and they deserve exploration and healing. NPE parents need help too, but mostly, their NPE child deserves to be treated fairly and with compassion and understanding during this time, for as long as it takes for them to process it.


There is a set of skills you can learn that will help you support your NPE child, even if your child is in their fifties or sixties.

So many parents dismiss the NPE's experience within the family at a time with the NPE child most needs family support, largely because they experience shame or anger or betrayal or surprise themselves. Coaching support during this time can help rebuild relationships, teach you how to address family members in a way that helps support the NPE when they most need it.

Image by Mike Scheid
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