Not everyone will have this experience and for that I am grateful. For those who have felt the sting of rejection from family of origin or new biological family as a result of the NPE status being discovered, I ache with you. As humans we are social beings who want to belong. The idea that we feel that sense of belonging within our family seems basic and natural and yet, for many, the rejection(s) from family can disorient us, sometimes causing a lifetime of trust issues within other relationships.
Fun fact about Rejection: when scientists placed people in functional MRI machines and asked them to recall a recent rejection, they discovered that the same area of the brain activated by rejection is the same one activated by when we experience physical pain. This is why even small rejections hurt more than maybe we think they should – it elicits literal, yet emotional, pain.
We are made this way intentionally. Back when we were hunters and gatherers, someone not being included in the tribe likely meant death. It has been passed through our genes to fit in, stay in the tribe, change yourself if needed in order to be included.
So I did research on unexpected paternity and the impact on identity and relationships.
In my findings: RQ3 asked: How does unexpected paternity information affect an individual’s identity? (change to personal identity, ethnicity shifts, health information, resemblance to family, relationship with new family, rejection).
Rejection: This showed up in many ways. There was a fear of rejection and actual rejection. Some used the term “used to” being rejected by family. Another person described the experience with a fear of the new biological family rejecting her leaving her “stuck with” the original family.
What is rejection? It’s the act of pushing someone or something away. It’s a part of life and can be very difficult to cope with – some more than others. People may feel shame, sadness and grief when they are not accepted by others. In the NPE world this is compounded by layers of other issues much of the time.
I doubt anyone could identify all the varying ways someone may feel rejected within the NPE experience. Rejection can be obvious and directly shared and it can also be subtle and veiled leaving a person feeling vulnerable in that space of trying to understand what is going on. When left to its own devices, the brain will fill in the gaps of actual knowledge with stories to help us make sense of things. Sometimes these made-up stories are positive but more often they are negative and self-defeating about what is or must be wrong with us that others do not/did not want us. This is dangerous. The longer we live with these ideas, the more they become a real part of our identity narrative.
Rejection by Family of origin:
Why would family reject a child (adult children are included here)? The most common reason for rejection is a family secret. Sometimes rejection is due to a parent’s mental health struggles taken out on the child, some parents are simply repeating the only style of parenting they know from their own lives. A parent who has a dismissive attachment style of parenting may not be able to tolerate their own pain and this plays out onto the children (at any age) through judgement, criticism, ignoring, and other petty behaviors.
Whether it’s your choice or not, there can be a sense of relief at least initially if there has been fighting but it can be disorienting. Rejection creates feelings of vulnerability and damages self-esteem. We then can make it worse by becoming self-critical and/or self-destructive to cope.
Rejection from New Family:
How patient do we have to be? This is a challenging space. We did not ask for this, and perhaps, neither did they. As the days, months, and years tick by without contact, we can feel rejected without any real understanding. It is amazing how vulnerable we may feel as full-grown adults hoping strangers will love us. Seems like this is potentially reflective of unhealed childhood wounds. And, ultimately, how does an estrangement or outright rejection impact your ability to trust others?
What you can do to help yourself:
· Eliminate self-criticism – it isn’t always about you, it may be the circumstance
· Remember what you have to offer – even if the other party doesn’t see it or want to hear about it
· Connect with others
· Reframe to positive thought – “We need this space to work through our emotions”
· Self-care. A lot of self-care
· Join a support group
· See a professional counselor or therapist
· Stay active with friends
· Journal feelings, write letters that aren’t mailed (at least not yet), consider what it would need to look like for you if you want to reconcile with family (or they with you) – set boundaries
· Looking after your needs – one day can feel angry, lonely, isolated – another day may feel peaceful, calm, happy, freedom
· Take responsibility for only your actions – move at YOUR pace
· Know what triggers you so that these triggers (and the person using them) lose their power
A few questions to ask yourself:
1. Can you talk to your relative openly about how you feel about the relationship?
2. Can you tolerate the idea that there is nothing wrong with you (even when others blame you to deflect)?
3. Can you tolerate that you may never have a relationship with the biological side and accept that it has nothing to do with you?
Remember, the people we are born to or from are not the final judges of our personal worth.