Customer service calls to ancestry testing companies making the claim that the test has to be wrong are common. For better or worse, the oft-touted phrase, “DNA doesn’t lie” is the truth. Whether the results uncovered previously unknown parentage for us or other members within our family, the DNA is accurate. It’s how we figure out what to do with this unexpected information that causes confusion. While our brains struggle to accept the new information that doesn’t align with what we know to be “true,” people often think it HAS to be a mistake with the test.
The range of emotions after this discovery is wide and mostly negative. Anger, shock, sadness, shame, and grief are the most commonly described emotions that were shared over the course of dozens of interviews with NPEs. Anger over secrets kept, shock over learning the information in this manner, sadness over complicated relationships, shame for feeling feelings, and the array of emotions attached to grief and loss throughout the entire experience have been described repeatedly by the NPEs I’ve interviewed. Many times, some (or all) of the parents are deceased leaving us with more questions despite the concrete information (answer) about our DNA.
So how should we cope with the sudden onslaught of emotions that we have when this occurs? B-R-E-A-T-H-E. Take a breath. Sit with the new information for a minute (by minute, I really mean, at least a day or two, longer as needed). This is a big ask and I completely understand that. The inclination to reach out immediately is so natural. We want information NOW. This is the society we live in – immediate access to creep on people over the internet, collecting their contact information and reaching out through all the socials, email or phone. Instead, I highly recommend finding a trusted person to share your discovery with so you can process before you start sending Facebook messages to new relatives and making cold calls. Let your emotions settle down so that you can think clearly and from a more logical, strategic location in your brain. From the majority of people I have spoken with who have jumped in immediately and emotionally, they have ended up feeling worse and/or rejected. The thing is, when we dive in without looking first, we risk landing on rocks. We could be bringing this information to someone else and they can be completely unprepared and/or unwilling to engage with us, crushing any potential possibility for relationship and information.
Obviously there will be situations where jumping in has worked out beautifully. Humans are complex and unpredictable. However, just like making major life decisions after any other type of emotional upheaval, this is another example of thinking through actions for a while prior to taking many, or any, actions. Most commonly, if mothers are still living, adult children have contacted them immediately and questioned them. In my research, several mothers were open, honest and loving with their adult children. They truthfully shared what the situation was at conception and owned it. There are also cases where even the mother was surprised with the DNA discovery. However, many mothers maintained the lying, repeatedly denied the DNA facts, and some even began gaslighting* the adult child with the information. The goal is to prepare yourself for a range of reactions to what is often a well-kept family secret.
So, the test wasn’t wrong. Your range and depth of emotions are not wrong. Find a trusted person to talk to and sit with this discovery for a short time to emotionally and strategically prepare your next actions. Then, thoughtfully reach out to known family and/or anyone who is new to you in order to receive the information you are seeking. Remember, the people you are asking questions to may have to experience similar emotions and space before they can engage with the new information you are bringing to them. And also know this: you are not alone.
*Gaslighting is a type of emotional abuse used to undermine one’s perception of reality by lying, discrediting, distracting, denying, shifting blame, and/or rewriting history.