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The Grief Effect

Posted on Thu, 04 October, 2018

Shock and overwhelm are probably the first experiences when you receive DNA results that tell you the father or mother who raised you is not your biological parent.  The shock is so surreal that it felt like a grief reaction to me, akin to when someone close to you dies.  It is very helpful to view parental discovery in the same light as grief because all the same stages are operating here. I call this second characteristic of Parental Identity Discovery™, the grief effect. This is the second of six installments in our series on the unique effects of realizing your biological parents are not the ones who raised you.

the grief effect in pictures

Elizabeth Kubler Ross’ stages of grief


It is very rare that the DNA results are wrong, so denial in this stage is futile but you’ll cycle through it nonetheless.  It is much more likely that a parent has been lying to protect themselves from shame.  In rare cases, the biological mother did not know the truth herself. According to Investigative Genealogist Christina Fitzgibbons, parental identifier cases are rarely about sexual assault but may be used as the excuse to cover the shame of the facts. Grief is a normal reaction to the sudden removal of what has been familiar, your sense of identity.  More on that later.

In the case of death, there is a vacuum left from the sudden removal of someone from your life. The wrenching away of a cherished attachment is what feels so painful, and in the case of PID it is the sudden loss of connection to the same biological story as your known parents and realizing the loss of connection to the family kept from you. It’s a weird emotional limbo that some describe feel like aimless drifting without possibility of anchoring.


Anger is to be expected. You have been lied to, perhaps your parent is still lying so of course you feel angry. Depending on how you feel about the parents that raised you, perhaps you feel robbed of a better life? Or, you were raised in a loving home with two great parents so the pain is different, more a sorrow for the effects on them. The information discovery phase can be very troublesome and you may not get all the information from the people who have it. Hiring a genealogist can be helpful to circumvent family that will not play nice.


I remember telling myself over several occasions that I could just live with it, keeping the secret by pretending nothing happened or it didn’t matter. Bargaining is seductive here, but it lies to you. Don’t believe it.

the grief effect feels chaotic

The effect of grief is rarely linear


Depression is also normal as you reconcile what you thought you knew with this discovery. It’s a process and takes time to adjust. Make sure you have support systems in place like really good friends, commitment to self-care routines and therapy; EMDR is an efficient and effective therapy to heal emotional wounds from trauma. Connecting to others is important and can even be through social media if not face-to-face: look into DNA NPE Gateway on Facebook for a supportive, accepting and confidential environment.


Acceptance can feel unimaginable at times but is possible. Many people find rewarding relationships with new family and acceptance looks like literal open arms into biological family, although this appears to be less common. There is a stronger possibility that biological family does not want a connection because acknowledging you discloses infidelity, etc. This rejection can keep you lingering in anger and depression if you allow it. Although this is undermining your world, you are but one character in the play. Making peace with the situation as it is may then become your reality – let go of the attempts to find connection where doors are closed to you. I sincerely hope that is not your experience, but if it is, all the more reason for you to prioritize connection with people who support you and therapy.


Jodi Klugman-Rabb is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Marin and Napa Counties.  She specializes in connecting with clients on a humorous and practical level, helpful when specializing in Parental Identity Discovery™, ADHD and trauma.  She uses EMDR to treat traumas and fears of all types. She is a wife of 19+ years and the mom of two funny and awesome kids. Connect with Jodi on this website, this one or Facebook

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