The fourth unique characteristic of Parental Identity Discovery™ is the struggle with identity that is impossible for people outside this experience to understand. It is visceral, confusing and consuming. There is no blueprint for how to handle this type of life change, except for in the adoption world.
Adoption is a parallel experience because they too learn at some age they are not the biological children of the people raising them, triggering questions about where they came from and who they are. Uncertainty in identity trumps everything else developmentally at that time, creating emotional changes that reverberate in relationships, work, etc. The concept of inalienable bond of biology first emerged in adoption work specifically in Barbara Melosh’s book Strangers and Kin, addressing the indescribable pull toward what is yours, biologically speaking. I felt it viscerally for decades as I was naturally drawn to Scotland with “no reason.” I now understand that to be a function of the inalienable bond of biology; it only makes sense after you learn the truth.
At risk of oversimplifying, our current developmental understanding of identity comprises two categories. First is adolescence, where we learn who we are through family values and self-discovery with peers, etc. The second major change comes in the “mid-life crisis”; a typical time for people to freak out when they assess what they’ve done with their lives, how they’ve acted in accordance with their values and how much time is left. NPE/PID revelations can occur at any stage of life, muddling territory you had already navigated or adding a complex dimension to otherwise normal stages of development.
Identity is fundamental because it gives us a connection to our community, something to unify us into a sense of belonging that is essential to our survival. The Webster definition of identity constitutes the distinguishing character or personality of an individual and the condition of being the same with something described or asserted. Tribally, our safety depended on our belonging in a group, being part of that shared meaning and purpose. Identity is fostered when we know who will look after us, what we’re valued for and our value offered to the group. Our ancestral connection also tells us what to take pride in: national pride, racial pride, religious pride, even sports team pride. The stories of our past become the narratives of our identities.
Well-meaning family and friends will say incredibly stupid things in an effort to make you feel better. In reality this is their effort to back out of an uncomfortable situation they don’t want to deal with. And for some reason we feel compelled to say something helpful to make it go away, like, "you know this doesn’t change anything, you’re still the same person." Other, not so well-meaning people will purposefully say or do hurtful things designed to keep the status quo. You must understand that is in no way personal. It is their way to keep the balance, even if that balance has been you on the outside, so long as the hierarchy remains in tact for them. A change in your identity means a change in theirs, as a ripple effect.
All my life I found it strange that I was drawn to British culture, because we weren’t British. I loved the literature, the way of life, and really loved Scotland. My mother’s Italian heritage had been the sense of pride I was exposed to. I found identification with the food, art and history but less so with the cultural mannerisms. I am quieter, I definitely don’t talk that much with my hands. My DNA revealed I am half Scottish, and over some time I began to realize I had natural characteristics of British culture I had no way of understating until those results came back. The reserved, stoic nature that was perplexing in my household made sense suddenly. The pull toward Scotland was something my biology knew even though I consciously didn’t. Once that Pandora’s box was open, I was utterly compelled to search out the rest – the bond of biology was in control and I was along for the ride.
What a wild ride it is.