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Counseling Psychology


Identity formation is a lifelong process, significantly influenced by factors involving social groups such as family, culture, and life events. Identity confusion can result from Misattributed Parentage Experiences (MPE), when people learn they are not biologically related to a parent(s) who raised them as such, possibly triggering genealogical bewilderment, the state when uncertain knowledge of biological parents, or lack thereof, leads to maladjustment, confusion, and uncertainty (Leighton, 2012) in identity. The present study is a qualitative analysis of the effect genealogical bewilderment has on identity formation and crises for MPE adults in the United States between 2012 and 2022. Using Marcia (1966) as the primary model for identity development, this study frames the appreciable difference genealogical bewilderment causes when one no longer knows the ancestry or culture from which they came. However, identity is also a fluid concept influenced by life events; therefore, this study expands the conceptual framework to include Erikson’s (1968) psychosocial stages and Tajfel and Turner’s (1979) social identity theory. A phenomenological methodology using a critical hermeneutic (interpretive) approach and thematic analysis was used to analyze an open-ended survey of 123 participants. The findings identified two main themes obtained through open-ended survey questions: the presence of identity crisis and negative family dynamics. The research implications point to concrete ways MPEs successfully heal from the identity crisis and resulting negative family dynamic changes and can bridge the research practice gap for professional mental health clinicians.


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