Updated: Oct 8
Loving someone through a gender shift brings up many emotions. If guilt is among them, don't be surprised and don't be too hard on yourself…
Guilt can show up in many ways in an experience of gender grief as we struggle to understand why we are feeling the emotions that we're feeling. It can be hard to reconcile the fact that we love someone deeply and want to support them, but their choice causes us distress. We may be left questioning our open mindedness, our acceptance of gender norms other than male/ female. We may even be asking: does the fact that we're grieving this change mean that we're making a judgment about everyone who expresses gender in some other way?
“Rather than resisting our uncomfortable emotions we can explore them. Why are they here? How are they pointing to misalignment between our actions and our values?”
The ego associates pain with something having gone wrong and it has a tendency to go looking for someone to blame in response. Often the person it lands on is our self, perpetuating thoughts of how we are not enough. How we are not worthy of grace and love, only of judgment. Thus, in the painful emotions that accompany loving someone who is stepping outside their birth assigned gender identity, feelings of guilt are almost sure to be there. Guilt that you're upset. Guilt that you didn't respond better. Guilt that you didn't know sooner. Guilt that you don't feel comfortable talking about it to everyone... The list goes on.
Although those feelings can be intensely uncomfortable they may be arising so that you can lean into them. Brené Brown suggests that guilt is helpful. It's holding our action, or lack of action, up against our values and feeling discomfort because of the misalignment. This invites us to step forward into growth. She contrasts that with shame, which is not helpful or productive, because it arises from the belief that we are flawed in some way and therefore not worthy of love and belonging.
So, if we let it, guilt can call us to expand. We can respond to it as though it is a signpost on life’s journey directing us down a path that will lead to our higher growth. Regardless of what our ego might try and tell us, we don't have to take it as proof that we—or anybody else—did anything wrong.
What does that mean in the context of gender grief? Let's look at three reasons why you might be feeling guilt.
You judge yourself for how you reacted upon hearing the news.
You question why you were struggling to accept this change given that it's what your loved one wants.
You wonder if your grief means that you view anybody who lives outside the binary gender norm as somehow wrong or less than.
In responding to feelings like this we can practice self-compassion and step into self-growth. We can calm ourselves down rather than beat ourselves up. If your first reaction is something you now regret, acknowledge that we aren't always able to be at our best when unprepared and offer yourself forgiveness. Then apologize for any pain caused and share how you feel now that you've had some time to process. If you're still feeling a sense of loss that makes this experience difficult, recognize that you have last one form of a relationship that you valued and be gentle with yourself. Then explore the new form of that relationship define what is unique and precious. If you're worried that your grief is pointing to a bias against the LGBTQ+ population, remain compassionate as you adjust to the personal aspects of how this change is impacting your family. Then take advantage of the invitation to become more informed about gender identity issues and the challenges that LGBTQ+ people face in society.
Loving someone through a gender identity shift brings up many emotions. If you find that guilt is among them, don't be surprised. and don't be too hard on yourself! Let what is, be. Be present to your emotions so that you can learn what they are here to teach you.
And then, with grace, move on.