Coming out to your family is incredibly scary, and it can be devastating when they don’t handle it well. You always knew that your relationships were going to have to change, but nothing could have prepared you for the onslaught you have been wading through.
Things with your family have been so painful that there’s a part of you that doesn’t know if it’s worth it to even keep trying, and that part of you feels like it is growing every day. But then there are moments when you feel profoundly lonely without the support system you knew when you were younger, flawed as it was. As liberating as it is to not hide your true self anymore, it’s still a huge life change to be embracing this part of your identity, and not having your family to turn to is really taking its toll.
Perhaps you came from a very conservative household. Your parents were always very vocal about how disgusted they were by homosexuality. So when you started developing an interest in sex and dating, it didn’t even immediately occur to you that you might be gay. Now looking back you feel like it was obvious at a very young age, but you can only assume that you were in denial. You dated some girls in high school, but when you met your first crush it was painfully obvious that you had not felt this before. Suddenly being at home with your family felt like a lie without saying anything, and your family’s offhand statements about how immoral homosexuality is made you burn with shame. But when you were with him you came alive in a way that you had never known existed.
Exploring your sexuality felt exciting and invigorating.
There was no way you could go back now that you knew this was possible. This is who you are. But everything was tainted by hiding from your family. How could you feel close to them when they don’t even know this huge part of who you are?
You have always known how strongly your family felt about LGBTQ people, but there was a small part of you that hoped, and maybe even expected, that they would be able to love you no matter what.
The realization that their ideals would keep them from loving and supporting you was an incredibly painful one.
You have done everything that you know how to do to smooth things over. You have tried to spend time with your family and just not talk about your romantic exploits; but that felt dishonest and uncomfortable. You have tried telling your family that they could see you only if they went around your romantic partners and their families; but that ended up just alienating you further from your family.
When it comes down to it what you want is to know that they love and support you no matter what. Although you’d prefer that they support your relationships, more than that you just want to know that this new revelation hasn’t changed the way they feel about you. You have tried to engage them in conversations explaining as much, but it always seems to end in them questioning you and making you feel like you have to defend yourself. You’re tired of being on the defensive.
You’re tired of hiding your true self.
Living your life as openly gay has been an amazing, invigorating, and freeing experience. You are so much more of yourself now than you were when you were in denial. You like what you are learning about yourself, and you want nothing more than to share these new revelations about yourself with your family. There’s a part of you that continues to believe that when your family sees how happy you are and how comfortable you seem, they will learn to be happy for you. It’s just that this hasn’t proven to be the case so far. Sometimes you will say that it doesn’t really matter to you what your family says or how they feel, but there are still moments when you miss them and the relationships you had.
Eventually you are going to have to give up on trying to make them change their minds, because you can’t control them. You either end up with little to no relationship with your family, and a whole lot of resentment, or you avoid talking about anything that really matters to you in an effort to keep the peace. Navigating relationships with our families as we grow into adulthood is difficult in the best of times. Adding the complications inherent to coming out makes the whole ordeal a minefield. It’s OK to not be sure what you want or how you want to deal with it.
Coming out can be a harrowing experience. However, if we can learn ways to protect ourselves and engage with our families in ways that respect us and our choices it is possible to feel more in control of the whole experience, and less like you are denying your own existence. You can engage with your family in a way that feels honest, without having to choose between your family and who you are.
Keep reading 3 rules of thumb so that you can start accepting yourself and feel confident about how you are interacting with your family today.
DISOWNED BY YOUR FAMILY OR LIVING A LIE
When coming out takes a turn for the worse you can find yourself feeling like you don’t have a family. Even if you are invited to family functions the conversations are superficial and stilted. This can reinforce your feelings of shame and inadequacy.
ACCEPTING ALL OF YOURSELF
Although your coming out story didn’t go the way you wanted, you still have the potential to feel more empowered in your choices with your family. When you choose to engage with your family in a way that feels honest and respectful to yourself, it’s possible to feel more in control of your story. You have the opportunity to engage in a way that makes you proud of yourself so that you are more confident and empowered in your family interactions.
3 WAYS TO HANDLE DIFFICULT FAMILY RELATIONSHIPS TO FEEL MORE EMPOWERED
You may be feeling isolated and rejected by your family, but it doesn’t always have to feel like this. The key to feeling more empowered and confident in your family relationships is to engage in an honest way. It’s a lot easier to make these changes once you get clear about what you do and do not have control over. Take a look at these 3 tips for how to feel more empowered and confident while dealing with your family.
1) You don’t even spend time with your family anymore
You miss them in a way, but you decided a while back that it wasn’t worth it to you to feel like shit about yourself every time you left. They make it clear you aren’t welcome as you are or with your partner, so you took the hint and stayed away. It makes sense that you are feeling rejected and alienated.
DON’T HIDE FROM YOUR FAMILY
If you make it clear how you wish to be treated, and what is and is not acceptable in the way they interact with you, it becomes more of an option to spend time with your family, because you can leave when your boundaries have been crossed.
Part of what my clients and I do is explore what those boundaries need to be, and how they will be enforced if necessary. This way my clients have a clear plan of how to keep themselves physically and emotionally safe while engaging with their family.
2) When you are with your family you have to hide everything that matters to you
It doesn’t feel any better to be able to spend time with your family if the whole time you are pretending to be something you are not. It makes sense that you would still feel sad and resentful after spending time if you are effectively hiding in plain sight to make everyone else comfortable.
MAKE IT A POINT TO BE TRUE TO YOURSELF NO MATTER WHO YOU’RE WITH
Shame breeds in secrecy, and pretending you are something you are not, even if it’s only some of the time can make you feel like you have a shameful secret to hide. Your sexual identity is nothing to be ashamed of, so don’t act like it. Instead, you can speak about things that matter to you and allow your family to be uncomfortable, because their comfort is not worth more than yours.
Together with my clients I help them identify ways that they can respond authentically in conversations with their family. If my clients have reservations or fears we explore where these are coming from, and how to interact in such a way that feels authentic and honest, while keeping themselves emotionally safe. This way you can walk into the family gatherings feeling confident about which topics you want to broach, and which still feel too raw to bring up around family.
3) You don’t know what to say when your family is hurtful, so you stay silent.
In order for you to feel safe and comfortable spending time with your family, they are going to have to know that they can’t be insulting or offensive when it comes to your sexual identity (or anything else for that matter). This is going to require you doing gentle confrontations with your family most (if not every) time they say something hurtful or offensive. Yes, I realize this is exhausting, but the result can be so worth it.
When you schedule a session with me we can explore what scares you about confronting your family about their offensive statements. Together, we can experiment with new ways to engage with your family and how to cope when things are hard. If you are able to confront the hurtful things your family says, you are affirming your belief in your value over and over again, and you will likely notice that you feel less shame.
Even if you try all of these skills it is possible that your relationship with your family will never heal completely.
I feel it is powerful to know that you handled the situation in a way that you feel proud of, so that you can let your family take full responsibility for the rest. It is not necessary to lose access to your family just because you don’t see eye to eye, but it is important for you to feel loved and respected when you are with them. No one but you can decide what you can and cannot put up with with respect to your family. You get to define your limits and boundaries, and you get to decide how hard you want to work to make the relationships work.
Too often I talk to clients who feel that they have to make a choice between a relationship that feels like a denial of who they are, and no relationship at all.
I think that most of the time this is a false dilemma. That doesn’t mean that there won’t be some people and some families where no contact is the best option, but from what I have seen, making that decision can feel more empowering and authentic once we have exhausted all other options and can say with confidence that we have done everything we can.
Feeling confident and empowered in your interactions with your family after coming out can be life changing. You absolutely can feel proud of your interactions with your family and have a relationship with them that respects your autonomy and identity. I can help you sort through the mess of words said that cannot be taken back, and unstated resentments so you can have the relationships that are important to you, and still respect who you are.