Archive for identity

Working with Transgenders

transgender

/tranzˈdʒɛndə,transˈdʒɛndə/

adjective denoting or relating to a person whose sense of personal identity and gender does not correspond with their birth sex.

Over the past few years I have had the opportunity of working with two transgender individuals. It has challenged my assumptions, my unconscious prejudices and my ignorance about what it means to be transgender. 

There has been a lot of discussion the past few years about the rights of transgenders and attention on the difficulties of being transgender. 

I remember being on a yoga retreat a few years ago with a group of older and younger women discussing this. Needless to say, the divide between the generations was vast and polarised. What I noticed was how at the root of the discussion was fear… fear of difference, fear of not understanding and fear of engaging with another way of thinking.

Working with Transgenders: 

Jade* walked into my consultant room 5 years ago. The minute I went to meet her in the waiting room I had two conflicting thoughts. One was that I had never seen a more stunning women and the other was an odd feeling ‘something wasn’t quite right’. Throughout the initial session, I was waiting for Jade to tell me a secret I suspected was around but I had no idea what that secret might be. When finally, in the last 15 minutes she told me about being a transgender woman. Suddenly, everything made sense and yet…it didn’t.

As I continued to work with Jade I found myself experiencing her as a man, then a woman and then I was just confused. I started to think about this in terms of Jade’s experience of becoming a woman and how confusing it must have been and still was for her. Often, therapists use the countertransference to understand what their client might be feeling but I was in unchartered territory and I stopped myself from assuming this might be the case. I found myself asking a lot of questions and admitted I was ignorant and didn’t understand anything about being transgenders. 

What I gradually understood was that it was my discomfort not Jades and the frustration of not being seen and accepted by others is at the heart of the transgender experience. Suddenly, I was the one required to challenge my own narratives. I started to do more reading about transgenders and listen to what Jade’s experience was so as not to get caught up in my own assumptions. This enabled me to more fully appreciate Jade the person she was and work with the issues she brought as a woman. Without a doubt, accepting a new paradigm is essential to create changes in attitudes in regards to understanding transgender and to see that there is no them and us but we. 

 

  •  Helpful things to know about Transgender people  
  •  Know that transgender people have membership in various sociocultural identity groups (e.g., race, social class, religion, age, disability, etc.) and there is not one universal way to look or be transgender.
  •  Use names and pronouns that are appropriate to the person’s gender presentation and identity; if in doubt, ask. Language is important.
  •  Don’t make assumptions about transgender people’s sexual orientation, desire for hormonal or medical treatment, or other aspects of their identity or transition plans. If you have a reason to know, ask.
  •  Don’t confuse gender nonconformity with being transgender. Not all people who appear androgynous or gender nonconforming identify as transgender or desire gender affirmation treatment.
  •  Keep the lines of communication open with the transgender person.
  •  Get support in processing your own reactions. It can take some time to adjust to seeing someone you know well transitioning. Having someone close to you transition will be an adjustment and can be challenging, especially for partners, parents, and children.
  •  Seek support in dealing with your feelings. You are not alone. Mental health professionals and support groups for family, friends, and significant others of transgender people can be useful resource.

*Jade is not her real name

Shirlee Kay

Retirement and Couple Life

Watching Andy Murray struggling with the aftermath of his performance this week gave a searing glimpse into the pain of the forced ending to a career in which he has worked tirelessly to gain a place of supremacy.

His current suffering is a sad example of what many of us may have to endure in our own way and hopefully in a less public arena.

Sportsmen and women know that physical fitness is a definition of what they do. The realisation that this will wane has to be an accepted view of a professional life that has a finite time span before hopefully evolving into an area where these skills can still be celebrated in different ways.

For many of us, a career can be a large part of our identity.  ‘What do you do?’ Is often an opening question in social or business interactions. And the need to feel valued and competent is knitted into many of us from childhood.

Somehow we do know that this must end, but it may not always be within our control.

Even the word ‘retirement’ has a negative context – there can be whiff of helpless oncoming frailty around it.

Work gives many of us status and structure.

Its financial benefit can often be the means of gaining a better life than the one we came from.

It is likely to offer companionship, social interaction and identity.

That’s an awful lot to lose. And this change will throw a real grenade into the structure of couple life.

What a huge shift it is for the partner when an outworker becomes a homebody.

Suddenly there’s another voice that needs attention, lunch and companionship where they both used to find this elsewhere.

For some, it can be a gradual and planned retreat into a world they long to enter. Time and space for thought, hobbies or new interests. But for those like Sir Andy, it’s a shock and played out in a very public arena.

Sudden forced redundancy or ‘being let go’ is a massive loss and needs time to settle.

The new pattern of couple life will need big adjustments. Before irritations set in, take time to discuss how each of you sees the next phase.

All change brings loss and for some, who loved who they were in their careers, it can be a kind of bereavement to be stripped of this and have to grow a new identity.

Kindness and patience will be needed. And the partner who has to assimilate An Other into their daily life will also need tolerance.

A lot of sympathy will be extended to Andy around the massive and unwelcome shift in his daily life. Spare a thought for Kim, his wife, who may have a totally different life thrust upon her, too.

It’s important not to rush changes, but to take a while in building fresh contacts and different habits.

Think about how rethinking time together can create an interesting new phase, but couples  also need to allow time and space to stay with their own individual structures and identities.

Be aware that previous time apart may have protected against petty irritations that are now put into sharper focus.

Stay tolerant. This is a process of negotiation for both and will take a while to settle. It can also be a period of renewed ideas when there’s an opportunity to prioritise what is really important to us.

Discovery of new interests, deeper involvement in established hobbies, time for family and friends and less pressured hours for couples to share new experiences can be a boon after years of slog or commuter travel.

So, dust off those freedom passes, check out a new passion or move up a grade on a favoured pursuit.

Stay curious and remember that we all need endings before we can find new beginnings.

Best wishes to Sir Andy for the next stage in his new career options and his family life.

And equally good wishes to Lady Murray for hers.

Christina Fraser

Rituals and Relationships

Every culture, every family, every couple indeed every individual, has their rituals. Some have been there for centuries – others are of a much more recent origin – but all are important to the formation of identity. Of course it is also true that as human beings we will at times seek to establish our identity by rebelling against the rituals that others use to define us. How many family arguments begin at that point where one or other parent says ‘Well that’s not the way we do things in this family….’

Often, in the counselling room, I am confronted by conflicting rituals, where one or other members of the couple will talk about their frustrations with the other. Their partner’s behaviour seems so unreasonable to them – Why? Because their way just isn’t a good way to mark an event, to celebrate something, or to do a particular task – it’s much more than that… it isn’t the right way to do it. Often it seems as though they are appealing to the therapist to validate their position, almost appealing to a moral adjudicator outside the couple’s experience. The secret as ever is to keep your own ears open to the assumptions you are making and then to share them with your partner whilst being open to hearing a different perspective on them. There is often no right or wrong way of doing things – just different.

But rituals don’t all need to be set in the context of negativity. The fact that every culture has them shows us just how significant they can be in helping us to feel safe, bring comfort, form our identity and mark stages of our lives. In building long term relationships rituals can have an important role. One of the things I encourage couples to think about and to seek to establish are forms of rituals in their own relationships. In a sense it doesn’t matter if it’s a Friday night curry, or a date night once a month or if they always buy flowers or a gift for each other on particular anniversaries – it is for each couple to work out what’s meaningful for them in their relationship. What matters is that they find some building blocks to create solid foundations for themselves – to create rhythms and traditions that are about the new couple that they are forming. This brings shared meaning and deepens connection in a relationship.

Sarah Fletcher

Counselling when considering Separation

Couples sometimes contact Coupleworks when they are facing the end of their relationship and have the wish to separate as amicably as possible, and with consideration and understanding.

Counselling can offer support when the grief at the thought of a break-up feels overwhelming and help is needed with managing difficult feelings. This is particularly true if the couple have experienced other significant and painful losses in their lives. Broken attachments can provoke great anxiety – and counselling offers the time and space to think about needs and how to tap resources of support.

Being part of a couple can define and strengthen a person’s identity and suddenly being alone requires a re-figuration and understanding of oneself: ‘Who am I now?’ If there are issues of low self-esteem and low self-worth this can feel a monumental task. When there has been a custom of sharing, now there may be an aching sense of loneliness and panic. It may be important to identify and uncover one’s inner resilience.

If the threat of the end of the relationship has come out of the blue, then a partner may have trouble accepting a future that is not the one that was anticipated. Feelings of well-being and certainty have been shaken to the core and plans will need adjusting. There may be financial implications, child-care issues, even the selling of the home. It can be difficult to grasp the extent of the upheaval – and challenging to find the confidence to face life alone.

If there have been childhood insecurities, or rejections, or abandonments, past memories can resurface and create a worry that this present loss just cannot be managed. Starting over, facing the unknown, can cause panic and dread – but talking to an impartial counsellor offers a chance to think more calmly. Family and friends can sometimes find it difficult to stand back, not take sides, and be detached from their own concerns.

When there are feelings of betrayal, bitterness and anger it may be important begin to understand how things have come about. There can be benefit from gaining an insight into the dynamics of the relationship, the patterns of behaviour, and the impulses and reactions of each partner. Untangling the confusion may alleviate feeling of helplessness and hopelessness and prevent getting stuck in recrimination and blame.

Kathy Rees

The Challenges in finding a Healthy Work/Life Balance: Work

ONE:  When we focus on work…

  • • We can often prioritise the demands made by work over the demands emanating from relationships. There can be a disproportionate focus on job over family.
  • • The requirements of the job seem more straightforward, more clearly defined and more easily understood. We list the assignments and achieve the deadlines and, as a result, receive a reassuring sense of competency. There can be a satisfying confirmation of our identity and role in the world.
  • • Feeling in control, being task-orientated, receiving positive feedback from colleagues, can stave off a susceptibility to insecurity and anxiety.
  • • Work can increase our confidence and self-esteem, and soothe a fear of failure; particularly if we have a tendency to feel ‘not-good-enough’
  • • In addition, the time and energy expended is difficult for a partner to challenge when it is justified in terms of earning money and developing a career.

Placement in the Family A useful task in a learning group

First and last children have an identity by the nature of their position.

An only child has an identity because it avoids sibling rivalry but has to face other difficult issues within family life on his/her own.

The middle children however many there are have to form their own identity within the group.  This may be, the joker, the rebel, the sick one, the athlete, the academic, the good girl/boy, the quiet one or the attention seeker.

All these defenses are formed in order to gain special attention from the parents or parent.

When these children become adults many of these learnt behaviour patterns repeat throughout their lives, sometimes making relationships difficult to manage.  An interesting experiment which can be reassuring and helpful in a group is to form sets of same place children who then share their experience of what being that number felt like.

The feeling of being alone becomes a shared one and enables management of difficult issues to feel easier.

Clare Ireland