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Coming Out in Adulthood: Challenges and Expectations

Father and adult son chat by a lake

Most teenagers naturally reach a point where the bounds of sexuality are explored and roles and sexual identity are created. For LGBT teens this natural part of growing up can often be confusing and overwhelming, resulting in a variety of responses. Some individuals experience such intense negative emotions about their sexual feelings that they repress and push those feelings as far away as possible and choose to ignore their sexuality.

By hiding deep in the closet, these teens are setting themselves up for an uphill battle as they get older and inevitably arrive at a point in their adult lives when the reality of their feelings can no longer be ignored. In other cases, this aspect of an individual’s personality does not surface until later in life at which time they may uncover feelings of same sex attraction, for example.

However they arrive there, the challenge of coming out in adulthood is a unique and often mystifying journey for both the person coming out and the people in their lives. As an adult, the fabric of life is often strongly developed with work relationships, long-term friends, and even children and spouses. The complexity of this web of relationships can make the process of coming out quite messy in adulthood, characterized by experiences of deep confusion, guilt, betrayal, rejection, and heartbreak.

When LGBT adults make the difficult but necessary choice to come out, they are often faced with many emotionally fraught questions from people who are shaken by the revelation that their friend or family member is not the person they thought they knew. There can be feelings of shock, anger, and disapproval from those close to the newly identified LGBT person. It is a bewildering experience for everyone involved.

The most basic questions from friends and family address concerns that the newly open LGBT person has been hiding their true nature and their sexuality, and that the trust of the relationship has been broken. Both parties experience feelings of loss and confusion that can severely strain the bonds of the relationship.

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For the person coming out, at a time when they most need the support of their friends and family, this layer of confusion can create a perceived lack of safety from the people who would otherwise be that individual’s support network. This lack of support can sometimes lead to an interruption in the coming out process and lead the newly open LGBT individual to regret the decision to come out.

In addressing this issue, it can be important to realize that not only are adults who come out having to redefine themselves and their relationship to their community but also the people they are coming out to have to create a new framework of understanding.

When an adult child comes out to family members, the family story of kids, grandchildren, spouses, and family that has been carried for many years must be re-authored to make the new details meld into the existing family scenario. A time of transition will occur where parents, relatives, and siblings will need to re-establish the family story with fresh details adding a vital new definition to the fabric of the family history. Some family members may become estranged as a result of religious disapproval or an inability to move past feelings of betrayal.

For close friends, there is also a redefinition that must occur in order to assist in building a strong bond between the newly out and open LGBT person and their friends. With both family and friends, questions of lifestyle, safety, and the impact this news will have on future relationships may come to the forefront. Some people who have just come out will feel comfortable answering all of these questions and more, while others may be unsure of their own feelings and may not have all of the answers at that time.

Leaving room to discover this newly developed aspect of the LGBT person’s identity is vital in their ability to define and understand who they are. All of the answers may not be available immediately but the process of coming out is an ongoing experience with new pieces of understanding being continually discovered.

And most important for all people involved in the coming out process—from the LGBT person coming out to family and friends—the qualities of the person coming out are not changing. All of that person’s vital goodness and qualities remain, with the addition of new and exciting aspects being shared openly and honestly for the first time.

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© Copyright 2010 by John Sovec, LMFT, therapist in Pasadena, CA. All Rights Reserved.

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Comments
  • JP August 11th, 2010 at 5:29 PM #1

    all this uneasiness with regard to the LGBT community is because although there have been such people from time immemorial, this kind of exposure and recognition was never given to them. and I believe things can only get better for them. when being gay or bi-sexual becomes more and more common, more and more people will be cool with the idea of other people not being straight and this will lead to a change in the general perception of people and will therefore make things easier for the LGBT community.

  • hannah G August 12th, 2010 at 3:43 AM #2

    We have equality,don’t we?Irrespective of gender,color and everything else!have people forgotten that this also includes a person’s sexual preference?

    I find it ridiculous that people are against certain people just because of their sexual preference.Its almost like disliking a group of people just because they prefer a kind of food that you don’t!

  • mini August 12th, 2010 at 10:15 AM #3

    while parents and family may be concerned about the well-being and general good of a person,they need to understand that some things are best left to the person himself and that no interference should be made.

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