DR. LISA HANSEN is a licensed marriage and family therapist with a PhD from Brigham Young University. She is the clinical director at Flourish Therapy Inc. specializing in addressing the needs of LGBTQ+ youth and families. An active member of the LDS Church, Lisa recently retired from singing each week with the The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square.
Since Erik Erikson outlined stages of human psychological development in 1956, students of adolescent psychology understand that children go through several stages in forming a stable personality:
Experiences while growing up which enhance each of these stages or tasks promote emotional health and allow us to move onto the next task. Experiences that violate these tasks of childhood make it difficult for us to integrate our experiences into a stable identity. They actually keep us from owning and sharing who we are. Experiences that violate our trust, our autonomy, our initiative, and our industry tend to keep us forever acting as adolescents, trying to get to know who we are, what we feel, and how to make sense of our lives. Without that sense of integrated identity, we are not able to then move into the next step and experience genuine intimacy with others.
As a therapist who works primarily with LGBTQ individuals, couples, and families against the backdrop of LDS experience, I find that the ability to trust one’s identity is perhaps the main mental health issue that comes up in therapy. Most clients in our clinic have experienced significant challenges to identity integration through violations of trust, autonomy, initiative, or industry as they seek to contribute their unique vision of who they are and what they have to offer their world.
I believe that any piece of false information about your identity during childhood and adolescence is likely to create some degree of trauma in your life, leading to conclusions such as “I am flawed, unlovable, powerless, inadequate.” Is it any wonder that LGBTQ people experience more of these kinds of identity challenges than straight or cisgender people? Learning and experiencing the truth about ourselves is the solution to trauma. Yet in the culture of the spaces where we live, there is not yet spiritual or religious permission to learn and share critical truths about ourselves in an accepting atmosphere.
As a prelude to integrating identity as an antidote to trauma, I want to offer two quotes. The first is from Jazz Jennings: “Being transgender isn’t a medical transition. It’s a process of learning to love yourself for who you are.” And from Audre Lorde, “If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.”