Mourning Your Former Self: What Happens When You Become A New You
Your transition journey may lead you to a physical, social, or spiritual transition, or some combination thereof. Whatever ‘transition’ looks like for you, you have made the difficult decision to pursue and embrace yourself authentically, and that is incredible.
Of course, moving toward a more authentic version of yourself outwardly, inwardly, or both necessitates leaving behind that other version of you—who you thought you were and who you thought you would become.
While it may be tempting to skip over the grieving process for this person that you once were, we all must make space for mourning whenever there is a loss. For better or worse, leaving the former version of yourself behind is a loss.
Skipping over our grief and mourning in any circumstance can create feelings of disconnect, making it far more difficult to completely embrace the new path that we’re on and fully celebrate the new chapters we find ourselves in post-loss.
Transgender pastor, author, and speaker Paula Stone Williams describes this particular type of loss as a sort of “death before death.”
She explains how she has tried to foster a sense of continuity between her life before transitioning and her life now– searching for a common thread between her former and her current self.
She reminded us that we all grieve, but not all of us know how to mourn. So how do we learn how to mourn a former version of ourselves? Very much the same way that we’ve learned how to mourn other losses in our lives.
There are as many different ways to mourn as there are people; we all must find the path through grief that works best for us, but we can use the experience of others as a guide.
Here are some ideas for ways that you can begin to mourn your former self, find the connection between the two parts of your life, and more fully embrace and celebrate who you are now.
Give Yourself Permission To Mourn
Giving ourselves permission to mourn is often the first step in moving through different types of grief.
Let go of what you think you’re supposed to feel about your transition or what you’re supposed to feel about the person that you used to be; give yourself the space and compassion that you need to move through this.
Talk About The Losses That Come With Your Transition
Whether you choose to speak with a therapist, join a support group, reach out to a friend, or even journal, it’s important to externalize the specific losses that you feel as you move through your transition.
It’s okay, and even necessary, to acknowledge what you will miss or miss out on as you set out on your new path.
Write A Thank You Letter To Your Former Self
The urge to shut out the person that you were living as before is completely understandable, but it may also be detrimental to your continued sense of self.
Instead, consider embracing that person and thanking them for getting you to where you are now. You could not have done this without them and their strength.
Even their pain, sadness, and discomfort are a part of your journey as they pushed you down the path to your true self.
Forgive Your Former Self
We all do the best that we can with the information and resources that we have in the circumstances we are in. And that is what you were doing all the time leading up to your transition.
It’s easy to be angry about the time you’ve lost or the false trails you went down in your journey. It’s much harder, but all the more rewarding, to exercise some self-compassion and forgive yourself for the struggle.
It may help to express this forgiveness out loud or in writing. Keep in mind, too, that this will take time, and you may have to remind yourself to forgive and accept that forgiveness.
Shift Your Language Around
If you’re finding it difficult to talk about your former self– if the pronouns, names, and experiences don’t feel quite right to you, think about the language you’re using and consider switching it up.
Everyone is different, and what works for others may not work for you. Test out a few different ways of talking about yourself and keep what feels right.
Maybe you use your former name, pronouns, or identifiers when talking about your former self, maybe you update them, or maybe you avoid that altogether and use only “I” language.
Some people have found it easier to discuss their former selves with third-person pronouns as if they are talking about a friend. This is a good “in the meantime” option while you work to bring the two pieces of your life together.
Make A List Of All The Ways You’ve “Transitioned” Before
This is very likely not the first time that you have had to leave part of yourself behind to embrace the new you.
You are experienced in transitioning if you have ever:
- Gone through puberty
- Graduated high school or college
- Joined the workforce
- Moved out on your own
- Gotten a roommate
- Married someone
- Gone through a breakup
- Had/adopted children
- Changed careers
- Became an empty-nester
- Moved to another state or country
- Adopted a pet
- Reached a milestone age
- Learned to drive
- Experienced a global pandemic
- Lost a loved one…
The list goes on. There is any number of “transitions” that we go through in life, and you have made it through so many already. Use what you have learned from each of those transitions to move through this one.
Make A List Of The “Common Threads” You Can Find
As you’ve learned from all of life’s other transitions, so much about you can change while you still remain. Find the things that have stayed true about you through the years and list them out.
Look for those things that will continue to be true about you through your latest transition.
Don’t worry about finding something profound right away. You can start simple with hobbies that you’ve always enjoyed and work your way toward character attributes or beliefs that have remained constant.
This list will help you see exactly what you’re leaving behind, what you’re keeping, and where there is room for the exciting and new.
Take time to explore the above options and come up with your own ways through this momentous journey.
Like other kinds of mourning, this is not a linear process or something that will just “end”, but it will shift as time goes on and become a part of your new you. Allow yourself all the time and space needed to move through that.
There may be others in your life who will have their own complicated feelings around your transition, but please remember that you are only responsible for your own mourning, and they are responsible for theirs.
Photo credit: Craig Adderley, via Pexels