Updated August 25, 2022
Shame is a nearly universal experience for lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, and questioning people (LGBTQ).
Our homophobic, heterosexist culture teaches every LGBTQ youth that something essential about their core self is different, and more commonly, gross and weird. The typical result of this teaching is that LGBTQ people believe it, even when they grow up and start to question its validity. This belief can lead to mental health issues, feelings of self-hatred, and internalized homophobia.
What is internalized homophobia?
Internalized homophobia is the experience of absorbing the false teachings of the culture by believing that there is something wrong with you or that you are “less than” heterosexual or cisgendered people. It happens when you take society’s prejudices and turn them against yourself.
If you sometimes think that your minority status means that you are not as good as other people then you are experiencing internalized homophobia. It leads to low self esteem which negatively impacts all aspects of your life and health. Ultimately it makes it much more difficult to live fully and freely.
Gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning people often minimize the psychological impact of their experiences growing up gay. There has been so much exciting progress in gay marriage equality that I believe it feeds a growing tendency to assume that our childhood exposure to discrimination and heterosexism is no longer an issue.
I often hear, “That happened long ago and I’m over it.”
Decades of psychological research has proven that our experiences growing up make a huge difference in our well being and mental health. The root cause of much of the anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and low self-esteem experienced by LGBTQ+ people can often be traced back to childhood experiences with homophobic parents, relatives, classmates.
Uncovering and releasing each piece of internalized homophobia requires an ongoing commitment to your own self-observation, re-education, and working towards self love and acceptance.
How to Deal With Internalized Homophobia
Here are 30 ways to deal with internalized homophobia, and help you stay on the path to recovery from your exposure to homophobia. It is abusive to tell young people that their same-sex gender attraction is “bad”, “immoral”, or “shameful”. Growing up in a homophobic culture can be considered a form of abuse. Like recovery from abuse, the process of healing from these influences takes awareness, diligence, support, and a commitment to self-recovery.
1. Find LGBTQ friends with whom you identify.
2. It takes a while: keep looking until you find them.
3. Don’t expect your parents to “get it”, but don’t tolerate rudeness, disrespect, or discrimination.
4. Only date kind people, and stop dating mean partners.
5. Allow yourself the freedom to view all your sexual fantasies in porn without shame.
6. Take a sociology class and learn about the arbitrary, made up rules that different societies create about what is okay, and why.
7. Challenge yourself by taking our free online course 30 Days to Feeling Good About You. Self-love is one of the most important ways you can combat internalized homophobia and unlearn harmful beliefs.
8. Care deeply about what it was like for you as an LGBTQ kid in high school.
9. Say “I love you” to yourself even though it feels ridiculous.
10. Do something that feels “too feminine,” or “too masculine” maybe in private.
11. Avoid “friends” who put you down.
12. If you are religious, join a church that knows that being LGBTQ really is good.
13. Practice coming out to friendly strangers and work your way up to telling the important people in your life.
14. Notice when you are trying to be perfect and remember: it’s futile.
15. Take small interpersonal risks every week, such as revealing something that feels slightly vulnerable.
16. Read Randy Shilts’ The Mayor of Castro Street.
17. Read Alan Down’s The Velvet Rage.
18. Spend some quality time with yourself by going for a walk once a week for twenty minutes or more. When you walk, your breathing becomes rhythmic. The same is true for meditation, but walking is a much easier, and more accessible practice than meditation.
19. Join LGBTQ political groups like the Human Rights Campaign, Lambda Legal, or GLAAD and read their newsletters to raise your political consciousness. Get angry about injustice: righteous anger builds self-esteem.
20. Love some of your most judgmental family members from afar, rather than in person.
21. Never underestimate the power of childhood exposure to homophobia: it’s damaging, and repair will take your full effort.
22. Commit to making self-nurturing a new lifetime habit.
23. Work with an LGBTQ-friendly therapist or coach.
24. View a mean homophobe with sadness, imagining how truly scared and insecure they are on the inside.
25. Join an LGBTQ artistic, athletic, political, community service or support group.
26. Start writing in a daily journal for 5 minutes. Write anything. Even, “This is boring and I have no idea what to write.” The writing should not be grammatically correct, coherent, or readable. No one will ever read it and you don’t need to go back and read it yourself. Let yourself put anything on the page, to get out the “gunk” of your thoughts.
27. Treat other LGBTQ people especially well.
28. Be a witness to your thoughts. By detaching, you’ll notice your illogical, self-critical judgments.
29. If you live in a very conservative area, do something on this list at least once per day because you need extra support.
30. Create your own list of things you can do. Then do them.
Overcoming Internalized Homophobia Through Therapy
Humans heal best through relationships and that includes relationships with caring therapists who “get” what it means to be LGBTQ in our society. If you would like to explore working with a LGBTQ therapist, reach out to us for a free 15-minute call.