Shame can often prove a roadblock to coming out as gender diverse (or LGBPA+). Fortunately, with a deeper understanding of it and strategies, shame about gender diversity is something that can be overcome!
Paul Martin is Senior Psychologist at the Centre for Human Potential (CFHP).
Shame is one of the most powerful emotions we have as humans. It is also often the least understood. It can severely limit people’s ability to live their lives as their authentic selves.
Shame at its core is about exposure to something about the self we don’t like. Something we don’t want others to see. This can include feelings of worthlessness, defectiveness, dirtiness, sinfulness and being disordered. Exposure of this aspect of ourselves to another person can feel overwhelming. We wish the earth would swallow us up. We want to hide. But that response is based on a projection of how we feel about ourselves. We don’t actually know what the other person thinks.
The world we live in remains steeped in ignorance about how natural and important gender diversity is. We are fed constant negative messages about gender diversity. While we recognise those messages as invalid, our brains nevertheless absorb them. That impacts our self-beliefs. Therefore, once you start expressing the authentic you to others, you can feel as though you are exposing something that is inherently bad, even though rationally you may know this isn’t the case. This exposure of something you feel is not valuable or worthy creates shame. This can lead to avoiding coming out or feeling anxious or distressed. The hiding that is the natural reaction to shame can also result in social isolation which is where mental health issues can be amplified.
You Gotta Have PRIDE!
The first step to overcoming shame is to identify the negative beliefs you have absorbed and continuously challenge them. It then becomes clearer that these beliefs are not based in reality and are not valid. For many, the damage done by these beliefs and people’s harmful reactions to them can be deep enough to make it best to work through these with a trained counsellor who is experienced in the area of gender.
It is also important if you have been hiding for a while to go out of your comfort zone and seek support and connect with others going through the same journey. Having this level of support is extremely protective. CFHP has programs that address this need, some are cost-free.
Once you feel stronger, you can start facing the shame by expressing who you are in other settings. This is where support groups can assist you through your journey.
The opposite of shame is pride. We, in our diverse communities, will soon be celebrating the Pride Festival. When you start to overcome shame you can come out of hiding and deeply embrace the fact that you are valuable, worthwhile and loveable no matter what others may or may not think.
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