How To Come Out… Of Your Shell

I recently got acquainted with a young Asian man in his 20s. He had struggled with social anxiety since his teens. He feared people and their harsh judgments and found himself avoiding social interactions at all costs. In the last few years, he had worked hard to overcome his social anxiety and had made great strides.

Coming out to himself as gay really helped his progress. Just acknowledging this fundamental part of himself was enough. He gained self-confidence. Then he hit a snag and his hard-earned self-confidence plummeted.

He lamented to me that the LGBTIQ community did not seem to have a place for him.  “Everywhere I go, I see labels! Twink, bear, chub, dad, cub. I don’t fit any of these labels!”

He had tried to connect with different LGBTIQ people, even within the small local LGBTIQ Asian community, but still came away feeling that he did not fit in.

“No one seems interested to be friends. It’s not like I’m looking for a boyfriend. I just want somewhere where I can feel comfortable being myself!  People just don’t want to be real!”

Here are some things I think might help in this kind of situation.

Take Care of Yourself First

Regularly engage in practices that boost your self-confidence. Try to build up a store of self-confidence that is not dependent on the situation you are in or other people’s evaluation of you.

Ultimately, you need to get it into your bones that it is okay to be the real you. Here are some simple strategies:

Celebrate your strengths
Say you are good at cooking, for instance. As you are cooking, take a moment to appreciate you have this ability. If you have some artistic skill, take a moment to appreciate that. Often, especially in some parts of the LGBTIQ community, external traits such as physical appearance, behaviours and ideological groups are valued over the more “invisible” qualities such as personality, values, social skills, compassion, abilities and so forth. Celebrating these qualities you have will help build a core of self-esteem that is less affected by external factors.

Build your internal self-confidence
Playback: Think back to the times when you felt self-confidence. Gather as many big and small memories as you can. Pay attention to the emotions and mental stories (including memories of events and thoughts you hear in your head) that are connected to these moments of self-confidence. Really playback the details of these mental stories.
Embody: As you do so, notice how your body feels. This is your body-feeling of self-confidence.
Brainstorm: Without censoring any information or ideas that come up, notice what this body-feeling is linked to.  What other memories, thoughts, images, ideas or emotions come up when you pay attention to the body-feeling. Which ones stand out the most for you?  Explore them in more detail.
Discern Need: From your exploration right now, what do you feel is one small thing that you could do to get in touch with more self-confidence? Practice this exercise regularly and note down what comes up for you.

Find Your Tribe

Low self-confidence is only a part of the struggle of the socially anxious LGBTIQ person trying to fit in. Another part is the true lack of opportunities in the community to form deep and lasting connections.

Often, LGBTIQ people who do not fit a certain category find themselves sidelined. A common complaint is that they can’t find people whose ideals, personalities, interests and so forth align with theirs.  Here are some things to consider doing:

Start getting broadly social
You don’t need to actively participate in the LGBTIQ community to meet people from there.  LGBTIQ people also operate in other social settings. Simply look at your group of friends, preferably based on common interests. Keep your eyes open and send out feelers about LGBTIQ people in your social groups. Start by making friends there.

Join social interest groups
If you are into cycling and fitness, see if you can find a queer social group doing that. might be a good place to start. If you are into reading, consider an LGBTIQ book club like Queer Readers. If your interest group doesn’t exist yet, and you feel ready, consider starting one!

Dr Eric Wee Chong Tan is available by appointment at the Centre for Human Potential in Brisbane. Call (07) 3211 1117 or visit the CFHP website here.

Eric Wee Chong Tan

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