Many individuals experience stigma, prejudice, and/or discrimination simply because of their identity. According to minority stress and identity development theories, these experiences can contribute to difficulties with self-acceptance.
While this is not always the case (some people have been secure in their sexual or gender identities for a long time, and have many supportive people around them who understand and appreciate them for exactly who they are), it is unfortunately common that LGBTQ+ people struggle with developing a positive sense of self, such as pride.
Human beings are social creatures and need interaction to survive. For our ancestors, being cast out of the tribe or herd jeopardized survival. So emotions such as guilt and shame have evolved to alert us when we act in ways that could result in rejection from our chosen community or close relationships.
Shame is a universal emotion for all of us. Any person who has experienced “the closet” has known shame— and this shame can be a form of trauma. Shame arises when we believe that we are damaged in some way.
We tend to internalize the influential critical voices that we hear. If we have repeated experiences of shame, we develop negative core beliefs (such as I am not good enough). We may also experience shame-based self-criticism, compounding the impact of micro-aggressions, bullying, and other forms of prejudice that may be experienced from society.
Psychologist Paul Gilbert suggests that when we feel shamed by others, our brains most often react with the fear responses Fawn or Fight.
Fawn means that we adopt a subordinate or submissive role. We may attribute any wrongdoing to ourselves, even if we don’t believe we deserve all of the blame.
On the other hand, when we feel unjustly shamed, we are more likely to react with a Fight response (becoming dominant or aggressive). By attacking, we attempt to overpower or bully potential attackers or rejecters in order to create a sense of personal security.
All of the fear responses can be useful in keeping us safe. However, they can create a negative feedback loop in the brain when we are unable to change the situation that triggers them, such as our identity. This may show up as a shame cycle where destructive behaviors may be repeated because we don’t see the ability to change, or we engage in destructive habits to block out the feeling of shame.
🌈 🌈 🌈 The good news is that the end to this loop doesn’t rely on a change in identity at all—we can actually change how our brains respond and the feelings that arise, learning to embrace and accept all parts of our identity.
The process fundamentally involves a shift in belief. Here are a few accepting and affirming beliefs that everyone deserves to feel, no matter how you personally identify. For as often as you might repeat otherwise, flip the script and challenge limiting beliefs!