Internalized stigma and shame can have a profound impact on the well-being and self-worth of LGBTQIA+ individuals. Society’s prejudice and misunderstanding often lead to the internalization of negative beliefs and feelings of shame. Exploring the impact of internalized stigma and shame on LGBTQIA+ individuals, I offer some strategies for healing and building inner strength. By focusing on self-acceptance and self-love, you can develop personal power, and overcome harmful internalized messages and beliefs.
What Is Internalized Stigma and Shame?
Internalized stigma refers to negative beliefs, stereotypes, and prejudices about one’s own LGBTQIA+ identity that have been absorbed from society including families, schools, religion, our communities, television and media, government and politicians. Shame, on the other hand, is the deep sense of inadequacy or self-blame associated with these negative beliefs.
The Impact of Internalized Stigma and Shame
Internalized stigma and shame can manifest in various ways, but often lead to feelings of self-doubt, fear, and a distorted sense of self-worth. When you are impacted by internalized stigma and shame, you may feel your self-esteem is low, find yourself having difficulty making new friends, struggle with conflict in established relationships, or feel that you cannot express yourself fully — feel you are living only a part of who you are.
Challenging Negative Beliefs
Overcoming internalized stigma and shame begins with challenging the negative messages and beliefs we have absorbed. Taking a skeptical point of view towards our own beliefs can be helpful. When you find you are getting down on yourself, questioning your beliefs or self-criticisms can be important.
- Is it really true that I am (fill in the blank)?
- Where might this idea or self-perception have come from?
- Who told me that or when do I first remember thinking that I was (fill in the blank)?
- Could this self-perception be connected to a social prejudice or bias rather than a personal truth?
If you are in therapy, your therapist may be able to offer you strategies such as guided exercises or cognitive reframing to challenge and replace these negative beliefs with more empowering and self-affirming ones.
Practicing Self-Compassion and Self-Acceptance
Self-compassion and self-acceptance are essential in healing from internalized stigma and shame. Sometimes our greatest strengths can be discovered behind our deepest shame or self-criticism. So, be kind to yourself in your journey of self-discovery.
Practice gratitude and forgive yourself when you forget to care for yourself. No matter how bad you feel, remind yourself that you deserve and can feel compassion and love. When you notice you are stressed or dis-regulated, use this or another simple breathing technique to return to a more settled state:
- Close your eyes, if you like.
- Take a long, deep breath, and let your lungs fill.
- Then, exhale slowly through your mouth.
- Do this three times at a relaxed, unforced pace.
- Sit still for a moment and let your mind relax.
Your LGBTQIA+ identities are valid and deserving of love and acceptance from you and others. You my also find practical exercises, such as positive affirmations, self-care practices, and journaling help to cultivate self-compassion and nurture a sense of self-acceptance.
Seeking Support and Community
Building a support network is crucial in overcoming internalized stigma and shame. To expand your social support network, you might seek out support groups or activity-based groups in LGBTQIA+ communities and organizations, where you can connect with others who have shared identities or similar experiences. These spaces provide validation, understanding, and a sense of acceptance and belonging, which are essential experiences to heal from the woundedness that internalized beliefs sustain.
Therapy as a Path to Healing
Therapy can be a valuable tool in overcoming internalized stigma and shame. Therapists who are LGBTQIA+ affirming and knowledgeable can provide a safe and affirming space for exploring and identifying ingrained beliefs, unravelling the self-criticism and shame you feel. Separating those negative feelings and perceptions from a larger sense of self often brings new perspectives and relief.
Cultivating Self-Love and Authenticity
Learning to embrace your deepest self can sound like new age fluff but with a growing sense of your own depth and a capacity for self-care and self-love you begin to neutralize shame and disarm internalized judgements. Your inner strength comes form your ability to hold onto a positive sense of self. Activities that authentically nourish you or bring you joy and experiences of self-expression will lift up parts of you that may have retreated from sight or been denied, suppressed or ignored. Again, LGBTQIA+ affirming and knowledgeable therapists can help you connect with your authentic experience of yourself and develop self-love.
Celebrating Progress and Growth
Overcoming internalized stigma and shame is an ongoing journey. Celebrate your progress and small steps. Personal growth can be a sudden “a-ha” but more often than not is a gradual process that requires support, tending and practice. Healing takes time and effort. Inner strength builds upon itself if you bring awareness and intention to your efforts.
Talk to someone.
If you are interested in learning about how psychotherapy can support healing from the impact of shame, internalized messages and beliefs, LifeWorks can help. Please reach out to Angel Ziegler, our Intake Coordinator, to schedule a brief, complimentary call – we can work together to find a therapist who will be a good fit for you.
Learn more about Getting Started in Therapy here.