Coming Out May Be Good for Your Mental Health: How Should You Do It?

Hand with painted nails opening door into bright room“Coming out of the closet” is a metaphor that has long been used to describe people who have hidden a core part of their identities from the world around them, typically because of shame, risk of persecution or violence, or possible disapproval from family members, employers, or others. Although this is most commonly associated with LGBTQ+ people being open about their sexual and gender identities, coming out is a process that anyone who has felt the need to hide who they are from those around them may experience. The process of coming out can be painful and it may seem easier to stay in the closet. However, hiding who you truly are, and who you love, from yourself and those you care about can have a negative effect on your well-being (Drescher, 2004).

It can be very lonely when your identity, romantic interests, or relationship style is different than what your family, friends, and society expect of you. For many, it can feel as though you are wearing different masks: who you truly are, who you wish to be, and who you present to the world. Although it may be difficult to come out, being true to who you are can have positive effects on your self-esteem, stress levels, mental well-being, quality of life, and relationships (Universite de Montreal, 2013).

Coming out is a personal process and is different for everyone. You might have supportive family and friends, or your loved ones might be less than supportive. You might experience feelings of shame about who you are that make it difficult for you to share this with those around you. No matter what your situation is, you deserve to be happy and comfortable as you are, to feel free to live openly and honestly in a way that fulfills you. Below are some steps you can take to figure out when to come out, to whom, and how to do it.

Come Out to Yourself

When we receive messages throughout our lives that we should live a certain way, it can be difficult to accept ourselves as we truly are. Living your life according to someone else’s plan for you can leave you feeling hopeless, vulnerable, and ashamed. Before you can come out to your loved ones and the rest of the world, you need to come out to yourself.

Ask yourself what you feel about who you are, who you love, and what you want out of life. If you feel shame, ask yourself where those feelings stem from, and what kind of messages you remember hearing that contributed to the shame you feel. Take the time to ask yourself what truly makes you feel happy and fulfilled, what you would do if there were no pressures on you to live another way, and how you might be able to make small changes in your life. You may benefit from talking to an understanding therapist who celebrates diversity and understands the coming-out process.

Develop a Support System

There are a lot of negative messages in the media and in our everyday lives about diversity. For many people who feel different than those around them, it can feel as if they are alone and the world is against them. It is important to fight those negative messages with love and support from someone in your life who you trust, and who accepts you for who you are. This might be your best friend, your lover, someone you know to be accepting and open-minded, or your therapist.

What if you don’t know who you might be able to trust? It might be time to build a community of support around you so you don’t feel so alone. You can try attending Pride events, joining a club or group of peers, and spending time in spaces that openly celebrate diversity. If you live in a rural area, you might find this support from an online group or pen pal.

Before you make the decision to come out to someone who may not respond well, make a plan for how to protect yourself from harm and cope with potentially negative reactions.

Make Sure You Have a Safety Plan

Coming out, especially to those you are closest to, can be a challenging process. Although many people are surprised to find just how supportive and welcoming their families are, some people experience a great deal of grief, anger, and emotional or physical violence when they come out. Before you make the decision to come out to someone who may not respond well, make a plan for how to protect yourself from harm and cope with potentially negative reactions.

Your plan might include a list of safe places to stay if needed, people you can talk to about your experiences, a list of resources you may need if things don’t go the way you hope, and even an appointment with a trusted therapist to process the feelings you experience during the coming-out process.

Be Picky About Who You Come Out to and When

It may not be in your best interests to come out to everyone in your life, at least not immediately. Just because some people in your life are accepting doesn’t mean everyone will be. Your choice to come out to someone might consider how it will benefit you and your well-being, and whether it is likely to have negative impacts on your safety. It is your choice when you come out and to whom. A conversation about who you are and who you love will likely go smoother if it is at a time you feel safe, comfortable, and supported.

Coming out is a difficult process for many; this is why so many people choose to hide their true selves. Being genuine and free to live your life according to who you are may be beneficial for your mental health, but it’s wise to plan and prepare for a variety of outcomes. Only you know whether coming out is right for you, when to do it, and to whom.

References:

  1. Drescher, J. (2004, October 1). The closet: Psychological issues of being in and coming out. Psychiatric Times, 21(12).
  2. Universite de Montreal. (2013, January 29). Health benefits of coming out of the closet demonstrated. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130129074427.htm

© Copyright 2017 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Laura Turnbull, MC, CPsych, therapist in York, Ontario

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • 8 comments
  • Leave a Comment
  • andrew

    andrew

    September 11th, 2017 at 2:17 PM

    After so many years of hiding what I believe to be the real me from friends and family for most of my life it has been LIBERATING to be out and have freedom that I haven’t been able to feel before. I know that they all love me no matter who I choose to love and that makes me so happy. I guess for too long I was worried about what it would do to them if I told them instead of thinking at all what it was doing to me to NOT tell and live my authentic life. I guess that in many ways I feel free now, freedom that I haven’t experienced since I came to the realization that a heterosexual lifestyle was not in the cards for me.

  • Laura Turnbull, R Psych

    Laura Turnbull, R Psych

    September 13th, 2017 at 9:30 AM

    Thank you for your comments! Andrew, I am so glad to hear that you have found being out with your friends and family to be so positive. I think that many people experience the kind of worry about what will happen to others in their life, rather than focusing on how it hurts themselves not to live their lives as who they are.
    Maisy, I certainly hope that it will get easier for younger generations. I’ve noticed the same trend! Still, there are many people who still struggle with violence and persecution for their sexual and gender identities. Social change is moving in the right direction, though!

  • Maisy

    Maisy

    September 12th, 2017 at 10:36 AM

    I don’t think that this is something that younger generations will have to worry about quite as much as those from say previous generations, because this is something that is much more accepted today than it was in even the recent past.

  • Lewis

    Lewis

    September 13th, 2017 at 10:29 AM

    Think about the weight that one must feel when he or she does not feel like they have ever been encouraged to be who they really are. You go through life with this mask on, trying to hide something that you believe would be offensive to another person in your life, not understanding the amount of pressure that you are then putting on yourself. It has to be so much healthier for someone on multiple levels to be able to release much of that and live as they are intended to live. You don’t have to hide who you are, where you go, or who you love.
    I think that this is a freedom that any human being should be able to enjoy!

  • Laura Turnbull

    Laura Turnbull

    September 20th, 2017 at 9:00 AM

    Well said, Lewis! I wholeheartedly agree that people should be free to live as who they are, and not need to hide behind a mask. Not only is it good for the person to be free of that mask, it is good for society as a whole to have a better understanding of diversity!

  • Chase

    Chase

    September 15th, 2017 at 11:55 AM

    How about just being loud and proud in who and what you are? Who can argue with that?

  • sean H

    sean H

    September 16th, 2017 at 12:06 PM

    I am too afraid of what my dad will say when he finds out. My mother knows but I have sworn her to secrecy until I feel ok with telling my dad. It isn’t fair to ask her to do that for me but I am not ready to spill it to him because he has always seemed homophobic to me. Even as a kid I knew I was different and probably not in a way that would make him proud of his son. I don’t want to lose my relationship with him but there are times when I struggle because I feel like I just have to keep this mask on when I am around him. I feel ready to drop that mask and then I get scared all over again.

  • Laura Turnbull

    Laura Turnbull

    September 20th, 2017 at 9:04 AM

    Hi Sean, Thanks so much for sharing your story here! You are certainly not alone – many of our parents, friends, and other loved ones sometimes make comments or act in ways that prevent us from being our true selves with them. I can certainly see how it would be scary to tell your dad who you truly are when you are worried you might lose your relationship with him. Have you considered getting help or counselling to explore that fear and try to develop a plan for how to approach it?

Leave a Comment

By commenting you acknowledge acceptance of GoodTherapy.org's Terms and Conditions of Use.

 

 

* Indicates required field.

Therapist   Treatment Center

Advanced Search

Search Our Blog

Title   Content   Author
GoodTherapy.org is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, medical treatment, or therapy. Always seek the advice of your physician or qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding any mental health symptom or medical condition. Never disregard professional psychological or medical advice nor delay in seeking professional advice or treatment because of something you have read on GoodTherapy.org.