Holiday Isolation and Loneliness in the LGBTQ+ Community

Legs in socks rest in front of fireplace in dark room, with a red and green mug nearbyThe holiday season can be a difficult time for many of us. Loneliness and isolation, challenging enough to cope with on their own, can exacerbate or contribute to the development of feelings of anxiety and depression. Interactions with those family members and friends we don’t always see eye-to-eye with can increase our stress levels. The holidays may cause even greater distress for many LGBTQ+ individuals, particularly those whose identities are challenged, denied, or otherwise unaccepted by family members.

Some LGBTQ+ individuals who are out to their family members and friends are accepted and welcomed. Their coming-out process may have been met with love and support. Others who had a rougher experience and faced rejection, discrimination, and other negativity from their community may still be dealing with this lack of tolerance.

Some individuals choose not to continue interacting with intolerant family and friends, while others may value their familial ties and hope that with the passage of time will come greater understanding and acceptance. Either choice is likely to lead to some measure of distress: the former may lead to feelings of isolation, sadness, and regret, while the latter may place an individual in the position of having to continually defend their identity and/or partner while also act as an educator to family members who may be homophobic or transphobic.

Another byproduct of owning our LGBTQ+ identities might be rejection from our religious or spiritual communities, something that may feel especially isolating during the holiday season.  Many LGBTQ+ people hold deep spiritual beliefs but feel that they are not welcome in their childhood place of worship without hiding parts of themselves in order to attend services. Many may not be able to attend services at all due to virulently anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment expressed by the congregation.

LGBTQ+ people who have not yet come out to their families may find maintaining a pretense or lying about their identities, either directly or by omission, to be draining and stressful. Having to lie about the existence of a partner or other aspects of personal life may also have a negative impact on some. Many individuals might wish to come out to their families and bring their partner home for the holidays but may be unsure of how family members will react. Delaying out of fear of rejection may lead to not only inner emotional distress, but also relational conflict.

Going through the holidays alone when we would rather have a partner is another potential source of emotional distress. During this time of year, being single can feel especially onerous, especially in the presence of other happy relationships. Reminders of the importance of “that special someone” are typically more prevalent throughout the holiday season, and at times they may seem inescapable, which can contribute to feelings of loneliness and isolation.

Whatever the cause of our feelings of distress and loneliness or our experiences of rejection, they can have a particularly negative impact in a season that is overwhelmingly portrayed as a family experience filled with love, warmth, and joy. Those who exist outside this family holiday paradigm may find that feelings of depression or general lowness can often sneak in and take over the holiday experience.

Seasonal messages in movies, marketing, social media, and a multitude of other forums all seem to give the implication that everyone should be sitting by a fireplace with their loved ones, sharing a magical holiday. Those who have a different reality may feel isolated, damaged, or as if they are outsiders.

Self-Care to Combat Holiday Isolation and Loneliness

It is vital, then, for us to remind ourselves that we are not damaged and find ways to step out of a cycle of destructive thoughts. One way to begin this process might be to review what we do have in our lives, rather than focusing on what we do not have. It is vital, then, for us to remind ourselves that we are not damaged and find ways to step out of a cycle of destructive thoughts. One way to begin this process might be to review what we do have in our lives, rather than focusing on what we do not have.What positive aspects of life do we create for ourselves? Think of friends, successes, pets, a partner, and so on.

Try addressing feelings of isolation by getting involved in community activities you find satisfying or enjoyable. Volunteer at a local food bank, spend time with seniors the community, or join a community chorus. Any of these activities can lift a low mood and assist in the management of negative self-talk that may come up–and provide a topic of discussion for those who do attend family gatherings. Perhaps consider volunteering for a queer youth group, as many queer and transgender youth may be experiencing a difficult holiday season themselves.

Those who feel unwelcome in their chosen place of worship may find it helpful to seek out another. Many communities, large or small, have congregations that welcome members of the LGBTQ+ community as they are and are LGBTQ-affirmative in their services and support. Try searching online or reviewing posted fliers at the library or other community-centered location.

Plan activities that are nurturing and enjoyable, whether they are holiday-related or not. See that new blockbuster movie. Try out that new restaurant or read a book in a favorite coffee shop. Maybe even plan a trip during the holidays, if it is possible to do so, to somewhere that is inspiring and delightful. To combat loneliness, make evenings bright with a baking party or potluck with a few close friends.

But above all, understand that your happiness is not reliant on someone else’s presence or approval. Holiday loneliness and isolation may be common among members of the LGBTQ+ community, and these feelings can be challenging to deal with. But employing self-care and self-awareness techniques can make the season brighter for those who struggle with the holidays each year.

© Copyright 2016 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by John Sovec, LMFT, therapist in Pasadena, California

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.

  • 5 comments
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  • Solita C

    Solita C

    December 12th, 2016 at 9:02 AM

    Yeah I don’t even go home for the holidays anymore.
    I pretty much got tired of hearing just how wrong my lifestyle “choice” is

  • Shelley

    Shelley

    December 13th, 2016 at 12:09 PM

    So you just have to find your people, your tribe, and it might not be the family with whom you grew up. It could be time to make a new family for yourself, made up of people who love you regardless of your gender or whom you love. They love you want want to be around you for just being you, not to put you down and tell you how terrible your life is./
    That’s just the way things go sometimes. You have to find the people that you feel the most kindred spirit with and they may not be blood relatives.

  • Carter

    Carter

    December 14th, 2016 at 2:12 PM

    So what if I am gay?
    why should that make a difference to anyone but me?
    Just because I like other guys doesn’t mean that I’m not still me.
    Of course I am the same old me as you have always known, and the people that I bring home may be a little different to you but this revelation should not have changed for you in your eyes the person that I am.
    Why does this one little part of me have to be the defining factor of how you see me?

  • Ainsley

    Ainsley

    December 15th, 2016 at 10:56 AM

    Since my brother came out to our parents last year I know that he has felt alone and isolated. I think that in his mind he had hoped that they would have no problem with him coming out but the truth is that it has hurt both of them very much. They think that this somehow means that they have failed as parents and I know that this is not right but I also know that they are hurting him by not giving him the chance to simply be who he is. I want him to come home for Christmas and spend it with us but at this point I think that there is still a lot of hurt and anger for all of them to process so I don’t know that this is going to happen for us this year.

  • Jasper

    Jasper

    December 28th, 2016 at 8:58 AM

    I just wish I could come out to my parents. I know they’d probably kick me out. I wish that I could spend time with my friends in the community, but if my parents knew how many LGBTQ friends I have, they’d never let me see them again…

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