Coming out of the Closet: psychological implications of this process
Apr 24, 2023
In recent decades, significant progress has been made in terms of rights for the LGTBIQ+ collective. However, the reality is that there are still more than 70 countries in the world that recognize homosexuality as illegal, for not talk about the fact that until three decades ago this was recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a disease mental. Thus, hatred and rejection of people belonging to sexual minorities has permeated the foundations of society for a long time.
These antecedents are recent and proof of this is that many people in the group are still afraid to openly express what they are. Despite the achievements achieved, the idea that being heterosexual is “normal” still remains. Thus, when someone moves away from what is considered normative, they feel the obligation to communicate to others that it is not what they expected, that it does not fit into that mold. This step, popularly known as Coming out of the closet is a liberating and painful process in equal measure..
In this article we are going to talk about the implications of this process of recognition of one's own sexual condition.
What is coming out of the closet?
First of all, we must be clear that sexuality encompasses a whole set of emotional and behavioral processes in relation to sex. It is present throughout the life cycle of people, permeating each phase of development. Is about an intimate facet about which not everyone speaks openly. This becomes even more evident in people from the LGTBIQ+ collective who do not accept their sexual orientation.
This lack of self-acceptance finds its origin in the discrimination that these individuals often suffer. Scenarios such as work, family and even friendships themselves can become threatening environments due to the homophobia that permeates them.
Staying in the closet is for many people a pure survival strategy. Showing a mask to the world that hides who we really are can prevent short-term damage, although it does so at the cost of sacrificing our emotional health. Living in this constant dichotomy between what we are and what we should be is devastating, which is why many end up coming out of the closet and starting to show themselves openly. This step is, of course, tremendously difficult. However, once it occurs it can be highly healing.
People who continually repress who they are have often grown up in environments that teach that love is conditional.. Far from feeling that one is worthy of being loved just the way one is, the individual assumes that heterosexuality It is the only way to achieve love and acceptance from your dearest people (family, colleagues, friendships…). This experience causes a deep emotional wound, a feeling of abandonment, loneliness and insecurity that goes deep into the soul and can be difficult to heal. The person feels vulnerable, isolated and defective.
In view of all that has been said, it is not surprising that people in the group show a greater risk than the general population of suffering mental health problems such as addictions, anxiety, depression, eating disorders and even ideation suicide.
The process of coming out of the closet is a matter of mental health, which implies a deep work of self-acceptance. However, this should not be trivialized or forced. Above all, the person must feel ready to take the step without feeling pressured to do so. Otherwise, the result may be contrary to what is expected. The road that people travel to reach this tipping point is long and stormy. They have lived homophobic experiences and have tried to exist as someone else, which can generate intense fear and anxiety in the moments before exposing themselves without further filters. For all these reasons, it is logical that stopping hiding requires an important reflective process.
- Related article: "The 16 types of discrimination (and their causes)"
Outing: coming out of the closet under pressure
When someone is forced to come out of the closet against her will, this situation is known as outing, whose translation would be something like "taking someone out of the closet." Although many people apply outing as a claim, the truth is that all individuals should have the right to talk about their sexual condition only if they feel like it. Pressing and pushing someone into such an exhibition can cause significant psychological damage., assuming a direct attack on his privacy. It is important to break with the idea that with this you are doing a favor to that person, because it really is the opposite. In fact, outing is associated with negative consequences such as the following:
- Discrimination: In certain environments where homophobia is prevalent, outing can expose a person to situations of discrimination, harassment, violence and even her own death. It can also lead to social isolation and loss of contact with your environment, including friends, colleagues, family, etc.
- Emotional damage: Outing is a highly stressful experience. The person does not feel prepared to talk openly about her sexual condition, which seriously damages her psychological well-being.
- Breach of privacy: Privacy is a very precious asset, but it is totally broken when the outing takes place. The person may feel deeply vulnerable to others, with an inability to control what others know about them.
- Labor problems: Outing can pose a threat to the employment situation of the person, who may lose their job or their opportunity to advance in the professional career.
Psychological Implications of the Coming Out Process
When a person manages to come out of the closet at their own will, it can be healing. Ideally, this process can be carried out with the accompaniment of a psychology professional.
1. Overcome internalized homophobia
People belonging to sexual minorities often internalize the hatred and rejection they receive from the outside. This causes the so-called internalized homophobia to occur, for which the person finds many problems when it comes to accepting himself.
In short, the individual manifests aversion towards his own homosexual feelings and behaviors. This is accompanied by irrational thoughts, low self-esteem and emotions such as shame, guilt, and anger. Often, internalized homophobia finds its origin in the upbringing, values and education received. The environment plays an essential role when it comes to building a series of schemes that define for us how the world works, what is good and what is not, etc.
When someone comes out of the closet it is because, previously, they have managed to work on this rejection of her sexual condition. Thus, when leaving it there is a recognition of what one is without negative emotions becoming the center. Although they may appear, they can be managed and understood, understanding why they appear and what function they may have been fulfilling up to now.
- You may be interested in: "What no one has told you about internalized homophobia in men"
2. reinforced self-esteem
As we discussed a few lines above, people must do a great exercise in self-acceptance in order to come out of the closet. Therefore, once they achieve it, their self-esteem is clearly reinforced. The individual accepts who he is without hiding, which allows him to value himself and recognize himself as someone deserving of love, respect and freedom.
3. more satisfying relationships
People in the group who live their sexuality without openly accepting it have difficulties getting involved in satisfying relationships. It seems difficult to find fulfillment in a bond when it cannot be enjoyed naturally. Therefore, taking the step of coming out of the closet can benefit the way in which the person lives their sexual relationships.
4. Better general psychological state
Coming out of the closet is also the door to better mental health. When the person lives life being consistent with himself, without repressing parts of it or hiding, anxiety and stress are reduced. When all the environments where the individual moves are aware of who he is without masks, he is free.
- Related article: "Mental health: definition and characteristics according to psychology"
5. Strengthening of links
When a person comes out and loved ones around them react positively, this can be a turning point in your relationship with them. By sharing that part of herself, she is able to strengthen ties, forming more genuine emotional ties..
- You may be interested in: "What is sexual identity?"
In this article we have talked about some psychological implications associated with the process of coming out of the closet. The path towards the recognition of one's own sexual condition can be very painful, since the person fears the possible rejection of the environment. We live in a world in which homophobia has not yet been completely eradicated, despite the conquest of rights in recent years. For this reason, there are many who live repressing the person they are, showing a mask to the world that hides their authentic self. Living in this way generates intense suffering and, therefore, greatly harms mental health.
However, taking the step of coming out of the closet is a decision that must be taken thoughtfully and without external pressure. When done this way, it can be a liberating step that has beneficial consequences for the individual and her health.