Clinically reviewed by Dr. Chris Mosunic, PhD, RD, CDCES, MBA

How to lighten the load of internalized homophobia

by Kells McPhillips

“Internalized homophobia is when an LGBTQ+ individual, consciously or unconsciously, absorbs and accepts societal prejudices, stereotypes, and negative attitudes towards the LGBTQ+ community,” says Becca Reed, LCSW, PMH-C.

If you’re grappling with these complex feelings, know that you’re not alone. Below, we’ve gathered a few tools and techniques for overcoming internalized homophobia.

How internalized homophobia manifests in your emotions and thoughts

Internalized homophobia comes from everywhere: the television we watch, the conversations we hear and overhear, the books we read. Over time, these prejudices can plant a seed in our minds, causing us to turn on ourselves. Like any intrusive thoughts, internalized homophobia can wreak havoc on your mental well-being. “LGBTQ+ individuals may internalize societal messages that suggest being LGBTQ+ is wrong. This can lead to feelings of self-hatred, shame, and a desire to change, deny, or suppress one's sexual orientation or gender identity,” says Reed.

Aaron C. Martin, LMFT, an LGBTQ+ therapist, adds that internalized homophobia often shows up as guilt and shame. “Guilt tells me I’ve done something wrong or ‘bad.’ Shame tells me I am bad or wrong. This can show up in ways we might not realize as being hyper-critical of ourselves or others within the Queer community.” For example, he says, you may question if you’re acting “appropriately” in a given situation or if your identity makes you a bad person.

“Since I am such an awful and bad person, do I deserve nice things? Do I deserve loving relationships? This often internal battle can be masked very well, which is why it can be so critical for allies to show up for our Queer friends in intentional ways,” says Martin.

4 strategies for alleviating the effects of internalized homophobia

“It makes sense why sometimes Queer folks, myself included, can feel as though we don’t belong. We have entire systems of oppression that work to ensure we don’t feel included. That we don’t feel valued or seen. It doesn’t take much for the external pressures to become our internal realities,” says Martin. Below, find a few strategies from Martin and other therapists for addressing these feelings and loosening their grip on your mind.

1. Perform a self-inventory

Before you begin, check in with yourself. “This [exercise] may feel vulnerable and raw, so make sure you do this in a safe and comfortable place where you can connect with your feelings if necessary,” says clinical psychologist Dr. Emily Hu, PhD, a Clinical Psychologist with Thrive Psychology Group.

If you’re feeling up for a little self-discovery, begin by taking a deep breath and asking yourself what your LGBTQ+ identity means to you. “Let yourself sit with the feelings that come up, whether they’re good, bad, or neutral,” says Dr. Hu. You can even write them down if you think better on paper.

2. Validate your feelings

“Acknowledge that all of these feelings are a product of the society and culture in which you were raised. Then, utilizing a mindful, non-judgmental approach, make space for these feelings. Recognize that even though they’re here now, they don’t belong to you—they came from something so much bigger than yourself,” says Dr. Hu.

Take another big breath and actively decide what you want to do regardless of these complicated emotions. “Maybe you have feelings of shame or anger, but they don’t have to hold you back from doing what’s important to you, such as connecting with others or taking care of yourself. Offer yourself compassion and empathy for the difficult feelings you’re experiencing.”

Remember, this exercise is not about “banishing” the internalized homophobia in your mind. It’s about creating some distance between yourself and these thoughts so that you can live your life and make room for self-love and acceptance.

3. Celebrate being part of the LGBTQ+ community

To help you stoke some of that self-appreciation, Reed recommends hitting the books (or, okay, the internet). “Take some time to learn about LGBTQ+ history and contributions to the world. This can instill a sense of pride and belonging,” she says. You can even invite a few friends over and ask them to bring a little history lesson from LGBTQ+ history. Go around in a circle and share what you discovered. Celebrate the history of your incredible community.

4. Surround yourself with affirming people

Of course, surrounding yourself with allies can also help you feel validated, seen, and loved. “In my practice, I advocate for feelings of closeness and connection. If we are feeling isolated, the antidote is community,” says Martin. Whether you connect with these people in real life, or online, let them fill your mind with enough joy to dull the effects of internalized homophobia.

When to seek professional help

Therapy is always worth considering as part of your support plan. If you’re unsure whether therapy is for you, Martin recommends asking yourself: “Are these thoughts or feelings impacting my relationships with others? Are they impacting my work? Do I feel alone more consistently than not?”

If you answer yes to any of the above, seek mental health guidance from an LGBTQ+-competent therapist as soon as possible. Remember, you’re not alone in your journey. You are worthy of love and acceptance—especially from yourself.

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or ideation, dial 9-8-8 for the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline to talk to someone now.

Calm Health is a mental health wellness product. Calm Health is not intended to diagnose or treat depression, anxiety, or any other disease or condition. Calm Health is not a substitute for care by a physician or other health care provider. Any questions that you may have regarding the diagnosis, care, or treatment of a medical condition should be directed to your physician or health care provider.

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