Contributed by therapist Katie Gregor, LMHC
For many years, the phrase ‘coming out’ has been predominately used in the LGBTQ community as a euphemism of living openly and authentically as a sexual minority in society. As a member of this community, I want others to know we all have something we want to ‘come out’ about. Sexuality, faith, abusive relationships, changes in mental and physical health, loss, they all impact who we are and how we function in the world. If others knew about these parts of our story, they may be more connected and understanding. If you are grappling with the decision to ‘come out’ about something in your life to your loved ones here are some thoughts/steps to consider.
Who do I tell- Make a list of all the people in your life and decide who needs to know and who doesn’t. Having this structure may help in reducing the heaviness and overwhelming feelings connected to thinking ‘I have to tell everyone right now’. You also have the choice to not come out to individuals as well. This is your journey, invite only the people in your life that will provide support and space for you to live authentically.
How do I tell people- Face to face, letter or email, video, on the phone or through video services like Facetime and Skype, social media, each option has its pro’s and con’s. Consider your physical and emotional safety as priority one in this step. The power of face to face communication can solidify how important it is for you to share your story with another. However, this powerful connection is not worth risking your safety. Think about how you would want someone to approach you about news like this? Will their reaction (intentionally or unintentionally) stay with you for better or worse? Does sending a letter or video make sense so you can stay safe and give them time to mull over their response and questions? Is social media something you want to use to tell extended family and friends? This option is discouraged when it comes to sharing your authentic self with close family and friends.
What do I say- This is the trickiest part; how do I say what needs to be said with respect to the recipient of the message and to myself? Keep in mind this conversation is the beginning. If you don’t share everything right away or forget something, it’s ok. This is the beginning of a stronger and deeper connection. Tell them highlights of your journey, your process, what your hopes are in being your authentic self, etc. Think about boundaries you want to set in this conversation. Making statements like ‘I know there are questions but, today I want to only share my experiences with you.’ It’s never too early to set boundaries. Consider how you want to end the conversation. Let the person know you want to connect again about this in a couple days, to allow for reflection on both sides.
Now what- Consider what works best for you after experiencing an emotionally intense conversation. Do I need to go home, veg out and snuggle up with a furry pet? Do I need to exercise? Do I need to be with others who are open and accepting of my authentic self? Do I need chocolate? That’s a no brainer! This is where self-care comes into play. How do you celebrate the significant step you just took? This step is just as important as how and what you say. It takes a lot of courage to do what you just did, that deserves recognition and care.
At the end of the day, however you ‘come out’ know, there is no right or wrong way to do so. Listen to your gut and share your story the way that yields the most comfort and confidence for you. Know you are not responsible, nor can you control others reactions. You are only responsible for living and being your authentic self.