What about yourself do you just adore? The deep color of your eyes? The natural way you seem to make everyone around you laugh? The repository of Harry Potter trivia you’ve amassed since childhood? Is this question harder to answer than you anticipated?
Okay, what about yourself don’t you like? Is this question easier to answer? If you’re human (like me), the answer is probably a resounding yes! We are imperfect creatures, and we all know it, but for most of us it’s an incredibly vulnerable thing for others to see our imperfections. In fact, it’s often difficult to even admit to ourselves that those imperfections exist. When they rear their dirty little heads, we respond with a swift kick and mutter, “Hell, no” – often with harsh words, self-criticism, and good old-fashioned self-rejection.
So here’s the next difficult question. Have you been rejected by others for simply being yourself? If you’re a person of color, a woman, or part of the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, or Asexual communities, the answer is most certainly a resounding, “Yes!” Most of us in the LGBTQIA community are sadly familiar with this kind of rejection from a myriad of people. We know that it’s not about having a fault that’s been exposed, but an identity that is not “okay” with others.
As a lesbian myself and as a therapist, this is much of the work I specialize in; I walk with LGBTQIA people through the pain of self-rejection and others-centered rejection. So, when I started reading a book about self-acceptance written by a straight woman, I immediately wondered, “How does this apply to my people?”
I’m one of the last ones to the Brené Brown party, but to be fair I’m a working mom with two-year-old twins. Reading books hasn’t been something I’ve gotten to do in what feels like forever; I’ve only just now been able to begin to integrate it back into my life. Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection couldn’t be a better book for me to renew my bookworm life! What almost immediately caught me was the subtitle: Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are. This little sentence is the reason I am a therapist. I long to help people love themselves. I personally know the power of self-acceptance and deeply want to guide others towards that freedom too.
The profound wounds that come from rejecting ourselves are long lasting, and they run deeper than simply not being able to find a mate. Brené Brown’s book centers around her extensive research on this topic, and I can’t help but think how all of this applies to the LGBTQIA community. How do we accept ourselves when so many others in our lives reject us for our sexual orientation/gender identity? It’s hard enough for some straight Christians to accept parts of themselves that aren’t seen as “traditionally” conservative like drinking or smoking, let alone a Christian who is attracted to the same sex or a Christian whose assigned gender at birth and personal gender expression don’t match! As you well know, it quickly gets complicated.
I spent many years rejecting the lesbian part of me, and it damaged my heart. When I was in the closet, every conversation, connection, and interaction was carefully edited and crafted. I constantly danced around, avoiding the topics of love, dating, and marriage – which was especially hard because I was at that age where that was a main topic of conversation. I even dated several men just to get a handful of stories to throw people off track.
That dance of hiding I did for so many years still makes it hard for me to let myself be known. I was so used to hiding that even today I have to be keenly aware of how I hide in relationship. I have learned that I must intentionally share myself, not automatically hide. Having to be so deliberate can result in a little confusion for me, though; sometimes it’s hard to tell if a real connection just happened or not. I’m naturally curious, which is great, but it also means if I’m not careful, I can hide by just asking questions and not ever sharing myself. I feel sad about this, because I really do want to be known!
I’m glad I’m gay (have you seen my wife?), but I definitely used to wish I were straight. At weddings of straight friends, I used to be so torn up inside. I’d compare myself to them and start internally demanding to be like them.
Candice, all you have to do is find a good guy and get married. You’ll have all your friends and family celebrating you like this; you’ll get your dream and everything will be great. What’s wrong with you? Why can’t you just be straight?
Then a man would ask me to dance and I’d want to throw up – not because he was a man, but because I felt so awkward and sad and tormented while I was supposed to be having fun! I’d beat myself up for not being able to simply relax and have a good time like everyone else.
In time, I started to believe that my identity was someone who was uptight and didn’t know how to have fun. What I didn’t know was that I couldn’t relax and be myself because no one can in that scenario! When we bind ourselves up and work so hard at being something we’re not, those huge parts of us that have shut down make freedom almost impossible. Playing, dancing, relaxing, or just having a general sort of I’m okay sense of ourselves doesn’t happen. Self-rejection takes away our freedom and makes us prisoners.
Many of us would say that we don’t care what others think of us – and that somehow in the saying there’s some sort of magic fairy dust that frees us of pressure to conform. But we know the truth, too: easier said than done, right? It’s a great beginning place for sure; it’s a perfect place to start the journey towards freedom from what others think of us. But that journey is a long dusty road.
What makes it so long and dusty, so difficult and taxing? In short, grief. It takes real grieving to find freedom from what others think.
Coming out of hiding, letting go of what others think, and stepping into grief means risking relationships, jobs, family, and friends. This is not a small thing! It is not easy. But I want to tell you: it is so worth it. Grieve! Grieve and risk because to do so means life. It means you’ll be more alive today than you were yesterday, and, especially when you’ve been hiding for so long, it that feels like clean, crisp air for your soul.
It’s important to remember that when you’re grieving, it’s crucial to spend time with people who reflect back to you your goodness. You have so much goodness within you and it’s time to start letting yourself experience it through others reflecting it back to you. Embracing your goodness will give you the grace and strength you need to rebuild. Rebuilding is a process, but it is glorious. You will find your fun and freedom and beauty; you will find lots of people who fully love and accept the fullness of who you are; you will realize you can be happier and healthier than you ever thought. And eventually, one day you will realize the loss was worth it.
You. Are. So. Worthy.