Internalized homophobia occurs when someone feels ashamed, guilty, or conflicted about being lesbian, gay, pansexual, or bisexual, due to taking on society’s negative attitudes and beliefs toward it.
This struggle is very common among gay/lesbian/bi/pan individuals as they are constantly bombarded with messages from society telling them that their sexual identity is wrong or shameful.
This internalized stigma can lead to low self-esteem, difficulty forming relationships with others, isolation, depression, and anxiety.
While internalized homophobia can be similar to other forms of internalized cultural biases such as transphobia or racism, it’s important to be mindful that all experiences are unique and impacted by many overlapping social, cultural, and personal factors.
Because it is often unconscious, recognizing the existence and impact of internalized homophobia can be challenging.
Here are some ways to know if you or someone you care about might be struggling with the mental health impacts of internalized homophobia:
1. Denial of one’s thoughts or feelings
Internalized homophobia can manifest itself in several ways, one of which is a denial of one’s thoughts or feelings, particularly related to sexual and romantic desires. This can be a defense mechanism to protect oneself from the stigma and discrimination that is often associated with being gay.
Additionally, this denial can also lead to a fear of coming out, as the individual may believe that they will be rejected by their family, friends, and society as a whole.
Unfortunately, when denial of thoughts and feelings goes too far it can even cause the person to deny other emotions, thoughts, and values.
When someone internalizes homophobia, it may cause them to dislike or even hate themselves as they feel like there is something fundamentally wrong or “bad” about who they are.
Even though someone may intellectually accept the fact that being LGBTQ+ is perfectly normal, deeper feelings of self-loathing can be a daunting challenge to overcome.
This harsh self-loathing can lead to destructive behaviors that are either a form of punishment or an attempt to cope with the deep pain it causes. These actions may take on many forms, such as perfectionism, drug and alcohol addiction, and eating disorders.
3. Refusal to accept help from others
When someone experiences internalized homophobia, they may struggle to accept help from others. This is because feelings of worthlessness and low self-esteem can cause them to believe that reaching out for help is yet another sign of weakness or failure.
Additionally, they may struggle to ask for help due to fears of being exposed or vulnerable – leading them away from those who would be willing and able to assist.
As a result, they may reject any offers of assistance or even refuse to admit that there is an issue in the first place.
Unfortunately, this can be a dangerous cycle as it prevents them from getting the support they need which could potentially lead to not seeking needed mental health care or community support.
4. Rejection of LGBTQ+ people and culture
Internalized homophobia can also lead individuals to reject other people in the LGBTQ+ community, as they may view them as a reminder of their sexuality which they are trying to deny or feel shame about.
This might look like having a very negative view of LGBTQ+ culture and believing in negative stereotypes about what it means to be gay/lesbian etc.
Additionally, this rejection of other LGBTQ+ people can often lead to isolation and loneliness, as the individual may feel like they have no one to relate to or turn to for support
5. Unhealthy relationships
Unfortunately, internalized homophobia can lead people to choose partners who are damaging to their mental and emotional health.
They might feel like these partners are justified in treating them poorly since they don’t “deserve” any better – leading them down a path where toxic relationships become normalized instead of seeking out ones filled with love and acceptance.
This might be due to their belief that they don’t deserve respect or because of the low opinion they have of themselves, thus leading them to seek validation from someone else who may be withholding, inconsistent, or critical.
6. Lack of close relationships
Internalized homophobia can be a hindrance when forming close relationships with others, as one may fear the risk of being judged or rejected by those around them.
Even though they can have plenty of acquaintances to rely on, forging a deep emotional bond is avoided due to its potential rejection or judgment.
If you think you have internalized homophobia, what can you do?
Acknowledging internalized homophobia is the first step to overcoming it. To heal and move forward, anyone grappling with its adverse effects should seek support to cultivate self-acceptance and heal its emotional impact.
Strengthen your support system joining a group with people who share similar experiences, explore your inner world by speaking openly and honestly with a therapist, or even increase your positive associations to the LGBTQ+ community through inspiring books and media.
With the right support system in place, it’s possible for anyone struggling with this issue to begin their journey towards inner peace, acceptance, and living an authentic life.
Looking for therapy in California or Illinois to help you break free from the impact of internalized homophobia?
Reaching out is an important step to take as it allows you to talk through your feelings in a judgment-free space with a trained professional.
Book a free therapy consultation with me here or learn more about how I work with LGBTQ+ folks here.
Through therapy, you can learn how to release yourself from the guilt and shame associated with your sexuality, as well as cultivate self-love and acceptance.