"Why does coming out hurt so much?"
Last week I shared a bit about how integration is intimately connected to what we understand as mental health. I also shared a brief example of how the idea of integration might be explored with someone who is in the process of coming out as LGBTQ+. This week, I want to dig a bit deeper into how therapy can help restore a sense of integration and well being for someone in this process.
Though TV and music truthfully frame coming out as something to be celebrated and appreciated, the actual lived experience often feels very different. Coming out is a decision that impacts the entirety of a person's life, and the weight of this decision can feel terrifying. These feelings are natural and pretty ubiquitous. I don't know any LGBTQ+ identified people who did the work of coming out and describe it as an easy, fun, or happy time.
Here's one explanation of why coming out is so painful. The closet creates a space of splitting in the mind and body. Essentially, the closet takes a surgical knife to your sense of self, cutting away everything that is deemed "bad" about who you are. All of these things are then put away, into the closet. What this means is that rather than experiencing the sense of wholeness that comes with integration we instead feel like half of ourselves and frequently struggle with anxiety, depression, or unhealthy coping strategies. All of these responses are actually our bodies trying to protect us from the open wound created by the closet.
Then all of a sudden you're out of the closet and it's all better! I seriously wish it were that easy. Though I really do hope you feel the immense relief that comes from reuniting with those closeted parts, coming out is just one of the first steps in a long road of figuring out how to be you.
We call this process reintegration. Who even am I? What do I like? How do I heal? Will I ever feel "normal"? Why do I feel so sad now that I'm out? These are big questions and it can feel incredibly overwhelming to face them alone.
Therapy is one of the best places I know of to ask these questions. The nonjudgmental and integrative space found in relationship with a good therapist makes the questions feel more like opportunities than threats. Whether you're in the early stages of coming out or are navigating this space further down the road, finding a good therapist might be the right next step for you.
Maybe I'm even that person for you. If you're interested in learning more about my practice please feel free to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org