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The One Mistake You're Making With Family and Friends

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The One Mistake You're Making With Family and Friends
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A 2011 study commissioned by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) and the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) titled "Injustice at Every Turn" shows that family acceptance helps transgender and gender non-conforming people overcome the hate-storm that surrounds them in their everyday lives.

According to the report, family acceptance has a "protective affect" on transgender or gender non-conforming people that helps them navigate around pressures that lead to HIV, STIs, suicide and substance abuse.

A similar report, "Families Matter -- New Research Calls for a Revolution in Public Policy for LGBT Children and Youth" by Shannon Minter and Jeff Krehely, also shows the positive influence family support can have on the well-being of LGBTQers.

The studies are confirmation that in environments full of potential negativity, family units can make all the difference. A family unit may be a birth family or an adopted family of friends or supporters. The results can tilt the scales of influence into more healthy living.

Adding to evidence, preceding research in 2010 shows a clear link between LGBT health and family acceptance. ScienceDaily.com reports that:

"Specific parental and caregiver behaviors -- such as advocating for their children when they are mistreated because of their LGBT identity or supporting their gender expression -- protect against depression, substance abuse, suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts in early adulthood. In addition, LGBT youth with highly accepting families have significantly higher levels of self-esteem and social support in young adulthood."

Despite negative press surrounding increased visibility of LGBTQ people, families are more accepting than ever, says Stephen Russell, PhD, President Elect of the Society for Research on Adolescence and a consultant to the Family Acceptance Project. For those on the family tree that haven't yet come around, international projects like the Give A Damn Campaign are urging family members to stand up and stick up for their gay, lesbian, bi, trans and questioning loved ones.

While all of the research is focused on acceptance by the LGBT person's external environment, in order for LGBT people to step out of the role of victim and into the healthy individual that a supportive family contributes to, we must spin a full 180 and look for acceptance from ourselves.

For many of us before and after coming out, we become fixated with seeking acceptance from family, friend and even strangers. We look for confirmation that the choice we made to be ourselves in the open was the "right" one or, at the very least, worth the effort. Our fear of rejection leads us to overcompensate with needs of confirmation and excessive praise.

Unchecked, we are in danger of collecting affirmations from our family and friends like sea shells saved in a bowl where they sit just in case we need them. This is great in times of duress, but we can become dependent on that acceptance when we don't start self-soothing. Otherwise, we come out and wait in silence for others to respond, then link the response directly to our sense of self-worth. If affirmative, we hug with power to move forward. If they throw us under the bus, or sometimes literally out in the streets, we squash any sense of self-esteem that led to the action of coming out.

Although family acceptance can give us strength to overcome life's obstacle against our identity—as research shows—when we look to others to approve of who we are we give our individual power over to them. We hand them the keys to our self-worth. In this way they get the power over how we view our identity, when it's us that have come to realize who we truly are.

In any other societal, cultural and political situation, this sort of power shift would be deemed oppressive, inhumane and worthy of revolution or public outcry. As we've seen with recent international turmoil, each individual is entitled to care for their own sense of power and purpose, not authoritative interests that determine peoples' significance.

The same holds for our personal identity as LGBT people. Our voices are ours and we have a right to carry them how we choose, as long as we do not infringe on the well-being of others. In this case, well-being does not mean being 100 percent comfortable with a person's identity, but respecting that we each have boundaries that internally protect our sense of self.

Don't get me wrong, acceptance helps (big time!), but real freedom and self-assurance comes when we hold our own power of self-acceptance. When we do this we develop our own moral codes and sense of what's good and bad for us. We come out not on the schedule of our family and friend's comfort, but in our own time. And when we wake in the morning and decide to tell others of our identity, their answers are just icing on a cake that's already been loved and accepted.

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