“Coming out,” in a general sense, involves a person sharing with others something they already know about themselves. It has multiple applications but “coming out” is most often associated with sexual orientation and/or gender identity. This is not uncommon but that doesn’t always make things any easier.
There is no “correct” or specific way to come out. Everyone’s circumstances are different. This can shape who they tell — when they share and how they do so. Having support during this process is incredibly helpful. For that reason, many folks choose to work with a therapist before they say anything to others.
A Few Things to Keep in Mind About the Process of Coming Out
You Have to Do It Your Way
As touched on above, every situation is different — sometimes in dramatic ways. Plus, of course, each person brings their own unique perception and personality to the process. With that in mind, factors will come into play, e.g. whether or not you are in a relationship and if so, how your partner views the situation. Ultimately, since you cannot know in advance how coming out will be viewed by others, it’s usually best to do what feels right for you.
Where you live has the potential to play a role. Certain populations and certain geographical areas can have very different views on sexuality and identity. You don’t want to overstate this reality but you also should not dismiss it.
It’s an Ongoing and Evolving Process
Within the realm of pop culture, coming out is often portrayed as a one-time thing. In real life, it is never a single act. You may choose to tell only a few people to start. Over time, you can find yourself coming out time and time again. Every time you start a new job or school, make a new friend, or relocate — for example — you meet people with whom you have to decide how much to share.
In other words, it’s critical to prepare yourself for a lifelong process that will be shaped by the people you meet and the choices you make. Hence, it makes a whole lot of sense that you’d get guidance, advice, and support from a trained professional.
How Therapy Can Help With the Process of Coming Out
Some of the benefits may be obvious, e.g. therapy offers you a safe space to talk about your emotions. But also, an experienced mental health professional can walk you through the emotional steps. This includes the six stages of the Cass Identity Model:
- Confusion: Therapy can help you find the clarity you need before moving forward with public disclosure
- Comparison: You will learn more about yourself, your preferences, and your identity. With guidance, you can connect with an LGBTQ community.
- Tolerance: The clarity and the community often result in personal tolerance. In your sessions, you may begin to explore your internalized beliefs.
- Acceptance: When you accept you are you must also accept that your life is going to be different than what you may have previously imagined. Therapy is where you can shift your self-view.
- Pride: The more you learn, the more you may feel resentment for societal norms. It’s not unusual to feel an “us vs. them” vibe. Counseling is where you can process all these changing emotions.
- Synthesis: In this stage, you begin to see coming out as just one part of who you are. You integrate it into your personality and feel more ready to share about yourself.