LGBTQ+

How Self-Compassion Transforms Queer Shame into Pride

We can turn shame into pride, but we cannot do so once and for all:
shame lives on in pride, and pride can easily turn back into shame.
– Heather Love

 

We queer folks are supposed to feel proud of who we are at the annual PRIDE events that traditionally kick off in North America in the month of June. And proud we feel as the world begins to look at us, see us, celebrate with us, and let us be who we are. We dance unashamedly and fervently at open air events, march at PRIDE parades, attend Drag brunches, and publicly and physically show our affection with newly found loves.

Yet, how long does this feeling of pride last? What do we feel once the festivities have ended? Is the lonely walk home from these events one of shame? Are we celebrating something ephemeral that fails to have a more lasting imprint? Does shame win? 

My exploration of self-compassion as a person who identifies as gay and who has taught mindfulness and self-compassion to the LGBTQ+ community for many years has shown me that it’s not a game of win/lose between shame and pride—it’s a “both/and” process of self-transformation that self-compassion illuminates and supports. 

I wish to claim that we need self-compassion to help us arrive at a genuine feeling of pride for who we are and a steady sense of self-worth and self-celebration. Self-compassion allows us to cultivate a place of strength and stability within ourselves where pride’s collapse into shame is not feared but held with love that we give to ourselves.

From an early age, queer children are made to feel like misfits with no place to be or grow, as they are shamed into nonbelonging. Traditional parenting styles alongside socio-cultural and regional messages of queer hostility have made shame an intimate companion to queer children that follows them into adulthood. Shame often becomes too painful for many queer folks to feel so they numb the feeling through excessive alcohol, partying, sex, and drugs, escaping from their physical body into their intellectual faculties, art, fashion, or anything that makes their lives beautiful when they are otherwise barely livable.

PRIDE season offers space, a sense of belonging, a sense of presence, a sense of being seen, a sense of pride as we engage in PRIDE activities and bust out our moves on the dance floor … before pride collapses back into shame in private moments.

It is these moments of collapse when self-compassion has our back. Self-compassion invites us to acknowledge and validate that this collapse of pride with emerging shame is hard for us (the mindfulness component of self-compassion). We are invited to offer ourselves kindness, friendliness, warmth because we feel shame, because it’s here (the self-kindness component of self-compassion). We are invited to remind ourselves that there is at least one other being out there, another “misfit” in our community, who must feel the same as we do (the common humanity component of self-compassion). We are able to meet ourselves with self-compassion when we are just not able to participate in PRIDE events because we feel too shy, too ashamed of who we are – when we feel too insecure to physically express our feelings with another person even though our body and heart long for this connection, when we feel ashamed of our bodies, our age, our ways of loving and our loves – when we we simply want to disappear and vanish into the earth.

Self-compassion is a practical tool to be with shame, with feeling inadequate, deficient, unworthy, not enough. And it is in being excessively kind and gentle with ourselves in those difficult moments that love begins to show up for us like a balm – soft and sweet – when our tenderness in being with shame kisses an emerging feeling of worthiness and appreciation for who we are, who we have been, and who we are becoming. It’s in those tender and vulnerable moments when fierce self-compassion arises, makes itself known alongside tenderness, and we begin to feel proud, genuinely proud, of who we are and how we live in the world. Our capacity to be with shame expands and no longer defines who we are.

I, for one, have discovered a sense of pride through my personal practice of MSC. My experience of being an MSC student and subsequently becoming a certified MSC teacher and teaching LOMSC courses has given me opportunities to be with shame and turn towards childhood wounds to discover a strength within myself that I didn’t know existed.

I can now be found dancing at PRIDE events and beyond, carrying the momentum of PRIDE celebrations into my everyday life and teaching. There has emerged within me a steady sense of self-worth independent of what others think or say or do. And I get to share my pride with a community of fellow MSC practitioners that reminds me that I am not alone in my moments of shame or in my moments of pride. They have my back, and I have theirs. There is a new sense of community that has emerged for me, a new feeling of being in community that is one of genuine belonging.

Wishing you all a “HAPPY PRIDE!”

With love,
Markus

Acknowledgment:
To my fellow dancers, in particular Mary, Sydney and Mel, who have inspired this piece.

Markus Bohlmann (he|him) MA, MSc, PhD, is a certified MSC teacher, certified in MBCT, and a faculty member at the Center for Mindfulness Studies and Mindfulness Everyday in Toronto, Canada. He is the coordinator of CMSC’s worldwide translations of the MSC programs, member of CMSC’s DEIB (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging) committee and team leader of CMSC’s Circles of Practice LGBTQIAP2S+ Affinity Group.

Learn more or register here for the LOMSC for LGBTQ+ course that Markus is co-teaching with Mel Wraight that begins October 13, 2022.


Bibliography

Bohlmann, Markus P.J., ed. Misfit Children: An Enquiry into Childhood Belonging. Lexington, 2017.

Germer, Christopher, and Kristin Neff. The Mindful Self-Compassion Teacher Guide. CMSC, 2020.

Lassen, Christian. Camp Comforts: Reparative Gay Literature in Times of Aids. Transcript, 2011.

Love, Heather. Feeling Backward: Loss and the Politics of Queer History. Harvard UP, 2007.

Stockton, Kathryn Bond. The Queer Child, or Growing Sideways in the Twentieth Century. Duke UP, 2009.

Self-Compassion Research on LGBTQIA+ Wellbeing

As we celebrate Pride with friends and loved ones in the month of June, we show support for people of all sexual orientations in our community and we come together as a society that rejects all forms of hate.

During this celebration it is important to acknowledge that LGBTQIA+ individuals still run a higher risk of experiencing mental health challenges (McDonald, 2018; Fulginiti, et al. 2021). Research shows that self-compassion can support the general wellbeing of  LGBTQIA+ individuals.

One study found self-compassion to support wellbeing in self-identifying gay men and another study showed that self-compassion buffers the negative psychological impact of stigma stress on sexual minorities. A third study found self-compassion to buffer against depressive symptoms for transgender and nonbinary individuals.


Self-Compassion is Positively Related to Well-Being in Self-Identifying Gay Men (Beard, Eames & Withers, 2017)

This study shows self-compassion to be a strength and a resource. The authors highlight self-compassion to be particularly meaningful for sexual minorities that sometimes face a paradox of simultaneous personal fulfillment and societal oppression for their sexual expression.This study found that of the six components of self-compassion, it was particularly the component of self-kindness that contributed to the wellbeing of self-identifying gay men. Here wellbeing is seen to include psychological, physical and relational wellbeing. The authors reflect that when gay men treat themselves kindly, it buffers them against stress and thus leads to wellbeing, and/or when they treat themselves kindly they handle stressors differently than someone who is prone to self-criticism. 


Self-Compassion Buffers the Negative Psychological Impact of Stigma Stress on Sexual Minorities (Chan, Yung, & Nie, 2020)

This study found self-compassion to function as a buffer against the negative psychological impact of stigma. Public stigma refers to prejudicial attitudes and stereotypical beliefs held by the general public toward individuals with socially discredited characteristics or behaviors (Mak et al. 2007) and stigma is known to adversely affect sexual minorities.

The authors of this study explain that the protective effects of self-compassion support LGB individuals to be less affected by the societal stigma and to be less likely to endorse their own self-stigmatizing thoughts. They highlight that the attitude of non-judgment and self-kindness in self-compassion may allow LGB individuals to reflect on their stigmatizing experiences without experiencing self-criticism and shame. Furthermore, self-compassion can remind them that challenging experiences are part of the common human condition and create a feeling of not being alone. Lastly, the inner attitude of self-kindness can support LGB individuals to give themselves genuine concern and care when stigma stress occurs.


Self-Compassion Buffers Against Depressive Symptoms for Transgender and Nonbinary Individuals (Samrock, S., Kline, K., & Randall, A. K., 2021)

This study shows self-compassion to buffer against depressive symptoms for transgender and nonbinary individuals. The authors of this study highlight that transgender and gender nonbinary individuals often report higher levels of depression compared to cisgender individuals. They encourage health clinicians to take a strength-based approach to fostering mental wellbeing in their transgender and nonbinary clients. A strengths-based approach supports the identification of individual and relational factors that may mitigate symptoms of depression and they specifically underline the importance of self-compassion. The study further found that for younger participants with low perceived family support, self-compassion was particularly important in buffering against depressive symptoms.

All three studies highlight the potential and the power self-compassion holds for supporting the wellbeing of the LGBTQIA+ population. In celebrating Pride, let us also celebrate and support wellbeing in the LGBTQIA+ community!

LGBTQI2S+ Affinity Practice Circle
Mondays 6PM Pacific Time

CMSC is pleased to offer a free weekly “Affinity Practice Sessions” for LGBTQI2S+ people. Please note that these sessions are only for those who claim these identities themselves and not for those who identify as “allies” of those with the identities.