Low Self-Esteem in LGBT People

I thought the L Word did some good and some damage to gay women. One of the things I think the L Word did well was to encourage gay women to be successful in their chosen profession and to be more confident. Series 3 addressed Alice’s emotional dependency and addiction issues, but only in a brief overview way of dealing with an issue.

Both the UK and USA versions of Queer As Folk did address to some degree self esteem and drug misuse, and when low self esteem and drug misuse are linked, and are much higher among LGBT people than heterosexual people, we do need to take a good look at these issues. So let’s do just that.

According to psychologytools.com and the NHS website, low self-esteem “means not holding yourself in high regard. If you have low self-esteem, you might feel shy or anxious around other people, think of yourself as incapable or criticise yourself harshly.”

When people have good self-esteem, they are able to list positive and true attributes about themselves such as “I am kind”, “I am a good employee” and “I am a good friend”.

Some people with low self-esteem feel that they have to do more, go the extra mile, to people please, in order to be seen as OK, as acceptable to others. However, this people pleasing, always trying to be better to be seen as acceptable, is not healthy. It can make a person stressed, depressed and anxious.
Low self-esteem makes some people more vulnerable to the misuse of alcohol and illegal drugs.

What causes low-self esteem?

According to psychologytools.com, causes of low self-esteem can be abuse or neglect and some people believe that they deserved whatever was done to them, insufficient warmth, or insufficient love and praise in childhood so that the person does not feel loved, the failure to meet other people’s expectations in childhood or the inability to fit in with a peer group in childhood or adolescence which can make the person feel like the odd one out or that they are different in some way.

LGBT young people are 4 times more likely to commit suicide than heterosexual young people, according to Tom Bruett Therapy’s website. According to this LGBT therapy page, LGBT people abuse drugs and alcohol at a rate of 20-30%, whereas the rate for heterosexual people is 9%.

Tom Bruett Therapy’s page talks about the body issues that some gay men have. This is something that I have heard gay men talk about but I have never seen any articles written about the subject. Tom Bruett Therapy talks about the endless images online of gay men as being muscular white men, and that this is held up as the standard for gay men’s bodies.

According to research by Feldman in 2007, 15% gay men have an eating disorder, whereas 5% heterosexual men have an eating disorder.

Why do more LGBT people struggle with self-esteem and addiction than heterosexual people?
According to Medical News Today, LGBT young people are more likely to suffer from low self-esteem. The possibility of rejection by family, friends and anyone a person knows for a sexual or gender orientation causes insecurity and problems relating to others confidently.

LGBT people report more loneliness than heterosexual people according to Medical News Today, citing the disappearing of LGBT venues as a problem as the dating world moves online. This means LGBT people might find it difficult to locate and interact with other LGBT people for friendship, not just relationships. This creates isolation and makes it easier for LGBT people to be horrible to each other.
To find more on what we as LGBT people all know but LGBT organisations tend to sweep under the carpet – I’m talking about adverse childhood events – I had to go onto Brave search engine, away from Google, to find some research that speaks to what we as LGBT people all know from our own lives and the lives of our friends and the people we love.

The paper Stressful Childhood Experiences And Health Outcomes in Sexual Minority Populations: A Systematic Review by Schneeberger et al Sept 2014 looked at 73 different articles that addressed issues in the childhoods of LGBT people, including dysfunctional families in childhood. The studies covered childhood sexual abuse, childhood physical abuse and neglect and childhood emotional neglect. Household dysfunction covered a parent or caregiver with a substance misuse problem, parental separation, a family history of mental illness, the incarceration of a parent or care giver and witnessing violence.

The conclusion of this paper was “LGBT people showed high prevalence of SCE” and stated that the results were physical illnesses as well as psychiatric symptoms. Most of the research was based in the USA.

Another paper titled Does Maltreatment In Childhood Affect Sexual Orientation in Adulthood by Andrea L Roberts, M Maria Glymour and Karestan C Koenen found that there was a “positive association between physical and sexual abuse, neglect and witnessing violence in childhood and same-sex sexuality in adulthood” but they also said that this is all a difficult field because there are so many variables.

This paper did find that sexual abuse in childhood raised the incidence of same-sex attraction in adulthood, and that “the effects of sexual abuse on men’s sexual orientation were substantially larger than women’s.”

Another paper by Christopher Zou and Judith Anderson showed elevated levels of abuse in the childhoods of LGBT people, plus bullying by a peer group in childhood and a dysfunctional family. This paper drew together research that showed that lesbian and bisexual women experience sexual assault at any point in their lifetime at 15.6% – 85%, and gay and bisexual men at 11.8% – 54%. These figures are much higher than for heterosexual women which is 25% and heterosexual men which is 14.28%.

Trying to find statistics on other adverse childhood events such as having a mentally ill parents is difficult, so I will now talk about four friends I have had and what they said to me about their childhoods and how it affected them.

One of my friends loved men and not women, even though he found women sexually attractive. His mother had schizophrenia, and as a child he found her scary, but his father always took care of him and protected him from his mother’s outbursts. My friend learned that men were love to him and women were scary and to be avoided.

One of my friends, when I told him about the friend whose mother had schizophrenia, he told me that his mother had had severe post-natal depression after he was born, but his father took care of him. His mother could not take care of him, so his father met all his needs. He thinks this could be why he loves men and not women after many years of saying being gay is how he was born.

One of my female friends said it was obvious that there was a strong genetic factor in her family, her sister and her brothers all being same sex attracted. Her brothers are gay and she and her sister are bisexual. She said that her father was “a tyrant” and her mother developed a nervous condition when she was 6 years old. Her mother stopped hugging her and her sister, and her father beat them regularly. The girls learned to be scared of men and be in need of the love of a woman. They needed to be cared for by a woman and protected from abusive men in a way that their mother did not. She said her brothers needed a man to love them.

One woman I met who was married to a man said that she was raped by a man when she was 6 years old. She told her mother and her mother said that she didn’t believe her. So my friend said it wasn’t the rape that made her need a woman to love her, but her mother abandoning her when she needed her, and her mother saying she didn’t believe her when she said she had been raped.

So we know that mental illness and low self-esteem in LGBT people is not solely caused by discrimination and prejudice, we need to address adverse childhood events in order to be mentally and emotionally well.

How do we get help?

CBT is a great therapy. You talk about what happened, but you look at ways you can change how you deal with something that happened. CBT covers the way you think, feel and behave. If you change the way you think, you will change the way you feel and behave. If you change the way you behave, you will change the way you think and feel. If you change the way you feel, you change the way you think and behave. CBT is proven to be extremely effective with people who engage with it.

You will probably need person-centred counselling, which is the opportunity to work with a trained counsellor through your issues and traumas. This is possibly needed before CBT as a way of getting the emotions out with a trained professional, and working through what happened.

How do we build up self-esteem?

Affirmations. Affirm yourself. It worked for me. Standing in front of a mirror and speaking good messages to yourself. You are good looking. You are kind. You are intelligent. You are gifted. You are able. You have a good future ahead of you. You are lovable. Stand in front of the mirror and affirm yourself every day.

Next, whenever you have a negative thought about yourself, call yourself a name, stop and give yourself a positive message instead. Say something good about yourself. It worked for me. I found that within 3 months, the negative thoughts stopped. But you have to challenge every single negative thought. It takes time, it takes practice, but it works in my experience.

Let’s take this to the next level. Build up evidence of how amazing you are. I did this whenever my dad made up nonsense about me and shouted at me about the nonsense he had made up, or he tried to use my values against me and call me names etc. I weighed up what my dad said about me against what my bosses said about me, what my friends said about me, what my coworkers said about me, what people I met on courses say about me.

When all these people say positive things about me and one person shouts bad things at me, I’m going to go with the majority, especially when I listened to my bosses when I worked with vulnerable people. I would never have been allowed to work with vulnerable people such as people with long term mental health conditions if I was the awful person my dad shouted I was. My bosses were famous in our field, were among the top people for what we did, and they thought I was good. So I went with their expert opinions and not the rantings of a bizarre man who made stuff up on a regular basis and who had no friends for some reason!

I recently watched the interview with David Goggins on the Modern Wisdom podcast. Go and watch or listen to it. This guy is insane! He went from being an abused child to a Navy SEAL to a fire fighter who jumps out of aircraft with a backpack of water and he and his team stay in the forest fire until they have defeated it.

Chris and Goggins talked about affirmation. I can’t repeat what Goggins said about affirmation, he swears A LOT, but he said that looking at the evidence is the best way to build up self-esteem. Did you finish a race in the top three places? Did you pass a test? Did you help someone today? Did you do something that very few people can do?

Build up experiences, work towards a project, achieve it, stack it up as evidence of how amazing, intelligent, able, capable, kind and wonderful you are.

I am very much of the opinion that there are many reasons why LGBT people struggle with mental health and emotional health. I started seeing patterns when I was 16 among my gay and bisexual friends, and I also saw those patterns of adverse childhood events in my gay and bisexual friends at university.
As an adult, I have met more and more LGBT people. We are overcomers. I see this in every LGBT person I have met. We are strong overcomers. We are able, we are intelligent, we can build ourselves up and be truly wonderful. I wish LGBT organisations and media would stop lying to us so that more LGBT people can go and get the help that they need.

We are worth it.


About catherinehume

Catherine Hume: Writer, social care worker and a liver of a life less ordinary.
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