Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
Coming out can be difficult, not only for the person coming out but also for their loved ones.
Family members of an LGBTQ+ person are often caught off-guard with the news and it can come as a shock. Regardless of whether parents suspected something or not, hearing that your child or loved one may be a part of the LGBTQ+ community can be difficult.
A lot of fears, questions, and unknowns come up and it can be difficult to cope with that. Don’t know what to do? Read on to learn some information on how to take care of yourself during this time, as well as learn how to be there for your loved one.
Families play a critical role in risk reduction and well-being of LGBTQ+ individuals who are coming out. Families play a part in protecting against suicide and mental health problems (Ryan et al., 2010). Unfortunately, family rejection can lead to a host of mental health problems including suicide, addiction issues, and risky sexual behaviors.
Compared to peers who reported little or no family rejection, LGBTQ+ youth who reported high levels of family rejection were 8.4 times more likely to report attempting suicide, 5.9 times more likely to experience high levels of depression, 3.4 times more likely to use illicit drugs, and 3.4 times more likely to have engaged in risky sexual behaviors (Ryan et al., 2009).
These shocking numbers make it clear that families play a huge role in how LGBTQ+ individuals fare after coming out. The better the experience, the better the outcome.
That’s not to say that people who experience familial rejection will not be alright in the long run, LGBTQ+ people are so resilient. This is due in part to the fact that LGBTQ+ people have spent most of their lives hiding a key part of themselves and struggling to fit in. When one is forced to do this, one learns ways to protect oneself.
How to support family members or loved ones opening up to you about coming out
Lead with love. While this may seem like the natural response to a child or loved one, long-held religious or cultural beliefs can get in the way of responding in a supportive manner. It may be a very difficult thing to hear but think about what the person coming out has gone through. It’s been much more difficult for them to muster up the courage to share this. Shock is a common reaction and if that means you cannot find the words to express love and support, hold their hand or give them a hug, that’ll translate as support. The words will come, just be patient.
Allow them to speak. Let your loved one tell you what’s on their mind without interruption. There will be time for questions, remember, they have gone through a lot to get to this point and most likely have a lot to get off their chest.
Learn the terminology. Learn what it means to be trans or non-binary, and learn the difference between different sexual orientations. If you’re confused, ask! Questions like this can get a conversation going and be subtle signs of support.
Get support for yourself. If you find that you are having a difficult time coming to terms with the news, turn to your own support system. If you aren’t comfortable doing that quite yet, there are support groups for family members of LGBTQ+ people. PFLAG is probably the most well-known and respected, they have chapters all over the country. They provide support to family members who need it, they offer education, peer support, and resources.
Your feelings are valid. Whatever you are feeling – joy, sadness, grief, fear, know that your feelings are valid. Allow yourself to feel whatever it is you are feeling but be careful not to put this on the person coming out. Remember, your feelings are your own. As valid as they may be, if they are negative, they can be damaging. It’s ok to not understand everything at this point, in time you will. If you continue to struggle, seek help.
This is a journey. Coming out can be an emotional rollercoaster for all involved. Your feelings may change as time progresses. After your loved one has come out, there will be other “milestones” to come – living as their true selves, dating, etc. Prepare yourself for what’s to come, a continued, open dialogue is always encouraged.
Self-care. Take care of yourself during this time. Engage in pleasurable activities that promote good mental health. If you are in a good headspace, you will be able to support your loved ones more effectively in their journey.
Coming out can be a stressful time for all involved. As a family member or loved one of an LGBTQ+ person, your support is crucial. In an effort to minimize risk and promote good mental health for LGBTQ+ people family support is a must. The suggestions above are meant to be helpful for the family members of someone who is coming out but are designed with the well-being of the LGBTQ+ person in mind.
If after trying some of the suggestions above you still find that you are having a hard time coming to terms with the news, reach out to a professional therapist. An LGBTQ+ affirmative therapist can help you make sense of what’s going on and assist you in finding the best way to show up for your loved one.
If you are a parent, PFLAG is a great option for support as you will have access to parents who are going through or have gone through the same thing you are.
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