LGBTQIA youth face unique mental health challenges as they struggle to reconcile their faith, sexual identity, or gender identity. If you are a parent of an LGBTQIA youth moving towards accepting your child’s identity, I would like to share a few thoughts. In this blog post, I will discuss the importance of familial support to LGBTQIA youth. Then, I will share simple, practical actions to support your child through this moment.
LGBTQIA youth who question their identity hide who they truly are for fear of being rejected by their families. LGBTQIA youth worry about hurting their parents and family members who believe that being gay is immoral and sinful. But when LGBTQIA youth hide their identities, they pay a high cost. It undermines their self-esteem and self-worth. New research shows that families and caregivers significantly influence their LGBTQIA youth’s risk and well-being. The Utah Suicide Prevention Coalition reports that LGBTQIA teens who experience family rejection are eight times more likely to die by suicide than LGBTQIA teens accepted by family. Data from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) shows that LGBTQIA teens who are rejected by their families are six times more likely to have high levels of depression, three times more likely to use illegal drugs, and three times more likely to be at increased risk for HIV infection and other sexually transmitted diseases.
Conversely, studies show that LGBTQIA youth who are accepted by their families experience overall physical and emotional health. It also helps them to develop higher self-esteem and value their inherent sense of worthiness. Furthermore, LGBTQIA youth accepted by their families are less likely to be depressed, use illegal drugs, or attempt suicide. Family acceptance also helps LGBTQIA youth create healthy beliefs about their life outcome. They believe that they will be happy, productive, and have a good life with family support. If you are motivated to support your child through this acceptance journey, but unsure what to do, you are not alone.
Finally, parents, you may be struggling with your emotions, and that’s ok and normal. However, it is critical to emphasize that parents’ or caregivers’ actions and words have a powerful impact on their children’s well-being. If you’d like to foster a more supportive environment for a LGBTQIA child or teen, here are a few things you can do.
Show love and affection. LGBTQIA youth worry about being loved by their parents or caregivers. The question that they may be asking themselves is, “Am I loved? Am I lovable?” Don’t hesitate to tell your child, “I love you.” Also, show your child displays of physical affection. These actions will promote a secure attachment between you and your child.
Reach out and listen Your child may interpret long periods of silence as a sign of anger. It will feel uncomfortable to talk about your teens’ sexual orientation or sexual identity but reach out to talk to them about their experiences. Listen to what they have to say and respond with empathy.
Happy future Parents, accepting your LGBTQIA youth allow them to envision a happy future as an LGBTQIA adult. A positive narrative about the future is essential to counteract isolation, hopelessness, risky behaviors, and suicide ideation.
Stand up for your child. Remember, as a parent, your words are powerful. Through your journey and your child’s journey, you may hear some negative comments from families and friends. When you hear these negative comments, it is an opportunity to practice courage and let others know that you will not accept insults, teasing, or discrimination against your child. Insist that family members and friends treat your child with respect or rethink the very definition of family and friends.
When you know better, do better. As human beings, we are always evolving and growing. As parents, we also make mistakes. Do not try to be perfect but try to be human. American poet Dr. Maya Angelou said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” Parents, your LGBTQIA child needs your love. They are afraid and worried that you might never love them. They need a secure attachment bond to become physically and emotionally healthy adults.
References: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017, June 21). LGBT Youth. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/lgbthealth/youth.htm.
Sanders, R., & Fields, E. L. Tips for Parents of LGBTQ Youth. Johns Hopkins Medicine. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/tips-for-parents-of- lgbtq-youth.
By exploring your self-doubt, challenging your thoughts, and taking action, you can manage insecurities so they don’t sabotage your confidence and happiness….
Confidence is something we all aspire to have, but the truth is that insecurity is something we all experience. Insecurities were huge for most people in high school (think acne, frizzy hair, not making the sports team, etc.), and although we’ve hopefully gotten over some of these things, we still are fragile and imperfect human beings who sometimes doubt ourselves.
As I talk with people day to day I have come to learn that many individuals adopted a belief in childhood that their worth is based on fixed criterion. For many individuals this way of seeing themselves happened quite passively. In families it materializes subtly as parents praise children for grades, winning a little league game, advancing in religious duties, and other product related praises. I imagine with very little prompting many of us can think of the conditions of worth that were established in the family we grew up in. A consequence of this praise style is that it only highlights the outcome of the child’s efforts, thus leading the child to feel that their worth is conditioned on their success or conformity.
Carl Rogers reports that in his early years as a clinician, he was asking the question, “How can I treat, or cure, or change this person?” This is a common approach taken by parents, coaches, and other individuals that have pure intentions of helping someone they love. The trouble is that this perspective continues to feed the self-belief that “I am not ok as I am”. Carl Rogers discovered, “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.” This statement helps us to understand that our energies will be better spent when focused on accepting those we love for who they are, and coaching them to do the same for themselves.
As Carl Rogers continued to practice psychotherapy he altered his perspective and rather than focusing on changing people he framed his approach this way, “How can I provide a relationship, which this person may use for his own personal growth?” As life moves so quickly we often get distracted by products and outcomes. Through Carl’s awareness, I am reminded that our relationships are what matter most, and if we invest in relationships built on acceptance, we can let go of our anxieties over outcomes.
“All I’ve ever wanted in life is to be a mother,” she sobbed as she slumped over burying her hands in her face. Through her tears she muttered, “My whole life I’ve been taught that being a mother was the most important role. Now, I’m getting so old that I will never be able to have a child. What meaning is there to my life without the role of mother?”
I’ve heard sentiments like this over and over again in my twenty years of clinical psychotherapy work with LDS (Mormon) women. In our efforts to acknowledge and validate the crucial contribution of mothers are we unintentionally sending a message that women who aren’t able to bear or rear children in this life are somehow less valuable to the Church and to God? A deeper understanding of our doctrine reveals that this is not true; we know that “all are alike unto God” (2nd Nephi 26:33) and that an individual’s worth is not dependent on his/her accomplishments (is there not something strange about considering children an accomplishment?).
As a licensed therapist, I have the privilege of hearing incredibly powerful stories on a daily basis. Everyone has come from a different set of circumstances and experiences and has a unique story to tell. Although there are many parts of our lives that are worth examining, the most important aspect of any story told in a therapy office is the person who is telling it.
The reasons and circumstances that lead to someone coming to therapy are as vast. However, one of the most common needs in therapy is some aspect of self discovery and understanding that was not there prior to coming into a therapist’s office.
For example, many clients will come into therapy due to some perceived “weakness,” whether that is an individual struggle or perceived relational shortcoming. However, as is often the case, the client ends up seeing themselves as courageous and strong, rather than weak, after sharing their story. This is particularly noticeable in cases of abuse and addiction.
To use a fictional example, Harry Potter may have felt that he was a common, unimportant, ordinary child. Although I was reluctant to admit it at first, the Harry Potter series is full of exciting adventures: quidditch, magic, flying, and battles with Voldemort. Although the series is packed with thrilling moments, the most important part of the books/movies is “the boy who lived.” It is what he was able to accomplish and find out about himself. The most important thing he learned was that he was courageous and loved. He was anything but ordinary!
This transformation of seeing oneself as “weak” to recognizing their own inner strength is a process. To be honest, sometimes it is not easy. However, I have seen it enough times to convince me that it is worth the effort. Sometimes it is the challenge in and of itself that allows someone to come to the realization of their own inner strength and worth.
Therapy can be a scary place to go. However, sometimes the scariest places are the ones that can teach us the most about ourselves. Remember, even more important than someone’s life history, is honoring the value of their own life. There are a lot of interesting topics and facets of psychology, but the most fascinating and important subject is the person who is sharing.
You would have to have a description of my friend, Barbie Dahl, to understand the irrationality of her decision. Barbie Dahl is not her real name, but it is so befitting this statuesque beauty with the piercing dark eyes and the stunning features. “Red carpet beautiful” – that’s how people always described her. “She is so beautiful she could walk the red carpet with ‘The Stars’ and fit right in!”
Barbie, as beautiful as she is, however, struggles with feelings of low self worth. Somewhere in the course of her life, she has developed the erroneous belief that all she has to offer the world is her good looks. As she was nearing 50, her looks were beginning to fade and she was SCARED!!! When she confessed to me one day that she “just doesn’t feel good” about herself because of the way that she currently looks and she had scheduled some plastic surgery because she believed it was just the thing that she would need to “boost” her self esteem, everything inside of me screamed, “NOT YOU TOO!!!” She already so closely fit society’s definition of the “Perfect 10” that if she felt the need to permanently and surgically alter her appearance than virtually no one is insulated from the lie that a woman’s worth is based on “how good she looks.”
Often times we get down in the dumps and very critical of ourselves and cannot see past the negatives. I came across this cool concept by Jon Gordon called “The Positive Pledge” which states the following:
I pledge to be a positive person and positive influence on my family, friends, co-workers, and community.
I promise to be positively contagious and share more smiles, laughter, encouragement, and joy with those around me.
Simon Sinek is a motivational speaker with an incredible model for leadership called the Golden Circle (check it out on Youtube if you have a minute). In this model there are three basic principles: What, How, and Why. Although Simon uses this model to inspire leadership, this model can also be applied to the concept of self-worth, an issue we have all faced at some point in our lives. Self-worth can define who we are as human beings and be a powerful predictor of success based on the greatness we all innately possess. Self-worth when applied to the principles of the Golden Circle can have a truly profound impact on the way we live our lives, how others see us, and most importantly how we see ourselves.
Most parents would be horrified to think of their little girl as a sexualized object in our society, but that is what “smart” marketing is doing without our conscious awareness. Watch for my tips on how to protect your children from this cultural phenomenon as well as ways parents can teach their children their individual worth, beauty, and self-esteem. http://kutv.com/news/features/fresh-living/main/stories/vid_653.shtml
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One of the most common causes of anxiety stems from a belief that one needs to be perfect in order to be accepted by others (or for some, by their God). Those who hold the identity of a “perfectionist” have every reason in the world to do so. It is tied in with their identity and has helped them move forward and try to be a better person. This need to be perfect often comes from some type of a short-coming or difficulty when we are younger—trying to impress an unavailable parent, living in a household with intense conflict, or embarrassing/traumatic moments that was never told to other people because of fear of their rejection.
Perfectionism ultimately comes from a comparison to someone or something (or even one’s self). It is fueled by a fear of rejection! It is a brutal cycle of beating one’s self up and self-loathing. It is also often derived from some internal conflict: knowing that one is not perfect but trying to convince one’s self that he or she has to be.