Experiences are unique to the individual. But what if those experiences are misunderstood by others, resulting in the expectation that one should be able to fit into a general box because the beliefs and ideals of that box are accepting of and compassionate toward all individuals? Is it true that in order to reach the desired “everyone is accepted here” mentality within communities, that the way life operates within that system should be uniform?
As a LGBTQIA+ therapist who did not grow up in a community where there was a strong presence of alternative lifestyles, one could argue that I became accepting of everyone. As I navigated through adulthood, experiencing life and environments that were heavily populated with members of my community, I quickly recognized the value of these subgroups and “gayborhoods,” and experienced that I was not as informed as I thought. As exciting as this time in my life was, I also recognized that these environments, at times, felt insulated. I came to appreciate having the space to challenge my beliefs and explore my likes and dislikes. I also came to experience that these environments can, at times, be overwhelming for some who have any sort of negative experience or trauma. Cultivating a sense of compassion for those individuals, as well as being sensitive to the needs of those who may feel any sense of discomfort approaching an environment with shared beliefs and experiences, can potentially lead to an increased sense of self and confidence that can translate into more generalized settings or situations.
Imagine someone who has decided to take the courageous, and at times overwhelming, step to seek out support services, such as therapy or a support group, to help gain tools that will help them be successful navigating these experiences. In an ideal world, therapy would be a one-size-fits-all approach, where someone struggling with depression would be able to confidently join a membership platform designed for matching with a therapist, and just like that, one of three therapists would know exactly how to tailor their approach to fit the needs of that person. As we all know, the world is far from ideal, and given today’s ever-changing social fabric, people are overwhelmed with life. For some, depression might not be the actual issue. As a member of an underrepresented group, where factors such as race and sexual orientation continue to be misunderstood and stigmatized, an individual may not only be experiencing depression, but may also be experiencing other psychological issues due to their experience navigating life as a member of that group.
Picture this: You have been invited to a party where “Everyone is welcome!” From the outside looking in, and which may very well be true, that scenario is what society has been fighting so hard for. So, why wouldn’t a person feel completely comfortable and confident walking through the door and leaving with dozens of phone numbers of new connections? In a perfect world, this would be the case, and some do experience that very scenario. But imagine you have experienced numerous situations where you have been bullied or witness bullying of others because of sexual orientation, skin color, or religious belief? What is you have been told that you do not belong after developing a close relationship with a group of peers? Now imagine that the only solution to your problems is by going to a party in order to connect because you have been told that the party will help you feel better. You finally work up the nerve to go to the party, but you have no way of identifying who is an ally or also a member of your community and the thought of disclosing who you are to these complete strangers elicits panic. Once again, you are not able to fully connect because there is actual fear in being your authentic self, which then reinforces what you have been conditioned to believe and, at times, fear.
When we look at inclusivity, it is important that we maintain areas and environments that continue to foster acceptance and shared beliefs of specific groups of people in order to develop resilience and insight. If we want to foster compassion and sensitivity, we have to model what it means to be compassionate and sensitive, by validating one’s experience and sending the message “we are here when you’re ready, and you matter!” It is from that space that those individuals can develop the confidence and tools to take into the world in general in order to model and foster healthy relationships and interactions where a general sense of acceptance is the norm. Combatting shame by promoting compassion, empathy, and acceptance can be some of the most effective catalysts for change and unity.
About the author: Nick Berry (M.S., Licensed Psychotherapist) is a member of the LGBTQIA+ community and is based in Los Angeles. He works primarily with individuals and couples who want to explore the underlying issues that contribute to persistent dysfunction in interpersonal relationships, inability to thrive, and are ready for change. Nick recently decided to narrow his scope of practice to working primarily with gay men and couples due to finding that issues he was encountering within his practice, as well as within his personal experiences, reflected a strong need for increased awareness and insight within the community in order to confront unrecognized trauma. Explore Nick's Therapist profile and reach out directly to schedule a free intro call.