When we think about entering a relationship, we tend to focus on the qualities we are looking for in a potential partner. Sometimes we become so fixated on the traits we want from the other person that we lose sight of all of the amazing qualities we have to offer. If we do not acknowledge our own attributes, we handicap our chances of entering a healthy relationship in two ways: 1) We do not present our truest, best selves and 2) We end up settling for someone, believing we do not deserve more.
As gay men, we have a greater tendency than our heterosexual counterparts to play down our strengths. This does not mean we are unworthy. It just means that—because we have endured issues that affected our identity development while growing up—our self-esteem may have taken a hit.
Self-acceptance is key to our mental and emotional health; however, societal homophobia and heterosexism have been shown to interfere with the development of self-acceptance (Weber-Gilmore et al, 2011). When we are bombarded with messages geared to a heterosexual population, the development of own healthy identities may be thwarted, since “normal models” rarely relate to our experience. Further compounding the issue is the outright rejection of our sexual-minority status through homophobic images and messaging.
In addition, unlike other minority groups (e.g., Hispanics and African Americans), we likely did not grow up in a family or community that shared, embraced, and supported our sexual orientation (Morrow, 2004). For example, if teased at school about being gay, most of us did not return home to gay parents or siblings who would help us take pride in this difference and incorporate it into our identities.
How do we get a better sense of ourselves? We begin by making a list of our qualities—first by asking ourselves what our attributes are, and then by asking our friends and family members what they observe to be our strengths. If we rely solely on our own observations, we will likely cut ourselves short—either because we simply do not see our gifts, or we are too shy or insecure to acknowledge them.
Next, we must actually believe everything we have listed. A simple exercise for realizing how great we truly are is this: For each trait we have trouble accepting, write that trait on the top of a sheet of paper and learn to “own” it. For example, “I am kind.” Under that attribute, create two columns—one that says “Evidence For” and the other labeled “Evidence Against.” Then fill out each column. Be objective here; do not allow self-doubt to detract from the positive evidence. Revisit this exercise the day after initially working on it, because a new day will provide fresh perspective and new evidence.
When we examine what we have written, our strengths should become more obvious to us. We will often find that we were not allowing ourselves to fully appreciate our qualities.
Embracing what we have to offer the world will increase our self-esteem, which will, in turn, attract potential suitors. Then we will be in a better place to decide who deserves an opportunity to be in a healthy, intimate relationship with us.
Morrow, D.F. (2004). Social Work Practice With Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Adolescents. Families in Society, 85, 91- 99.
Weber-Gilmore, G., Rose, S., & Rubinstein, R. (2011). The Impact of Internalized Homophobia on Outness for Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Individuals. The Professional Counselor, 1(3), 163-175.
Israel Martinez, LCSW
I am a psychotherapist who has been working with the LGBT community on a professional basis for over ten years. This background provides me with unique expertise on issues that tend to be a part of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender experience.