What Are the Stages of Coming Out?

What Are the Stages of Coming Out?

There is a good chance you have heard of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s stages of grief, known as the acronym DABDA. When working with people who discovered that they would die soon, she observed a five-stage journey through which they seemed to progress. The stages are not linear. A person often jumps around, as they walk this path they did not choose.

Denial: This can’t be happening to me. 

Anger: At every one, including themselves and God, if they are religious. 

Bargaining: Maybe if I do this or that, I can postpone or avoid the outcome.

Depression: This is real and heavy and hopeless.

Acceptance: This is happening, and I can hold ‌onto my life and loved ones until the end.

Since Kubler-Ross first published her findings, these stages have been used to understand grief in general. You can often see these stages of responses when a person faces any kind of loss: death, divorce, a move, the diagnosis of a major health issue, or any kind of significant life transition.

Another place you see these stages is in the “coming out” process for someone in the LGBTQIA community. You see the stages in the individual, as well as among the people who love the individual, such as parents, siblings, and close friends. Often the person coming out is at a different stage of life than the people who love them, which makes things challenging and painful. The person who is coming out likely wrestled with the process for a long time before finally sharing the journey with their loved ones. In the midst of their own pain and struggles, they desperately need comfort and acceptance. Because of where their loved ones are in their own processes, the individual coming out may not be able to get these needs met by the people closest to them, so they must find a new community or suffer in isolation. This is a very hard place to be for everyone.

Stage theories of any kind help normalize our experience without trivializing it. It gives us the opportunity to say, “Yes, that’s what I am experiencing! Someone else gets it! I’m not alone.” One stage theory is the Cass Model for the stages of coming out: Identity Confusion, Identity Comparison, Identity Pride, and Identity Synthesis.

Identity Confusion: What is going on? This is scary. Maybe I should try harder in my hetero world. 

Identity Comparison: Who am I like? Who do I relate to? Where do I fit? What will I gain? What will I lose? 

Identity Pride: I am queer, proud, and want to share it with everyone. 

Identity Synthesis: I am queer, and it is not all of me, but it is a very important part of me.

Loved ones of the individual coming out go through a version of these stages, too. These stages do not happen in a vacuum for anyone involved. There are other layers that get added to the complexity of the process. Add in religious community beliefs, cultural expectations, region of the country the person resides in, socioeconomic status and needs, political climate, and so much more, and a person can find themselves navigating a road fraught with traumatic experiences that will follow them into their future relationships and life experiences.

Isolation and lack of support makes all of these struggles exponentially harder. In fact, isolation and lack of support are what turns a hard journey into a clinically traumatic one. Do not take this journey alone. For the sake of your livelihood in the next phase of your life and for your future relationships, find a good, fully affirming therapist who is aware of these complexities, to be part of your support system. You can do this…whatever “this” ends up looking like for you. Things WILL get better. You do not have to do it alone. 

If you or someone you know needs help on their journey, you can contact us to make a counseling appointment. Additionally, you can read more about LGBT counseling or grief counseling on our dedicated pages. Our goal is to provide our clients with the best possible care.

Photo by Jasmin Sessler on Unsplash

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