“Shame, Doubt and Sadness”: A Qualitative Investigation of the Experience of Self-Stigma in Adolescents with Diverse Sexual Orientations
Abstract: Many adolescents with diverse sexual orientations lead happy and fulfilled lives. However, evidence consistently suggests elevated rates of mental health difficulties in this population relative to heterosexual peers, and internalization of stigma (i.e., self-stigma) is implicated in these elevated rates. This study aimed to understand and describe the lived experience of self-stigma with respect to participants’ sexual orientations. To do this, N = 21 semi-structured interviews were conducted with adolescents aged 14–18 who are attracted to the same gender, asking about how their stigma experiences affected their views of their sexual orientation, and themselves. A community reference group of young people with diverse sexual orientations was also consulted in the development of the study, and interpretation of the themes. Through thematic analysis of the self-stigma data and the consultation process, four themes were developed: (1) stigma is a precursor to self-stigma; (2) acceptance is a precursor to self-acceptance; (3) contents of self-stigma, characterized by two subthemes: (i) self-shame (comprised of feelings of abnormality, self-disgust and/or being a ‘bad’ person) and (ii) self-invalidation; and (4) self-stigma is painful and can be damaging. There is a contrast between the way that internalized homophobia is operationalized, and the way self-stigma was characterized in this study with young people, and conceptualizing and measuring self-stigma may need to be updated. Based on the analysis, we suggest four ways to address self-stigma and its impacts: (1) individual intervention; (2) increasing acceptance in families and communities; (3) providing respectful and normalizing sexuality education and information; and (4) overcoming community stigma.
Keywords: stigma / self-stigma / qualitative / sexual orientation
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