“The opposite of courage in our society is not cowardice…it is conformity.” ~ Rollo MayJust the Way You Are By Kellie R. Stone (originally published in Empowered Women’s Magazine; April, 2014)
It was two-thirty in the morning when she sent me the message. I could feel her stress and fear even though it was a digital communication. “I am tired of living a lie, a double life…I am gay,” she confessed. Her declaration did not move me, but her sadness and fear did. I felt sorry that she had not been able to truly be herself in this world without experiencing hate and ridicule from others. Individuality is at the core of our existence and the pursuit of it a path no other should ever block.
Millions of women, like Karin, are trapped in lives that are not their own. Whether it is to deny homosexuality or simply to hide a creative passion, too many of us wear social masks to conceal true identities and authentic life purpose. As a Journey to Purpose Coach and messenger to women, I see this identity thief steal power from not only the individual woman but that of a feminine collective in pursuit of veracity and empowerment. And though self-denial doesn’t just occur in homosexual women, their pain and concern is among the most poignant today.
A recent Gallop poll reported that Americans believe one in four is either gay or bisexual. Even if that estimate is high, consider how many attempt to covertly blend into a society that doesn’t consider them equal and, in doing so, they live in fear of rejection from loved ones as Karin has for years. Forced by dread and a desire to please, Karin lied to most everyone about her sexuality—a core human nature. This masquerade nearly destroyed her self-image and confidence. The questions, “Am I needed?” and “Am I loved?” were themes to daily life as a closeted lesbian. Her health and energy declined as did her confidence.
Joseph Winn, Licensed Clinical Social Worker who specializes in gay and transgender therapy, believes “many people remain in the closet because they fear, sometimes realistically, that they will be rejected by their loved ones and are [even] at risk for physical violence.” Though this may not be the case for the majority of secluded gays, it certainly is a valid concern for many. Karin did not share any instances of violence, but she did experience an overwhelming weight on her spirit that caused extreme loneliness and despair—thought-provoking evidence that denying our truth and authentic selves, as Winn also concedes “…is incredibly damaging to one’s overall psychological health.” He also believes that coming out is a positive step to better health and self-esteem.
Despair, low self-image and many other intense emotions such as those experienced by living an unauthentic life can cause mental and physical illness, as believed by world-renowned author, speaker, and holistic practitioner, Dr. Bradley Nelson. “Our thoughts are powerful, and what we think and feel is what we create,” he says in his book, The Emotion Code. Nelson has spent his career helping others, from all walks of life, release emotions trapped by intense past experiences and believes anyone will be healthier and happier once emotional baggage is removed. “If you do not like where your story is headed, REWRITE a few pages.” Like Dr. Nelson, Karin encourages others to make changes if they are struggling to find peace and identity. “We are not at the end of the book yet.”
It is also easy to see how society, the media, and even churches can hinder this type of transition to living a truthful, fulfilling life. Winn shares how some “conservative communities and religious groups teach that being gay, lesbian or bisexual is a sign of mental illness, immorality and deserving of punishment and ostracism.” The result of this cruelty is a growing population of not only women but men, teens, and even children with distorted interpretations of love, equality, and spiritual premise.
Interestingly, we see this extreme opposition to being different among some modern religious groups, even though The Buddha, Jesus, and Mohammed all stood for love, truth, justice, and hope for all mankind—the essence of humanity and divinity alike. From any stand point, to claim spiritual roots that suggest we are unique beings created by a perfect (perfectly loving) God who makes no mistakes, and to then blatantly display conflicting behavior that mocks that creation could be considered equitably insane. And, if this conduct is common place, it is fathomable why many people—not just gays— are forsaking formal religious institutions in order to be themselves and embrace loving and comforting spiritual concepts. If a woman loves another woman, wants out of an unhappy marriage, desires to change her spiritual beliefs, or pursue a unique dream, she has a human right to do so and should not be hindered by the rigid and controlling statutes of another.
Each human being must choose his or her path of freedom and the people whom he or she wants close at hand. In this case, having the support of individuals and organizations that don’t judge or control is imperative. “The only way to change where you are is to take a step OUT of it. Sometimes that step has to be small. Sometimes it can be much larger. Sometimes we must burn bridges,” Karin states about her present journey. “Consider your own well-being and never forget that the support system you find should build you up and push you forward.” Previously she entrusted a group that merely wanted to promote and support their own agenda and had little concern for her growth and well-being as a unique woman.
Psychologist and spiritual counselor, Zeenat Merchant-Syal, said, “Being comfortable with who you are, and knowing that you are strong enough to face any situation on your own, is an empowering feeling.” In agreement with Zeenat’s potent observation are Karin’s ideas about what will ultimately change the world concerning the issues of intolerance and judgment. “Act on compassion even though we all have different thoughts on what is right or wrong. Fear separates us. Sharing love even though we have differences would end a whole lot of hate.”
Karin believes her effort to be herself has made a positive impact on her and those around her. “God has blessed me mightily, and now I can share those blessings outright. Living genuinely frees me to be there for others, and gives them someone to share their hearts with. I have been able to help others who feel what I have felt. That, in itself, is a worthy ministry.”
Most women truly desire to express authentic, beautiful lives but some are unfortunately trapped by consuming thoughts of not being good enough or that somehow they don’t fit into this world. No matter who you are or what you’ve experienced in the past, you can be the woman a perfectly loving God and Universe created. Karin’s story is a powerful example of how a mental shift and a little action can, and will, make a difference in your life and even the world. If we want to be empowered women, we must embrace who we are, and that means even the parts that don’t always fit in or make others happy. Conforming to societal ideals and the labels they create is a one way ticket to—as Karin’s experience shows—a mediocre, stressful place that slams the door to your most precious dreams. “Write your own life story,” she urges the women of the world. Remember, you are beautiful just the way you are. Resources: Rochelle, Karin (2014, February) Email interview. Joseph Winn MSW, LICSW, CST. “Coming Out.” Josephwinnlicsw.com. Web. February 25, 2014 Zeenat Merchant-Syal. “How to Become a Positively Empowered Woman.” Positiveprovocations.com. March 8, 2013. Web. February 25, 2014. US Gallop poll. “U.S. Adults Estimate That 25% of Americans Are Gay or Lesbian.” Gallup.com. May 27, 2011. Web. February 25, 2014. Nelson, Dr.Bradley. The Emotion Code. Mesquite, NV: Wellness Unmasked Publishing, 2007. Print.