There is probably no greater topic of importance to gay dating and relationship success than self-esteem. How you feel about yourself definitely translates itself in everything that you think, feel, and do.
Having confidence and a belief that you have value and worth gives you that extra boost you need to take risks that will improve your life. It gives you that little extra sexy appeal and makes you feel positive and attractive to yourself and others. It also helps you in making sound and responsible decisions that will ensure you’re living with integrity. Additionally, when you feel good about yourself, you’re more likely to set boundaries with others to avoid being taken advantage of and helps you feel more able to be assertive and to go after what you need and what.
Much of the quality of our life comes from the choices we make. To grow as a person, we must be able to step outside our comfort zone to break free from stagnation and reach for progressively higher goals that lead toward self-actualization. The ability to take risks and “go for it” is correlated with a solid sense of self-esteem. In dating and relationships, being able to take risks is critical to being able to reach the visions you’ve set for yourself as it pertains to your love-life.
Approaching that cute guy across the bar entails risk. Telling your boyfriend that you love him is another form of risk. Without having the confidence and motivation to conquer our anxieties and inhibitions about being vulnerable, we will never be able to realize and experience our romantic and relationship potentials to the fullest.
What will follow in this 2 part article is a tips list of things you can do to build your self-esteem and risk-taking muscles. The ideas may sound a little text-book and some suggestions may seem a little far-fetched, but I encourage you to pick and choose the points that make sense for you and apply those most relevant for your current life situation.
Self-esteem is such a broad-based concept and once fixed, it can be difficult to challenge. Achieving positive self-esteem and confidence can’t be accomplished from reading a tips sheet; it requires consistent practice and diligence in challenging oneself to think, feel, and behave in ways that are in greater alignment with the type of person you want to be.
If you find that you struggle with low self-esteem or anxiety about making things happen in your life, it’s important to be persistent in your efforts to overcome those things that bring you down and to enlist the services of a coach or therapist who can work with you to personalize your own program for self-esteem enhancement.
Self-Esteem and Growing Up Gay
We are all raised in a heterosexist society where heterosexuality is the norm. As gay men, we grew up being socialized into thinking that any sexual orientation other than “straight” was taboo and wrong. We internalized the negative messages that we were taught that our natural inclinations toward same-sex intimacy were sinful, sick, and perverted.
This is the basis for internalized homophobia when we begin to experience ourselves as defective and deviant; a profound sense of shame is born and we begin to loathe ourselves and subject ourselves to criticism and judgment. We struggled between our inborn strivings for male affection and bonding and the fear of rejection and harassment from others should our “secret” be discovered. Hence, we were forced into hiding (“the closet”).
We gay men were vulnerable and susceptible to self-esteem deficiencies from the get-go because of our cultural backdrop. It was a set-up for emotional torture and turmoil from the beginning, something we didn’t have control over and had to learn to face and overcome as we grew into adulthood. Discrimination and the threat of potential violence for discovery of our sexual orientation are realities and these fears keep us inhibited and stifled, thwarting our development if we let it. In addition to the ordinary developmental tasks and challenges that all members of our society must tackle as we grow through the life cycle, we gay men must also cope with integrating a sexual identity that is not accepted by the society at large and learning how to function with a sexual minority status. Not easy!
It’s no wonder that we might find it difficult to be uninhibited and take risks that could improve our lives! Many of us lacked affirmation and encouragement and there definitely was a lack of role models available to emulate. Without any training and legitimacy to support same-sex relating, we’ve had to feel our way through the dating jungle and make it up as we’ve gone along. And without any framework to refer to, much anxiety and insecurity can settle in when it comes to knowing how to pursue and function in a gay relationship. Taking risks, then, can feel extremely overwhelming and immobilizing.
[ PART TWO TOMORROW ]