Self-Compassion: A Protective Factor Against Perceived Stigma Among Sexual Minorities?

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Among sexual minorities, public stigma and discrimination are common experiences that can lead to self-stigma and the internalization of heterosexism. Szymansky, Kashubeck-West, and Meyer (2008) summarized previous literature, reporting that internalized heterosexism is correlated with stunted sexual identity formation, nondisclosure of sexual orientation, lower self-esteem, less social support, depression, and psychosocial distress. Importantly, it is not necessary to experience enacted stigma (i.e., discrimination) first-hand for it to have an impact on sexual minorities (Herek, 2007). All individuals, collectively, are aware of the stigmatized ways particular groups are treated, and this awareness become personally relevant once individuals hold the stigmatized identity (Link, 2001). Coping strategies and resources may therefore be of utmost importance to protecting the wellbeing of sexual minorities. This study examined self-compassion as one such resource that may serve to mitigate the negative effects of sexual stigma of the self, in particular the internalization of public stigma. Indeed, previous research suggests self-compassion may be an effective and healthy coping strategy (Allen and Leary, 2010), correlated with increased well-being, positive psychological functioning (Neff, 2003), happiness, optimism, positive affect, and wisdom, and decreased negative affect and neuroticism (Neff, Rude, & Kirkpatrick, 2007). Sexual minorities, by using mechanisms of self-compassion, may reduce the likelihood of endorsing stigma toward themselves and anticipating discrimination. Thus, we hypothesized that increased self-compassion would be linked with reduced self-stigma, internalized heterosexism, and anticipated discrimination. A large-scale and online survey of gays, lesbians, and bisexuals (n = 254; 59% female) revealed that as self-compassion increased, self-reports of self-stigma (r=-.27, p<.001), internalized heterosexism ( r=-.238; p <.001), and anticipated discrimination (r=-.14, p<.001) decreased. These findings and results of a self-compassion experimental induction study will be discussed to highlight self-compassion as a potential buffer against harmful realities of internalizing sexual minority stigma.


Charlotte, NC

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