For many LGBTQ+ exvangelical individuals, the process of leaving the evangelical Christian church and coming to terms with their sexuality can be a tough process. Often, the teachings of the church can instill feelings of shame, self-doubt, and self-criticism that linger long after leaving the faith, and this is even more true for queer and trans folks. Self-compassion can be a powerful tool in promoting healing and self-acceptance.
Self-compassion involves treating oneself with kindness, understanding, and acceptance, especially in times of difficulty or suffering. This practice can help to counteract the negative messages that many queer and trans exvangelicals have internalized about themselves and their worthiness. Many of us were programmed from a young age or during our religious years with the doctrine of original sin; as a result we may believe, deep down, that we are fundamentally broken or unworthy. Being anything other than a cis-het person only adds to the shame in the evangelical environment. But cultivating strong mental health is based on the opposite idea: we are all worthy and deserving of love, care, and compassion. By offering ourselves the same kindness and understanding that we would offer to a friend, even if it feels awkward or undeserved, self-compassion can help to create a sense of safety and acceptance within us. We can think of self-compassion as a skill to practice over time; you might not be great at it when you first try it out, but keep practicing and it gets much easier.
So how do we do this? Practicing self-compassion can take many forms, such as speaking kindly to oneself in a gentle and understanding tone (internally, or even literally), acknowledging one’s own feelings and experiences with non-judgmental awareness, and engaging in self-care activities that promote physical and emotional well-being. An important aspect of self-compassion is exercising curiosity; we can strive to observe our thoughts, feelings, tendencies, and desires, without assigning value or moral judgment. This is especially important when it comes to sexuality and/or gender expression and identity, since these aspects of our humanity are often so villainized by evangelical Christian churches. By cultivating a sense of self-compassion, LGBTQ+ exvangelicals can begin to heal from the wounds of their past experiences and move towards greater self-acceptance and self-love. This can in turn help to create a more positive and fulfilling life, one in which self-acceptance leads to more confidence and authentic connection with significant others.