I run a bi-monthly women's coming out support group. Twice every month 1 to 7 women meet at the Pride Center to talk about their process of coming out. I've been running the group for about 3 years and I think I can safely say that I have one definite observation about coming out: it takes self-acceptance.
This is not a new observation. There's nothing novel about it. But it is profound and bears repeating.
If we self-reject, deny or invalidate who we are as people, there's no way we can come out - to ourselves, nevermind to other people. And self-rejection, denial and invalidation is so easy to fall back on in this society which encourages people to put other's comfort first - particularly for women. In fact, the very topic of self acceptance is so difficult for some women to discuss, that our group goes mostly silent when it is brought up.
So, how do we find self-acceptance? What is the process? If self-acceptance is a major step in coming out, then I should have some concept of how people achieve it from the years of running this group. Oh, girl, do I.
First off, I've definitely seen women rely on their friendships/lovers (healthy relationships) for validation about who they are and what they want for their lives. Having some one person who is close can make all the difference in validating, and thus causing self-acceptance in a woman who is coming out. Sometimes that one person is able to help you overcome your fears of stating who you are to your family. Sometimes that one person helps to introduce you to a new kind of church that is accepting. Definitely having someone in your corner, someone who has your back, is a great way to begin to achieve self-acceptance.
Taking time for yourself to do things you love. Many women spend loads of time on other people and on chores and activities that don't fuel them. They find at the end of the day or week that they haven't had any "me" time. Having "me" time is a critical component in generating self-acceptance. I think what literally happens is that when you take "me" time, you send a message to your mind that you are worth doing things for yourself. And that creates a positive feedback loop which leads you to do more "me" activities, more often. Through this process, you develop for self-acceptance, not to mention that doing these activities gives you time to process yourself more.
A lot of women in the group I run are in therapy. I think therapy is an excellent way for women to find self-acceptance. To confront the root of their self-denial/rejection/invalidation and explore where it comes from, as a way to dismantle it. Some of the women get some of this support in support groups, too. But nothing really replaces a good therapeutic relationship with a professional. A place where it is possible to be as safe as possible to explore one's authentic self.
Some women find it really helpful to find a new social group of friends or acquaintances who don't know the "old" version of themselves and, so, totally accept the "new" version of themselves. It can be really validating to be able to be authentic with a group of people who aren't comparing who you are to who you used to be or who they thought you were. (For places to find new groups of acquaintances, meetup.com is a great resource.)
These are just some of the ways I've seen women gain self-acceptance before coming out. In order to gain the confidence to come out. If you have thoughts about how to gain self confidence, please leave them here. It'd be great to hear your thoughts.