How to overcome loneliness if you are LGBT+

It is a fact that feelings of loneliness and isolation are particularly common amongst members of the LGBT+ community. Various research demonstrates LGBT+ people are much more at risk of being lonely, feeling socially isolated and likely to worry more about their mental health than non-LGBT+ individuals. In some cases, this can also lead to depression and even suicidal thoughts.


Loneliness typically occurs when one’s needs for social contact are not met. It causes people to feel unwanted, isolated and empty. It can present in at least two forms: social and emotional. Social loneliness is the perceived absence of a wider social network of friends, colleagues and neighbours, whereas emotional loneliness is the perceived absence of a significant other with whom a meaningful or close relationship existed such as a partner or best friend.

LGBT+ people sometimes grow up in an environment where they have experienced discrimination and rejection - be it at home, school, or the workplace. Even if they personally have never received overt discrimination or rejection, the negative messages about being LGBT+ can have an impact on how they see and feel about themselves causing them to be particularly sensitive to it in social situations.

Experiencing loneliness 

There are many reasons why those identified as LGBT+ are more likely to experience loneliness than heterosexual people. Here are a few:

The environmental context

Despite the progress we have made in recent years, growing up can still be incredibly tough for LGBT+ individuals. For many years we have had the assumption reinforced to us through social beliefs, the media, policies and politics that everyone is heterosexual and fits within the gender binary. Such prevailing anti-LGBT+ stereotypes create the narrative that anything other than that is perceived to be ‘different’.

For an LGBT+ child growing up in an environment where they don’t feel represented can have detrimental effects on their self-esteem and self-worth. It causes them to believe that there is something wrong with them which can result in them feeling different and separated from the majority. 

Minority stresses

Minority Stress speaks to the added layers of stress that are felt by those of a stigmatised identity. Individuals who experience minority stress can be at increased risk for mental health challenges, and may struggle with internalised rejection and shame. As such, LGBT+ individuals face unique stressors due to experiences of marginalisation and victimisation including harassment, bullying, prejudice, discrimination and micro-aggressions.

These layers of stress that an LGBT+ individual receives can cause severe damage to their overall quality of life, relationship to others, and even livelihood. It can also contribute to their sense of self, causing them to feel isolated from the rest of the people around them. 

Identity concealment and internalised fears 

There are two unique stressors experienced by the LGBT+ population that contributes to isolation and feelings of loneliness: identity concealment and internalised homophobia/transphobia. 

Coming out about sexual orientation and gender identity makes a huge difference to LGBT+ people’s ability to live a fulfilling life. However, it might be just impossible for some. There are tremendous negative impacts on LGBT+ people when they cannot be open about their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Those who desire to conceal their sexual orientation to avoid negative reactions may self-isolate and have difficulty finding other sexual minority friends or partners. Closeted individuals frequently cannot acknowledge to themselves, let alone to others, their homoerotic feelings, attractions and fantasies. Consequently, these feelings must be dissociated from the self and hidden from others. This silencing can lead to isolation, self-harm, sexual risk-taking, substance abuse and poor relationships. 

The discomfort with one's sexuality and/or transgender identity as a result of internalising society's normative sexuality and gender expectations is known as internalised homophobia and transphobia. These internalised phobias are a common occurrence in the psychological development of an LGBT+ individual.

LGBT+ people often experience stigmatisation, which may cause them to internalise their sexuality and gender attitudes as wrong and unacceptable. It's not difficult to turn this negative belief inwards, absorbing it into ourselves, believing it to be true. It can become so ingrained in the individual’s sense of self that it gets in the way of having a fulfilling personal life.

In practice, this could lead someone to avoid or isolate themselves from other people in general or LGBT+ people in their life. Internalised homophobia and transphobia may never be completely overcome and persist in the LGBT+ person's life long after coming out. 

In addition, LGBT+ people are especially vulnerable to loneliness as they are more likely to be single, living alone, childless, and in less frequent contact with families of origin. They are also less likely to engage with local services as they don’t necessarily trust their healthcare providers to treat them from a place of cultural competency. Altogether, these factors mean that LGBT+ people often feel lonely and isolated. 

Five practical steps an LGBT+ person can take to alleviate loneliness

  1. Sharing it with someone they trust can be the beginning of releasing those feelings of shame around loneliness. It can also help LGBT+ individuals to sort out their thoughts and understand themselves better. 
  2. It can also be helpful to seek out positive and well-adjusted role models among the LGBT+ community as a way to relate and feel connected. 
  3. Volunteering is a great way to connect with others and help at the same time. It can ease feelings of loneliness and broaden their social networks. 
  4. Joining social groups and activities is a great way to combat loneliness too. It can help individuals to connect with their local community and find new friends and activities.
  5. Talking with an LGBT+ affirmative therapist can help reframe negative thoughts or feelings of rejection and aloneness. Therapy can help LGBT+ individuals to move from shame to pride.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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