The LGBT community has made unprecedented strides in gaining rights over the past many years, and acceptance has increased along with it. The vast majority of young people today believe in the equal dignity of gay people. Yet this belies the fact that there are still many whose parents don’t accept their sexuality. And being rejected by your family because of who you are can be an incredibly painful experience. So what is there to do if you are in this situation?

For one thing, it can be helpful to try to take a step back, and find some perspective. Try not to be as intolerant of them as they are of you. While certainly their intolerance is towards an immutable characteristic, and yours is to a discriminatory belief that can be changed, it is still a belief that developed over many years, because of culture and upbringing. As a result, know that it could very well take just as many years to change such an ingrained belief.

Until this change happens, as painful as it is, the best course of action for your own mental health might be to accept your parents as they are, and in doing so, model this type of behavior to them (acceptance). If it is an option to still be in touch with and be around your family, think about whether there is still enough upside to do so, and whether you can while still retaining some self-respect. If you decide to have a relationship with your family, it can be wise to be ready for frustration, and think about how to best engage with them.

For instance, it is often common for one family member or another to make snide or disparaging remarks — it will be up to you to decide how to respond, if at all. You could even preempt such remarks by having a conversation with your family about setting boundaries. When hurtful comments are made, remember the REBT model — that our stress often occurs when we demand that others act a certain way. Thus, while it would be nice if these comments were not made, if they are, it is bad, but not awful; it doesn’t affect our self-worth; and while it might hurt, we will live. Lastly, when responding, try not to escalate the situation by making despairing remarks of your own, no matter how warranted — while it might feel good in the moment, it probably won’t help the situation; also try to talk about how their comment made you feel, as opposed to making statements about what they said or who they are (i.e. “I felt really hurt when you said ___, because ___” instead of “you’re completely wrong about ___” or “you’re such a ___ of course you would never understand me”).

Overall, it is best to do what is most helpful for you and your mental health in the long term. Think about your values in determining whether it is more important to have a relationship with your family, or to be out and open about your sexuality at all times. Some people may be able to not talk about their sexuality while still feeling that they aren’t hiding it. Some might value the other parts of their relationship more, and be able to (for now) look past the intolerance. For others, sexuality is such a part of one’s identity, that it is foundational to the relationship — being accepted is part of the love necessary to feel a part of their own family. This is a personal, and often times agonizing decision. Therapy can help to determine ones values and guide one down the best path for ourselves.