Autonomy support and daily experiences with sexual identity disclosure and concealment.

by Nicole (1984 Legate

Institution: University of Rochester
Degree: PhD
Year: 2015
Keywords: Autonomy support; Coming out; Concealment; Gay; Self-determination theory; Sexual identity
Record ID: 2059583
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/1802/29204


Holding a lesbian, gay, or bisexual (LGB) identity has been linked with higher rates of psychiatric disorders, substance abuse, suicide and poorer physical health, and outcomes are worse for individuals who conceal their sexual identity. The current research addresses this concern by examining how the social environment can support people coming out as LGB. Although abundant evidence suggests that coming out is important for developing a stable identity and reducing the psychological harm caused by stigma, there are risks involved with disclosing a stigmatized identity. Negative or rejecting reactions to coming out can have deleterious effects on mental health. In contrast, my preliminary work has found that autonomy support, or interpersonal encouragement to be oneself, provided by various people in one’s life fosters greater disclosure in LGB individuals. Moreover, results indicated that disclosure corresponded to greater well-being when one was with autonomy-supportive people. As coming out is a process, not a one-time event, the current research utilized a daily-diary design to test daily experiences of coming out or being out within casual or close relationships. Results showed that variability in disclosure did not relate to psychological well-being, and marginally predicted fewer physical symptoms, suggesting that there may be adaptive benefits to selectively disclosing to others. Multilevel models indicated that autonomy support from interaction partners robustly predicted more disclosure in the conversation. Further, interacting with autonomy-supportive others and disclosing in conversations predicted greater well-being and fewer physical symptoms later in the day. For most wellness outcomes, disclosure and autonomy support did not interact, with the exception of anger: autonomy support from others mattered more when people were less out in the conversation in predicting anger later in the day. Finally, tests of mediation revealed that disclosure predicted better psychological well-being and fewer physical symptoms because disclosing satisfied people’s basic psychological needs for autonomy and relatedness. In other words, disclosure related to wellness because it made people feel like they could be themselves, and feel more connected to the confidante. This evidence that daily fluctuations in psychological well-being and somatic symptoms are a function of interpersonal autonomy support and disclosure highlights the role that the social environment plays in affecting sexual minority mental and physical health.