The hurtful messages from the "no" campaign for same-sex marriage have already begun with street posters in Melbourne urging the reader to “Stop the Fags…92% of children raised by gay parents are abused”. This is just the start and there will do doubt be further hateful, incorrect and discriminatory material that will be disseminated in coming weeks.
Children and young people are very susceptible to hateful and hurtful messages. It is innate in our makeup to want to belong to both our peer groups and the wider community. For children, teens and young adults belonging and fitting-in is especially important and often vital for making friendships and feeling accepted.
Messages and communication telling us we are somehow not fit to be part of a community or less equal than straight people can start a cognitive process in the brain where we start receiving thoughts such as “I am not good enough”, or “I don’t belong”, or “why am I gay?”.
It is important and vital that adults, family and peers encourage communication around these types of thoughts the LGBTI youth may experience. There are some excellent methods to disempower judgemental thoughts.
It is totally understandable that hateful and hurtful advertising and communications can result in messages in the brain that become judgemental and critical. This is normal and how our mind responds when we want to belong to a group yet we hear or see messages that tell us this is not possible. These negative thoughts and judgements can accumulate and that is how anxiety, stress and depression occur.
Just being positive does not generally work and self-judgmental thoughts have a way of getting around positive thinking. Basic mindfulness techniques are fantastic way of slowing judgemental thoughts down and diminishing their power such as slow, deep breathing and concentrating on the breath as it enters the lungs and is gradually expelled. What this does is slow the negative thoughts down if they become overwhelming.
Another great strategy to reduce the impact of painful thoughts is naming the story that is going on in your head and placing it in a cartoon frame. For example, if there are constant thoughts about ‘being gay is wrong’ or ‘gay people don’t deserve to be happy’. Place the thoughts mentally in a little cartoon boat with some nasty people yelling these slogans and mentally send the boat under a giant waterfall of green slime. This imagery is loved by teens and adolescents as a way of simply knocking the wind out of the strength of hurtful messages and giving them a reason to laugh.
Naming the hurtful messages is also great way to deflate their power. For example, when the mind starts the process of saying ‘being LGBTI sucks’ or ‘why did I have to be LGBTI?’. This could be thought of as the ‘not good enough story’ and when the thoughts start, just smile and say ‘oh, the old not good enough show is on again – I have heard this one before so many times. It is so boring now’. This immediately taps into a person’s natural warmth and humour as an instrument for deflating the power of hurtful messages.
In the coming weeks, when the hate, bile and reckless words are used to try and defeat the ‘yes’ vote, there will no doubt be children, teenagers and young adults absorbing some of this which will start the negative and judgmental thoughts. It is critical we empathise and normalise this – we would not be human if this didn’t hurt. What is important is learning to be playful with such thoughts – to see them as nothing more than words or pictures floating around in our minds that do not reflect our values. By naming them, playing with them and sending them off in a mess of green sludge we can farewell these thoughts and go on with leading the fabulous lives we were destined to live.