The costs of concealment: the depleting effects of concealing sexual orientation
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Keeping any secret is difficult, but hiding one's sexual orientation from important others is a unique form of secret keeping in that it is motivated by fears of being negatively stereotyped, rejected by loved ones, excluded, and discriminated against. The present research tested the hypothesis that concealing one's sexual orientation represents a unique layer of minority stress which is characterized by hypervigilance, paranoid social cognition, and anxiety. Two studies examined the consequences associated with acute and chronic concealment of sexual orientation. In Study 1, the acute effects of concealment were examined utilizing an imagined interaction paradigm in which participants vividly imagined, and talked through, real life interactions with important people in their lives. Following each imagined interaction, participants completed a set of cognitive, emotional, psychological, and physical measures. Imagining an interaction with a person who is aware of one's sexual orientation and by whom one has received a rejecting response produced increased state anxiety, decreased positive affect, increased negative affect, and increased time needed to accurately assess others' emotional expressions. Additionally, imagining an interaction with a person from whom one must conceal one's sexual orientation produced negative emotional effects that were equal to, or greater than, imagining an interaction with somebody who is not accepting of one's sexual orientation. In Study 2, a 30-day online diary study examined the cumulative impact of concealment on the cognitive, emotional, psychological, and physical health of gay and lesbian people. Every 3 days participants completed a series of measures which included questions about whether they had concealed their sexual orientation in the previous 3 days. Participants who reported concealing their sexual orientation at some point over the course of the 30 days reported more state anxiety, more negative affect, less positive affect, more physical, cognitive, and emotional burnout, and a greater number of physical symptoms, than participants who did not conceal their sexual orientation during those 30 days. Among those who concealed, they were worse off emotionally and physically during the periods in which they concealed, as compared with the periods in which they did not conceal. Combined, these two studies speak to the unique and significant costs associated with concealment of sexual orientation.