Internalized Heterosexism and Psychological Distress: The Moderating Effects of Decentering

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Internalized heterosexism (IH) refers to the internalization of stigma, stereotypes, and negative views of sexual minorities into one’s self concept as a product of social bias. Although substantial research has documented the negative impact of IH on mental health, there is a dearth of research examining variables buffering this association. One cognitive strategy that may help protect individuals against the negative effects of IH on health is decentering, or the ability to view thoughts and feelings as events rather than as truths about oneself. In this online study of 436 sexual minority participants (80% White, age range = 18–80, mean age = 39.31), we examined the moderating effects of decentering on the association between IH and psychological distress. Results revealed that there was a significant association between greater IH and psychological distress (B = 2.43, p < .05). Also, higher levels of decentering were related to lower reported psychological distress (B = −0.31, p < .001). In addition, decentering significantly moderated the association between IH and psychological distress (B = −0.35, p < .05). For individuals who reported higher than average levels of decentering, there was not a significant association between IH and psychological distress. However, for individuals who reported average and low levels of decentering, greater IH was associated with greater psychological distress. These results suggest that decentering significantly buffered the association between IH and psychological distress, highlighting a promising avenue for future research to explore in developing empirically supported interventions to cope and manage internalized stigma.

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