Decrease the Negative Effects of Gender Nonconformity with Mindfulness
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“Humanity’s most valuable assets have been the non-conformists. Were it not for the non-conformists, he who refuses to be satisfied to go along with the continuance of things as they are, and insists upon attempting to find new ways of bettering things, the world would have known little progress, indeed.” – John Kenneth Galbraith
Gender is defined by our genes. If we have two X Chromosomes we’re female. If we have an XY pair, we’re male. But, the role we play, how we act, based upon gender is learned and very much dependent upon societal norms and mores. “Gender nonconformity (also known as gender atypicality) refers to the incongruence between the biological sex assigned at birth and the socially prescribed gender role.” (American Psychological Association (APA) 2012). This nonconformity occurs associated with all forms of gender identity and sexual orientations.
There is always a price that individuals must pay anytime that they violate societal norms. The stigma, stress, and emotionality produced by violating the norms can impact the mental and physical health of the individual. On the other hand, mindfulness has been shown to reduce the physiological and psychological effects of stress, improve the ability to cope with emotions, and improve self-compassion. Thus, there is a need to better understand the effects of mindfulness and self-compassion on the well-being of individuals who are gender nonconformists.
In today’s Research News article “Trait Mindfulness and Self-Compassion as Moderators of the Association Between Gender Nonconformity and Psychological Health.” (See summary below). Keng and colleagues recruited a varied adult sample of over 200 individuals with all forms of gender identity and sexual orientations. They were asked to complete measures of sexual orientation, gender nonconformity, anxiety, depression, subjective well-being, mindfulness, and self-compassion. About 2/3rds of the participants were heterosexual while 21% were gay or lesbian, 5% bisexual, and 6% other orientations.
They found that the higher the levels of gender nonconformity the higher the levels of depression and the lower the levels of subjective well-being. Mindfulness was also an important factor with the higher the levels of mindfulness, the lower the levels of anxiety, depression, perceived stress, and the higher the levels of self-compassion and subjective well-being.
Although mindfulness was only slightly negatively related to gender nonconformity it had significant moderating influences on the effects of gender nonconformity. People high in mindfulness did not have an association between gender nonconformity and either depression, anxiety, or subjective well-being whereas when the people were low in mindfulness high gender nonconformity was associated with high depression and anxiety and low subjective well-being. They also found that when people were high in self-compassion there was not an association between gender nonconformity and subjective well-being, whereas when the people were low in mindfulness high gender nonconformity was associated with low subjective well-being.
The results are the product of correlations and thus cannot be used to determine causal connections. But, the results clearly demonstrate that gender nonconformity is associated with psychological and well-being problems. On the other hand, mindfulness is an antidote, being associated with lower psychological and well-being problems. In addition, mindfulness appears to buffer the individual from the negative psychological influences of gender nonconformity. Hence mindfulness appears to be a promoter of well-being and a protector against gender nonconformity degrading well-being.
It will be important in future research to investigate if mindfulness training in people high in gender nonconformity can reduce its negative effects. This may be important in helping people whose gender identity and sexual orientation are contrary to the existing societal mores, improving their psychological health and well-being.
So, decrease the negative effects of gender nonconformity with mindfulness.
“Improved affect in women was related to improved mindfulness and self-compassion skills, which involved specific subscales for approaching experience and emotions with non-reactivity, being less self-critical and more kind with themselves, and over-identifying less with emotions,” – Willoughby Britton
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Keng, SL. & Liew, K.W.L. Trait Mindfulness and Self-Compassion as Moderators of the Association Between Gender Nonconformity and Psychological Health. Mindfulness (2017) 8: 615. doi:10.1007/s12671-016-0639-0
Much research has established a negative association between gender nonconformity and psychological health. Less is known however regarding factors that may attenuate the link between gender nonconformity and psychological health. The present study aimed to investigate the association between gender nonconformity and psychological health in a Singaporean sample, and to examine trait mindfulness and self-compassion as potential moderators of the association. A community sample of 206 adults was recruited and completed an online survey anonymously. The survey included measures of gender nonconformity, sexual orientation, trait mindfulness, self-compassion, depression, anxiety, and subjective well-being. Results showed that gender nonconformity positively and significantly predicted depressive symptoms, and negatively predicted subjective well-being. Trait mindfulness moderated the association between gender nonconformity and depression, anxiety, and subjective well-being respectively, with the direction of the moderation effects indicating the role of trait mindfulness as a protective factor against psychological distress. Self-compassion moderated the relationship between gender nonconformity and subjective well-being. Specifically, the association between gender nonconformity and subjective well-being was positive at high levels of self-compassion, and negative at low levels of self-compassion. While cross-sectional in nature, the findings provide preliminary support for the role of trait mindfulness and self-compassion as potential buffers against negative psychological effects of gender nonconformity.