Coming out is so much more than just telling people “I’m gay, lesbian or bisexual.” It’s multiple, emotional steps that can be unnerving to navigate. There’s no set way to doing it; people who come out do it in their own way and experience it differently.

Are you thinking of coming out? Do you need help with how to do it? Read below for the six-step process you should use to map out your journey.

We’re going to drop some science on you here – The Cass Model – it was developed by Vivian Cass in 1979. It’s a six-stage model that describes the developmental process people tend to experience while considering and deciding that they’re gay, lesbian or bisexual. We’ve tweaked it a bit. It’s important to note that not everyone will be at stage one – many people may have identified these stages on their own and are further along. Some people might not even fully embrace the last few steps, only with close family and friends. Whatever you are feeling is totally normal; tons of other people have had these experiences.

Stage 1 – Identity Confusion

The first step is experiencing identity confusion. You’re starting to wonder whether you’re gay, lesbian or bisexual. “Could I be gay?” is probably a question that’s being asked. Lots of people will be confused and deny what they’re feeling. They’ll brush these feelings off with “I’m experimenting”, “it was an accident” or “I was just drunk.”

What can you do? You can explore your own positive and negative judgements. Explore your sexual identity, just as you would with a career or your social life.

Stage 2 –  Identity Comparison

You’re starting to think, “Hey I might really be gay, lesbian or bisexual.” Often times in this stage people will isolate themselves as they realize that normal parts of their life will not be the same.

What can you do? Are you feeling like you have to give up part of your identity to embrace your sexual orientation? It’s important that you seek out information about your sexual identity and deal with social alienation.

Stage 3 – Identity Tolerance

You’re really starting to accept the fact that you’re gay, lesbian or bisexual.

What can you do? Decrease the social alienation that may have been created in the last stage by reaching out to the lesbians and gays, and learn about the culture. You can receive positive support that may make up for the negative that you might be receiving from other parts of your life.

Stage 4 – Identity Acceptance

Any questions that you once had during the previous three stages have been resolved, for the most part. You’ve accepted your new identity.

What can you do? You’re probably more connected to the LGB community than ever before.

Stage 5 – Identity Pride

By this stage, you’re happy to be a part of the LGB community. At this point, you may feel angry with the heterosexual community.

Stage 6 – Identity Synthesis

By this point, you’ve managed to blend your sexual identity into your daily life; now it’s part of your social and sexual identity. If you had any hostility towards the heterosexual community, that’s probably faded away.

It can be hard

The first step of self-realization can be hard, accepting what you’re feeling and being able to define them. Going through the steps can be difficult, especially in a world where sexual orientation seems to be so strictly enforced. While you might feel ashamed, isolated, or afraid, coming out can be very liberating and freeing. You may be able to feel authentic and real.

Coming out to others?

When you decide to tell the first person, make sure you pick someone who you feel is very supportive. Think about the things you want to say before you actually go to say them. Pick a time and place where it will be safe and supportive. Unfortunately, you’ll have to prepare yourself to experience negative reactions, not everyone will be accepting right away and might take time to adjust.

If you have a negative experience, don’t lose hope. You have every right to be who you are and live openly and freely. Someone’s rejection is never a lack of your worth or value.