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When young people attempt in their own strength to repress same-sex attraction (SSA), they often report a drop in self-worth and begin to withdraw from social support. I previously noted that all of us – gay and straight – deny sexual urges every day. Abstinence, then, is not the cause of this withdrawal. What else might be going on?
I stated in an earlier post that withdrawal is an attempt at security. Young SSA strugglers hide from others to protect against judgment, rejection, exclusion and maybe even bullying. Withdrawal may also be an attempt to hide from one’s SSA struggle (denial). In today’s post, I would like to propose one other idea.
SSA is more than sexual or erotic feelings; it also involves romantic drive. When young people repress SSA, they are not just hiding from people; nor are they only resisting sexual activity and erotic desire. When they repress SSA, they also shut down romantic inclinations: the warm, fuzzy, puppy-love feelings that accompany sexual desire. These romantic inclinations are rooted together with our need for social connection.
Let me offer a brief illustration. Maybe you have experienced a type of romantic exuberance during a special dinner with wonderful friends. This is not a sexual romance: it is more like a capturing and cherishing of a meaningful moment; one that satisfies something deep inside the heart. We call this community or fellowship; but there is a definite romantic component to it.
Deep in our psyche, then, our needs for sex, romance and social connection are intertwined or rooted together. When we cut off sexual and romantic feelings, it makes sense that we may well cut off social strands too. This is NOT a mathematical formula. My counseling experience, however, shows a consistent trend: young people who repress sexual desire and romantic inclination as they seek to hide their sexuality from others experience a predictable drop in motivation or excitement about social engagement.
Practically speaking, how can young SSA strugglers possibly connect with the very people they fear will reject or judge them? Or, how can such a young person face others when they cannot even accept the reality of their struggle? For them to look eye-to-eye with others when they seek to deny their hidden struggle is like standing before a mirror that uncovers their denial and leaves them exposed. That is too dangerous. We might, therefore, say that repression is rooted in a drive not to be fully known; a drive that has deep roots in fear. The confluence of all these various factors working together is a heavy load for strugglers to carry alone.
I don’t know about you, but this absolutely humbles me. Particularly when I consider how we gloss over these invasive issues by addressing homosexuality at surfacy levels. This tendency means we fail to truly understand what others are experiencing; we fail to walk with people in the midst of their real needs. In a sense, we fail to care. No wonder those who experience SSA – as well as those who identify as LGBT+ – often feel so misunderstood. It is my hope that these insights will increase our compassion and understanding for these young people. May we be safe enough for them to share what’s going on inside. Amen.
Join me tomorrow as I paint a portrait of “the big shutdown.” This will be a self-portrait from one of the most painful and lonely seasons in my life. This is not about my past pain; it is about elevating the dangers of repression so that we can more effectively care for friends and loved ones who experience SSA. God bless.
JOIN THE CONVERSATION: What other ways can repression shut down parts of our psyche? How can we care for both SSA and LGBT+ persons? Add your feedback or ideas by clicking the red comments link on the Publishing Bar below. You may elect to comment as “Anonymous” if desired. Share this article on Facebook, Twitter, Buzz or by email. You may review our doctrinal beliefs at http://bit.ly/azho1g.
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