Encountering young evangelicals caught in the snare of repression is heartbreaking. While it is very possible for them to surrender sexual and relational longings in mentally healthy ways, it can take a long season before they learn to distinguish between anxiety-laden repression and peaceful surrender. For this reason, the teen years can be particularly painful for those who experience same-sex attraction or SSA.
One of the pains – and hidden dangers – involves what I call the “collateral costs” of repression. These young evangelicals hear all kinds of messages that tell them how angry God will be if they sexually act out or relationally fall in love with someone of the same gender. Often, parents unintentionally convey additional pressure by constantly taking the temperature of their child’s sexual orientation. Are you changed yet?
The combination of inner conflict, external pressures, and constant examination under the microscope of parents and the wider church lead many teens to shut down major internal operating systems. Two such systems that take the hardest hit are one’s sense of personal worth and one’s connection to healthy social support. Simultaneously losing these two systems quadruples the pain – and the danger.
The net result is young folks withdrawing from family, fellowship and social interactions; often isolating themselves at home. They may appear to be engaged in stimulating interests involving their personal talents, but the risk is that such interests and the amount of time invested in them leave these young people severely isolated. Their disconnection from peers is a reaching for security, but this security comes at a huge cost.
The costs are loneliness; fear of rejection; internalization of actual rejection; addictions (pornography, eating, drinking); numbing of emotions; self-destructive habits (cutting and piercing); and a sense of hopelessness. Is it any wonder that the risk factors for suicide climb dramatically for young people caught in a long-term state of repression?
Importantly, repression is NOT caused by a lack of sex. Rather, it is the state of hiding oneself from others; feeling forced to hide oneself from others (possibly for safety); or denying one’s own needs and minimizing one’s inner conflicts. Repression is a stark aloneness in the midst of a difficult struggle combined with a lack of self-acceptance and a fear of rejection from others. This powerful force has the capacity to kill our loved ones and those we shepherd.
As parents and church leaders, we should watch for young people who exhibit isolating attitudes and behaviors. We must be aware: recognizing who is missing from youth group – or the dinner table. However, we must not approach them with demanding or critical attitudes – nor overly rosy promises of an easy life. Inviting them to let go of their seclusion to reconnect is a very delicate endeavor. At a minimum, they must be convinced that we will not force them, judge them, lie to them or try to fix them. Acceptance must be palpably felt.
This is serious business when lives are at stake. If you fit the description of what I have written about today, consider the dangers and choose to talk with a safe pastor, counselor, mentor, family member or friend. If you need help finding support or desire additional guidance, do not hesitate to contact me.
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