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[COMMENT: E. Fox]
By James E. Phelan, LCSW, BCD, Psy.D
There is much testimonial data written by people with prior same-sex
attraction (SSA) symptoms that tells about their family
constellations and attributes their SSA to those factors. While the
causal theme they offer is usually a familial one, people with SSA
also link their symptoms to influences such as their own faulty
perceptions and behaviors, and sexual abuse by peers, siblings, or
others. Some have even gone on record to say that they had always
sensed something missing or "void" inside themselves, for a variety
of reasons, when they were children.
Some of their parents, they thought, had tried too hard to love them
and they it felt smothering; some of their parents retreated to
their own preoccupations; others were unable to bond with their
child due to their own health problems or other hardships such as
divorce; some parents attempted to forge a strong sense of bonding
with their child, but throughout the child's growth years, the child
somehow resisted or protested their bond.
It is not uncommon for parents of homosexuals to blame themselves
for these outcomes, and though this is unproductive, they continue
to badger and over-analyze themselves and their faults. Many have
beaten themselves up. Others have given up and resolved to "disown"
their child or to "forget" them. Some try to "pray it away," while
others resort to over-involvement in activities or engage in other
It is especially hard for a parent to understand a child when the
child is active in the gay lifestyle. It is equally hard when the
parents know that freedom from SSA is possible, but yet, their child
will not seek that option. When people are "gay-identified," meaning
they have accepted the premises of gay activism, there is a sense of
loss to their parents. It is very painful when the child ignores
them, and retreats or rages against them. What advice is there for
those parents whose child has SSA or is gay-identified? How can they
put aside their dislike of the behavior and still have hope of a
loving and productive relationship with their children?
The following are tips parents can use to help them through their
struggle with a child who has SSA or is gay-identified:
Do not get defensive or angry when your child says, "I'm gay." This
only fuels the fire. Realize that some children go through stages of
self-doubt about their sexuality. Some go though experimental stages
and sexual fluidity. While you may not condone your child's
behavior, getting in his face about it will only confuse him more
and push you further away from him.
Do not blame yourself for your child's homosexuality. Some children
struggle with same-sex attraction, which is not necessarily due to
familial influence, per se, as in the case of someone who has been
sexually abused and habituated into same-sex behavior. One SSA boy
interviewed said, "Well, I must be gay. Why would that priest have
picked me to [molest]?" A woman explained, "I vowed never to trust
men after I was [molested]," and concluded that, "women [for sex],
were much safer for me." If your same-sex attracted child tells you
it's your fault, ask them why they feel that way. If they say you
were over-intimidating and intrusive, give them some insight into
why you may have been that way. If you had ever physically or
emotionally abandoned them, explain to them your reasons. You are
human, too. Tell them you wanted the best for them, despite your own
shortcomings. Remember, it's not up to you to convince them of
anything. Your healing can come from forgiving yourself for any
misperceptions they may have about you. Your child's healing may
come from confronting you or working through the past with a
therapist. At any rate, do not take offense.
Take any criticism constructively. Learn from it. If you don't
agree, agree to disagree, but don't let it continue to put a wedge
between you. Ask for forgiveness, whether or not your actions were
real or perceived.
Be prepared to listen to their feelings and thoughts. Be prepared if
they don't want to talk. There are some good primers to help you in
this area. NARTH has many good referral resources that can help.
Get professional advice prior to engaging your child about these
issues. Many NARTH-based therapists can guide parents to learning
more about what their child is facing and how they can respond.
Get peer support. Join or establish a support group for parents that
are in the same boat. Support from others can bring listening,
weeping, prayer - and most importantly, the acknowledgment that you
are not alone. Groups such as JONAH and PFOX can be helpful (See
resource listing below).
Be at peace with yourself. Forgive yourself and others for past
mistakes. Take care of yourself through good diet, sleep,
meditation, prayer or progressive relaxation.
Focus your energy on loving the child, being there, and being
sincere. Children can pick up on patronizing behavior. Keep your
emotions in check.
You might sense something's wrong, but don't know what to say. Tell
them that you sense some distance, that something may not be right
between you, and that you want to know what's wrong and that you
want to repair any brokenness that may be either real or perceived.
Get involved, place a warm hand on their shoulders, or give them a
hug. Tell them you love them. Remember, showing them love does not
condone their behavior.
Remember, they control their behavior - not you. This is one of the
hardest lessons for parents to learn.
Don't let your conversations be all negative. Never lecture. Avoid
legalism, by which I mean lecturing the child and telling him that
he is wrong and you are right. Talk about their strengths; emphasize
how we are all human.
Holidays can be difficult, especially if your child refuses to
participate. If this happens, don't forsake the holidays, but spend
them as they are intended. Do this for yourself and for your beliefs
Learn to let go of any guilt. Once you have done your part, allow
them the opportunity to come through. Letting go means letting
something that is greater and higher than you take control of the
situation. The first step in recovery is to accept that we
are "powerless." Another step is changing what we can change, and
accepting what we can't.
A child who decides to be freed from homosexuality must be assured
that help is available. A NARTH-based therapist can help. Some
individuals benefit from self-help ex-gay groups which can be
secular or of various religious denominations. Remember, they must
want the change; you cannot superimpose it on to them. Be patient,
change takes a lot of time. Conjoint therapy may be helpful to
assist with family reconstruction when the timing is right.
Individual work for the parent and for the child is important since
the dynamics are different. Workshops, psychodrama, Gestalt-based
therapies, experiential weekends dealing with deepening gender
identity such as Journey into Manhood, New Warriors, Woman Within
International can be helpful. Love, Sex & Intimacy Seminars given by
the International Healing Foundation (IHF) offer deep inner child
work (re-parenting) and are very helpful in the healing grief and
shame issues. IHF also has a 21-Step treatment plan for parents who
have children dealing with same-sex attraction.
And finally, never give up your belief that change and freedom is
possible - It is!
*In this paper "gay" refers to human beings of either gender. I have
chosen to do this for grammatical consistency.
** "He" "his" or "him" used in this article refers to human beings
of either gender. I have chosen to do this for grammatical
JONAH: www.jonahweb.org (for Jewish families)
Journey into Manhood: www.peoplecanchange.com
New Warriors: www.mkp.org
Women Within International: www.womanwithin.org
Referrals for other resources or therapists in your local area,
please contact NARTH at www.narth.com
Jim Phelan is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker as well as a
Certified Addictions Counselor.
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