Origin and Healing of Homosexual Attractions and BehaviorsRICHARD FITZGIBBONS
In my clinical experience over the past twenty years I have witnessed the resolution of the emotional pain which caused homosexual temptations and behavior in several hundred males and females.
Notice to Reader: "The Boards of both CERC Canada and CERC USA are aware that the topic of homosexuality is a controversial one that deeply affects the personal lives of many North Americans. Both Boards strongly reiterate the Catechism's teaching that people who self-identify as gays and lesbians must be treated with 'respect, compassion, and sensitivity' (CCC #2358). The Boards also support the Church's right to speak to aspects of this issue in accordance with her own self-understanding. Articles in this section have been chosen to cast light on how the teachings of the Church intersect with the various social, moral, and legal developments in secular society. CERC will not publish articles which, in the opinion of the editor, expose gays and lesbians to hatred or intolerance."
The failure to understand the actual causes of homosexuality impacts those who counsel teenagers and adults with this disorder. Therapists regularly tell those seeking help that the Church's teaching on homosexuality is insensitive to homosexuals, unscientific, and erroneous. They are advised to accept themselves as being created homosexual by God. Unfortunately, those giving such counsel usually have little awareness of the emotional conflicts leading to homosexual attractions nor of the healing power available with forgiveness and the Catholic spirituality.
In my clinical experience over the past twenty years I have witnessed the resolution of the emotional pain which caused homosexual temptations and behavior in several hundred males and females. Their process of healing occurred, first, through insight-oriented psychotherapy to identify the origins of their conflicts and then through the use of forgiveness and Catholic spirituality. Such a treatment approach is similar in ways to the employment of spirituality in the treatment of substance abuse disorders. In fact, major breakthroughs were made in the management of addictive disorders only after a reliance on God was made the cornerstone of the treatment plan. Prior to that time, traditional psychotherapy alone resulted in minimal improvement. The use of Catholic spirituality in the treatment of homosexuality follows a similar pattern.
The most common conflicts at different life stages that predispose individuals to homosexual attractions and behavior are loneliness and sadness, profound feelings of inadequacy, mistrust and fear, narcissism, sexual addiction, excessive anger, sexual abuse in childhood and a lack of balance in one's life. During times of stress these inner difficulties are activated. In an attempt to seek relief or to escape from this unconscious emotional pain, strong sexual temptations and behavior can occur. This dynamic of inner emotional suffering leading to homosexual desires and activity rarely can begin during childhood but usually it develops in early adolescence. However, adult life may be the first time for the emergence of this disorder.
Sadness and loneliness
The most frequently seen cause of sadness in the past leading to homosexual attractions in males was the result of childhood and adolescent rejection by peers because of very limited athletic abilities. More recently, the collapse of the nuclear family with almost 40 percent of children and teenagers living apart from their fathers (D. Blakenhorn, Fatherless America, (New York: Basic Books, 1995) has resulted in serious problems with sadness and loneliness in our young. The failure to receive warmth, affection, and praise from a mother can result also in a terrible inner emptiness and sadness. Some females will attempt to fill this void for gentle, comforting maternal love through homosexual behavior.
Weak masculine identity
Another important cause of homosexual temptations and acting-out behavior is the result of strong feelings of insecurity. A lack of confidence may arise from rejection by parents, peers, siblings and other significant people in whom one wanted to invest trust. In an unconscious attempt to undo the earlier life rejection, a person may seek validation and acceptance from members of the same sex. In my clinical experience this painful emotional conflict is seen much more frequently in males.
However, the most common early life disappointments leading to homosexual desires is the result of peer rejections because of a boy's poor eye-hand and athletic coordination. This is a very difficult weakness to have in a culture that is obsessed with successful athletic performance to the point where it is seen as the major measure of masculinity. Children who are not athletically coordinated are regularly the last to be chosen to join teams and are often the victims of rejection and ridicule. They are referred to regularly in a feminine manner through the use of such painful names as sissy, fairy, and queer. Also, they may be told that they run or act like a girl. As the betrayal pain by their peer continues year after year, these males feel increasingly inadequate, confused, isolated, lonely, and weak. This harsh treatment by peers results in these youngsters having a very poor body image and a poor sense of their masculinity.
Fear and mistrust
Fear of vulnerability to heterosexual relationships is another important factor in the development of homosexual attractions. This inability to feel safe loving someone of the opposite sex is usually unconscious and originates most often from traumatic experiences within the home. In males this may be a consequence of having a mother who was overly controlling, excessively needy or dependent, angry and critical, unaffectionate and cold, narcissistic and insensitive, very mistrustful and addicted of ill. In females the fear of trusting males in a loving relationship may arise from having a father who was very angry, rejecting and distant, insensitive toward the mother, abusive, harsh, selfish, addicted or unloving. Today, abandonment pain by the father from divorce is on of the major sources of male mistrust in females who develop and unconscious dread of being hurt as they saw their mothers wounded by their father. Subsequently, such females for a period of time may only feel safe being comforted in love by another female.
The sexually compulsive, highly reckless, and life-threatening behavior in a large percentage of homosexuals would indicate the presence of an addictive disorder in these individuals. These addictions resemble substance abuse disorders in that individuals engage in compulsive behaviors that are medically hazardous.
This clinical view of much homosexual behavior as being addictive in nature is supported by numerous studies of the sexual practices of homosexuals and by the recent best estimates that one half of all homosexual males in New York City are HIV positive. (C. Horowitz. New York February, 1993: 30) The National Institute of Health estimated that at current rates of infection, a majority of twenty year old gay or bisexual men nationwide will eventually have the AIDS virus. ( Newsweek, September 19,1994: 50-51) A national survey of gay men showing that 41 percent performed anilingus (tongue on or in the anus), 46 percent received it in the past year and 46 percent of the men sometimes had sex that they considered riskier than they should be having. (The Advocate, August 23,1994: 20) The addictive nature of much homosexual behavior explains why HIV infections have quadrupled in San Francisco since 1987.
These studies support the clinical view that homosexuality is a disorder with extremely compulsive, highly reckless, and self-destructive features.
Narcissism or selfishness is another major factor influencing the attraction to the homosexual lifestyle. The appeal here is multifaceted and includes not having to make a total commitment to one person and not having to give oneself completely as a parent. There is a desire to remain childlike with minimal obligations in relationships and few limitations to the pursuit of pleasure. Hedonism is associated with man people involved in the homosexual behavior.
Attempt to flee from an excessive sense of responsibility
Some people attempt to escape from excessive pressures and burdens by engaging in homosexual activities in which there is no commitment, obligation, or responsibility. Married men sometimes struggle with intense insecurity after experiencing the stress of a negative boss, a lack of success in work, or a sense of overwhelming anxiety from financial worries. Then they began to view their wives and children as burdens and difficulties rather than as gifts from God. They engage in homosexual behavior in an attempt to flee from their stress and to feel more lovable and special.
Sexual trauma in childhood
A number of males who were raped or sexually abused by older males in childhood develop confusion about their masculine identity. As with other victims of rape, they think that their behavior must have in some way led to the abuse. Such traumatic experiences can create self-hatred and the false belief that they must be homosexual. As adolescents, their relationship with girls is often undermined by their shame and the belief that no female could possibly love them it they knew of their sexual experiences.
The most significant type of anger influencing the development of homosexual attractions in childhood is anger with oneself. As a result of ongoing rejections by peers, many boys acquire an intense dislike for their bodies and view them as weak, unattractive, and unmasculine. They are so uncomfortable with their physiques that it is not unusual for them to spend a great deal of time fantasizing about escaping from their own bodies by assuming the body of another. This daydreaming can begin when they are very young and may lead to a strong physical attraction for those of the same sex.
Finally, excessive anger is seen in a number of other areas in the homosexual lifestyle. Most importantly, passive-aggressive anger, which is the quiet venting of hostility while pretending not to be angry, which is the quiet venting of hostility while pretending not to be angry, is manifested in the failure of HIV-positive individuals to inform their sexual partners of their illness. These men and women often feel that since they have to suffer, others should also. Intense anger is also seen in homosexuals within the media or in the educational, political, ministerial and mental health fields when they attempt to force our culture to change its views on homosexuality. Their approaches are often direct assaults against Judeo-Christian morality, the nuclear family, and the basic differences between men and women.
The healing of homosexual attractions and behaviors
The healing of those with homosexual attractions involves a process of understanding compassionately the emotional hurts they have experienced, resolving the anger with those who have inflicted pain through a process of forgiveness, utilizing cognitive and behavioral techniques, admitting powerlessness over their emotional suffering, and relying upon Catholic spirituality and the sacraments. While each of these steps is important, in my clinical experience over the past twenty years treating several hundred adolescents and adults, the cornerstone to recovery is the combination of forgiveness and spirituality. No amount of insight, adult love and affirmation, assertiveness, or behavioral and cognitive changes can resolve the profoundly deep emotional wounds present within these individuals. Only God's love is powerful enough to overcome the painful loneliness and sadness. Insecurities and fears by providing a feeling being deeply loved, special, and safe at every life stage. As the emotional wounds are healed, homosexual attractions and behaviors diminish and eventually disappear.
In regard to the success of psychotherapy in treating homosexuality, in 1962 Bieber I. (Bieber, I. Homosexuality: A psychoanalytic study. New York: Basic Books; 1962 reported the cure rate from psychoanalysis of 27 percent. A recent survey of 285 psychoanalysts who had treated 1,215 homosexual patients revealed that 23 percent of their patients changed to heterosexuality. (H. MacIntosh, H. “Attitudes and Experiences of Psychoanalysis in Analyzing Homosexual Patients”' Journal Amer. Psychoanalytic Assoc. 42, 1995: 1183-1207)
These traditional treatment approaches did not utilize either a process of forgiveness for resolving the inner resentment of Christian spirituality and meditation for the sadness, low self-esteem, and mistrust. In marked contrast, when forgiveness and Christian spirituality are essential parts of the treatment, it has been my clinical experience that the recovery rate from the emotional pain and subsequent homosexual behavior approaches 100% in those who are truly committed to the process.
Increasing numbers of males with homosexual attractions are entering therapy because of their fear of AIDS Many of these people may resist initially working to recognize their emotional hurts because they fear facing their pain or because they have been influenced by our culture to believe that there are no psychological conflicts associated with homosexuality. However, most who seek counseling are searching for the truth and are open to explore their life disappointments. Their openness is enhanced by the therapist's optimism and confidence in regard to the healing of the emotional wounds which produce their temptations and behavior.
Identifying and understanding the various types of emotional conflicts at different life stages are the first steps in the recovery process. These wounds are inflicted most often in childhood and early adolescence and arise from disappointments with parents, siblings, or peers. This pain is regularly denied and then emerges in masked ways as homosexual temptations early in adolescence. However, for some, the homosexual attractions may not come out until the twenties or thirties. In such cases some adult trauma has usually occurred that is associated unconsciously with unresolved childhood and adolescent conflicts.
The resolution of excessive anger is essential in the healing various emotional and addictive disorders (R.P. Fitzgibbons, (1986) “The Cognitive and Emotive Uses of Forgiveness in the Treatment of Anger”, Psychotherapy 23, 1986; 629-633) and in the healing of homosexual attractions. The painful disappointments in important relationships during childhood and adolescence result in very strong anger, as well as sadness, mistrust, and low self-esteem. It is not possible to resolve the loneliness, fear, compulsive behavior, and insecurity without removing the closely associated resentment. The childhood rejections by peers and fathers lead first to sadness and next to anger. The emotion of anger then encapsulates experiences of sadness at different life stages. In order to dislodge the sadness, the capsule of anger must be removed. This can only be done through a process of forgiveness, because the sole reliance upon the expression of anger does not truly free individuals from their inner resentment and bitterness.
Unfortunately, the young mental health field has relied almost exclusively upon the expression of anger as the primary mechanism for dealing with this powerful emotion. While expression is important at times, when solely relied on for relief from anger, it has limited value because mere words or behaviors cannot make up for the depth of resentment and bitterness that has been denied in significant relationships in childhood and adolescence. Those who pursued therapy for their homosexual impulses in the past were rarely challenged to resolve their hostile feelings toward their parents and peers, nor were they counseled to use forgiveness. The failure to address and to recommend an effective treatment approach for buried anger is one reason why therapy did not produce more significant clinical improvement in these individuals, with the other being the lack of understanding of the value of spirituality in the recovery process.
The major aspects of Catholic spirituality which play an essential role in the healing of the emotional wounds leading to homosexual attractions and behavior are prayers of petition, meditation, the scriptures, the Rosary, holy hours, the Eucharist, the sacrament of reconciliation, and spiritual direction. Once the basic conflict has been identified and understood, most individuals regularly employ each of these aspects of spirituality in their recovery. However, some find one particular method of prayer particularly helpful. For example, those who were rejected repeatedly by their peers often discover that spending time daily meditating upon and visualizing Jesus being at their side through childhood and adolescence as their best friend, when they felt very lonely and isolated, to be particularly comforting and strengthening.
Weak masculine identity — the sports wound
Over the past twenty years I have seen large numbers of single and married men, seminarians, religious, and priests who were severely rejected in childhood and adolescence set free from their pain and homosexual behavior through the use of forgiveness and Catholic spirituality. The Eucharist, the sacrament of reconciliation, meditation, spiritual direction, the Scriptures, holy hours and the Rosary have made these healings possible. In their journey toward wholeness most individuals regularly encounter times of strong discouragement, slips, intense anger, and even hopelessness. However, with perseverance and grace the emotional wounds and the homosexual attractions and behaviors are resolved.
An urgent need exists to examine the truth in regard to homosexuality, both morally and psychologically. Recently, Pope John Paul II stated, “We need now more than ever to have the courage to look truth in the eye and to call things by their proper name, without yielding to convenient compromises or to the temptation of self-deception” (John Paul II, Encyclical Letter, The Gospel of Life, 1995: 1034.) As the teacher of truth, the Church affirms in the Catechism that “homosexual acts are acts of grave depravity, are intrinsically disordered, and under no circumstances can be approved”. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, New York: Catholic Book Publishing Co., 1994: 366 (2357 in Canadian Published Catechism)
Psychologically, homosexual attractions and acts arise from a number of very specific emotional hurts and conflicts in childhood, adolescence, and adult life. These wounds were not clearly and fully identified in the past by mental professionals, nor were they healed in the majority of cases. The reasons for this are because the mental health field in its early stage to development has failed to understand and incorporate forgiveness to remove the significant betrayal anger in these individuals and has not provided Christian spirituality to resolve their sadness, mistrust, low self-esteem, and addictive behavior. Fortunately, Catholic spirituality, combined with good psychotherapy, can result in a complete healing of those with this disorder.
Fitzgibbons, Richard. “Origin and Healing of Homosexual Attractions and Behaviors.” 2nd Pan American Conference on Family and Education Toronto, Ontario May, 1996.
Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons is a psychiatrist and Director of Comprehensive Counseling Services in W. Conshohocken, PA and the co-author with Robert Enright, of Helping Clients Forgive: An Empirical Guide: An Empirical Guide for Resolving Anger and Restoring Hope, 2000, American Psychological Association Books.
Copyright © 1996 Richard Fitzgibbons
Not all articles published on CERC are the objects of official Church teaching, but these are supplied to provide supplementary information.