Saturday, August 18, 2018

A Somatic Perspective on the Trauma of Growing up Gay by Payam Ghassemlou MFT, Ph.D.






For almost three decades, I have immersed myself in the life stories of many people of the LGBTQ community who had painful homophobic and transphobic upbringings. Many of the gay men’s personal narratives that I have heard are not very different from my own. Regardless of national origin, we are part of a tribe with similar stories of growing up in a homophobic and heterosexist world where our gayness was repeatedly assaulted. We are everywhere, and unfortunately so is homophobia.

Many gay men have shared with me that as long they could recall they always felt different. They were unable to articulate why they felt that way, and, at the same time, they did not feel safe to talk about it. Some knew this feeling of being different was related to something forbidden. “It felt like keeping an ugly secret that I could not even understand,” described one person. Other gay men have disclosed to me that this feeling revealed itself in the form of gender nonconformity, which could not be kept secret. Therefore, it made them more vulnerable to homophobic mistreatment at school and often at home. Gay men of color reported even worse experiences due to the additional stress of racism and racial bullying.

Many school-age children organize their school experiences around the notion of not coming across as different, in particular, queer. Any school-age child’s worst nightmare is being labeled faggot, which was commonly experienced by many gay individuals who did not flow with the mainstream. Educational institutions felt like a scary place for many of them who were scapegoated as queer growing up. Therefore, they had to cope with a daily assault of shame and humiliation without any support. This is a form of child abuse on a collective level, and it needs to stop.

So much has been written about the devastating impact of homophobia on gay people’s psychological functioning but not enough on the biological impact of it. It is important to understand how repeated hateful acts toward gay youngsters can impact the way their bodies and minds function, including the functioning of their nervous system. Unfortunately, this also applies to any child who is a target of hate and abuse. As Peter Levine, the founder of Somatic Experiencing, stated, “Trauma is not in the event, but in the nervous system.” Based on my personal and clinical work, I also concur that trauma becomes embodied during a person's life and can affect the working of the autonomic nervous system (“ANS”). Much of the healing from this trauma needs to happen through the body. In particular, the nervous system needs to be regulated.

The ANS is the part of the nervous system that governs the fight, flight, or freeze instinct and  is responsible for the unconscious bodily functions like breathing, digesting food, and regulating the heart rate. It also plays an important role of supplying information from our organs to our brain. The ANS can become dysregulated due to the thwarted responses of fight, flight, or freeze in the aftermath of trauma.

The ANS is central to our experience of safety, connection with others, and our ability to bounce back from life’s overwhelming experiences. This ability to recover defines resilience and requires the help of our ANS to keep us in our “window of tolerance”, which has been defined in the book Nurturing Resilience by trauma specialists Kathy Kain and Stephen Terrell “as the zone where we effectively process environmental signals without becoming too reactive or too withdrawn, given the circumstances.” The window of tolerance as a frame work is very helpful to understand where we feel safe, unsafe, and how to expand our optimal arousal zone.

Stephen Porges’, Bessel van der Kolk’s, and Peter Levine’s research and writings have significantly reworked my understanding of how the nervous system responds to threat and trauma. Drawing from their work and my decades of experience, it is my understanding the ongoing stress from homophobia can activate a youngster’s nervous system and “unresolved activation will be stored in the body as bound energy and manifest as trauma symptoms.” In other words, under a daily homophobic assault, a child’s sympathetic system (“stress response” or “fight or flight” response) gets overly activated. Often during such stressful situations, neither fighting nor fleeing can resolve the overwhelming situation, and the thwarted or incomplete fight and flight responses can become “trapped” within the body and dysregulate the nervous system. Such a dysregulated nervous system is more likely to get stuck on “high” or hyper-arousal. Anxiety, panic attacks, rage, hyperactivity, mania, hypervigilance, sleeplessness, exaggerated startle response, digestive problems, and many other symptoms are the result of a dysregulated nervous system that is stuck on “high” or hyper-arousal.

According to many studies, gay individuals who experienced homophobic related stress showed increased production of the stress hormone cortisol compared to peers in safer environments.  This experience of being stuck on “high” continuously activates a person’s stress response system, which leads to the release of stress hormones. Research in this area has shown overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones leads to numerous health problem including headaches, oversensitivity to touch or sound, weight gain, heart disease, concentration impairment, and sleep disturbance.

On the other hand, there are gay men whose nervous systems are stuck on “low” or hypo-arousal, which can result from being terrorized growing up with no hope of protection. Faced with isolation, confusion, physical violence, not being valued, and carrying a secret that the youngster connects with something terrible and unthinkable is too stressful for any child to endure, especially when there is no empathic other to help him sort it out. Such experience is often beyond the youngster’s “window of tolerance.”  This is when the dorsal vagus can shut down the entire system, and the mistreated youngster can go into freeze. In other words, the youngster suffers in silence with numbness or dissociation as his only available survival mechanism.

Stephen Porges, the founder of Polyvagal Theory, has expanded our view of the vagus nerve, one of the largest nerves in the body and a major part of the Parasympathetic system. The word “vagus” means wandering in Latin. The dorsal vagus is a branch of the vagus nerve which is a much older part of the nervous system. Dorsal vagus regulates organs below the diaphragm. Dorsal vagus is instrumental in activating the “shutdown” of the body as discussed in cases of overwhelming fear which can result from homophobic mistreatment. This automatic survival mechanism can become a long-standing pattern of how individuals might cope with fear and stress in life. For example, people whose nervous system is stuck on “low” or hypo-arousal when faced with life stresses can default to shutting down, disassociation, chronic isolation, detachment, numbness, and suicidal thoughts.

In my counseling work, I have noticed when the nervous system gets stuck on freeze, when numbness and detachment become a gay man’s dominant state, he is more likely to engage in risky behaviors as a temporary relief from inner deadness. Thrill seeking behaviors such as sexual acting out, excessive gambling, and crystal meth (crystal methamphetamine) use are ways some gay men escape the emotional flatness that results from experiencing the hypo-arousal state. The same behaviors can also be used to cope with ongoing activation of the fight or flight response. One person might turn to substance abuse to escape his inner deadness and another person might use it to dampen his anxiety that often results from being stuck in a state of hyper-arousal.

As Peter Levine stated, “Trauma is a fact of life. It does not, however, have to be a life sentence.”  For those of us who have had painful struggles with homophobia, life after the closet needs to include dealing with memories of homophobic mistreatment that can lie dormant in our body. Recovery from it needs to start with resourcing and then progressing to completing the thwarted responses of fight, flight, or freeze. Such healing can reset the nervous system and restore inner balance. In Body Keeps the Score, Dr. Bessel van der Kolk writes about a body-centered approach to healing which allows “the body to have experiences that deeply and viscerally contradict the helplessness, rage, or collapse that result from trauma.”

How far the LGBTQ community has come in our struggle for equal rights reflects how brave we are as a community. Our bravery can continue by facing traumas we experienced growing up in oppressive environments that did not nurture our true essence. Not every LGBTQ person felt traumatized growing up, but those who did can benefit from the vitality and the sense of liberation that comes with incorporating somatic work as part of the healing process.

The Somatic Experiencing Trauma Institute offers trainings and seminars on the biology of traumatic stress reactions including tools on how to bring the body-mind-spirit back into balance. Participating in their trainings has enhanced my ability to help others who are interested to tap into the wisdom of their bodies for healing and growth.  There are many other institutes that offer body-centered approaches toward healing which reflect the increased popularity of such work.



© Dr. Payam Ghassemlou MFT, Ph.D. is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (Psychotherapist), in private practice in West Hollywood, California.  www.DrPayam.com




Sunday, March 11, 2018

Healing Our Fragmented Rainbow







As a gay man who understands the importance of a supportive community, it saddens me to realize how disconnected gay men are becoming from each other. The essence of gayness is love. We come out to love freely, and yet many of us who broke free from living a closeted life and moved to gay neighborhoods such as WEHO, Castro, or Chelsea are not finding a nurturing connection under the rainbow flag. It is even worse for many gay men of color who often feel marginalized within the community. The experience of being a minority within a minority places them at higher risk for discrimination. When as a community we don’t strive toward building a safer and more welcoming environment, it fragments the rainbow of our unity.

Many gay men that I have the privilege of listening to reported feeling humiliated by how they were rejected by other gay men. For example, a number of gay men who are relying on apps such as Grindr, Scruff, or Tinder reported the rejection takes on a more brutal level on those apps. The shame they experience is often a result of being negatively judged about their looks, age or ethnicity. Such shaming experiences make these men build walls and avoid connection. It is not uncommon for these men to experience depression, suicidal ideations. and health related problems that not only stem from feeling estranged from the gay community, but also growing up with homophobic mistreatment.

For many of us, growing up gay was painful due to homophobia. Schools felt like a scary place for those of us who were scapegoated as queer. As a community, we have been very successful in addressing the trauma of growing up gay. Raising awareness about the issue has helped many people become concerned about the mistreatment of not only LGBTQ kids but also any youngsters who do not flow with the mainstream. In addition to raising awareness, we have done a great deal of activism to fight discrimination against LGBTQ people. However, I believe we can do a better job with embracing diversity and creating solidarity among our community members.

As human beings we are not meant to live an isolated life. The need for connection through community involvement is healthy and necessary. When such a need does not get fulfilled, it can lead to emotional pain. This pain coupled with a lack of connection to a supportive community becomes a recipe for addictions. Working in the gay community, I have learned the rate of addiction is higher among gay men who experience a sense of isolation or exclusion. I also have noticed gay men’s disconnection from one another leads to feelings of emptiness and apathy. Such painful emotional experiences might also cause them to engage in thrill seeking activities like risky sex or dangerous sports.

Gay men who tend to blame their loneliness on how they look can spend a great deal of money on cosmetic surgery and other unnecessary procedures. When it comes to finding a friend or boyfriend, showing love and kindness provides a better result. As a community, learning to know ourselves and working through the emotional injuries that were inflicted on many of us while growing up can add vitality to our struggle for equal rights and protect us from reenacting our lonely childhood experiences. For some of us being bullied and rejected were the norm. Since what is familiar tends to get repeated, many of us are at a higher risk for unconsciously reenacting our painful past. Just like the rainbow that needs sunshine and rain to be complete, we need to access our inner light to make our wounds conscious and wash them away with healing tears that come from sharing and having regard for our traumas. External changes such as marriage equality or the repeal of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy alone cannot heal us from the homophobic mistreatment and rejection we received growing up.

When I started practicing psychotherapy in the gay community over twenty years ago, we did not have hook up or dating apps. Since then, I have noticed a dramatic shift in not only how gay men relate to each other but also people in general. We are given tools of technology without the consciousness of knowing how to use them in service of embracing oneness. This is a missed opportunity, and one of the reasons why so many gay men feel disconnected from each other. The disconnection also comes from turning these apps to a hunting ground. As human beings our ancestors were hunters. Having sexual desire without the participation of our higher self to facilitate such fulfilment can create such a hunting environment. This intense quest for hooking up not only happens on apps but also at bars and clubs. Gay men need to stop hunting each other and start loving each other. This issue of objectifying one another on hook up sites is not just limited to gay men. Humanity in general is creating a mess out of the tools of technology.

Some gay men who attempt to meet others on apps or in person wear a persona that can become a barrier toward building a real and healthy connection. Often such a persona involves rejection of the anima (Jung's term for the feminine part of a man's personality) and oppressing it with a fake “straight acting” masculinity. Many gay men who as children were made to feel ashamed for being in touch with their feminine side are more vulnerable in relying on such persona. They put pressure on themselves to act extra masculine at the expense of being affectionate and emotionally present. Without healthy integration of our masculinity and femininity finding true love can be challenging. The feminine side of love desires a nurturing relationship, and the masculine part helps to find and protect it. This lack of partnership between the feminine and masculine side is not just limited to some gay men. Many heterosexual men who were raised to deny their feminine side also having difficulty with maintaining intimate connections.  

Rejection by other gay people can hurt more than the rejection by homophobic politicians and institutions. Not having a welcoming community can make the coming out process very painful for those of us who need validation and support during it. Given the negative health consequences of experiencing alienation, there is a high price to pay for not embracing a more inclusive and welcoming gay community. Our community leaders should bring more attention to the need for building a more nurturing environment. As gay people, we are naturally creative and industrious. We are often a small percentage of any population and yet our societal contribution is enormous. I take a great deal of pride knowing not only gays, but also our courageous lesbians, transgenders, bisexuals, and other queer members of our community have always stood up for causes that make this world a better place. In such a short time, we achieved a great deal of civil rights, faster than any other oppressed groups in this country. Triumphs like taking care of our dying people during the AIDS crisis when the Reagan administration turned its back on us and how far we have come in our struggle for equal rights are truly a reflection of how courageous we are. Given the fact that we know how to make changes quickly and effectively, it is time we put more effort into our own backyard and take a better care of each other. Somewhere over the rainbow as Rumi puts it, “beyond the ideas of wrongdoing and right doing there is a field” where we can connect through love. Somewhere over the rainbow, as a community, we can make authentic connections. We can be more empathic toward each other’s pain of loneliness, and we can embrace our true gay essence.



© Payam Ghassemlou MFT Ph.D. is a writer and a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (Psychotherapist) in private practice in West Hollywood, California. www.DrPayam.Com

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

When the Need for Connection Trumps Authenticity



http://drpayam1.blogspot.com/2017/03/when-need-for-connection-trumps_28.html

As a baby, you were an authentic being. Your laughter and tears were real. You were also helpless and depended on your caregivers for survival. Your caregivers had an important role in helping you feel securely connected to and loved by them. The depth and genuineness of your current connection with others stems from how successfully your caregivers managed their role as an attachment figure. This complex interplay between the quality of attachment formed between a child and a caregiver and one’s current ability to form significant connections with others has been discussed extensively by many experts in psychology, including Dr. Gabor Mate. In one of his talks, Mate has discussed how the need for attachment can trump authenticity. When as a small child, your survival depended on your caregivers, you were more likely to do whatever it took to stay connected to them even if it meant hiding your true feelings. For example, if your caregivers did not approve of your genuine expressions of anger or sadness, most likely you hid them in favor of pleasing or staying connected to your caregivers. In other words, for the sake of survival you had to choose attachment over authenticity.

The impasse of being real versus the need for survival continues into adolescence and creates a unique challenge for gay youth and others who did not flow with the mainstream. As a LGBTQ youngster, if you felt unsafe to express your real essence, you probably had to create a fake or “straight acting” identity to protect yourself from homophobic mistreatment. The need to hide contributed to the dilemma of choosing survival over authenticity. It is important to have empathy for your struggle of growing up in a heterosexist and homophobic environment that made it scary for you to express your true essence. It is important for many LGBTQ people to learn how to honor their true essence and work on healing years of oppressive homophobic mistreatment. The price of not individuating is summed up by a quote by Oscar Wilde, "Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else's opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation."

Being real and authentic can be a struggle if you spent most of your childhood finding expression of authenticity as a threat to your survival. What helped you to survive as a child may not serve you today. Relying on the old survival mechanism of pleasing others has become a barrier to be fully present in your significant relationships with others. The process of letting go of such a survival mechanism in favor of honoring your true self involves psychological labor of reaching out to your younger self. The inner child is the part of you that was forced to hide and not show his or her genuine feelings. This part of you needs help to connect with others without the mask of pretending or people pleasing.

In summary, since your ability to be authentic with yourself and others has a lot to do with how you were treated growing up, it makes sense to examine how your past impacts your life today. Psychotherapy can help you not only to heal from childhood mistreatment that can hinder building healthy relationships with others, but also other major life events that contributes to such problems.

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© PayamGhassemlou MFT Ph.D. is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (Psychotherapist) in private practice in West Hollywood, California. www.DrPayam.Com



Monday, January 23, 2017

Personal Myth


http://drpayam1.blogspot.com/2016/11/personal-myth.html


For over twenty years, I have been listening to life stories of many incredible people. It is part of my job.  Many people might think I am listening to their problems, but I hear stories. People who come to me are brave storytellers. It is a privilege to hear a personal mythology that has never been shared before. There are times when someone’s story is a mixture of broken pieces of tragedies and losses. No matter how fragmented and tragic a person’s story, I know there is a hero somewhere in it, waiting to be validated. I view psychotherapy as a place of storytelling where a fragmented tale can be weaved into a hero’s journey, and help people feel proud of their resiliency and courage to survive. This is how people become mythical beings. Often the emotional wounds begin to heal once the personal narrative finds a voice.

Sometimes the stories are forgotten, or filled with emotional intensity that is too painful to share. It is not easy to share narratives that have been captive by fear and shame in the dark corner of one’s memory. I empathized with how hard it must be to liberate a personal story that is filled with tragedies. Perhaps, the story was shared once before, and the storyteller did not receive the empathy she or he deserved. With the help of a caring listener, private life stories can see the light of consciousness. Sometimes a person’s sense of wellbeing depends on transforming painful untold stories into to healing narratives.

What happens to those banned stories that don’t break away from the basement of one’s repression? It is not uncommon for emotionally injurious life events to get pushed out of the realm of awareness. But they do find a back door to escape. Those forbidden tales find expression through reenactment which is unconscious compulsion to repeat the traumatic past. I sometimes notice an unhealthy pattern of behaviors in people’s lives correlates with their unexamined past histories.  Once the tale of mistreatment is empathized with, reflected upon, and understood, it often leads to insight and behavioral change. People do not have to recreate their history of mistreatment. It is hopeful to know that illuminating significant life events to gain insight, and find meaning in them can be a liberating experience.

There are times that one’s personal story is filled with so many atrocities that sharing them can feel re-traumatizing. Sharing one’s traumatic tale needs to be done with the help of a trained counselor. It takes special clinical skills to help someone not only find a channel to release the untold story but reveal the truth of what one endured. During one’s psychotherapy process, the untold or forgotten personal story can be conveyed through dream analysis, bodily sensations (somatic psychotherapy), dance movements, psychodrama, drawings, sand tray images, paintings, journaling, and other channels of expression. We are living in an exciting time in which healing counseling tools are available to people.

Not all personal stories involve devastation. Life stories that involve joy, accomplishments, and overcoming obstacles need to be embraced as well. Such uplifting legends can be life affirming and lead to feelings of gratitude. Having a balanced view on life experiences can add harmony to one’s life. We all carry special stories that once acknowledged and understood can add meaning to our lives and inspire others. Everyone deserves to be heard and deeply understood.

http://drpayam1.blogspot.com/2016/11/personal-myth.html


© PayamGhassemlou MFT Ph.D. is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (Psychotherapist) in private practice in West Hollywood, California. www.DrPayam.com










Saturday, December 31, 2016

Goal Oriented Psychotherapy Practice


Goal Oriented Psychotherapy Practice

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There are number of ways to conduct psychotherapy sessions that can be helpful in meeting the client’s needs and matches the therapist’s style. A goal oriented psychotherapy practice which utilizes a goal setting method is one way to practice psychotherapy. This is a collaborative process that clarifies what the client would like to accomplish during his or her psychotherapy process. Goal setting also helps with constructing a vision of life as it relates to each person’s unique circumstances. Some goals relate to the betterment of one’s external life such as career, finances, education, relationship, and health. Other goals can be about exploring one’s inner world and working toward inner balance, deepening the relationship with the Self, accessing one’s creativity, healing from trauma, and improving mood. These are small examples of common goals clients bring to their psychotherapist which can add clarity to the process.

 In general, working on establishing decisive goals for one’s life can help increase motivation and avoid getting lost. People often feel more motivated in life when they have a sense of purpose, and goal setting can give them such a sense. In addition to helping with motivation, goal setting can improve self-confidence. It affirms the fact that one’s life is worthy to have goals, and the attainment of them helps believing in oneself. I find it extremely rewarding when my clients express joy for progressing toward their goals or attaining them.

Writing down goals in positive language, practicing patience in achieving them, and keeping them manageable for the client are part of the goal setting process. Establishing goals in an affirmative manner can help generate positive emotion to support their attainment. Also, while practicing patience avoids unrealistic expectations in attainment of one’s goals, the process needs to be time-bound. Since every client’s circumstances are unique, it is important to respect people’s time table while collaborating with them in creating target dates. Moreover, goals need to be manageable to avoid making the client feel overwhelmed. The more specific the goal the more manageable it becomes. In some cases, it is important to help the client prioritize their objectives and work on one goal at the time.

Therapists can help clients feel less alone in achieving their goals. This can be done by working with them to identify resources in their lives and in their communities. I often find it helpful to provide a list of community resources to clients who have difficulty obtaining them. For example, a client who is unemployed and can’t afford accessing the internet might find it useful to know about the free internet access at the West Hollywood library.

Finally, those individuals who have difficulty setting decisive goals can benefit from depth oriented psychotherapy which tends to look for unconscious elements that can get in the way of having a clear direction in life. I find helping people to understand their life challenges on a deeper level very useful. No one deserves to feel shame for his or her difficulty in establishing clear goals and having empathy for such struggle is essential. When it comes to practicing psychotherapy, one size does not fit all. Therapists can be flexible in offering modalities that meet the client where they are.

http://drpayam1.blogspot.com/2017/02/goal-oriented-psychotherapy-practice.html


© PayamGhassemlou MFT Ph.D. is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (Psychotherapist) in private practice in West Hollywood, California. www.DrPayam.Com


Sunday, September 25, 2016

Boredom from a Gay Perspective



Boredom from a Gay Perspective


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Gay people are naturally creative and industrious. They are often a small percentage of any population and yet their societal contribution is enormous. I take a great deal of pride knowing not only gays, but also our courageous lesbians, transgenders, bisexuals, and queer members of our community have always stood up for causes that make this world a better place. This short article mostly focuses on gay men and the issue of boredom. Many points being made here do apply to lesbians, transgenders, bisexuals, and queers as well.
Despite growing up gay in a homophobic world which can discourage artistic expression, gay people’s creative spirit continues to shine. Given their rich imagination, the experience of chronic boredom and a sense of inertia is contrary to a gay person’s true essence. Whether boredom is momentary or a long lasting experience, it stops people from living a full life. In order to deal with boredom, it is important to understand and learn how to transform it. Examining and understanding your emotions is an opportunity for personal growth. One of the places to examine your emotions as a pathway toward knowing yourself is in a therapeutic setting with a licensed psychotherapist. Working with emotions can be intense, and you need a trained professional to help you navigate through the sea of emotions. In my work as a psychotherapist (licensed MFT), I work collaboratively with my clients. I explore their somatic experiences, feelings, and thoughts in order to support them on their journey of self-discovery to alleviate their boredom.
What is boredom? From a psychological perspective boredom is an emotion, and like any emotion, it can carry important information and messages about your current needs and sometimes unmet needs from the past. It can also reveal something about your current state of mind which becomes an opportunity for deeper analysis. People who are bored often experience life as monotonous. Sometimes boredom can accompany another emotion such as frustration or a feeling of emptiness. When a person gets overwhelmed by ongoing feelings of boredom he can asks himself, “What is boredom trying to reveal to me about my relationship to my psyche, my soul, and the world around me?” or “How can boredom become an opportunity to add meaning and purpose to my life?” The answers to these questions require personal reflection which can become a doorway to a deeper connection to oneself.
An important approach toward understanding boredom needs to involve evaluating your relationship to your sense of curiosity. Curiosity is an emotion that plays a vital role in motivating you to show interest in yourself and the world around you. When fully in effect, curiosity can neutralize your sense of boredom and help you to passionately engage with the mystery of life. When curiosity is embraced, boredom disappears.
When you show curiosity toward your experience of boredom, you are less dominated by it. In general, becoming curiously conscious of your emotions help you to be less controlled by them. By becoming aware of any particular feelings in the moment, you can choose to either embrace the emotion and fully experience it or let it go. “Empathic witnessing” of an emotion such as boredom in the moment without judgment gives you more choices on how to deal with your emotions. 
Sometimes boredom, like a habit, stays with people and it takes willpower to try to change it. Your willpower can be used as a determination muscle to focus on making positive changes in your inner and outer life. You can use your willpower to direct your attention away from boredom and use your curiosity to explore uplifting experiences. For example, when feeling bored you can make an effort to get out of your “comfort zone” and explore healthy activities that you never tried before. Eventually, being curious becomes a personal habit that replaces boredom and enriches your life.
It is important to note that embracing curiosity might be challenging for many gay people because of a homophobic upbringing.  Many gay individuals as a youngster felt too ashamed to show curiosity toward their homoerotic feelings which caused them to find curiosity too threatening to embrace. The habit of embracing curiosity needs to take place at a young age with support of caring adults. The absence of such support makes curiosity less accessible and difficult to embrace.
As you engage with your boredom through your curiosity, you can notice where in your body you sense your boredom. Locating bodily sensations that correspond to how you feel in the moment is another important way of managing your emotions. I often hear clients share with me about experiencing boredom as a sense of dread and emptiness in their chest area. Individuals that I work with in a therapeutic setting often find it helpful when I invite them to curiously scan their bodies and look for sensations of strength. Focusing on a sensation of strength anywhere in their bodies which might include places like the upper arms or legs can lessen their sense of inertia. For others who can’t notice any sensation of strength, they might benefit from making a pleasant or neutral sensation as their focus. For example, neutral or pleasant sensations can be experienced by inviting clients to notice the support of their upper back against the couch. In general, tracking the neutral or pleasant sensations in your body can add harmony and balance to your inner world.
Your curiosity can also be directed toward examining your thinking patterns and belief system. You might discover a link between your beliefs, thoughts and boredom. Many gay people were raised to believe that they were sinners for their same sex attraction.  As such, they have developed a belief system that does not leave much room for feeling deserving of happiness. Thought patterns based on such a negative core belief system can lead to a life void of joy and pleasure. By using the muscle of determination with an attitude of empathy and kindness, we all can change our negative beliefs and thinking. By developing a belief system based on love and acceptance of ourselves, we can feel deserving of joy and vitality instead of boredom and inertia.
From a spiritual perspective, chronic boredom might reveal a lack of relationship to one’s soul and the soul of the world (Anima Mundi). Given that gay history has been often intertwined with shamanism and mysticism, getting bored and living a dull life reveals disconnection from one’s gay essence. From a spiritual perspective, the remedies for such condition can involve not only connecting to one’s gay soul but also connecting to a sacred place within one’s heart through meditation and other spiritual practices that correspond to one’s chosen path. Recognizing a divine spark within one’s heart can be enough to transform boredom and sense of emptiness to feeling of aliveness.
Boredom affects everyone, and it becomes a reason for concern when it turns to an ongoing psychological state. Boredom like any challenging emotion can become an opportunity for deep psychological work. Don’t hesitate to reach out and ask for help when boredom turns to a painful psychological state.


http://drpayam1.blogspot.com/2016/09/boredom-from-gay-perspective_25.html


© Payam Ghassemlou MFT Ph.D. is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (Psychotherapist) in private practice in West Hollywood, California. www.DrPayam.Com



Saturday, July 2, 2016

Gays in Search of Meaning





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Many gay people are acknowledging a need for a more meaningful way of living to avoid a motionless and purposeless existence. Lack of depth and meaning has caused many gay people to experience feelings of boredom and emptiness. Such feelings have forced many to look for something outside of themselves in order to feel content. Some indulge in drug use, excessive drinking, or brief romantic affairs, while others might engage in excessive shopping, traveling, or overeating in order to cope with their negative emotional states. Even though such activities might feel pleasurable and provide a momentary sense of euphoria, they do not lead to a real experience of vitality and aliveness. There is a different kind of intoxication that involves the experience of the soul. Such experience is beyond the ego’s need for cheap thrills. By embracing what is inherently sacred about our gayness, we can start to live a soulful life.



While we, as a community, fight against discrimination and progress toward equality, we need to take time to embrace the numinous qualities inherent in being gay. We need to honor the spirit that exists within our gay souls. For the most part, our current culture places a great deal of emphasis on maximizing one’s pleasure through consumerism and minimizing one’s need for a deeper purpose in life.  Couple that with internalized homophobia, which prevents gay people from gaining a deeper understanding of gayness. Internalized homophobia is the internalization of shame that many gay people have been forced to experience growing up in a heterosexist society. By working through this internalized homophobia, a path toward an understanding of the deeper meaning of gayness can become more accessible.



The essence of being gay is love. We come out in order to love freely. Many gay people experience love in the form of romantic relationships. A conscious participation in a romantic relationship—which includes working through what we project onto each other—can serve as preparation for a different experience of love. Beneath our gay love affairs, there is an empty space waiting to be ignited with mystical love, waiting to be known for the sake of a deeper love affair—the kind of love affair that takes place at the level of the soul. This is expressed in one of Rumi’s poems:



 “The minute I heard my first love story,

I started looking for you, not knowing how blind that was.

Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere,

they’re in each other all along.”



A love that begins in a romantic relationship needs wings to fly beyond the field of personal connections and into the realm of the transpersonal. We help such love to grow wings by attending to our inner garden and weeding out toxic shame. The more we embrace our gayness with a sense of pride, the more room we can make to love and approve of ourselves.


On our journey inward toward our true essence, we need to deal with the mind. Our mind can be like a wild horse that, through meditation, needs to be tamed and taught to bow down to our heart. The heart is where the flowers of Divine love bloom and the fragrance of such love fills our inner emptiness. We can connect with the sacred place in our heart by gently closing our eyes and concentrating on anything in the universe that helps to generate feelings of love in our heart. Neuroscience tells us whatever we focus on becomes our reality. In other words, “You energize anything that you give your attention to.” So why not energize the feelings of love in your heart? This is how we can embrace our true essence and add more love to the world.



Humanity is facing difficult choices pertaining to our future survival on the planet. Given the threats of climate change, war, poverty, racism, homophobia, and mass shootings, we as gay people more than ever need to participate in the healing of the world. We can make a difference. Triumphs like the way we took care of our dying people during the AIDS crisis when the Reagan administration turned its back on us and how far we have come in our struggle for equal rights are truly a reflection of how courageous we are as a community. Our courage can continue, and we can advocate for issues that can make this world a better place. By honoring our gayness and letting it become a strong foundation to stand on, we can “love the world back to health.” Our involvement in helping the world can also add meaning and purpose to our own individual lives.



By focusing on the love in our heart and cultivating an awareness of the world soul (Anima Mundi), we can trigger an awakening of healing energy that could transform our current civilization. LGBT people are only a small percentage of the population, but our contributions to helping solve our current global problems can be enormous. When we connect our gay soul with the soul of the world, not only do we start tapping into a deeper purpose for our existence, but we also begin to experience the oneness of life.


http://drpayam1.blogspot.com/2016/07/gays-in-search-of-meaning_94.html






© Dr. Payam Ghassemlou MFT, Ph.D. is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (Psychotherapist), in private practice in West Hollywood, California. www.DrPayam.com