Sunday, June 22, 2014

A Gay Perspective on the Earth’s Lament


The gay community’s decades of activism fighting homophobia and dealing with HIV/ AIDS places them at a greater advantage for responding to the lament of the Earth over what is being done to her. Gay history is intertwined with standing up for causes that makes this world a better place. Many of us who survived the AIDS crisis along with the new generation of LGBTQ activists are now summoned to respond to our current collective challenges. As the ecosystem is being destroyed by greed and economic expansion, everyone has a responsibility to respond to the lament of the Earth. As the oceans get more polluted and rainforest more devastated, we need to ask ourselves, “What are we doing for the Earth?”

The current toxic political climate is a major contributing factor not only to the mistreatment of nature, but also to the psychological distress that many of us are experiencing. Therefore, we all need to participate in “loving the world back to health.” As Dr. King stated, “In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

As a gay man and a psychotherapist who understands the importance of relationships, it saddens me to realize how disconnected humanity has become from nature and each other. Many people are so obsessed with the tools of new technology and social media that they have lost connection not only to their souls but also to the soul of the world (Anima Mundi). A human being is wired to make authentic connections, to be empathic, to live a meaningful life, to treat nature with respect, and to embrace his divine nature. When humanity acts against his or her nature or does not embrace what is real to be a human, all sorts of psychological distress unfolds.

Our current political structure that governs our lives endorses policies that are not congruent with humanity’s real nature. Such policies contribute  to the destruction of the ecosystem, creation of an inadequate health care system, disregarding human rights, using religion to oppress LGBTQ people, encouraging fulfillment through consumerism, and providing substantial tax cuts to the wealthiest individuals. Such a corrupt political structure makes it difficult for many of us to live our authentic nature, optimally thrive and causes psychological distress. In any society where people are conditioned to view getting ahead equals success while having no regard for those who fall behind is not going to be a healthy society. Humans are not wired to compete but to cooperate.

Given that mental health and sociopolitical factors are deeply intertwined, mental health providers need to consider the rise of addiction, depression, anxiety, and suicide in our current society not only rooted in the individual psyche but also the sociopolitical factors. There are many reasons why people cannot optimally thrive, and sociopolitical factors are one of them. 

Many LGBTQ people who participate in psychotherapy often feel ashamed for not being able to adjust to a dysfunctional and homophobic society and thinking there is something wrong with them for feeling anxious or depressed. Often the work in therapy is focused on understanding the negative impact of growing up in a dysfunctional family and not enough focus on the impact of living within a corrupt political structure. This does not mean psychotherapists need to turn the therapy session into a political discussion and impose their political views on their clients. Yet, therapists need to consider that people develop many psychological problems in societies where they are alienated from nature, each other, and themselves.

Many LGBTQ people know that the authoritarian dark forces aim to spread hatred and prejudice by absorbing the light of our democracy. They value economic expansion over saving our ecosystem. It is important to take responsibility and do our part to help. The remedy for our current collective challenges is to embrace the fundamentals of what it means to be a human being, and that is having empathy. When humanity abandons empathy, their relationship to nature, each other, and themselves suffer. LGBTQ people are at great advantage to help change the world by giving voice to the need for embracing love and empathy.

Given the essence of being gay is love, our activism starts by journeying into the sacred space in our hearts. Within our heart of hearts, there is a sacred place that homophobic dictators cannot touch. That is why despite all homophobic mistreatment many of us have experienced, we can still fall in love. Knowing that we have a heart along with the ability to embrace empathy can protect us from helplessness and becoming victims in our current political situation. As many Sufis and Buddhists stated, “compassion is action.” We need to go deeper and deeper into the heart and embrace love. The love for America coupled with our passion to care for Mother Earth vibrates above the forces of archetypal evil. Our compassion for the Earth and each other is a form of activism that lets our hearts be in service for humanity. We don’t clash with darkness. We simply let the power of love rise us above it. This is how we don’t get entangled in “good versus evil.”  This is how our activism creates a container for the arrival of a new archetypal energy that can change the world for the better.

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

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Not Looking

“Not Looking”


Payam Ghassemlou Ph.D.

It seems, regardless of one’s sexual orientation, there are plenty of resources available to anyone who needs support on looking for a committed relationship.  For example, there are many self help books that can help to navigate the road to a healthy relationship as well as countless web sites which help people find dates that can lead to one. I am glad such resources exist because creating a healthy and loving relationship can enrich one’s life. Of course, a committed relationship is not the only path toward a life of contentment. Many individuals with a rich interior life who are living purposefully might choose not to be in a committed relationship and that does not make them any less. I am also not discussing individuals who are not looking for a relationship because they are closeted gays, oppressed by internalized homophobia, or anyone who has given up due to being burned out by the dating scene. In this short article, I am discussing certain individuals who are not looking due to their wounded attachment system; therefore, they avoid a close connection or bonding with others.

                As human beings, we are designed to have needs for connection and healthy dependency on others. People who are wounded in this area avoid needing or depending on others as much as possible.  Often, they are unaware of how dismissive they can be toward anyone who shows romantic interest in them. They can experience other people’s interest in bonding with them as burden, and, if they do get involved in a relationship, they feel little distress when it ends. They typically have difficulty sharing their feelings with others and don’t ask for help. It needs to be noted that people who fall in love with dismissive individuals and struggle to win them over, might have complex issues of their own which is beyond the scope of this article. I will address that in my future articles.

Why some people are unable to make an intimate and meaningful connection with others? My inspiration to go deeper into this question is due to my training and research on Attachment Theory and my psychotherapy work with brave individuals who were willing to work on their attachment related issues. Often people with wounded attachment system who seek therapy are unaware of their dismissive attitude toward intimate relationship, and seek therapy to address other issues. I have a great deal of empathy for people who have difficulty understanding how much their lack of real connection with others can make their journey in life lonely. The saying “what you don’t know won’t hurt you” does not apply here. Even though on some conscious level the person might not feel as bothered by his or her lack of close connection with others, on a deeper level there is a lonely inner child crying to be held. He or she has repressed that inner child’s need for closeness and dependency due to earlier inconsistent and faulty parenting. Parents who do not provide a consistent loving and secure holding environment for their children often contribute to their children’s difficulty in embracing a loving connection. Children learn most things about relationships by their parent’s style of relating to them. Repeated exposure to a parent’s lack of sufficient interest in his or her child can result in that child giving up the need for close connection with anyone. It takes deep psychological work to heal attachment related issues.

I learn about my clients’ style of attachment by reading between the lines as they share their life stories and their attitude toward therapy. When the issue comes to my attention, I invite my clients to go on a journey of exploration and reflection to gain insight about their challenges in the area of close connection and healthy dependency on others. Insight is the light that is needed for understanding why some people can’t connect. Transformation can involve an eclectic therapeutic approach that needs to be tailored to each client’s need.

Healing from difficulty in forming a loving relationship with others is not hopeless. Fortunately, proven science of interpersonal neurobiology tells us we all can grow and change despite our difficult past experiences. In particular, our past experiences with love and dependency gets registered on the part of the brain that governs such matters. Since the brain can change and grow in relation to experience (neuroplasticity), we can help our brain by seeking and creating positive life experiences with others. Psychotherapy with an empathic therapist who is trained in dealing with attachment related issues is one of those positive life experiences that a brain might need to change and grow.

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

He is the author of Fruit Basket: A Gay Man’s Journey. In his book, Dr. Payam Ghassemlou writes about the psycho-spiritual journey of a gay man named Javid, in which he struggles with homophobia and having a life purpose. Available on Amazon