Sunday, August 13, 2017

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.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

When the Need for Connection Trumps Authenticity

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.


© 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

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.

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