We are pleased to welcome Marriage and Family Therapist Thaddeus Heffner to the Route1520 blog! Thaddeus practices in the heart of Brentwood, TN and his increasing focus is working with men who wish to reduce their unwanted same-sex attraction. His contact information and links to his website can be found at the bottom of this post.
I had a math professor during my undergrad years that employed the use of scripture when teaching the inversion of numbers. One scripture that has always stuck with me is 1 John 4:18, “…Perfect Love casts out fear…”- inverted “Perfect fear casts out Love.” This seems to be especially true when it comes to one of the hot button issues of our day, that being homosexuality or unwanted same-sex attraction: abbreviated SSA. (Let me clarify that when I speak of homosexuality or unwanted same-sex attraction, I am not speaking of someone who identifies as gay. For further explanation, click here for my blog post entitled “A Case of Mistaken Identity”.)
It is a perfect storm when men are afraid of men; when those that do not struggle with unwanted same-sex attraction fear those who do, and vice versa. So how do we as men move toward each other, in the spirit of perfect Love, to be a source of healing for each other? Don’t miss the point that both sides of the proverbial aisle need each other if we are to be healed and whole in our masculinity.
In my practice I often work with men (and women) who struggle with unwanted same-sex attraction, taking a gender affirming and reparative approach. To explain here the ins and outs of homosexuality would be too herculean of an effort for a brief blog post, and to digress from the main point. In short, the therapeutic approach that I take views homosexuality as a symptom while the roots are steeped in attachment-loss and toxic shame. Simply put, men with unwanted same-sex attraction feel like they are on the outside looking in and that they do not belong to the world of men (attachment-loss or detachment). For reasons unknown to them, they begin to sexualize men, feeling more orphaned from masculinity than ever before (toxic shame). This in turn makes them feel farther detached and on the outside of masculinity, which eventually brings them again to sexualizing men and the potential for acting out increases – thus the cycle of shame, isolation, acting out, and back to shame ensues. Sound familiar? It is not unlike other patterns men experience when wrestling with addictions; sex, alcohol, perfectionism, exercise, food, etc. The behavior is the symptom. What pains are we trying to suppress, while occasionally coming up to gasp a few breaths of stale air only to go back under the surface again? More importantly, what can be done?
We all have non-negotiable needs in life. Beyond food, water, shelter, gas for our vehicles, etc. we have needs of other men, our same gender, that lie deep within who we are; the need for acceptance, approval, affirmation, love, brotherhood, respect, healthy forms of affection, to be vulnerable, to be safe, and the list goes on and on. For the man struggling with unwanted same-sex attraction, these needs have gone greatly unmet, not unlike men that struggle with other symptoms. The SSA struggler greatly fears rejection from other men, and so he rejects men before they can reject him. Men who do not struggle with SSA often fear being sexualized or maybe even hit on by those who do. The end result is two camps of men full of perfect fear, which casts out love and, in so doing, casts out healing and wholeness.
However, when a man struggling with SSA is pulled into a group of safe men and is affirmed, loved, accepted, approved, respected, made to know that he is “one of the guys”, he finally begins to feel a sense of belonging (healthy attachment). His shame of feeling on the “outside looking in” begins to diminish and with it his sexual attraction toward men. And so, it is moving toward each other in healthy, safe, and loving ways that heals us as men. This is true regardless of what we struggle with.
For the SSA struggler: I invite you to find men that you deem to be safe, and walk with a limp. Seek out men who are not perfect, but authentic, and are willing to be vulnerable. Find these men and risk. What have you got to lose but your isolation? The worst thing taking a risk might bring is rejection, leaving you isolated – a place you most likely already reside. So again I ask what have you got to lose? – Step out and risk (with safe men) leaving your isolation and see what else awaits you. You have only the world to gain.
For men that do not struggle with SSA: I invite you to open your circles, open your community, and open your arms to men that do struggle. Rather than seeing a man who struggles with SSA, I invite you to instead see the little boy inside of him who never attached to his gender and who is desperately trying hard to do so. It is much easier to have compassion on someone when we know his story. Perhaps he was abandoned by his father, sexually abused, misunderstood, emotionally made a surrogate husband by his mother, etc. His development has been disrupted, and you can be the safe place for him to catch up and be pulled into community. You may not know it, but you need him just as much as he needs you.
At the end of the day we are all the same. We are all men. Rather than let perfect fear cast out love, and so remain detached and in shame, let us instead surrender to Perfect Love that casts out our fears, and so become men that are more whole and healed.
Thaddeus Heffner is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and speaker in Brentwood, TN. He sees clients for a variety of issues, including unwanted same sex attraction. Thaddeus is also available via internet/phone for distance counseling regarding unwanted same-sex attraction. You can follow Thaddeus on his blog and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.