GRAMGuilt and shame can be addictive. In certain religious and traditional contexts, it can even be revered, honored, the necessary emotion that subdues the human ego and keeps humility at the feet of a much higher power. But it can also leave an indelible stain on our character, our personality, and our mental health that endures for years, especially for those who were raised in such conservative environments where guilt and shame were measures of our own self-worth.
“It is good to cry when you pray. Tears wash away your sins, ”an aunt, a devout Maronite Catholic, once commented to me as a child. I took those words and held them against my chest, and for many years in my teens, Good Friday was the time of repentance, of a deep dive into my own being in search of guilt. I would sit, in the dark, poking around in the corners of my mind, running through the memories of the previous year looking for acts or incidents that made me guilty, that struck emotional cords and activated the stress hormone that produced tears. good in my eyes.
What could I find? What would be worth for this ritual annual self-exorcism? I delved until the shame of my budding same-sex attraction culminated in a waterfall of tears. “I’m sorry,” I repeated, and success, my tears were washing away my sins. God could see that he was full of repentance.
My teenage experience is sadly all too common among LGBTQ + youth raised in conservative environments. The worldview, the values that are instilled in us at an early age, inevitably lead to a titanic moment: the collision with the iceberg when we realize that our very natural selves are in total conflict with everything we have come to know. Some of us find a way to swim, some of us sink, and some of us walk through life brandishing the scars inflicted on us in our developmental years.
“[Sexual orientation] it’s not like behavior that can just be stopped, ”says Jeremy Shields, a Melbourne-based clinical psychologist with extensive experience working with LGBTQ + patients.
“If during my development I experience messages that there is something inherently evil, sinful within me, then I will begin to believe that there is a part of me that is shameful. In psychological terms, we call it ‘toxic shame.’
That toxic embarrassment, Shields adds, “can leave an injury, a complex trauma, that can extend into later years.”
I like to think that I have gotten rid of my conservative baggage, that I was one of the lucky ones who managed to swim, through education, life experiences, relationships and a reinvention of my worldview that allowed a comfortable space between spirituality and the reality of my life. sexual diversity. Or maybe not?
The scars of Christian guilt, or LGBTQ + shame, in our developing years may not have completely disappeared, even if we have disproved religion or found a way to be at peace with our gender and sexual identities.
Our brains constantly adapt to their environments, Shields says, which means that a brain that has been trained to be highly attentive to threats may be more prone to certain behaviors. Therefore, LGBTQ + people who have expended a great deal of energy compartmentalizing their lives to hide or repress their sexual identities, particularly in their teens, may continue to exhibit these behavior patterns well into adulthood.
The lingering residue of LGBTQ + shame can manifest itself “in a number of ways, some fairly easy to identify, others subtle,” he adds.
I applied Shields’s words to my personal evolution over the years and reevaluated my own confidence that I had been freed from LGBTQ + shame, from Christian guilt, years ago. And suddenly, this understanding of that experience as traumatic and the psychological consequences it can have on behavior patterns illuminated subtle elements of my own behavior.
I found that this week, while in the gym talking to openly “blokey” (and apparently straight) men in tattoos, I, by default, adopt a more blokey demeanor. My accent changed to reflect his harsh Aussie tones, and my body language was written to mimic behaviors recognizable as “straight”, as … “normal.”
It was only after this encounter that I applied the self-assessment. What was it in my brain that automatically adopted this mode of behavior?
This ability to downplay identities in certain settings was a common coping mechanism identified in a Study of Polish homosexuals and Catholic guilt. It found that men downplayed their sexual identities in perceived hostile settings, such as church and family, while downplaying their religious identities in LGBTQ + settings.
However, at the core of this “skill” is the underlying belief that there is a level of shame associated with our sexual identities. I instinctively behaved that way in the gym because there was fear that if I was seen as a sexual minority, I would be treated differently and considered inferior or hostile. This is just one example of trivial social interactions that, to some extent, may be informed by the past trauma of homophobia, guilt, and shame. How does it affect our relationships? Our sex lives? Our friendships? Our labor relations? Our own confidence and self-esteem?
Maybe LGBTQ + shame never really leaves us. And while this experience is not unanimous in the LGBTQ + community, it is ubiquitous … some learn to swim with their traumatic scars, others sink. Helps explain why LGBTQ + youth are five times more likely to attempt suicide in your life, and six times more likely to suffer from depression.
My Good Friday self-exorcism ritual stopped many years ago, but perhaps it’s time to create a new ritual … one that celebrates our differences, our complexities, our flaws. As the late, renowned and gay neurologist Oliver Sacks commented: “It is… the genetic and neural destiny of every human being to be a unique individual, to find their own path, to live their own life, to die their own death. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism