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, June 13, 2017

How Can I Achieve My Goals?

How Can I Achieve My Goals?

Many successful people often follow a sensible plan to achieve their goals. Such a plan can be summarized in three steps. Once you implement and commit to the plan, you are more likely to manifest your desired goal.

1)      Write It

Any successful plan starts with goal setting, that once written down and clarified, is more likely to give you the result you want. Some goals relate to the betterment of a career, finances, education, and others have to do with family, lifestyle, and changing habits or attitude. No matter what you are hoping to achieve, write it down first.

Writing down your goal increases the accountability and helps you stay committed. Without commitment, you are less likely to achieve your goal. The act of writing down your goal makes it real and visible. You can increase your accountability by having your written goal somewhere where you can see it every day.

Your goal needs to be written in positive and inspiring language. Expressing your goal in an affirmative manner can help generate good energy to support its attainment. If you are working with someone on clarifying your goals, make sure a goal setting session is done within an uplifting context, and the entire process embraces confidence and decisiveness.

Your goal needs to be manageable and specific. Based on my experience helping others with goal setting, I often find it helpful to prioritize one’s objectives and focus on one goal at the time. Working on too many goals at the same time can lead to burn out.

Writing down your goal and clarifying it can involve using images. Finding images from magazines or other sources helps you create a vision of how the achievement of your goal can look. For example, if your goal is going back to school and getting a degree in film and television studies, find images that speak to your heart and reflect how the achievement of such a goal looks like to you.

2)      Believe It

Believing in your goal is another essential step. So many beautiful life visions never manifest because of the lack of this important step. Do your best to let go of doubt and negativity around manifestation of your goal. It takes some effort to sustain a positive belief system during this process.

Believing can be a challenging step because it can make you feel vulnerable. When you believe in your goal and the result does not go your way, you can feel disappointed. It is important to note, believing is different than expectation. Expectation can set you up for disappointment and feeling of failure. You might find it helpful to believe in your vision with the attitude of humility that everything unfolds according to the divine intelligence and for the good of all. At the same time, balance that humility with confidence in yourself and your ability to co-create with the universe.

It is easy to get attached to the result of your goal setting and lose perspective on all the variables involved in making your vision come true. Some people might feel entitled to have their vision manifest and contaminate the goal achievement process with arrogance. Embracing humility helps you to approach the process with trust in the universal intelligence. Such trust can free you from obsession and attachment to the result.

It feels wonderful to have passion and a strong desire for something you would like to happen. Even greater, if you tap into your confidence and believe in your ability to make it happen. When you balance all that passion, desire, and confidence with the trust that the universe has your best interests in mind, you can enjoy the journey. This is a paradoxical approach to goal achievement.

3)      Do it

Clarifying your goals and writing them down with the attitude of confidence and a healthy sense of reality needs the support of the final important step: do it. Doing it is about the action needed to support your goal achievement and avoid delaying it.  The first course of action is identifying resources to support your outcome. Make a list of anything you can think of that has the potential to help you. For example, if you are an artist and looking for paid work in your field, make a list of all the resources that can help you in this process. After compiling your resource list, make sure to use it.

Do what it takes to meet your goal by taking daily actions. Write everyday if your goal is to complete your film script. Exercise as many days your physician recommends if you plan to lose weight. Study everyday if your goal is to pass the bar exam. No matter where you are trying to get, make sure you are taking daily steps toward your destination. Eventually, all your actions will add up and increase your chance of success.

It is important to be kind to yourself during this process. Mistreating yourself by criticism and reminding yourself, “I am not doing enough,” is only going to make your process difficult. Also, comparing yourself to others who tend to be a few steps ahead of you is not going to be helpful either. Just focus on one step at a time needed to make your vision a reality.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

The Balancing Act of Sexual Desire

The Balancing Act of Sexual Desire

Given many gay men have received negative messages about their sexual desire growing up, addressing the issue of sexual compulsion needs to be done delicately and carefully without reinforcing shame or internalized homophobia. There is a developing need to address the issue of sexual compulsion, and helping people to fulfil their sexual desire in concert with consciousness and balance. Denying and repressing sexual desire is not a helpful way to cope with any sexually related issue. The balancing act of sexual desire involves expressing your sexuality in a way that does not leave you feeling empty and destitute.

When sexual gratification becomes your exaggerated area of focus, you can become a slave of sexual desire. When your relationship to sex is dominated by an endless desire for hooking up without any regard for how it can affect you and others, you are not in control. Such loss of control can have damaging life consequences which include contracting a sexually transmitted illness, damaging one’s relationships, jeopardizing one’s career, legal problems, and loss of self-respect. Being in denial about your relationship to sex can make it difficult to seek help. Bringing consciousness to your choices about sex can lead to healthy sexuality.

An important step toward liberating yourself from the bondage of any damaging behaviors is by focusing on growing bigger than the problem. As Carl Jung stated, “We don’t solve our problems, we outgrow them.”  You can do this by focusing on personal growth and expanding your consciousness. There are many paths you can take to evolve beyond your problems and psychotherapy is one of them. Psychotherapy might be what you need to bring a balancing act in your relationship to your sexual expression. It takes courage to face life challenges including addictive behaviors of any sort and cultivate new coping skills. In addition to counseling, there are many community based groups including SCA (Sexually Compulsive Anonymous) that can support you on your journey toward recovering from sexual choices that make you feel bad about yourself.

Sex fulfills different functions for different people. You might turn to sex to numb yourself from painful emotions. Substituting sex for dealing with life problems is not going to make those problems go away. No one said life was going to be easy and free from difficulties. You can learn to face life and expand your “window of tolerance” when it comes to feeling your feelings. The life damaging consequences of any addiction is far more painful than embracing your uncomfortable emotions. It takes psychological and spiritual labor to develop a conscious relationship to your erotic desires and how to go about expressing them.

When you prioritize sex as your most important need and pursue it in an excessive amount, it can indicate that you don’t have something more purposeful in life to focus on. When you began to give up your pathological relationship to sex, you need something better in its place to enrich your life. Giving up anything life damaging and time consuming provides you with free time to pursue something worthier. By embracing your feeling of curiosity, you can explore new activities and life purpose and add more meaning to your life. With the support of counseling, community based support groups, and your own will power, you can focus on something bigger and more meaningful in life than being preoccupied with sex.

© PayamGhassemlou MFT Ph.D. is 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

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

Thursday, February 16, 2017

  Embrace Your Inner Stories to Build Your Career as an Artist By Payam Ghassemlou Ph.D.

Life without art is like a blank canvas. Artists add color to our lives with the genius of their creativity. They inspire us, make us laugh, and add meaning to our lives. They also bring awareness to social justice issues that affect us all. Great literature, films, live performances, poetry, music, paintings, drawings, sculptures, documentaries, acting, comedy, blogging, fashion, design, photography, and other art forms come from the hard work of artists. Many of these artists sacrifice a secure, conventional lifestyle and go through a great deal of financial hardship in order to make art. Without their sacrifice, many great pieces of art would never be produced. Artists deserve appreciation for enriching our lives, but they are often criticized for their choice of career and for not flowing with the mainstream. Such lack of support can add more suffering to their lives. 

As an artist, you can benefit from understanding how to navigate the challenging journey of working in the creative field. There are many sources to aid in such understanding. One of the most accessible ways to build creativity is to listen to your own inner stories. Your inner stories can be found by paying attention to your inner dialogues or self talk, dreams you have at night, the contents of your fantasies and imagination, intuitive messages, and the sensations in your body. In this brief article, I will discuss how the way you relate to your art and your path as an artist can be influenced by your inner stories, and how working with them can add vitality to your artistic journey. It is best to approach your inner stories in the context of psychotherapy in order to avoid becoming overwhelmed by what you might encounter. A psychotherapist who has experience and training working with the art community can be helpful companion on your journey. 

Let’s start by bringing awareness to what you are telling yourself about your creative process. You might notice your internal dialogues consist of comparing yourself to others who are more successful. For example, when you say to yourself, “My work is not as good as my friend who just got a job as a staff writer for an HBO show,” you can discourage yourself from becoming a prosperous artist. Comparing yourself to others who are more successful in their artistic careers is a recipe for triggering feelings of internal shame and inadequacy. These feelings of inferiority can discourage you from pursuing your path as an artist. Everyone’s path is unique, and there is no need to compare yours to others. Your mind, like the magic lamp, can be illuminated by the creativity of your inner genie. But your creative genie can stay locked up inside your pessimistic self talk if you don’t stop the negative chatter box.

Be creative with how you deal with discouraging negative self talk. You can find inspiration in the story of Aladdin and the Magic Lamp when it comes to dealing with life’s obstacles. As soon as you notice your negative dialogue, say, “Abracadabra,” and let the genie out of the bottle of pessimistic story-making. Do some sort of creative work or say positive affirmations about your creative career. Like Aladdin, turn your life into an amazing odyssey and defeat the sorcerer of negative thinking.  Sometimes the habit of negative self talk has to do with a deeply held belief system that you acquired as a result of growing up in a less-than-optimal family environment. With a help of an experienced therapist, you can uncover the root of such dysfunctional belief systems that give rise to negative self talk and undermine your confidence in your career as an artist. 

A powerful source of self-understanding and becoming a more conscious artist can come from paying attention to the dreams you have at night. Some of your dreams can shed light on your struggle with your creative career. When you wake up in the morning, write down what you dreamt about in your dream journal. By analyzing your dreams with the help of a trained person, you can learn about the content of your unconscious. Working with the unconscious is important because within the unconscious resides creative potential and the answers to many of your life’s mysteries. Dream work can also deepen your relationship with yourself. It is an important way to honor your unconscious. Inner Work, a book by Robert Johnson, is inspired by Carl Jung’s teachings and describes a helpful process of how to understand dreams. Many people have found this book to be a helpful introduction to working with the unconscious.

How you fantasize and imagine your place in the world of art is going to impact your relationship to your creative career. This relationship can be contaminated by the images of failure you might hold in your mind about your journey as an artist. You need your imagination to help you create art – not fear. Using your imagination to worry about your creative path is not the best use of your creativity. Practice mindfulness as a way to avoid getting caught in the negative contents of your mind. In the 1960s, Thich Nhat Hanh brought mindfulness to the attention of Westerners. A variety of mindfulness practices exist today. Many of them were inspired by teachings from the East. For the most part, mindfulness involves bringing your complete attention to your present experience on a moment-to-moment basis with acceptance and compassion. Using mindfulness, you can observe your physical, emotional, and mental experiences with kindness. You pay attention to whatever is happening in the moment, and you can use your sensory awareness to stay fully present. For example, when you wash the dishes, you can see and feel the soapy water on your hands. Taking a walk and noticing without judgment how life unfolds around you is another simple mindfulness practice. You can attend classes at UCLA Mindfulness Awareness Research Center ( to learn more about mindfulness. The more you avoid getting entangled with the negative images and fantasies about your career, the more serenity you can experience on your journey toward becoming an accomplished artist. 

There are times when, with help of an experienced guide, you can engage your imagination and have a dialogue with the images that come up for you. For some artists, it is necessary to understand the images that come from the inner world, which can help to know the self. Consciously dialoguing with the images of the unconscious is part of a process called ‘active imagination’. In his book Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Carl Jung provided an inside view of his own experience with active imagination. Jung had conversations with inner figures he encountered during the practice of active imagination, which felt intense yet enlightening for him. 

Intuitions are also part of your inner stories, and they can guide you on your art-making path. The key is to not confuse intuitive messages with negative thinking. They come from different sources. Negative thoughts often come from an insecure place in your mind that needs healing. Intuition comes from a deep place inside you that is connected to a power greater than yourself. Everyone can improve his or her ability to receive guidance from the sacred place inside. A powerful practice for developing your intuition is meditation. When you quiet your mind, paying attention to your breathing and relaxing your body, you knock on your inner door. A door will open, and you can enter in a meditative space. In that quiet space, you are detached, listening to the song of stillness. You are experiencing a deep silence which purifies your mind. The more you visit this space, the more you can cleanse your mind. With each visit to your meditative space, you enter deeper and deeper into your soul. You get closer and closer to your real essence. Meditation can lead to finding your true voice and positively impact the way you relate to your art.

Your body never lies, and that is why it is important to pay attention to the sensations in your body. Your relationship to your artistic career can be experienced as bodily sensations. These sensations, like a story, can range from neutral and comforting to tense and distressing. As you think about your career path, you might notice tension in your body. Some people might sense tension in their shoulder or neck areas. By paying too much attention to distressing sensations in your body, you make yourself feel worse. One way to create more serenity in your body is to make neutral or pleasant sensations your total focus. The more you focus on the part of your body that is neutral or pleasant, the less you energize the distressing sensations. Somatic psychotherapy offers many tools that can help you work with the sensations in your body and liberate yourself from being trapped in negative bodily sensations. One must always check with his or her physician to rule out any underlying medical problems for distressing bodily sensations.

Finally, there are times when, no matter how hard you work as an artist, your art cannot support you in making a decent living. This is not an uncommon situation. Many artists use their non-art-related skills to support themselves. The need to support yourself and the need to fulfill your creative destiny do not need to be in conflict. Creating an opposition between these two legitimate needs is not helpful. You can make room for both of them in your life and let them work side by side to get you closer to the vision you have for your artistic career.  It takes a great deal of patience, discipline, and good time management to work in a non-art-related profession while making time to follow your dream. It helps to be part of a supportive community of artists that help each other not feel alone in such journey. As a community, artists can unite, advocating that more funds and resources be made available to them to create art that ultimately enriches everyone’s lives.

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

LGBT Suicide and the Trauma of Growing Up Gay


Payam Ghassemlou MFT, Ph.D.

As a mental health counselor for the past twenty years, I have listened to many painful stories from some of my lesbian and gay patients regarding their upbringing in a homophobic and heterosexist world. Many of my gay and lesbian patients, including a number of bisexual and transgender individuals, have shared with me that as young as age five, they felt different. They were unable to articulate why they felt different, and, at the same time, they were too afraid to talk about it. Many reported that they knew this feeling of being different was related to something forbidden. “It felt like keeping a tormenting secret that I could not even understand,” described one of my gay patients. Others shared with me that this feeling of difference revealed itself in the form of gender nonconformity, which could not be kept secret. Therefore, it made them more vulnerable to homophobic and transphobic mistreatment at school and often at home. They had to cope with a daily assault of shame and humiliation without any support.

The experience of carrying a sense of differentness, because it related to some of the most taboo and despised images in our culture, can leave traumatic scars on one’s psyche. Most school-age children organize their school experience around the notion of not coming across as queer. Any school-age child’s worst nightmare is being called faggot or dyke, which is commonly experienced by many children who do not flow with the mainstream. One gay high school student disclosed to me that, on average, he hears more than twenty homophobic remarks a day. Schools can feel like a scary place for LGBT children, or any child who gets scapegoated as queer. For the most part, LGBT kids do not get any protection from school officials. This is a form of child abuse on a collective level. Mistreatment of LGBT youth and a lack of protection are contributing factors to the issue of LGBT teen suicide.

The feeling of differentness as it relates to being gay or lesbian is too complex for any child to process and make sense of, especially when coupled with external attacks in the form of homophobic, derogatory name calling. Unlike a black child whose parents are typically also black, or a Jewish child with Jewish parents and relatives, the LGBT youth typically does not have gay or lesbian parents or anyone who could mirror his or her experience. In fact, many families tend to blame the mistreated LGBT youngster for not being like everyone else, making the child feel like he or she deserves this mistreatment.
When parents are either unable or unwilling to “feel and see” the world through the eyes of their child and do not provide a reflection that makes the child feel valued, that child can not develop a strong sense of self. Faced with isolation, confusion, humiliation, physical violence, not being valued in the eyes of their parents, 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 or her to sort it out. The youngster suffers in silence and might use dissociation to cope. In a worst-case scenario, he or she could commit suicide.

Many LGBT youth who found the courage to open up about their identity issues have experienced rejection from their families and peers. Some families treat such disclosures as bringing shame on the family. They may throw their kid out of the house, which forces the youngster to join the growing population of homeless kids on the street.

The stress of trying to come to terms with a complex matter such as same sex attraction, one’s family’s rejection as a result of finding out about same sex attraction, and becoming victimized through verbal and physical abuse by peers due to being different are contributing factors to the trauma of growing up gay or lesbian. Such traumatic experiences can explain why lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth are up to four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers. Suicide attempts by LGBT youth are their desperate attempts to escape the traumatic process of growing up queer.

Those of us who survived the trauma of growing up queer without adequate support and managed to reach adulthood can benefit by becoming conscious of our internalized homophobia. When a gay or lesbian youngster experiences humiliation every school day for being different and has no one to protect them, that child can develop internalized homophobia. Internalized homophobia is internalization of shame and hatred that gay and lesbian people were forced to experience. The seed of internalized homophobia is planted at an early age. Having one’s psyche contaminated by the shadow of internalized homophobia can result in low self-esteem and other problems later in life. Bisexual and transgender youngsters can also internalize the hatred they had to endure growing up, and may develop self-hatred.

To not deal with internalized homophobia is to ignore the wreckage of the past. Psychological injuries that were inflicted on LGBT people as result of growing up in a homophobic and heterosexist world need to be addressed. Each time a LGBT youngster was insulted or attacked for being different, such attacks left scars on his or her soul. Such violent mistreatment caused many to develop feelings of inferiority.

Life after the closet needs to include coming out of toxic shame, which means becoming aware of repressed or disassociated memories and feelings around homophobic mistreatment that was experienced growing up. All the rejection and derogatory name-calling one suffered growing up queer can be stored in the psyche in the form of implicit memory: a type of memory that impacts one’s life without one noticing it or consciously knowing its origin. Coming out of toxic shame involves recalling and sharing what it felt like growing up in a world that did not respect one’s identity, fully feeling the injustice of it. Providing empathy and unconditional positive regard for the fact that one has endured many years of confusion, shame, fear, and homophobic mistreatment can give birth to new feelings of pride and honor about one’s LGBT identity. This is an alchemical process that involves transforming painful emotions through love and empathy.

As a community, learning to know ourselves can add vitality to our struggle for freedom. The LGBT liberation movement should not only include fighting for our equal rights, but also working through the injuries that were inflicted on us while growing up queer in a heterosexist world. External changes such as marriage equality or the repeal of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy alone cannot heal us from homophobic mistreatment and rejection we received growing up gay or lesbian. We need to open a new psychological frontier and take our struggle for freedom to a new level. The gay civil rights movement is like a bird that needs two wings to fly, not just one. So far, the political wing has been the main carrier of this movement. By adding psychological healing work as the other wing, the bird of gay liberty can reach even greater heights.

© 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

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

A New Way of Being


Your mind is often busy focusing on one concern or another. Sometimes you might be dealing with remorse about the past, and other times you might be worrying about the future. In addition, you can have thoughts of regret, resentment, and feelings of insecurity which can all be part of your mental activities. Not to mention some of your painful memories from the past or dreams about the future. Sometimes your mind, like a chatter box, can involve critical inner dialogues which can lessen your enjoyment of life. All these are part of your mental process.  It makes sense to learn how to stop listening to the chatter box, and grow beyond your ordinary mental activities.

Worrying and ruminating about real or perceived life problems is common because scientific research on the human brain shows that it is constantly scanning the environment for threats to physical and emotional safety. Also, the brain gives shorter notice to positive experiences, usually only two to three seconds before moving on to the next thought. The negativity bias of the brain coupled with rumination about our problems can lead to anxiety, depression, and an overall pessimistic view of life. Fortunately, this is not a hopeless situation because you can learn to grow beyond the activity of the mind.  As the Persian poet Rumi stated, “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right doing, there is a field. I will meet you there.”

When you grow beyond identifying with the activities of your mind, you can reach a loving open field. In this free space, you are not your thoughts, your intense emotions, and your memories, and yet you are mindfully aware of them. You can mindfully observe your inner dialogue and issues that go through your mind and yet you are not trapped by them. In such an infinite space, you can experience life from a place of clarity where you don’t let your focus move toward unhealthy habits and behaviors. This loving open field is not just another state of mind to get to. It is a way of being.

How can you reach a state of being that is beyond the activity of your mind?  There is no such thing as one size fits all when it comes to personal growth. Everyone is unique. Everyone needs to discover their own path to enlightenment or personal growth. In this brief article, I attempt to offer what I have learned from Sufi poets and teachers, mindfulness practices, and Jungian psychology when it comes to taming the busy mind. The goal is not stop thinking or feeling, but to choose which thoughts and emotions deserve our attention. We can develop a new consciousness of being watchful of our mental activities and decide whether to focus on something or letting it go.

Given we live in a world that focuses heavily on “I think, therefore I am,” as stated by Rene Descartes, it would be difficult to imagine going beyond our thinking and focus on being. It can be done because others have done it.

As a start, imagine you are sitting in your living room and noticing without any judgments all the objects in the room. For example, you notice the couch, TV, coffee table and few other things and at the same time you are aware of your presence in the room. You are aware that you are noticing all the furniture in the room and yet you are separate from them. You do not over identify with any object in your living room. You are not judging them, analyzing them or making story about them. You are completely detached and at the same time present. I like you to use the same concept as you witness your mind activities. You are looking at your thoughts and emotions going through your mind without judging them and over identifying with any of them. You do not define yourself by them. You are the one who is aware of them, and you can use your will power to choose how much attention you like to give anything going through your mind.

You can enrich this practice of witnessing your mind by inviting your heart to participate in the process. Your heart is a place of connection to love, Divine Oneness, Higher Power, God, Universal Compassion or anything comforting that feels true to you. You can activate the feeling of love in your heart by remembering a heartfelt experience and focus on that. The tool that you have in this process is your focus. “Whatever you focus on, it becomes your reality.” In other words, “You energize anything that you give your attention to it.” So why not energize the love in your heart. You might not be able to stop your mind from producing thoughts, but you can fill the spaces between your thoughts with energy of love. The marriage between the heart and the mind can give birth to a new way of being.

To summarize, you notice your mind as if you are standing in a train station and watching each train of thoughts and/or emotions going by without getting on the train. Instead, you can direct your attention to the love in your heart. You can do that one day at the time, and experience having a new consciousness in partnership with your heart. Welcome to a new way of Being.

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