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Changing Patterns of Thought and Behavior I

Fighting Homosexual Feelings

The interior battle against homosexual inclinations mobilizes the faculties of self-insight and the will. The aspect of the will is indispensable. It means that as long as homosexual longing or fantasy is cherished — despite good intentions to the contrary — it is hardly possible to weaken the homosexual interest. For, regardless of the wish to get rid of it, that interest is nourished every time one secretly or consciously gives in to enjoying it. The comparison with the urges or alchoholism or, to a degree, of a smoking addiction is to the point. Emphasizing the will does not mean that certain self-insights are not very helpful. But, by themselves, insights usually lack the power to overcome the infantile lustful erotic impulse; it is only by a total effort of the will that this impulse  can be silenced in a concrete situation. This effort should be made in all quietude, without panic, with the attitude of the adult who tries to control a difficult situation: patiently, realistically. Don’t let yourself be intimidated by the impulse, don’t make a drama of it, don’t deny it, and don’t exaggerate the annoyance it causes you either. Then try to say “No” to it.

The faculty of the will is generally underestimated, for in modern psychotherapy we are used to giving a one-sided emphasis to both intellectual insights (psychoanalysis) and training (behavioral therapy, psychology of learning). And yet it is precisely the will that is central; insights and training are necessary, but their effectiveness depends on a correct orientation of the will.

By inner reflection, the homosexual must reach a full decision of the will: I shall leave absolutely no room whatsoever for these homosexual impulses. He must gradually grow in that decision. He must consider it often, especially at moments of calm, when clear thinking  is not clouded by erotic excitement. Once the decision is made, he will reject even slight occasions for homosexual excitation or homoerotic enjoyment, immediately and totally  — not half-heartedly. In the vast majority of cases in which a homosexual is “willing” but has little success, this is due to a will that is not completely decided; for that reason, he is unable to fight vigorously and will be inclined to blame the strength of his homosexual orientation or “the circumstances” for his poor results rather than the incompleteness of his decision. After several years of relative success and periodical relapses into homosexual fantasy, a homosexual man discovered that he had never really and fully willed to get free of his lust. “Now it was clear to me why it had been so difficult. I had wanted it, certainly; but never one hundred percent.” The first struggle is therefore to strive for a purified will. That achieved, one must renew the decision quite regularly, so that it becomes stable, a habit. If not, the decision will surely weaken again.

Homosexual arousal is often a reaction of self-comfort after disappointment or feelings of displeasure. In such cases, the inherent self-pity must be recognized and hyper-dramatized. Adversity taken well usually does not elicit erotic fantasies. However, homosexual impulses occasionally appear at quite different moments, when one is feeling fine and well and not thinking along such lines at all. In that case, they are provoked by memories, associations. One finds oneself in a situation formerly connected with homosexual adventures — in a certain city, at a certain place, on a special day, and the like. All of a sudden, the impulse is there, one is taken unprepared. But then, if one knows such moments from experience, it is certainly possible to prepare oneself, among other things, by regularly repeating the decision not to surrender to the sudden fascination of these special circumstances or environments.

The believing Christian must also resort to prayer. Prayer can be most effective in overcoming these sexual fantasies and masturbation impulses. But this does not exclude the struggle of the will we dealt with above. First, because it must not only be prayer in general, but in prayer at the crucial moments when the impulses present themselves. The interesting observation one can make here is that many religious persons with  a homosexual complex, although they do pray at other times, refuse to do so at the very moment of “temptation”. To pray under these cirumstances requires an effort of the will.

The ideal for the future treatment of homosexuality for Christians will be an interplay between psychological and spiritual elements and procedures. Such an approach, Christian and psychological is, on the whole, the best guarantee for change.

With respect to prayer, I recommend this advice from a powerful modern spiritual author, J. Escriva, which can be of support and comfort to the one whose resolution and hope for a change waver now and then: “The first thing needed as far as prayer is concerned is to keep at it; the second thing is to be humble. Have a holy stubborness, be trusting. Remember that when we ask the Lord for something important, He may want to be asked for many years. Keep on! But keep on with ever increasing trust” (1988, 194).

 

GERARD J.M. VAN DEN AARDWEG, PH.D.
The Battle for Normality (1997) Ignatius Press: San Francisco

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