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Therapy for Same-sex Attraction

Therapy can help you clarify your identity and make life choices that are consistent with your personal values.

Clinical experts often note that homosexuality isn't just about sex. There are many emotional and psychological issues that are often related to same-sex attraction, such as the following:

  • Gender identity, incongruity, and distortion
  • Relationship difficulties, isolation and lonliness, conflicts with spouse or parents, unhealthy responses to the opposite sex
  • Anxiety, depression
  • Sexual compulsion or addiction
  • Shame
  • Negative core beliefs
  • Body issues
  • Obsessive-compulsiveness
  • Ooverwhelming homosexual feelings
  • Anger, cynicism, or despair
  • Abuse and trauma
  • Sexual experiences during childhood
  • Confusion over what to do about your homosexuality
  • Wanting out of a gay lifestyle
  • Conflict between your sexuality and your values, goals, or faith
  • Conflict in your relationship with God
  • Difficulty holding onto your faith
  • (See definitions of some of these issues at the end of this page.)

Many people need professional help to address these kinds of issues in healthy ways. Such help may include support groups, and individual and group therapy.

Therapy can help you clarify your identity and make life choices that are consistent with your personal values. It is a process of self-understanding, self-acceptance, and growth. For many people, it means difficult, painful compromises. Although your life becomes more clear, it may not become easier; there are no shortcuts to personal growth. Human emotions are complex and difficult situations are not easily unraveled. This section explains different therapeutic approaches and gives information on choosing a good therapist. It then discusses individual and group therapy and explains how each can be beneficial.

Modern Therapeutic methods

Modern therapy bears little resemblance to the sordid history of treatment for emotional problems. In the late 1900s and very early 2000s, the medical profession regarded same-sex attraction as a mental illness and attempted to cure it by drastic measures such as electroshock therapy, hormone injections, castration, hysterectomy, and even lobotomy. (Dudley, p. 125)  Read more about Aversion ("Shock") Therapy and about the Ethics of Therapy.

Today, professionals use more humane approaches to help people understand and deal with their feelings. There is no need to fear therapy and certainly no reason to feel inadequate because you see a therapist. In today’s complex world, most people can benefit from therapy for some reason at some time in their lives. If you consider the suggestions in this section and choose your therapist wisely, it can be a richly rewarding experience.

Read about professional ethics and therapy for same-sex attraction.

Choosing a therapist

Choosing the right therapist is critical because the wrong therapist could do more harm than good. Look for a therapist who can understand and support you in your personal values, beliefs, morals, and goals. If you are a strongly religious person, your ideal counselor would be one who supports your religious values and understands your spiritual motivations.

A therapist should not exert his personal values on you. Some gay-affirmative therapists may push you to accept a gay identity and experience homosexual relationships. Their approach assumes that homosexuality is a natural sexual variation and that the reason people are unhappy with homosexuality is because of their own self-hate and because of society’s anti-gay prejudices. 

Other therapists may focus on helping you understand your gender development and assist you in making choices congruent with your personal value systems. They may help you see that social and emotional variables affect gender identity, which in turn influences your sexual attractions.  

Consider what type of therapist you need. Psychiatrists are medical doctors specializing in treating individuals with emotional problems and thus can prescribe medication if necessary. Psychiatrists usually charge higher fees than other practitioners. Clinical psychologists usually have an academic doctoral degree (Ph.D.) and are trained in testing and individual therapy. Social workers may have doctorates or Master of Social Work degrees, and may counsel individuals, work with small groups or troubled families, and handle much the same range of emotional problems as these other practitioners.

It is advisable that men choose a male therapist and that women choose a female therapist for several reasons. Since part of the problem for men may be due to defensive detachment from men, a male therapist is in a better position than a woman to help a man work through some of the developmental blocks he may have had with his father or with other men. The same is true for women. A therapist of the same gender is also in a better position to help you understand your gender and guide you into relationships with others of your gender. If your therapy experience is successful, the close emotional relationship you develop with your therapist will be healing in itself and will encourage you to develop deeper relationships with others of your gender.

Many of the organizations listed can provide recommendations of therapists who fit the descriptions above.

Therapists may want to refer to the Best Practices Document: Principles and Practices for Mental-Health Professionals Helping Latter-day Saints Respond to Same-Sex Attractions. Although it was written for therapists who treat Latter-day Saints (Mormons), its principles apply to any faith.

Since therapy is a major investment of time and money, be sure that your therapist will be able to provide you the help you need. Discuss with your therapist how he/she will approach therapy with you. Talk about your value system and what you expect from therapy. Don’t hesitate to talk about the finances involved and be sure they fit within your budget. Your medical insurance may cover some of the visits.

The therapeutic process

Part of the therapeutic process may be to explore the past. Joe Dallas writes that "we can learn from the past and thus improve the present." Further, "the past helps us to understand the present. And what we understand, we can deal with." (Dallas 1991, p. 87) Understanding the past is helpful to many people. However, there are four cautions:

  1. Don’t blame the past for your situation and assume the role of a victim who has no control over the present. No matter how painful the past has been, you cannot avoid responsibility for what you do in the present. Your goal now is to try to understand the causes of your struggle to learn what you can do to resolve them.
  2. Watch out for invented memories. There is a tendency to invent past experiences to explain the present. If you read that certain childhood experiences can cause certain reactions, you may come to believe that those things happened to you in your childhood. You may reinterpret or skew the past or even invent in your mind events that never happened, all in an effort to make sense of the present.
  3. Not finding all the answers in the past does not mean you can’t resolve the present. "At one point during my therapy I was trying to understand why I developed certain feelings during grade school. My therapist gave me an assignment to go back to my elementary school and spend an hour walking around the playground and try to recreate the feelings I had during a certain event. I did as he suggested, but never found any clues. To this day, I don’t understand why I reacted to the event the way I did. Although I didn’t find any clues to the present, I don’t let that bother me. The past doesn’t need to be completely explained."
  4. Don’t concentrate on the past to the exclusion of the present. Although the past may hold keys to help you understand the present, concentrate the majority of your time on your current feelings, actions, plans, failures, and successes. The past is only valuable inasmuch as it helps you to deal with the present. The extent to which the past is important depends on the level of trauma in the past. If you have not suffered abuse, you may not need to spend much time dealing with the past. If you have been abused, you may need to grieve and resolve past trauma.

Questions to ask yourself after your first session: (1) Does the therapist seem to understand and care how I feel? (2) Does he or she see clearly what is going on? (3) Do this person’s ideas make common sense or do they seem strange or outrageous? If the answers to these questions are not satisfactory, you probably should not trust the therapist and should look for another. You should typically expect some improvement in your problem by the fourth session. If nothing good is happening, have the courage to quit. Don't be intimidated by the strategy of certain counselors who imply that the real problem is related to your morals or religious beliefs. Reject any diagnosis which suggests that unless you adopt the counselor’s philosophy or life-style, you cannot be helped. Don’t be afraid to stand your ground if the counselor’s requests violate your personal values or standards. The best counselors will respect your position even if they don't share it.

If therapy is not available to you

If you cannot afford therapy or if there is not a good therapist available, you can still benefit by reading carefully-selected books, by journaling, and by trying to analyze your life. Set up a plan of action and follow through on that plan. Look at your life as though you are watching a video and identify the things you want to change, then make specific assignments to yourself to develop relationships and do things to build your self-image. You can be accountable to God through prayer, to yourself by using your journal, and to a friend in person, by telephone, by text, or by e-mail. However, be careful not to let electronic communications, or even the telephone, replace face-to-face contact with others of your gender because this personal interaction is critical.

Individual therapy

A trained therapist can guide you through your personal growth process. He is your personal counselor to help you put all the pieces of the puzzle together. He can help you see how to integrate your personal study, spiritual growth, support groups, personal relationships, and behavior modification. He can help you see in an objective way how to keep your life in balance. He can be your mentor and your confidant.

Individual therapy may be an essential part of the process of understanding your same-sex attractions and related issues. Although it will not take care of all your needs, it can give direction to all your activities. For example, if you also participate in a sports program, group therapy, support group, or a community men’s group, your therapist can help you see how all these pieces fit together and help you keep them in balance.

As you talk with your therapist, you will discover things about yourself. Often, because of shame or guilt we have buried some things so deep within us that we don’t even realize them ourselves. The therapist is trained to ask the right questions to help you see things in perspective and guide you through the process. Use him as a sounding board. Be honest with him about your problems, concerns, and fears. Don’t keep any secrets from him. Therapy will be most effective when you have a completely open and honest relationship. The therapist is bound by ethical standards to keep everything you say confidential. He can’t even tell another person that you are seeing him. Together you can develop action plans to take you through each step of the process and you can report back to him on both your successes and failures. The journey won’t seem so lonely or so hard if you have a therapist by your side the whole way. Individual counseling can help you to:

  • Identify and resolve personal issues and underlying factors.
  • Identify and clearly define your personal goals.
  • Develop a personal action plan then help you keep working on the plan.
  • Identify and work around the roadblocks.
  • Receive encouragement when you get discouraged.
  • Increase your awareness of things you need to work on.
  • Give insight into your feelings and actions.
  • Give an outside perspective (to help you see black and white when all you see is gray).
  • Identify your personal strengths and weaknesses.
  • Provide a forum to talk things out and get feedback.
  • Provide someone to be accountable to for your behavior, growth, and personal plan of action.
  • Learn to generalize lessons learned to other situations.
  • Learn to internalize new information (to help your heart believe).
  • Learn how to live congruently with your personal values and belief system.
  • Learn to control compulsive behaviors and overcome addictions.

Make your sessions count. Not only are these therapy sessions expensive, but if change is important to you, do all you can to make them as effective as possible. I found it helpful to make written notes about my sessions and refer to them often. I wrote in my journal as much detail about each session as I could. It was helpful to review the things we discussed and it gave me something to refer back to later and monitor my progress. I especially made notes about things I wanted to think about further or pursue in a future session. I did not want to let fleeting ideas escape me; they were often inspiration that turned out to be helpful. Be sure to write down the assignments you receive from your therapist and be sure you follow through with them.

Group therapy

Group therapy can also be helpful, but is usually of secondary importance to individual therapy. Group therapy has some of the same advantages as a support group. The difference is that group therapy is always run by a trained therapist who is there to facilitate the discussion in meaningful ways. Since support groups are not guided, it may be easy for members of the group to hide or even deny their feelings. But in a therapy group, the therapist can help members confront issues head-on and then be sure the issues are brought to healthy conclusions.

If you are involved in group therapy, it is important that you also receive individual therapy so that you can work out issues that come up in the group setting. Group therapy can help you to:

  • Get the mutual support of others who share your struggle.
  • Hold each other accountable.
  • Learn to accept others and feel accepted by them.
  • Learn to disclose.
  • Discuss issues of importance and get the feedback of others.
  • Learn to generalize to other situations the lessons you learn.
  • Learn to internalize new information (to make your heart believe).
  • Learn relationship and communication skills.
  • Learn to be assertive.
  • Reinforce newly learned traits.
  • Experience relationships and activities in a safe environment, as a bridge to the real world.
  • Learn compassion for others as you begin to see their challenges from their perspective.

"My friend Todd had been so closed up that no one in his life really knew much about him. Then he went to group therapy where he had the chance to explain his troubles to others and he began to open up. He wrote the following: 'Each time, it became a little easier. I noticed that rather than being dangerous, opening up and sharing feelings and being really close to people on an emotional level was kind of nice. For the first time in my life, I no longer felt like I was unacceptable because I started to find out that people could know everything about me and still want to be my friend. In fact, through the sharing of deep emotions, I gained some of my closest friends.'"

Definitions of some emotional and psychological issues that are often related to same-sex attraction

Many men who experience unwanted homosexuality tend to face the issues described below. Some men face just a few of these issues while other men face many of them. Everyone faces them unique ways.

  • Gender identity, incongruity, and distortion
  • Relationship difficulties, isolation and lonliness, conflicts with spouse or parents, unhealthy responses to the opposite sex
  • Anxiety, depression
  • Sexual compulsion or addiction
  • Shame
  • Negative core beliefs
  • Body issues
  • Obsessive-compulsiveness
  • Anger, cynicism, or despair
  • Abuse and trauma
  • Sexual experiences during childhood
  • (See definitions of some of these issues at the end of this page.)

If you’re experiencing some of these issues, working with a therapist could be helpful. The more of these issues you’re experiencing, the more strongly you should consider therapy and the more likely you are to benefit from it. Most of these issues are long lasting and do not tend to go away on their own.

Distress Over Sexuality

    • Confusion over what to do about your homosexuality
    • Strong or even overwhelming homosexual feelings
    • Wanting out of a gay lifestyle
    • Conflict between your sexuality and your values, goals, or faith
    • Conflict in your relationship with God
    • Difficulty holding onto your faith

Problems Regarding Gender

Psychological and Emotional Issues

Abuse and Trauma

    • Memories or suspicions of sexual abuse
    • Sexual experiences during childhood
    • Memories or suspicions of physical or emotional abuse (including bullying)
    • Traumatic losses of friends or loved ones
    • Posttraumatic disturbance
    • Dissociation

Relationship Difficulties

    • Isolation and loneliness
    • Conflicts with your spouse
    • Conflicts with your parents
    • Concern about the future of your family
    • Difficulty being sexual with your opposite-sex partner
    • Wanting to marry an opposite-sex partner but feeling unprepared to do so

Contact us for a FREE 30-minute consultation with one of our licensed therapists if you would like to further explore whether therapy is right for you.

Gender Shame

Shame is an ongoing sense of being fundamentally bad, inadequate, defective, or unworthy. Shame can become woven into a person’s sense of who they are. Over time, shame can become a core facet of their identity. Shame can become attached specifically to masculinity when a boy internalizes from his environment any of the following messages: males are bad, it is bad to be male, it is bad for me to be male, or I am bad at being male. READ MORE ABOUT SHAME.

Gender Double Binds

A double bind is a situation where there is no good way out—where there is pain or trouble no matter what you do. You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. In its most pure form, a double bind occurs when a person is given two messages or commands that contradict or conflict with each other in such a way that responding appropriately to one prevents an appropriate response to the other. When a boy or a man experiences contradictory messages about males and being male—and he has no way to resolve the contradiction—he’s in a gender double bind. Below are three examples of the many different ways this can happen.


  • Example One: A boy comes to believe that he is incapable of becoming a normal man and that he’ll be shamed if he tries. But he also believes that he’ll be worthless if he doesn’t become like them. His choice is shame or worthlessness.



  • Example Two: A boy feels an aching need for friendship and acceptance from other boys. But he is unable to form connections with other boys either because he can’t relate to them, they bully him, or his parent won’t allow him to. He is faced with either the pain of an unmet need or the distress associated with trying to fulfill it.



  • Example Three: A mother discourages her son from being like his father and the other males in the family and encourages his more gentle nature and behavior. This alienates him from the other males. But he intuitively knows he belongs among the males. He faces the choice of being alienated from his own gender or contradicting and disappointing his mother.
    Individual therapy can help you becoming free from gender double binds.


Gender Imperatives

Many men with same–sex attraction tend to become fixated or obsessed with certain male traits. Often they consider these attributes to be necessary in order to be truly masculine or to be considered attractive, desirable, good, valuable, loveable, or complete as a man. When they see someone with the trait—or when they think about the trait—they are prone to experience powerful feelings of pain, longing, curiosity, envy, or lust. Reports from men with same-sex attraction suggest that this fixation can begin in childhood, although it may not emerge until adolescence or even later. These obsessions tend to become inflexible and unrealistic and can remain unchanged over many years. These obsessions are called “gender imperatives.”

Gender imperatives seem to form in response to masculine traits men with same-sex attraction see in the males around us but consider themselves to be lacking in. The dissimilarity and incongruity they sense in relation to these masculine traits becomes a critical factor differentiating them from the males around them. Typically, they tell themselves the story that these differences make them inferior or wrong, which creates pain and longing. They may tell themselves that, in order to be truly worthy or whole as a boy or man, they must possess those qualities. But they also see themselves as incapable of sufficiently obtaining or developing the required traits.

Self-observation and personal reflection can help you recognize your gender imperatives. CGW therapists are trained to help you desexualize and decrease the intensity of your imperatives.

Gender Incongruity

Gender incongruity is a sense of being incompatible with, or not conforming to, your internalized definition of masculinity. Gender shame, gender double binds, and gender imperatives can cause men to see themselves as being at odds or out–of–sync with what they believe a man is supposed to be.

Men with gender incongruity look at other men and think, “I am not like them and they are not like me. I am different and that difference makes me less.” It’s likely that nearly all men on occasion feel like they don’t fully measure up to their masculine ideal. But gender incongruity is much deeper than just not fully measuring up. It’s a pervasive sense that you’re lacking in vital qualities or capacities that are essential for masculinity. And it includes a belief that there is no way to sufficiently obtain or grow into these qualities or capacities.

Difficulty in relationships with other men

Painful, frightening, or alienating experiences with other males can lead boys to pull away from their father, brother, peers, and other males, breaking or preventing the normal affiliations and creating a state of “disaffiliation.” Elizabeth Moberly and Joseph Nicolosi describe a situation called “defensive detachment” in which a boy not only pulls away, but also puts up an unconscious block against the possibility of ever reconnecting. Men need connection with other men; it’s core and non–negotiable need. So if a man is detached, his natural needs for attachment, resonance, approval, and support will go unmet. And if his defensiveness prevents him from reconnecting, he’ll remain isolated, without support, and his needs may turn into longings and cravings.

Negative stereotypes of boys and men can contribute to same–sex disaffiliation. Not all men with same–sex attraction have negative views of other men, but many do. These stereotypes may have been formed directly from bad personal experiences with other boys or men early in childhood. Or they might have been caused by anti–male complaints and criticisms from females around the young boy. The distance from other men that is created by defensive detachment perpetuates negative stereotypes because it prevents the man who experiences it from getting to know what other men are really like. They only know their ugly side. Holding onto negative stereotypes alienates these men from their peers, which prevents them from fulfilling core needs.

Unhealthy Responses to Women

Men with same-sex attraction often describe unhealthy relationships with women that may be grouped into four broad categories: oppositional, avoidant, enmeshed, and comfortable. Men may respond to women with feelings, impulses, and behaviors from just one of these categories or from two or more of these categories, depending on the situation. As you read the descriptions below, consider if any of it fits for you.

Men who become oppositional tend to reject women and push them away. They may do so out of feelings of resentment, dislike, disgust, or even hatred. Or they may do so in reaction to feeling threatened and endangered by women. Some men are completely conscious and blatant about their antipathy toward females. For others, negative feelings toward women may show up only in subtle behaviors and thoughts of which they are barely aware. And some men may be completely unconscious of their opposition.

Men who are avoidant of women tend to experience feelings of fear and anxiety, which may cause them to keep their distance. Or they may simply feel apathetic and indifferent toward women, perhaps treating them as if they don’t exist.

Men who are enmeshed with women tend to feel needy or dependent on women’s support and approval. They may subordinate themselves to women, allowing themselves to be controlled by them. The dependency may go the other direction as well, as in the case where an elderly mother is dependent on her son for assistance in ways that disrupt his ability to live his own life. And the man may be bound to maintain this situation by tremendous feelings of guilt. If he tries to free himself from the entanglement, his guilt overwhelms him and he gives in.

Men who are comfortable with women tend to seek out females and female settings as sources of security and consolation. In this case, “comfortable” means something more than simply being at ease with women. It implies an over–familiarity and over–resonance with them, sharing interests and perspectives, or feeling included as “one of the girls.” And it often includes using women and female settings as places of resort and safety.

Gender Distortion

Many men with same-sex attraction describe distorted perspectives or beliefs about women. They may develop beliefs about women that are not accurate for women as a whole, even if they may be true about the women within their own families. For example, they may view all women as dangerous or downright evil—as cruel, vindictive abusers. They may see them as needy and engulfing, manipulative and cajoling. Or they may see women generally as being stupid and weak or as just more trouble than they’re worth—moody, complaining, and whining. On the other hand, they may idealize women, viewing them as good, pure, or even sacred. Or they may look to them as protectors or providers.

Men with same-sex attraction may also develop incorrect or immature perceptions of themselves in relation to women. They may see themselves as needy and weak in their relationships with women or as undesirable, vulnerable, and inferior to women. They may feel small and incapable of handling the demands of an intimate opposite–sex relationship. On the other extreme, they may see themselves as being superior to females—as far better or somehow right.

These perspectives of women can impact a man’s sense of gender. For many men with same-sex attraction, females were the predominant influence in their lives growing up. Women provided them with role modeling and friendship while the men in their lives may have had little impact on them. This may have left these men without a clear sense of genderedness—the roles and differences between men and women may seem ambiguous.


General Anxiety

Anxiety can take many forms and affect people in many different ways. As you review the anxiety symptom checklist below, write down the symptoms you identify with. Also, consider how often, how long, and how intensely you experience those symptoms.


  • Feeling anxious or worried and having difficulty controlling the worry. This might be about one specific thing or about a number of different concerns.



  • Feeling restless, keyed up, or on edge



  • Getting tired or fatigued easily



  • Having a difficult time concentrating or finding that your mind goes blank



  • Being easily irritated



  • Holding tension in your body



  • Having difficulty falling or staying asleep or waking in the morning not feeling rested


If you’ve experienced three or more of these symptoms within the past few months, you should consider seeking help from a psychotherapist, particularly if the symptom has been distressing or debilitating.

Social Anxiety

Fear of social situations can make it very difficult for people to fulfill their needs for closeness with others. Review the list below in the same way you reviewed the list above, identifying the symptoms that fit you and noticing the frequency, length, and intensity of each symptom you acknowledge.


  • You fear being embarrassed or humiliated in a social situation (particularly with unfamiliar people) or a situation in which you believe your performance is being observed or scrutinized



  • You experience anxiety or panic when you are in such situations



  • You try to avoid these types of social or performance situations out of fear of becoming anxious



  • These problems interfere with your daily routine, your social life, or your schooling or occupation


If these symptoms fit you, you should strongly consider contacting a psychotherapist for help.


Depression may result from unresolved childhood issues, current life circumstances, or chemical imbalances in the brain. Depression can take a few different forms depending on the number of symptoms and how long they last. As you review the depression symptom list below, notice the symptoms that fit you. Consider how often, how long, and how intensely you experience these symptoms.


  • Feeling depressed, sad, or empty often or all the time, or frequently tearful



  • Lack of interest in pleasurable activities



  • Decrease or increase in appetite or significant weight loss (not due to dieting) or weight gain



  • Difficulties with sleeping: either unable to sleep or sleeping too much



  • Moving very slowly, like you are in slow motion; or being agitated and moving around restlessly



  • Feeling fatigued or without energy



  • Feeling worthless or guilty



  • Having difficulty thinking or making decisions



  • Thinking about death or suicide


The more of these symptoms you experience and the more severe or long lasting these symptoms are, the more important it is for you to seek professional help. Even checking two of these symptoms could indicate a need for help if the symptoms are distressing, debilitating, or long lasting.

Sexual Compulsion or Addiction

Sexual addiction is the loss of control of sexual behavior, which then becomes worse over time. People with extreme sexual addiction literally cannot stop the continual intensification of their sexual acting out, even when their behavior has cost them their job, relationships, financial security, and even their freedom.

Compulsive sexual behavior is a little different from sexual addiction in that it isn’t unmanageable in the way sexual addiction is. Although people with sexual compulsivity usually cannot stop their sexual behavior without help, the behavior doesn’t worsen over time, and its consequences tend not to be as extreme as for the addicted person. Compulsive sexual behavior may remain essentially the same for many years. Even so, it can still be a serious obstacle to growth.

Addictive and compulsive sexual behaviors can include masturbation, pornography, Internet chat, cruising, sexual activity with other people, engaging in intense romantic relationships, and other behaviors.

Below is a list of symptoms of addictive or compulsive sexual behavior. As you read the list, keep track of how many items you experience in your own life.


  • Unable to stop engaging in relationships or sexual behaviors that you feel are wrong



  • Loss of control over the frequency of your sexual behavior



  • Your sexual behavior becomes more extreme over time because the old behaviors no longer provide the same high



  • Shifting back and forth between feeling that your sexual problem is out of control and believing you have it under control



  • Using sexual behavior or relationships on a regular basis to deaden painful feelings or forget your own problems



  • Keeping your sexual behavior or relationships secret and perhaps even lying to cover them up



  • Spending large amounts of time or money pursuing sexual behavior or relationships



  • Making promises to yourself or others that are later broken because of your sexual behavior



  • Life becomes unmanageable because of your sexual behavior—work and family responsibilities are neglected



  • Serious consequences result from your sexual behavior, like the loss of a job, financial distress, the breakup of a marriage, or being arrested


If you are experiencing even a couple of these symptoms, you may be dealing with addictive or compulsive sexual behavior. The more symptoms you have, the more likely it is that you need help to regain control of your sexual behavior.


In their book, Facing Shame, authors Merle Fossum and Marilyn Mason describe this type of shame as “an inner sense of being completely diminished or insufficient as a person. It is the self judging the self.” Toxic shame is commonly distinguished from healthy shame in this way: healthy shame is the knowledge that we have done bad; toxic shame is the belief that we are bad. To quote Fossum and Mason again, “Shame is the ongoing premise that one is fundamentally bad, inadequate, defective, unworthy, or not fully valid as a human being.”

Shame is like a virus that can infect anything. It can contaminate a person’s beliefs and attitudes about their body, personality, family, or job. It can corrupt their perspective on our past and present behaviors and life experiences. It commonly seizes upon people’s weaknesses, but can even attack their strengths and talents. Once the intense feelings of shame have taken hold of something in a person’s life, they lose the ability to think rationally about that part of themself. They see everything through those feelings and obey the shame at all costs. Yes, they obey their shame. They believe it’s the absolute truth, and they do whatever it tells them—they hide, lie, avoid, quit, cover up, keep secrets, and turn down opportunities. This curtails their freedom and makes growth difficult. So breaking the grip of shame is essential to any psychological healing process.

If you are experiencing shame, consider working with a CGW therapist to become free of its effects.

Negative Core Beliefs

Negative core beliefs can be based on a variety of things. Most commonly they are based on a sense of defectiveness, vulnerability, or helplessness and hopelessness. Men with same-sex attraction also tend to have negative core beliefs about their own maleness, about relating with other men, and about women. Below is a list of common negative core beliefs.


    • I am a bad person
    • I am not loveable
    • I only deserve bad things
    • I am a disappointment
    • I am worthless

Vulnerability (Unsafe)

    • I am in danger
    • I can’t protect myself
    • It’s not safe to show my emotions
    • I am misunderstood

Helplessness and Hopelessness

    • I can’t do anything about it
    • I can’t change
    • I’ll never accomplish much
    • I wont ever have good things
    • I will always be alone

My Maleness

    • I am weak
    • I am not masculine enough
    • I am a sissy
    • I don’t look like a man
    • I can’t assert myself
    • I have no power in my life

Relating to Men

    • I can’t trust men
    • Men will reject me
    • I can’t understand men
    • I can only relate with other same-sex attracted men
    • Men are dangerous

Relating with Women

    • I can’t trust women
    • Women are disgusting
    • Women will drain and use me
    • Women are overwhelming
    • It’s bad to want sex with a woman

Body Issues

Some people experience a strong preoccupation with their bodies or with specific bodily features or flaws. Therapists refer to this condition as “body dysmorphic disorder.” Review this list as you did the two previous lists.


  • Excessive concern and shame about a defect or flaw on your face or body that others have either never noticed or have repeatedly told you is just fine or normal



  • Preoccupation with being too fat or too thin, even though others would consider you to be within a normal weight range



  • Excessive worry that your muscles are not big enough, even if others would see you as being muscular, fit, or having a nice physique



  • Going to excessive lengths to hide perceived physical flaws



  • Being preoccupied with trying to get an accurate view of your body and feeling like you can never see it accurately


Body dysmorphic disorder is closely related to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and can be a particularly difficult problem for men trying to overcome unwanted homosexuality. Men’s feelings about their bodies are often tied to their feelings about their masculinity. So shame, worry, or preoccupation about their bodies can have a devastating impact on how they feel about themselves as men. If you checked any symptoms in the list above, please contact a trained psychotherapist for help.


Obsessive–compulsive tendencies are quite common among men with same–sex attraction and can create severe obstacles to growth. Obsessive-compulsiveness has two sets of symptoms: obsessions and compulsions. These symptoms are listed separately. Some people have both types of symptoms while others only experience one.

Obsessions are thoughts, impulses, or images that seem to come to a person’s mind regularly and are difficult or impossible to get rid of. Make note of the obsession symptoms that apply to you.


  • Preoccupation with being contaminated by body fluids, dirt, germs, insects, animals, sticky substances, a disease, etc.



  • Fear of getting an illness



  • Needing to save or collect things, feeling worried about throwing things away



  • Needing to have things in order, symmetrical, exact, or lined up



  • Having to write perfectly, needing to start over if you make a mistake



  • Feeling excessively afraid about being wrong or bad, having bad thoughts, saying bad things, being punished; dwelling excessively on thoughts about God or religion



  • Fear that you will harm yourself or someone else or worry that you have been or will be responsible for someone being harmed because of your actions



  • Fear that you will do something that you can’t control



  • Having unwanted sexual thoughts that are not enjoyable and that you cannot control



  • Needing to count objects, steps, stairs, or behaviors



  • Worry about saying things wrong or leaving out important details



  • Worry about losing things or making mistakes



  • Being easily bothered by certain sounds or by the texture of things on your skin



  • Excessive superstitious fears or beliefs


Compulsions are behaviors that a person feels unable to stop himself from doing or things that a person has to do in a very specific way. The person may feel driven to do it in response to an obsession, like those listed previously—in other words the obsession drives the person to do the compulsive behavior. He may have to do it so that he can stop feeling anxious about it. Or he might just do it automatically without even thinking about it. Compulsions can either be outward physical behaviors (like washing your hands or checking locks) or internal mental rituals (like counting or thinking through past events over and over again).

Sometimes people don’t recognize that their compulsions are excessive until they take into consideration what otherpeople do or until others tell them that it’s excessive. If you wonder whether some of your behaviors are compulsive, ask someone you trust to give you an honest answer. Write down the symptoms of compulsive behaviors that apply to you.


  • Excessive personal cleanliness and grooming practices, either done frequently or done in a very specific way (hand washing, showering, brushing teeth, shaving, etc.)



  • Excessive cleaning or care of the house, yard, car, or objects; having to clean certain items yourself rather than allowing others to do it, or cleaning or caring for things in a very specific way or using very specific tools or products



  • Avoidance of contamination or germs by avoiding certain objects, staying away from certain places, wearing gloves or special clothing, using excessive protective barriers (like on toilet seats), etc.



  • Checking to be sure you haven’t been harmed or haven’t harmed someone else



  • Checking locks, doors, windows, blinds, light switches, stoves, and other appliances or equipment, etc.



  • Checking yourself for illness or disease



  • Saving useless items, buying or collecting items that you don’t use, or having difficulty getting rid of items that are no longer useful



  • Reading or writing things over and over, having to rewrite something because you made a small mistake, keeping excessive lists or journals



  • Repeating activities or behaviors over and over for no reason other than a feeling of compulsion, repeating something you’ve said several times because you don’t feel heard



  • Counting objects, items, or behaviors



  • Arranging items in specific orders or patterns, compulsively arranging things symmetrically



  • Excessive repetitive thoughts, like prayers or reassuring statements



  • Frequent confessing of bad deeds or wrong behavior, even when those actions are not considered wrong to others


Obsessive–compulsive disorder can be a serious roadblock, but it’s also very treatable. If you checked even a single item in the two previous lists, this could be an indication of obsessive–compulsive tendencies. If you checked a few items on each list, it’s a strong sign that you may be dealing with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Call to action.

Posttraumatic Disturbance

People who have experienced abuse or other types of traumatic events earlier in their lives sometimes suffer from a variety of difficult symptoms as a result of those experiences. Consider the symptoms below.


  • Recalling traumatic events through flashbacks (which might include images, sounds, or even smells), disturbing dreams, or frightening thoughts related to the events.



  • Reliving painful past events as if they were happening in the present. Sometimes this can even include seeing images from the trauma and experiencing the same feelings.



  • Becoming very upset or disturbed by things that remind you of the trauma. This can include places, people, objects, sounds, and smells. It can include being touched in certain ways or being in certain physical or emotional situations.



  • Avoiding talking or thinking about the trauma or having only vague memories of it.



  • Avoiding places, situations, activities, or people that remind you of the trauma.



  • Feeling a loss of interest in certain activities that you previously enjoyed. These activities may or may not have anything to do with the traumatic events.



  • Being unable to feel certain emotions, such as anger, love, or joy, or having sudden outbursts of irritation or anger.



  • Feeling disconnected or alienated from other people.



  • Not seeing yourself as having a future or being unable to imagine future events, such as a career, being married, seeing your children grow up, or growing old. Expecting yourself to die young.



  • Having difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep because of disturbing thoughts.



  • Having difficulty concentrating because of disturbing thoughts.



  • Being jumpy or easily startled.



  • Being intensely aware of—or sensitive to—your circumstances; being on the constant lookout for danger. This can create anxiety and exhaustion.


Experiencing just a few of these symptoms can make life difficult and detract from a man’s ability to overcome unwanted homosexuality. If you identified one or more of the items above, it would be a good idea for you to consult a therapist. If you marked a few items—especially if you marked higher numbers—we strongly encourage you to seek help from a professional trained in trauma recovery work.


Dissociation can be described as a disruption in consciousness, or a separation of one part of self from other parts. There are many different types of dissociation. The simplest and most common would be “zoning out” and the most complex would be having multiple personalities. Many therapists believe that dissociation is a natural mental mechanism that protects the mind from being overwhelmed by stressful or traumatic circumstances. Dissociation is commonly seen among individuals with post–traumatic disturbance. Make note of any symptoms from the list below that you’ve experienced in the past few months.


  • Losing track of things that have happened, such as arriving somewhere and not remembering what happened on the trip there or not knowing how you got there, not hearing things that were said to you, or not remembering putting on the clothes you are wearing



  • Having objects you don’t remember buying, finding, or being given



  • Feeling like you’re outside your body watching yourself, feeling like your body doesn’t belong to you, or feeling like you’re a robot



  • Feeling like the world around you is not real, having the world appear as foggy or far away, or being in a place you know but having it seem somehow strange or unfamiliar



  • Being accused of lying or of not telling the entire story when you believe you’re telling the whole truth



  • Lacking memories of significant life events or of long periods of time



  • Not recognizing yourself in the mirror



  • Remembering past events with intense clarity and vividness as if it was happening right now



  • Being unsure whether things you remember are real, imagined, or occurred in a dream



  • Zoning out and losing awareness of time or finding that time has passed and you don’t know what you did during that time



  • Acting so different in various situations that you almost feel like you’re two different people



  • Being unsure whether you actually did or said something or just thought about doing or saying it



  • Finding out that you did something you don’t remember doing



  • Hearing voices inside your head talking about what you’re doing or about what you should or shouldn’t do


Each of the symptoms described above is a strong indicator of dissociation. If you acknowledged any of these symptoms, I strongly urge you to seek help from a psychotherapist familiar with these issues and to do so very soon.



For further reading: "Don't Forsake Homosexuals Who Want Help."