A lot of young people are filled with doubt as to whether or not they’re gay. They focus on the question of their sexual orientation, but often this focus is misplaced. Often they’re entangled in unresolved self-doubt or self-alienation, and the question of their sexual orientation is just a “playing field” on which their issues of guilt, confusion, and indecision are acted out.
Many people, of course, have no doubt about their orientation and are perfectly happy with it. But others are highly ambivalent and often tormented. To minimize emotional distress, they’re better off making the right choice—whether they’re straight, gay, or lesbian—as soon as possible. But unconscious conflict involving self-doubt and self-alienation can block them from acquiring that certainty.
I received a lengthy email from a 21-year-old man who described many of the behavioral and emotional difficulties he had been experiencing, including anxiety, depression, guilt, and shame, as well as “a pretty bad masturbating routine, sometimes doing it four times a day.” He wrote in part:
My love and lust for women has dissipated (it was already happening because I watched so much porn, it became hard for me to get as stimulated to real life girls as I used to) and my fear of possible love for men grew. It has been like this off and on for about two to three years. I haven’t moved forward in life at all. I still sit in my room too much and don’t have a job. I get depressed with suicidal thoughts, and tell my mom I don’t want to live anymore (I’m not as bad as that now). And I’m on medications. I have zero self-esteem and am plagued by fear and doubt everyday. It feels hopeless . . .
Sometimes I have good days where I feel like my old straight self and I’m happy again and the obsessing isn’t as bad. But those leave as quickly as they come . . . I also get urges now to come out to my family (dad in particular) that I am gay and it confuses me. I’ve never had a crush on a guy (I think?) and never fantasized about them except for a few occasions. But the urge and inner battle about being gay is there so it must be real, right?
Certainly, there is an urge and inner battle going on, but the battle doesn’t necessarily have to do with whether this individual is, by biological predisposition, gay or straight. The battle and even the urge can be related directly to inner conflict.
At this point, people benefit from understanding certain basic principles of depth psychology. The emotional problems of chronic indecision and confusion derive from unconscious dynamics in our psyche or unconscious mind. These dynamics can be readily understood, and I try at this website to make the knowledge easy to assimilate. Start by reading, Free Yourself from Inner Conflict.
Everyone experiences inner conflict, and we humans have thousands of ways in which we act out that conflict in daily life. There are also an enormous number of ways that people can suffer and sabotage themselves through their indecision and confusion. Agonizing about one’s sexual orientation is just one of these ways.
Individuals who are in this predicament can try this following technique as a way to acquire more self-assurance concerning their true sexual orientation:
Every time you find yourself agonizing about your sexuality (“Am I gay, am I straight?”), tell yourself the issue is not about your sexuality. Instead, it’s about your unconscious willingness in that moment to feel conflicted and filled with self-doubt. Try to sense how this self-doubt arises out of inner conflict. Here is the conflict: Consciously you want to feel strong and decisive, yet unconsciously the old weak, indecisive sense of self is so familiar that, unwittingly, you keep going back to it to process many of your experiences, including your uncertainty about your sexual orientation.
You don’t have to experience yourself from this emotional weakness once you begin to see the weakness and the conflict more objectively. You want to observe it with some detachment, as a clinical condition, instead of just another painful encounter with the old familiar you. Your intelligence can free you from the conflict and strengthen you emotionally as you gain insight.
This struggle with self-doubt has its origins in inner passivity. This is an emotional default position in our unconscious mind that I write about at length at this website. Through inner passivity, individuals find themselves feeling indecisive, uncertain, and confused. Paradoxically, they can also at times feel very decisive and certain. Such self-confidence, however, tends to be unstable (it’s the bipolar reaction to underlying passivity). These conflicted individuals soon revert from the temporary self-confidence to the familiar indecision and passive self-doubt through which they primarily identify.
As mentioned, this feeling of weakness is an old emotional default position in our psyche. People who are chronically uncertain about their sexual orientation are simply experiencing another way that they can continue to experience themselves through this weakness. They’re entangled in that passive feeling, and they need to untangle themselves. They can do so through insight. They need to see what is real and true—namely, their unconscious willingness to experience themselves through inner passivity—in those moments when they’re agonizing about their sexual orientation.
One of the main symptoms of inner passivity is self-alienation, a condition that’s usually distressing if not painful. The young man who wrote to me mentioned his compulsive, excessive masturbation. This behavior represents a desperate attempt to connect with himself (through sexual pleasure in self-love) to cope with or to compensate for his self-alienation.
Masturbation, when performed so compulsively, becomes a psychological defense: The defense’s unconscious contention is, “I’m not emotionally attached to experiencing myself through inner passivity and the sense of self-alienation it produces. Look at how connected to myself I feel when I masturbate. This is what I want—to feel connected!” This defense covers up inner truth, namely that he does in large measure identify with himself through the misery of inner passivity.
The young man mentioned that he had urges to “come out to my family (Dad in particular) that I am gay and it confuses me.” Earlier, his father had been angry and upset when his daughter came out as a lesbian and “he ripped off my sister’s homosexual rainbow stickers she had on her car . . .” This young man’s urge to “come out” to the family may be related to his unconscious willingness to experience disapproval and condemnation. His inner conflict consists of his conscious desire to be accepted and loved versus his unconscious entanglement, based on his childhood history, in the feeling of being a disappointment to himself while also feeling criticized and condemned by others. Through inner passivity, he is receptive to inner condemnation, in the form of self-aggression arising from his inner critic. Hence, unconsciously, he externalizes the inner dynamic and then acts out with others the experience of being berated.
He also mentioned that, as a young teenager, “I began to develop certain mental rituals I would play out in my head everyday. They would go something like this: ‘If I don’t step on any cracks my family will be safe. If I do they will be harmed. Or: If I can sink this basket today, all will go well; if I don’t, it will go wrong.’” This behavior represents a claim to power which is a defense against inner passivity. The young man is desperate for some sense of power to counter the underlying emotional entanglement in weakness and helplessness.
Self-knowledge of this deep variety exposes inner conflict and its defenses. The knowledge helps all of us to navigate our way through life.