I continue to learn from reading The Way Out, a book by Christopher Nutter that I wrote about last week.
We all learn to internalize messages that are conveyed to us about our self-worth, starting in our childhood. Some rare, fortunate children are taught – both through words and actions – that they are persons of infinite worth, goodness and light. Most of us, however, have varying degrees of negatives self-perceptions that are encoded into us from birth.
Most of the time, perhaps, these negative messages are conveyed unconsciously by parents, siblings, friends, teachers, etc. Sometimes, however – as in the case of child abuse – they are conveyed directly and dramatically. Some children literally have it beaten into them that they are not worth much just as they are. They learn that they have to be someone else in order to be accepted and loved, or in order to merely survive the trauma they endure.
These negative messages eventually become encoded, woven into the very fabric of our unconscious self. And we find that, as we grow older, we bring these messages with us from our childhood into the adult world, where they can create all kinds of havoc.
Gay men and women typically have a whole other set of negative messages conveyed to them about who they are. As the truth about their sexuality begins to dawn on them, having already been recipients of vast amounts of societal disapprobation of homosexuality, their unconscious spews additional negative thoughts and fears, which control – to one degree or another – how such a person navigates his or her way through life.
Part of Nutter’s message is that the process of coming out should involve shining the light of consciousness on all these fears and negative self-perceptions; because until we do, these fears continue to control and shape us. As he comments, we end up carrying a closet around with us as we encounter situations where our sexuality “comes up" in case we need to temporarily duck back in.
As I try to become more conscious of such situations, I can more fully examine what is actually going on when I suddenly feel self-conscious or embarrassed about the fact that I am gay. Nutter points out that what I encounter in such circumstances are my own fears that I often unconsciously project onto others:
“You have no idea what people feel or think about you now or what they will feel and think later – it is only your own thoughts and feelings that you think and feel. It may seem as if someone else thinks you’re a faggot, but it can only be you who feels like a faggot. If you do not feel like a faggot, the term ‘faggot’ does not exist for you. End of story.
“Realize this and you will realize the end of the reign of power your own internal, personal abuse system has over you that is trying to keep you down. Looking at the unconscious self in this way, it is just like an external abuse situation – as the abused you take it because you believe it’s true and you deserve it. Realize it isn’t true and that you don’t deserve it and the power the abuser has over you goes away.”
What we often don’t realize is that we are often our own worst abusers. We have internalized so many beliefs about homosexuality. Unconsciously, we tell ourselves that we are bad, we are immoral, we are corrupt, we are less than. We then punish ourselves because of these unconscious beliefs and live our lives controlled by the fears that these beliefs generate.
If, however, I can strive to become conscious of these beliefs and fears as I encounter situations in which they arise, then I can begin to dissolve their power. Nutter writes:
“If you come from a state of fear, that is what you will engender in others. Your whole point in coming out is to leave fear behind, so why in the world would you couch your freedom from fear in fear? Though being afraid will make sense to your internal abuser trying to keep you in the prison of fear and pain, it does not make sense to a conscious mind always working for liberation into sanity, opportunity and love.”
I have found these concepts tremendously enlightening as I myself continue my journey out, as I confront situations that challenge my sense of self as a gay man, as I strive to unravel negative thoughts, perceptions and fears. I also find these same concepts applicable to other areas of my life where I have too often let my unconscious fears control my destiny. In this respect, as I pointed out a week ago, being gay is a gift. I intend to embrace it and use it.