Integration of Social and Sexual Identities for Gay Men

If you think back to when you were in the closet, you may remember how important it seemed to keep your feelings of attraction hidden. Alternatively, your mind may have protected you from the stress of hiding by repressing your sexual feelings, making them unknown to yourself. Significant anxiety typically accompanies either hiding or repressing sexual feelings, due to the fear that others might detect and judge your true desires, or that those desires that a part of you deemed unacceptable might break through into your conscious awareness.

Once your personality has become organized around a split between sexuality and social identity, the mere act of coming out does not automatically put the pieces back together, nor diminish the anxiety associated with the intersection of your social identity and sexual feelings. The persistence of a divided self can interfere with both social and romantic relationships.

In social situations, the mention of sexuality can feel awkward and anxiety provoking. Relationships with friends, coworkers, and family may suffer or never acquire sufficient depth by virtue of the anxiety and pressure related to managing impressions.

Being divided this way can have a chilling effect on dating and relationships because fear, shame, and repression may continue to interfere with experiencing yourself and being known to others as a sexual person. This can result in a very sterile form of dating or a highly sexual mode of relating without the ability to connect on an emotional, intimate level.

Going through life with a split between your sexual feelings and your social identity can make it feel like you are two different people, depending on the social context. Psychotherapy can help integrate these facets of your identity into a cohesive whole. The focus is typically multifaceted, including examination of the past, present, and an experiential focus within the working relationship.

Past focus. Together we may examine how the split between your social and sexual selves formed. When you recognize that hiding a part of yourself was necessary at one time to adapt to past circumstances, but no longer is necessary today, it can become easier to relax and let yourself be known in a more complete way.

Present focus. Increasing your awareness of how the split between your social and sexual identities manifests in your life today can help you start to bring these parts of yourself together.

Experiential focus. The working relationship between therapist and client can be a powerful medium of change. Within the here-and-now process of the psychotherapy hour, we may notice times where anxiety, repression, impression management, and other artifacts of a divided self may occur within our interactions. As you start to become more comfortable with being known in a more integrated way within the therapeutic relationship, the increase in  integration usually starts to generalize to other relationships in your life, leading to greater intimacy and less anxiety.

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