This One Word Makes Gay Men Cringe
When I started working with gay men in the mental health field, I noticed a phenomenon that puzzled me at first.
I’d hear gay men say things like:
• “I want to be kinder to myself.”
• “I want to love myself more.”
• “I beat myself up all the time, I want to change that.”
So we’d talk about how this challenge was showing up for them, and get a good understanding of the issue (or so I thought).
Inevitably, the conversation would get to:
“So how can I actually be kinder to myself?”
And so I’d gently say:
“Well, have you heard of something called self-compassion?”
More times than not, it was as though I’d just said the most vile phrase that I could concoct.
Across from me I’d see crossed arms, a pained face, and a physical recoil that was only stopped by the person’s chair.
I’d also tend to hear a scoff, followed by a response like:
“Well, yes… but what’s the use in just patting yourself on the back?!”
So I’d think to myself:
“Ah, my mistake was that I didn’t provide a definition of self-compassion first.”
So I’d say:
“Ah, well, I mean something a bit different. What I mean by self-compassion is simply a sensitivity to your own suffering, with a commitment to try to alleviate and prevent it.”
More scoffing and recoiling followed by something like:
“Suffering? Sensitivity? I don’t see how being ‘sensitive’ or whining helps with this.”
Eventually I realized my “sales pitch” for self-compassion was totally off.
I had a realization:
I was trying to jump over a wall with clients that neither of us had explicitly acknowledged was there, and then landing squarely on my ass when I hit that wall.
I wasn’t spending enough time respecting and understanding the very important function of this wall with clients.
We first needed to talk to the guards at the gate in the wall and understand why the wall was there before they let us in through the gate.
Understanding the wall:
You see, a lot of gay men grew up with the implicit or explicit message that it was not okay to be gay. Because to be gay meant that you were “less than.”
To offset this low sense of self-worth, many gay men strived to be the “best little boy in the world.” In other words, they strived to be perfect.
And to be the best little boy in the world, they learned that you definitely can’t:
• Be “sensitive” / “overemotional”
• Feel upset / hurt
• Need help
• Make mistakes / not know something
Ultimately, the message (wall) a lot of gay men internalized was that it’s unacceptable to be upset or for anything to go awry.
This isn’t necessarily just a thought though, it’s also a feeling: a deep sense that it’s wrong to not feel okay.
There’s nothing intentional about this internalization, so there’s no need to add on another layer of shame.
But it is something to get curious about.
Let’s try that again:
If you’ve read this far, let’s try an experiment. Get yourself in a comfortable position and give yourself a few minutes without any distractions.
Read out the following words and try to get curious about whatever thoughts, emotions, and/or feelings in your body come up for you:
Pause, look inside yourself, and reflect on what you notice for a few minutes.
Okay. What did you notice? What did you learn?
If you’d like some additional help with being kinder to yourself without repeatedly hitting a wall, click the button below to get started. 🙂
MA, CCC, RCC
As a counsellor at The Centre for Gay Counselling, Jordan excels at helping fellow gay men understand their emotions better, heal from past trauma, and grow their sense of self-worth so that they can enjoy living fully as themselves. He believes that gay men have inherent worth, and that they deserve to live fulfilling lives. Interested in working with Jordan? Click the button below to get started.