My Boss, My Parent

Originally posted by Merle at PSYCHED Magazine

man-throwing-son-in-water.jpg

The boss employee/relationship is inherently problematic.  Being an employee makes you dependent in much the same way a child depends on its parents. What most people do not take into account is that their relationship with their parents usually is an overlay of their relationship with their boss.

Childhoods are a laboratory for children to make sense out of the world. From the moment they are born, babies, then children and then young adults strive to make sense out of all the data that is coming at them. All of these unfamiliar experiences are labeled and categorized in that vast database of the mind, to be pulled out later to either validate or revise our beliefs about the world.

Growing up in our families, we come to believe that what we experience at home is how all relationships work, this is how all people treat each other and this is what is normal. So we take all this stored “data” of early life experience into school, the workplace, our romantic lives and relationships and use it as the template to make sense out of what is happening in our daily lives.

It’s sad to say that most families are not role models for mental health or healthy relationships. Most people get little to no training in raising children and usually bring their parent’s style into the equation. Or conversely, people may be consciously trying *not* to copy their parents when raising their own children.

So what does this have to do with the boss/employee relationship? Because we are dependent on our bosses in much the same way our parents were, we overlay the relationship with our parents onto the one with our bosses. And so the fun begins.

For example, if John had a “helicopter mother”, over-involved and interfering with his path to self-reliance and problem solving, then the employee is probably going to be lost without someone telling them what to do, and when and how to do it.

While there are micro-manager bosses out there, more than a few, most managers have too much work of their own to have the time to constantly direct each employee’s activities. So the over-mothered employee becomes lost, and the boss thinks they are incompetent.  In reality, the employee had just not learned the skills to be functional and operate independently.

Another response to over-involved or intrusive parents is to be anti-authoritarian. Suzanne for example reacts to anyone telling her what to do with internal tension, anger and even rage. This can be problematic in the workplace and consciously, may make no sense in the actual situation.  But those pesky feelings keep getting in the way. Suzanne might even understand the boss is just doing their job, but it pisses her off nonetheless.

As I often tell my clients, this is not a thinking problem it is a FEELING problem. Any situation that unconsciously recreates the parent-child relationship is going to cause the same emotional response.

If you could not trust anything your mother told you, or if either parent was not really there for you, this emotional response is very likely to be recreated in the workplace.

No one gets out of childhood unscathed. We all have wounds and deficits. I often say that families are the therapist’s guarantee of full employment. But it is not necessary to be trapped in your prior family dynamic and relive it over and over. Of course, therapy is one option. Another is learning a characterological system like the Enneagram. It is an excellent tool to help understand the child frame of reference you are set with and how to break out of it, so that relationships are truly about the present situation.  With this understanding, you can see how the other, whether in work or life, is probably operating out of their childhood reality.

As romantic relationships will draw us to reenact our family dynamics, we often are drawn to work situations that mirror our families’ dynamics. So until we get a conscious viewpoint of what’s happening and work through the original family issues, it is common to recreate it over and over until we do.

So the next time you are stuck in a difficult workplace situation with a boss or co-worker, look for the parallels to the dynamics of your childhood and ask, how is this the same and how does it differ?

Election Anxiety

July 1, 2017

The article below was written in attempt to help people dealing with all the raw emotions and aggression that were breaking out in the midst of an election campaign that was just getting started, when the result was far from known.

Sadly, there is very little to change about what was advised about “a season” over a year ago, since the situation has actually worsened. The rawness of public discourse and the sense of uncertainty about the future have only grown.

What is necessary is that you take care of yourself and not lose perspective. Another election will come and there will be another chance to have your voice heard.

Politics and life are a marathon, not a sprint. Take care of yourself.


March 07, 2016

The unusual USA presidential election season is having an impact on people around the world. It is increasing anxiety for people both in the USA as well as in other countries. It is a major topic of conversation. People inside and outside the USA, especially where I have been traveling Latin America, wonder if we have lost our collective mind. And the answer is, yes.

Anxiety develops when there is an uncertain outcome. In past elections, where there might have been big political differences, there was still a similarity in how the political system was viewed and used. In this election season, all of the previously accepted norms seem to have been tossed out the window. No one, especially on the Republican side, has any idea what is going to happen. Someone has taken the deck of 52 cards and two Jokers and tossed it into the air; where the cards will land is anyone’s guess.

SO HOW IS THIS PUBLIC BRAWL IMPACTING PEOPLE?

It is similar to a slow motion train wreck. Everyone knows it is going to be ugly but, they can’t take their eyes off of it. Frozen in horror and fascination at the same time.

But it increases anxiety. Watching a 90-minute horror movie will also increase your anxiety, but at least you know it is “only a movie” and it is going to end, so the end does not really matter. Neither of those applies with the election of the President of the United States. We will have to live with the consequences. As a result, people are acting strangely. Even for a political season, there is a great deal of candidate-bashing and extreme positions taken by otherwise seemingly intelligent people in private/public conversations on Facebook. Friends are being un-friended. Families are battling. All over what *might* happen. It has certainly brought into the open the undertow of frustration about the deadlock in our political and government life.

Now that the 'genie’ has been let out of the bottle, is it possible to put it back? Can we or do we want to return to being a civil society? Time will tell.

WHAT I BELIEVE WILL HAPPEN AS A CONSEQUENCE IS:

-An increased number of marriages and divorces: People may either leave unhappy marriages or leave their own isolation to choose marriage. Either decision can reflect an attempt to increase a sense of safety or control, as in “I don’t have to do this or face this alone,” or “I am better off dealing with this alone.”

-An increase in suicides or attempts: People who are suicidal are already in a great deal of internal pain. Our nation is now reflecting its shared pain externally and that can push some people over the edge to suicide, because there will be no relief or sanctuary from the pain inside. If they turn on the TV or internet, it's still there. As relationships are strained by the continued conflict about people’s beliefs and ideals, it can also increase the isolation of people who are already feeling isolated.

-Family/Friendship Fractures: Religion and politics are two of the most divisive things that people can talk about. This election season offers plenty of both, to debate. As a result, families and friends across the spectrum who have maintained  a ‘don’t ask/don’t tell’ relationship about areas of strong disagreement will often find the pressure of the current environment simply too much to keep silent. Just as there is clearly a political realignment in our country going on, this could easily accelerate personal and family realignments as well.

WHAT CAN YOU DO ABOUT IT?

Reduce your time spent on reading about and watching the election. After 9/11, people watched video of the Twin Towers coming down, again and again, and thus became more traumatized than they needed to be. Take your eyes off the train wreck. Whether you watch it or not, it is going to happen. Less is more: more perspective, less trauma from watching all the silliness of the season.

Spent time reading largely neutral websites (not TV) that use fact checking to help keep a sense of reality about what is real and not.:The Washington Post, Politico, the Guardian and BBC, for example.

Do some good: Get away from the TV and volunteer. Make a donation to an animal shelter or the food bank. Do something that contributes to making this a better world.

The upside of all of this is that when truths are told and pain is exposed, even if it is ugly, there is the potential for healing. Until we face our own truths and pain, we cannot begin to examine the bigger truths and heal the pain of our society.

The downside is the loss of relationships that might be inevitable in this conflictual process. Perhaps they were not healthy relationships to begin with, and people were holding on to them for the wrong reason. There is an opportunity to be freer and in healthier relationships with people who are more aligned with who they are.

So the imagined consequences of today's increased anxiety may be real, but hopefully healing and growth will still be a positive result of this unusual season.

Weak Gods

March 22, 2015

When I hear about people being killed or threatened by people enraged that they had insulted their God, I am amazed that these people would worship such a weak God. An entity that created all of this is incapable of taking care of himself? He needs us lowly humans to defend and hold people accountable for their disrespect or disbelief? How can that be true?

Of course, it is not true. Any entity that is capable of creating everything can handle people that don’t like him, her or it. Isn’t that what the final judgement is supposed to be about? Meeting your maker and then getting their judgement?

What I think “blasphemy” or just “the attack on religion” is really about is the believers themselves. True believers, meaning those who force their beliefs onto other aggressively, have a very fragile internal sense of who they are, or even none at all. Meaning that when they close their eyes, there is no one home there inside. They are empty. So they fill that space with drugs, alcohol, food, music, and there are endless distractions from that emptiness. Using religion, or one’s interpretation of religion as a personal support in public space is a very old stand by and is socially acceptable in mixed company, particularly for those who swear they had “overcome” an out-of-control, destructive phase of life

If a person relies only on their religion to organize their internal sense of being, then anything that threatens that organization or those beliefs is also a threat to them. "Your attack on my religion is an attack on me." They have no way of separating the two aspects.

Society tends to let the fanatic get by with this by-pass (avoidance of the lack of self) because we are not really willing to call people out on their nonsense, since it is cloaked in the acceptability of religious fervor. It can be dangerous. There are sick people hiding behind religion because they have no real sense of themselves. That makes them dangerous on many levels. There are people guilty substituting a religion for a lack of self in all religions. This is not just an East or West issue; it permeates all cultures and is a miss use of religion that feels like it is consuming our progress and rational thinking. Not all religious leaders are narcissistic; not all followers are mindless, but there are plenty of them.

The next time you see or hear someone threatening or violent in defense of their GOD, just know, they are in a lot of pain.

Vacations Vs Trips

December 12, 2014

There are many articles about how American workers receive and take much less time off from work than our European counterparts. Why this is so, and what to do about it, is for another article. There seems to be a lot of confusion about the difference between a trip and a vacation, however. 

A trip would be going to the Vatican and wanting to see as much of Rome as you can in the 3-10 days you have there. Very scheduled. All about how much you can do and experience. It is busy and outwardly focused. 

A vacation is going somewhere and stopping everything. No schedule, no agenda aside from doing what you want, when you want to, at that moment. A vacation is leisurely and slow. It is about remembering and reconnecting to oneself. 

Many, if not most people use the terms interchangeably. I see them as quite different. I understand the desire to make the best use of your time away from work. Taking in new experiences. Americans especially get precious little time off, and they certainly don’t use all the time they are entitled to. Wanting to change one’s environment and be distracted is certainly important at times. And trips can be fun. What they generally are not is relaxing and renewing. I have seen many people come back from a trip exhausted. They ran around taking it all in, but never rested. In trying so hard to get the most out of the time away, they come back even more depleted.

It takes time for the body to stop, to unwind and begin the process of renewal. In my experience, real renewal only begins with about 10 days off. At that point, the mind has cleared, the body is no longer sleep- deprived and there is a connection to self restored that has been long lost in the rush of daily life. Meditation is one of the ways that people stay connected to self, but vacation is still necessary to remove the distractions, to catch up on rest and to remove the ever-present fatigue that most people live with as normalcy. 

When we are at rest, our creativity can come online. We get clarity about our wants and needs when we are removed from the needs and wants of others. It is like coming home and remembering who we are. 

I often suggest to my clients who are parents that at least once a quarter, they take a weekend (or more) to themselves. They should have someone take care of the kids, go away, check into a hotel or go camping by themselves to just stop, and especially stop caring for everyone else. They should pay attention to their needs and be selfish for a few days. It is renewing and allows for staying the course without the need for the body to force a halt through illness or injury. Even while they are not able to take a real vacation, those who parent face a multi-year and usually a couple of decade’s process of giving up their needs for others. 

I know plenty of people that shudder at the idea of stopping. They are convinced that it would drive them crazy. There is a difference between being distracted and being active. A person who is used to an active lifestyle may very much need to exercise, hike, swim, etc. This is fine if it is done as the body tells you its needs and the activity is not used to distract from the self or your feelings. 

Too many people stay busy, exhausted, high or drunk or still connected to work even on vacation, so as to not have to feel what is going on inside of themselves. While a true vacation will not solve their underlying problems, it is a beginning for perhaps finding a different relationship with the self. Getting to clarity about what you feel can change your life for the better. 

Going to see family is a trip, not a vacation. There are too many agendas and complicated relationships with families for most people to find that kind of visit truly relaxing. I am sure there is the rare family for whom gathering together feels like, and is, a vacation. But for most, it is not.

Again, trips can be wonderful. It is important to experience other cultures, history, play and see the world. Just don't mistake those for a vacation. 

Time being alone, time with no agenda, time to stop is the key to remembering yourself. It makes life a lot more livable and can even bring more joy and happiness. 

Gynecomastia and its psychological impact

June 23, 2014

By Merle Yost LMFT

When a man or boy discovers they are afflicted by gynecomastia, it often has a major psychological impact on their emotional being and sense of self. We are highly cultured to believe that breasts belong on women. Anything looking like breasts means is supposed to be a female characteristic. While there is a subset of men who find having female-like characteristics exciting or pleasurable, the majority of males find it antithetical to their sense of being male.

For those dealing with it at adolescent onset, gynecomastia happens at the worst possible moment. The boy is just starting to mature; the deepening of his voice, the increased hair growth and suddenly his chest is doing something strange, something unexpected and certainly unwanted. It confuses him. At first he wonders if he is sick or if there is something wrong with him. Until recently, he was in a world of isolation. The Internet has provided possible answers and reduces isolation. But it is likely that it is much too shameful to really talk to anyone about it.


Watch an online workshop for men diagnosed with gynecomastia:

Watch Bumps On The Road >


For most boys and girls, the changing body is deeply private. The more education that a parent provides, the easier it is to move through this transition to physical adulthood. If there is an open relationship with the parents, a boy can talk about what is happening. Unfortunately for most, gynecomastia is an unfamiliar condition and parents them self may be alarmed, dismissiveng or even humiliating when faced with the problem. Fathers and sometimes mothers can even reject a son that who somehow does not match their internalized picture of what a boy/man should be or look like.

Because of this feared rejection, many boys will suffer in silence. They will may retreat from family, friends, social and athletic activities out of a fear of being discovered they areas being somehow less of a man. At the very time it would be useful to reach out for support from trusted people, it does not happen and this can begin initiate a life long pattern of social isolation and distrust.

For most boys, this fear of rejection or humiliation from family is not based on reality. Most parents want their kids to be happy. They will do what they can with whatever means that they can to resolve the issue. Because most parents have limited knowledge about gynecomastia, they will defer to their doctor, who may or may not have much more information than the parents.

From a psychological perspective, it is important to take the feelings of these young men seriously. He is will be taking a huge risk and being incredibly vulnerable to expose something so personal. It is important that his risk be honored and dealt with in a serious way. Jokes, diminishing it as fantasy or the condition being some how not important is really damaging to a young man’s self-esteem and body consciousness.

Adult onset gynecomastia is a very different experience for most men. They have had a long time to be familiar with their male bodies. Hopefully the adult male has come to some terms with his masculinity and is emotionally secure. Thus the development of gynecomastia can be just another change to be accepted or changed, but it is not a reflection or diminishing of his manhood. If a man is not secure, it can be devastating and provide another reason for self-loathing and criticism.

While surgery is a cure for the physical condition, gynecomastia may bring to light some emotional concerns that need to be addressed. Boys and men can find an external feature that they can focus on that becomes the cause of their internal pain. There were studies showing that vets coming back from war with physical injuries did better than some that did not. If there is a physical wound, then there is justification to acknowledge pain; if it is inside, then it cannot be acknowledged or justified.

Changing the body is an important part of healing for many men and boys, but it is often not the only issue. There needs to be attention paid to the healing of the mind as well.

PERSONAL PICTURES OF MERLE YOST BEFORE AND AFTER SURGERIES.


Gynecomastia In The Press

Read the latestselected press articles relating to gynecomastia here.
Links are to the online article when available.
[PDF] is archived article in PDF format.

New York Times A Surgeon Who Caters to Men's Concerns (Oct 31, 2008)

Newsweek Why Some Men Grow Breasts - [PDF]

USN&WR: Boys Who Grow Breasts: What They Can Do (Sep 19, 2007) - [PDF]

USN&WR: He Carried a Burden on His Chest (Sep 19, 2007) - [PDF]

Web MD: Male Breast Enlargement May Be Common (Sep 19, 2007) - [PDF]

People Magazine: One Boy's Private Shame (Sep 3, 2007) - [PDF]

Kansas City Star: Males Are Turning To Reduction Surgery (Jul 30, 2007)

Out Now Magazine: A Man With Natural Female Breasts (Jul, 2007) - [PDF]

NY Daily News: Bye-bye breasts, hello wonderful new life (Apr 7, 2007) - [PDF]

Times Online Life & Style: How I got rid of my 'moobs' (Feb 5, 2007) - [PDF]

Yahoo News: Male Cosmetic Surgery (Jan 14, 2007) - [PDF]

Star Tribune: Hormone imbalances and medications... (Oct 10, 2006) - [PDF]

Contra Costa Times: The Metamorphosis (Sep 25, 2006) - [PDF]

National Geographic News interviews Merle Yost (Aug 11, 2006) - [PDF]

Now Magazine: My breasts made my life hell (Oct 13, 2004) - [PDF]

LA Times: When men's chests cause shame (Dec 8, 2003)

MSN Sympatico: Teen boys struggling with gynecomastia (Nov 6, 2003) - [PDF]

Details Magazine: Are Your Breasts Bigger Than Hers? [cover]

National Post: Interview with Merle Yost (2002) - [PDF]

 


Gynecomastia - Merle Yost

Australian TV documentary clip about gynecomastia and Merle Yost's experience with his second surgery.

My Boob's and Me

A segment on gynecomastia featuring Merle.

TV News Clip on Breast Reduction

North CarolinaTV news clip from WLOS-TV in Asheville, NC about gynecomastia and breast reduction surgery, interviewing Merle Yost of gynecomastia.org. See http://www.gynecomastia.org

 

Counseling vs. Psychotherapy, or a Rationale for the Transformational Work of Psychotherapy

 

I do a lot of training of new therapists and when I meet them, I have discovered that many do not really understand the difference between counseling and psychotherapy. Much of what passes for psychotherapy is actually counseling. Unfortunately, most are not educated to know the difference. If therapists don't know the difference, how are consumers supposed to know? I will try to make some distinctions here so people seeking help will understand the difference and be better informed.

Counseling:

The counselor's main goal is to make the clients feel better. He rarely challenges them outside of very restricted parameters. The counselor works hard to make sure the clients like him. He does not dig into the past in a way that would be painful; he is less interested in the past and more interested in stopping any bad or destructive current behavior. As in addiction counseling, there is an underlying fear that going too deep will cause relapse, and thus destroy any fragile recovery. There is a lot of advice giving and varying amounts of psycho-education.

Psychotherapy:

Psychotherapy includes all of the above, and also includes the underpinning philosophy that healing requires uncovering the underlying pain/trauma that is causing the dysfunction. Also, there is less focus on making sure the clients like the therapist. Of course, there should be a good therapeutic alliance. However, the therapist must be willing to take risks for healing to happen. Going into the pain, especially its source is essential if transformation is to take place.

So, the job of the psychotherapist is to assist the clients into going deep inside themselves, to help reconnect to those downloaded beliefs and values, especially the ones that are at odds with other parts of themselves and their goals. Also, the psychotherapist helps clients get to the over broad conclusions, reached so long ago, that are keeping them from receiving or getting love. This takes time and the willingness to assist the clients into going in to the pain and staying long enough to transform it into something new.

Rationale:

A child has two primary tasks growing up. One is to absorb the love of her parents so she feels secure in the world. The second task is to make sense of the world; to take all the data she encounters and organize them into a workable interface with the world.

A child is formed in the container of the parents' relationship. The parents' relationship is his model for being in a relationship, and his individual relationship with each parent is the model for being in relationship with others of that gender. Also, how a child ingrains the love that the parent offers is key to how he looks for love and loves himself.

As a baby, the child swallows everything that is put into her mouth because she is too young to know or understand what is good or bad for her. She does the same with values and beliefs from family and society. These swallowed beliefs and values make up a large part of the organization that she uses to understand the world and make sense of it.

Experience is the other big teacher for a child. If a child burns his finger on the stove, he learns that this is not a good thing to do. Unfortunately a child often makes overly broad conclusions from these experiences before he has enough information to make generalizations about the world. For instance, a 4-year-old boy does not get to wear the shirt that he really wanted to wear. He concludes that he never gets what he wants or that his mother does not love him because he is unlovable. From an adult perspective, both conclusions are silly, but to a child with limited experiences, they make sense and can easily become the foundation for how he sees the world and his place in it.

Therapist and client get to spend a lot of time looking at those early models for relationships, to reexamine the ideas of what relationships of all types really look like. This often means letting go of a lot of fantasies about how relationships work.

Psychotherapy takes time, it takes a lot of trust and it takes willingness to face and work through pain. A psychotherapist is a guide and companion on that journey. The results can be rewarding but like most things that are good for us, there is pain involved.

In my experience, psychotherapists that have done a lot of work on themselves are much more likely to do psychotherapy rather than just counseling.

Conclusion:

If a therapist is not willing to assist in going into the pain and trauma, he probably is a counselor. If you want a counselor rather than a psychotherapist, that is certainly okay, as long as you are aware of the differences and set your expectations accordingly.

While a counselor may make you feel good, healing will not be as easy to achieve. I will use the analogy of Swedish massage vs. physical therapy. One will make you feel good briefly, while the other addresses the underlying issues and will likely cause pain while solving the problem, rather than just masking it temporarily.

Men With Herpes

Introduction

Why have I chosen to focus an entire section on gay men with herpes? On the net there is a lot of consolidated information about having herpes. Not much of it is specifically about gay men with herpes and even less on lesbians with herpes. So I have decided to put together a resource guide for gay men that will help them explore the issues specific to them. I think many will get a lot out of it, but it is intentionally directed toward gay men and men that have sex with men.

I hope that you find this part of my site useful.

Now That You Know

 

“Hey doc, this odd rash on my dick (ass or my sore throat) just won’t go away. What is wrong? Do I need an antibiotic?”


Watch an online workshop for men just diagnosed with Herpes:


“No, you have herpes, everyone does, so just forget about it and don’t have sex when you have an outbreak.”

 

This is a typical conversation that many men have with their doctors. The guy is just pushed out of the office and the doctor goes on as if he just told him the sky is blue. For many men it seems that is fine and they never think more about it. For others it is a devastating loss of purity, cleanliness, and sexual viability.

Many ads on the Internet and profiles, say “Disease Free” or “Clean” and UB2. Few people who engage in sex with more than one lifetime partner are disease free and will certainly not stay that way. There are way too many STD’s that you can get through casual sexual contact that may or may not have any external or visible signs.

HPV has over 200 varieties, some of which cause cancer in women and some have been linked to cancer of the throat in men. HSV I and II can appear anywhere on the body. Given how long they have been around there is surprisingly little that is really known, and there is no cure for them.

HSV I better known as oral herpes is increasingly being diagnosed both anally and on the genitals. HSV II is commonly known as genital herpes is very common in the throats of gay men. If you are going to be sexually active it is part of the risk, like any of the common STD’s. What is different is that herpes sticks around.

Getting an HSV diagnosis is not the end of the world. For men who have a conscience and who attempt to do no harm it can be devastating. Gay men have lived with the threat of HIV for so long and the stigma that goes with it that getting an HSV diagnosis can feel like the same kind of life-ending or at least sex-ending forecast. Feeling toxic is common. It is also not true. If so, then 80-90% of the US population is toxic. You are in good company and being honest with yourself and others is important and healing.

Indeed there is a similar process of acceptance that a man diagnosed with HIV and HSV go through. I have adapted the classic Kübler-Ross stages for men with HSV.

Stages of Acceptance

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross (1969) concluded that people progress through the following five stages when facing their own possible death or other important emotional losses.

The stages are denial, bargaining, guilt, anger, and acceptance. There is no particular order to these stages, although they can follow an ordered pattern. These can be applied to an HSV diagnosis and may help an individual understand why they are feeling or acting in a particular way.

Denial

This isn't happening to me, it can't happen, it's not true. For you and for many others recently diagnosed with HSV, impulsive assertions that the test must be wrong, or a mix-up of test results would be a natural and normal first reaction. In most cases you would seek additional testing, just as you would seek second medical opinions. In time, after additional tests were conducted, and the tests continued to produce positive results, some acceptance would hopefully begin to take place.

Some issues of acceptance are choices in antiviral drug use, episodic or suppressive, and/or support services.

Bargaining

As people with an incurable condition come to terms with their situation, they may create bargaining strategies with their personal god or a high power or themselves.

I will never have sex again if this just goes away. I will stop having gay sex. I won’t get fucked any more.

A MAN FACING EMOTIONS AFTER BEING DIAGNOSED WITH HERPES

All of these have to do with some manner of shame/guilt about sex and or gay sex in particular. This in the best case will help a gay man resolve any unconfronted issues about being gay and/or gay sex.

(Suggested reading: The Velvet Rage by Alan Downs)

Anger

Why is this happening to me? I hate this world and all the people in it! I hate my life and myself. Anger can display itself in acting out behaviors that can take on the form of acting out excess behaviors. Overeating, indiscriminate sexual interactions, and impulsive and aggressive behaviors toward others can all be indicators of anger. Anger is okay, but hurting others is not. This is a disease, and it's not a just, fair world. HSV does not pick or choose and it does not discriminate.

These acting out behaviors can result in isolation. We all need social interactions. HSV support groups -- there are a few around -- are a great way to talk to others that truly understand and to hear others peoples’ journeys.

One view of depression is that it anger turned inward.

Depression/Guilt/Shame

Poor me, I will never have sex again. Everyone experiences depression now and then, some more than others. We have a tendency as people to try to blame it on something. Herpes is convenient just like being too bald, or having too short of a dick etc. There is always something to blame it on.

There are many ways to deal with depression, such as exercise, talking with others, talking with an understanding professional. Working on the underlying causes of feeling bad about ones self is always useful. A little depression is useful. A lot of depression is not. If you get really low and/or really isolated, then get some help, professional or otherwise.

Acceptance

I have herpes, my life and sex life will continue. I cannot be as unconscious about sex as perhaps I would like, but I am okay, I will experience sex and love in the future. It is a virus; it does not make me a bad person. I am not dirty and I will not infect everyone I come into contact with. I am a healthy normal man.

Rules of the Sex Game

These are what I consider to be the current rules that most gay men of any conscience act under as they navigate the sex game in the gay community. Not everyone operates by these rules.

  1. Just Say No

    If you have an outbreak or feel one coming on; do not have sexual contact until the tingling sensation is gone or the lesions are completely healed.

  2. Don't Tell, But Answer

    Casual hook ups you don't know and are not likely to have further contact with, let alone name exchange, you don't bring it up, but if asked you tell the truth.

  3. If Wait, Then Tell

    Men who are potential partners, boy friends or even friends, you disclose up front.

Rejection

Disclosing that you have HSV can lead to rejection. I have known some guys so hot that no one rejects them, but that is the extreme exception. People get rejected for all kinds of reasons. Most men seem to want to be unconscious about sex and telling them that you have herpes makes you and the sex too real. It moves it out of the fantasy spectrum. So what you will have really been guilty of is destroying the fantasy and that is the reason for the rejection. If they reject you because of it, they are not really interested in you. I think that you deserve someone that is really interested in you if you are going to put the time and effort in to having sex with them.

Move on to the next one. Take heart that you can look at yourself in the mirror and sleep well.

Links of Interest

A Social Work Perspective

Stats

Support Groups

General Information

Dating Sites

Gay Specific Information

HPV Information

Bi/Gay Heterosexually Married Men

Many years ago (more than I sometimes want to admit) when I was an intern, I posted an ad in a throw-away local newspaper for a coming out group for gay men. I was overwhelmed with the number of bi and gay heterosexually married men who were looking for help in dealing with their feelings that they most desperately wanted to go away.

Watch The Sex Addiction Myth >

The power to change sexual orientation is not within the ability of a psychotherapist or even an individual. Coming to terms with who you are is the challenge. Some of these men leave their wives and many do not. Each must choose the path he can live with.

There are many bi and gay men in marriages and heterosexual relationships. Craigslist is heavily populated by them in the "men seeking men" categories. The gay community has been dramatically impacted by formerly married men. I have heard estimates as high as 80% of the AIDS generation has died, and the men that were heterosexually married missed the initial onslaught of the epidemic. Thus, I believe there are a disproportionate number of them in the current gay community.

Brokeback Mountain was a watershed movie for many of these men, because they saw their story and for the first time, many felt they were not alone.

This part of my website is an attempt to share some of the knowledge that I have gained over the years working with this part of the population, in hopes of making the journey easier for the men who are trying to come to terms with themselves now.

The article I have written is largely a 12 page outline of the book I have always wanted to write on the subject. Perhaps I will someday, but for now, I hope that you find it helpful.

Coming to terms with being gay or bi and coming out

Internalized homophobia is the biggest issue for bi and gay heterosexually married men. They have spent a lifetime being who others wanted them to be. In an attempt to fit in and be accepted by society, they have rejected who they are. To be gay or even bi, and out, would make them unacceptable to themselves and society as they see it.

In most cultures, shame and guilt are a large part of sexuality. Shame is feeling badly about who we are, while guilt is feeling badly about what we have done or want to do. For most, there is an overlap between shame/guilt and sex/sexuality as they are deeply intertwined. To be out as a gay or bi man, some of that shame and or guilt must be addressed and worked through.

The Internet, tea rooms (public bathrooms where men have sex), bathhouses, and adult bookstores are full of men that have not come to terms with their sexuality or shame. They are lost in their erotic feelings of sex, while desperately trying to avoid any real intimacy that would force them to really look at themselves and accept who they are. Burying the shame of being gay will only bring more pain as they make poor choices in partners or do other things that are self-punishing.

Spending time alone and being engaged in the community are both required to move through the process of redefining who they are as men, humans and gay. It takes time and feeling to move through the self-loathing and self hate. To be healthy sexually and emotionally, it is necessary to move beyond just the erotic as the motivation for male-to-male sex, on to love as the foundation of being gay.

Too many guys want the fun of gay sex without any of the work of gay relationships. They cannot really comprehend a gay relationship, because have been socialized to believe that marriage or other serious relationships require a woman. To be in a wrong relationship (by sexual orientation) also means a lack of profound sexual attraction or excitement. Gay men can have sex with women, just as straight men have been having sex with men forever, but it is not the same as sex with the appropriate gender for a man’s sexual orientation. I believe that in part, it has to do with the age-old issue for men: the separation of sex and intimacy. Men are not socialized to combine the two. It is sometimes called the whore/Madonna complex. "Sex is dirty and therefore not to be done with someone I love." I think more often this is the result of emotional incest by the mother, and when someone gets very close emotionally, all or most sexual desire dissipates. If your model for intimacy is a parent who has consumed and overwhelmed you, then being loved is a bad thing since you risk being consumed and overwhelmed. By staying on a solely erotic or sexualized level, the risks of real intimacy are minimized.

Men who are coming out of a marriage rush out and look for their fantasy man/boy. They are in the heat of adolescent lust, and mistake that for love and rush into a relationship. I have seen too many men who start to come out, find the "perfect" young man who fulfills all their fantasies, at least on a physical level, and think that they have fallen in love. They invest time, and often a lot of money, into keeping the boy. (I am using "boy" as the description of a younger man in an older/younger relationship between two males of legal age.) Most of these dalliances end in sadness if not tragedy. I have heard from many who have blown a huge amount, if not all, of their retirement savings on this sort of "love." Eventually, they retreat back into the closet or make huge generalizations about what it means to be gay, thereby solidifying their internalized homophobia. They run away, and stop trying and growing.

It is the equivalent of being three and stubbing your toe on a door. This experience causes you to decide that all doors are dangerous, and you are never going through one again. The journey of coming out really begins when you start telling people who you really are, and facing possible rejection because of it. This coming out is a rite of passage for an "out" gay man, and it is one that was avoided by men who got married and have played the "fit in and belong game."

Even for an adult, the beginning of the coming out process is in an adolescent mindset. Adolescents do not make the best decisions, and neither will a man coming out without information or guidance. Being gay or homosexual or queer is about the combination of love and sexual attraction. Sex and love is not about sexual orientation; it is about lust and sexual expression. As a man comes out, he enters that painful exciting stage of an adolescent. He is experiencing what many of his heterosexual peers did in junior high and high school. It is a process that, if short changed, is damaging to the man and any relationship he will enter into afterwards.

I strongly recommend that a man who was married to a woman wait at least two years after the divorce before getting into a serious relationship. That time is needed to reorganize one’s identity. Being in a relationship interrupts that process. We get to know ourselves best when we are alone. A serious relationship before the two-year maturation period is a distraction from oneself, especially in the beginning. Being gay is different from being straight. It is not just a matter of having a different hole to use. There is a very important process that must take place so that a man is able to fully be present in a relationship. A gay identity is not easy, especially for a man who is used to all the societal benefits of being heterosexually married.

There is healing from the divorce. There is financial recovery. There is the discovery of a different world. There is moving beyond an adolescent fantasy of every available sexual permutation. There is a new set of values that relate to a different paradigm. There is facing the self-hatred that comes from being gay in a straight world. And that process of discovery and healing never stops, but it does get much easier to face and deal with and can become an exciting part of being a live and growing.

Reasons Gay Guys Marry Women and/or Paths to delayed coming out

1) Kids/babies have one big job while growing up. They have to figure out how the world works. So they try to understand and make sense out of what they encounter and see. One of the big ways they do that is to swallow the values and beliefs that their families, teachers and society tell them about being an adult. The good kid who downloaded all the programming about who he was supposed to be in life is typical of a man who comes out late in life. Not being a questioning or introspective type of guy, he will either stumble over a guy that he falls in love with, or have a mid-life-like crisis. It will be at this point in his life that he finally figures out that he is unhappy. Suddenly, his life will not be fulfilling, and it is then that he really starts to search inside of himself and starts the process where he hopefully will figure out what is missing.

2) Some men acknowledge that they have had feelings for other boys and men while growing up, may have even had several sexual experiences, but feel that they cannot still be loved and be gay. They may continue to have sex on the side or not, but they feels like imposters as they act and do what is expected of them, even as they die inside.

3) Another possibility is that, as a boy, he was sexually abused. Whether he identified what happened as abuse or not, he uses those feelings as the basis for the belief that he would not be having those feelings towards men if it had not happened to him. This man is deeply ashamed and full of self-loathing. He desperately wants to be normal, and is angry about what was done to him as child and how it is keeping him from feeling/being normal.

4) Any and all of the above maybe tied to a religious belief that homosexuality is wrong. A common part of the self-hatred that makes up the core of how a gay man or boy may see himself is due to buying into the belief system that who one is, or what one does, is bad. While religion can and does play a positive role in many people’s lives, when a religion tells its believers to hate themselves for being who they are, it is criminal, and creates unnecessary pain in the world.

Feelings and Emotions

Throughout this section I will be addressing emotions and feelings. For some men this is a foreign concept. I believe that as a rule, men are not taught an emotional vocabulary as they grow up. If a man does not have an emotional vocabulary, then he cannot develop his emotions as a part of himself, and he is not going to be happy in any relationship. Society has made women the keeper of feelings, and both men and women, and especially relationships, have suffered as a consequence. Feelings start as a thought that is then felt in the body. Memories are feelings that are stored in the boy. Letting those feelings move through the body is the path to healing and release.

Feelings and emotions can feel good or bad, but they are never irrelevant or invalid. Trying to control them is usually a losing battle. Traditionally men have been taught to ignore and suppress their feelings. But a man’s job is to manage his emotions, and hopefully understand them so that he can learn more about himself and his experiences with others in the world. How we feel when we are with someone, even casually, tells us a great deal about him or her. Deciphering this puzzle, of "what does this response to them" mean, makes the experience of being in the world much easier.

Again, psychotherapy may be needed to assist in discovering the emotional self. It can speed up the journey and make the process easier. It can help to have an ally. The discovery, work, and feelings are the individual’s, but having a coach on the road will make the journey a lot less lonely and much faster.

Grieving your heterosexual life/identity

Coming out means potentially losing a lot. It is possible to lose one’s family (both immediate and extended), friends, home, job, etc. Coming out is never done without cost. At the very least, one’s self-image must be reinvented. This reinvention requires that part of one’s self-image must be changed, and part of that process is to grieve one or more losses. Each person grieves in his own way, but the stages of grief apply to most:

Denial: I am not different. This will be easy. Nothing will change except having sex with men rather than women. A relationship is a relationship, just different parts. No one needs to know, this is private.

Anger: This is not fair. This should not be happening to me. It messes up everything. People will not like me anymore. They will only see that I am gay and I can’t handle that. Why me? I did not ask for this. I don’t want it. I won’t do it.

Bargaining: I will only tell a few people. I will only have sex or be gay when I am out of town. I will only get sucked or do the fucking because that means I am not gay. I am not like that.

Depression: I don’t see a way to be happy. I can’t be gay. I can’t come out. I can’t stand this lie anymore. It is killing me. There is no happy ending for me.

Acceptance: It won’t be easy, but I will do what I have to do. I want to be happy; I want to be who I really am. I am worth it and people who love me will love me no matter what.

The loss can include loss of social status, loss of relatives and friends, loss of jobs, loss of church/religion, and loss of money. Each loss has its own process and consequence. Some men pay higher prices to be who they really are and live in integrity. For the vast majority, the journey is worth the price and they become much better, happier people. But it is crucial that the stages of grief be felt and expressed in whatever way is appropriate for each individual.

Paths through grief:

  • Writing/journaling
  • Meditation/prayer
  • Support groups
  • Psychotherapy/counseling
  • Reading others stories
  • Art
  • Physical expression of feelings

Celebrate

With every loss there is a gain. In this case, gains include a truer sense of self, rightness with being in the world, and most importantly, learning who really loves us for who we are, not who they thought we were or who they wanted us to be. So, be sure to celebrate the gains. It is like graduating. We should always take time to celebrate the good that comes, just as we need to acknowledge the losses.

Alone Time

Several times, I have mentioned the importance of being alone. At the end of any relationship, and especially the end of a long term one, it is imperative that time be taken to re-discover you. To be in any relationship requires that a certain amount of reorganization of an individual to be part of a couple. When the relationship ends though divorce, death, or separation, it is necessary to take a new inventory to see who you are now, because the person who existed before the relationship does not exist anymore. You have changed. You have much more life experience and you have seen the world through a different set of experiences. This is time to figure out who you have become so that when you are ready to couple again, you will know who you are bringing to this new relationship.

Suggested Ways of Healing and Taking Inventory

  • Live alone if possible
  • Writing/journaling
  • Meditation/prayer
  • Psychotherapy
  • Art
  • Travel alone

Divorce

There is nothing fun about divorce. It is painful for everyone involved. Most men are glad to move on with their lives. By the time they decide to divorce, they just want it to be over. Many of the men that I have worked with feel a lot of guilt about the divorce, and often give away all of their assets to compensate for this guilt. It is important to be fair but not to "give away the farm." Depending on the age when the divorce happens, there are custody and childcare issues, and retirement and property settlements.

All too often, the wife attempts to use the sexual orientation card in the divorce, and it can be really ugly. That sweet woman you married may turn out to be your worst nightmare.

Be sure to get the best, most experienced divorce lawyer you can afford, especially someone local that understands the courts, the judges, and the local prejudices and approaches. There is little to no advantage to stretching this out. Get it done as quickly and fairly as possible, but get it done. You new life cannot really begin until the old one is finished, and until you are divorced, you cannot really grieve or move on with your life.

I have heard many rationales for continuing the marriage on paper only. "She needs the health insurance" is the most popular one. If you were straight and divorcing or separating from a wife, the new girl friend would not tolerate your continuing to be married, and frankly, neither should you future boy friend. While you may no longer be emotionally tied to your wife, the piece of paper that binds you to her is an energetic link that keeps you from really being free and available for another. It is saying "my gay life is not as important as my straight life or commitment."

Bisexual

In some ways it is much easier to be straight or gay than truly bisexual. The old joke is that if you are bisexual, you have twice the chance of a date on Saturday night. The real punch line is: but only if you are in the closet. Bisexuals are much less accepted than men on either end of the Kinsey scale. What I mean by "bisexual" is a man who is both emotionally and sexually attracted to both sexes and able to be in love with either gender. Many "straight" men, in my observation, have sex with men. For them it is easy—there are no emotions involved, and since they are with a man it does not feel to them like they are cheating. It is just sex, getting off, nothing more. So to be truly bisexual is rare and difficult, in my observations.

Most bisexual men that I know are married to women. The payoffs in this society are so great to be straight that there is little incentive for these men to deal with the extra stress and issues of being in a gay relationship. Recently, there has also been an increase in the number of men in open and polyamorous relationships. This allows them to attempt to have various relationships as a way of trying to get their various needs met. I think it is acting with integrity.

At the core of insecurity for men and women is the question: "How can I satisfy the needs of my bisexual partner if I am not everything that they want or need?" The fallacy here is that any one partner can ever completely satisfy the needs of another. When we choose to be in a relationship, particularly a monogamous relationship, we are agreeing that the other person meets enough of our needs to be happy. If a man cannot be happy enough in a monogamous relationship, and knows it, then he should either not be in that relationship or should be clear, from the beginning, that he is only interested in an open or polyamorous relationship. Honest conversations in the beginning about what the relationship means and represents will save a lot of pain and betrayal later.

However, in my experience, many men attempt to have it both ways by having sex or relationships on the side without their wives’ knowledge. Hiding a relationship is to have shame about it. Being married to a woman and having the man on the side says that the male relationship is about sex, not love, with the exceptions noted above. Infidelity does not destroy relationships, dishonesty does.

Hetero-flexibility

This is a term that I have only heard in the San Francisco Bay Area. It means that a straight guy who is emotionally and sexually attracted to women at the same time can enjoy the intimacy and occasional sex with another man. Such men are confident in their sexual orientation and open to pleasure and contact from anyone that attracts their attention. I believe that a lot of the men that are soliciting sex from other men fall into this category. They may be getting little to no sex from their wives, and by having sex with man there is no chance of emotional entanglements and they don’t feel like it is cheating. They are not bisexual and they are not gay. They do have some type of homosexual sex, occasionally or frequently.

Redefining being a man

What is a man? This is a question that haunts all men—straight, gay, bi, and transsexual. We strive to answer it as best we can, given whatever role models we grew up with. Many years ago, when I was managing convenience stores, I had a handsome Latino vendor that came in one day and announced that his girlfriend was pregnant, and that he was now a man. One of society’s prejudices against gay men is that they do not procreate, and since they don’t, gay men are not really men.

You will have to decide what it means for yourself. I think that as a whole, we have moved beyond the "John Wayne, strong, tough, unfeeling" manhood stereotype, but each man must find his own way in life. Can you be a man and get anally penetrated, or perform oral sex on a man? To accept or come to terms with what it means to be a gay man, may, and probably will, mean grieving what you thought made a man. As we let go of our fantasies and ideas about who we are, then grief is a natural process that follows.

For most, being with another man emotionally, sexually, and physically means that you do not have the defined gender roles of a man and woman, either sexually or practically, in a relationship. Most men are, to some degree, sexually versatile, and who cooks, washes the dishes, cleans the house, or does the yard work has to all be negotiated. It is not just assumed, based upon gender, what each man’s role is going to be. So does trading roles make you a partial man? Personally, I think that being a man is about knowing and expressing all the parts of you, the masculine as well as the feminine, the top and the bottom, all defined as a fully integrated you and how you choose to express that. Being gay is an interesting journey, one with less societal rules, and thus more room for creative exploration.

Online Game

Shame is a poor substitute for self esteem. Men who post personal ads without faces are telling you they are ashamed of being gay. And if the ads are just dicks or naked pictures with no faces, they are telling you that being gay is just about sex. They have not fully created a three-dimensional self-picture of being gay. The Internet is by far the method of choice now for hook ups (finding sexual partners). When reading profiles, read between the lines. Look for what is not there. Ask questions. If a question is asked and not answered that is a bad sign. The same thing can and will happen in a relationship or hook up. What else are they not telling you? I think it is called sins of omission.

Is the picture current? Is your picture current? If the profile picture is ten years or 40 pounds out of date, then the posters are lying to you and themselves. They have not accepted themselves so they are not ready to be in a relationship. Pictures in a profile should be updated at least yearly. It is pretty easy to take a new picture.

Is there more than a one-sentence description, or is all of the description about the kind of sex they are seeking or the kind of body they are looking for? I call the later "parts shopping." They are not looking for a person; they are looking for the fantasy parts that will make them happy, at least for ten minutes or so. Having a pretty boyfriend will not make you happy. It might distract you for a while, but over time, it won’t work. There has to be more to the person and the relationship than the external appearance.

Links of Interest

Gay/Bi Married Men Support Groups

For the Wives