Dear Doc, I’m struggling with feelings of worthlessness and shame around sexuality. I’m gay and grew up in a homophobic environment, and although I’m living elsewhere now I still have many strong ties to it. I have no problem relating to people in my life generally, but I’ve never dated anyone and can’t imagine having that kind of intimacy with another person. I’ve been in love but never had it reciprocated — I’m usually attracted to people who are unavailable, straight, already attached, physically distant, or otherwise absurd crushes on professors, mentors and people much older than me. I started seeing a therapist this fall and it’s helped me be more conscious of these unhealthy patterns. Rationally, I know there is nothing wrong with me: I’m attractive, intelligent, motivated and empathetic. But when it comes to romance and sexuality I feel completely incapable, hopeless and terrified. Do you have any advice? P.S. I really enjoy the way you write, and also your paintings, which are rendered with an amazing sense of colour.
The only way a person can get over whatever he/she is afraid of is by confronting that feared situation. If you don’t date at all, it is impossible to figure out exactly what you are afraid of. Some people who find themselves in this situation are afraid of:
1. getting turned down after asking someone out.
2. Having nothing to talk about
3 Being clumsy making a sexual approach.
4. Failing in the sexual situation in some obvious way.
5. The disapproval of others (yelling at you in your mind.)
6. Getting too attached and fearing rejection at a late stage in the relationship. And any of a dozen other concerns.
Start by dating. Make the first overture. If something goes wrong at this early stage–or at a later stage– you can figure out what it was. This process in not much different from what everyone else experiences growing up. Perhaps because you grew up in a disapproving household, it is worse for you. Expect to fail along the way while you are learning to get close to someone.
You may be ashamed of being gay, but heterosexuals have similar problems. You have to present yourself to others the way you really are in order to accept yourself. In this day and age fewer people will condemn you for being gay.
Fred Neuman, M.D. is the Director of the Anxiety and Phobia Treatment Center. After serving as Associate Director for 21 years, Dr. Neuman assumed the directorship in 1994. Educated at Princeton University and the NYU College of Medicine, Dr. Neuman specializes in the treatment of anxiety disorders. He is the author of the following books: Caring: Home Treatment for the Emotionally Disturbed, Fighting Fear: An Eight Week Guide to Treating Your Own Phobias, Worried Sick?: The Exaggerated Fear of Physical Illness, and Worried Sick? The Workbook. Dr. Neuman is also the author of numerous magazine and newspaper articles on the efficacy of Cognitive/Behavioral Therapy for the treatment of anxiety disorders. Dr. Neuman is a member of the American Psychiatric Society, The American Association for the Advancement of Science and the New York Academy of Science. Dr. Neuman is also the author of the following novels: "The Seclusion Room," Viking Press. "Maneuvers" Dial Press "Come One, Come All," "The Wicked Son," "Detroit Tom and His Gang" "Superpowers." All these books are available from Amazon.