From Isolation to Relationship to Intimacy
by Alan Medinger
Homosexuality is a relationship problem. Our relationship with Jesus Christ comes first in our healing, but close behind it comes our need to learn to relate to other same-sex people in healthy ways. We must identify the obstacles that have kept us from healthy relationships, and learn to distinguish between friendships and intimate relationships. Then we must realize how we need them both.
If Dr. Bill Consiglio is right, and homosexuality often starts with low self-esteem, then it is likely that many homosexual people, because they believe there is little about them that is either interesting or desirable to others, are likely to be isolated people.
If Elizabeth Moberly is right and a critical element in the development of homosexuality is withdrawal from the same-sex parent -- what she calls defensive detachment -- then many homosexual people at an early age found that an effective way to protect themselves from emotional hurt was to withdraw into some sort of isolation.
Many of us believe that homosexuality is essentially two problems: an identity problem and a relationship problem. Of course, the two intersect at some point how I feel about myself is to some extent a product of my relationships -- but at other levels the two problems need to be dealt with separately.
The relationship problem has two sides: a lack of relationships and the wrong kind of relationships. Of course, our innate need for healthy life-giving relationships, and our inability to enter into them, leads us into the wrong kinds of relationships. The battle to overcome homosexuality is a battle to break the addictions to sinful and unhealthy sexual and emotional relationships and to learn to relate to people in a healthy and righteous way.
The book False Intimacy is a valuable resource both for people seeking to help others and for people looking for help. One of the author's major premises is that the sexually addicted person is trying to use sex as a substitute for intimacy. Blocked from true intimacy by deeply rooted patterns of self-defense, the sexual addict is driven to the sexual encounter or to the fantasy that can temporarily fill the hole that a lack of real intimacy has left. I agree with the author, but I believe that at a more fundamental level the homosexual or sexually addicted person is trying to use sex as a substitute for relationships. Further, I believe that in encouraging the struggler to seek intimate relationships without first working through relationships, we short-circuit a natural process and often come up with neither relationships nor intimacy.
In fact, I am going to go out on a limb and say that, outside of marriage, relationships are more essential than intimacy. I say this based on my observation that among single people very few people function well at all without relationships, and yet I see many doing fairly well who do not have anyone with whom they are intimate.
I am using relationship to describe that condition that exists between two people, or among a group of people, who connect at some important level. In this sense, I think it is a somewhat stronger word than friendship, which may involve an enjoyment of one another, but not necessarily an emotional connection. On the other hand, a relationship may meet important emotional needs, but not involve the total openness, honesty and vulnerability necessary to be truly intimate.
First, let's look at what relationship means. Then, we will contrast this with intimacy, and then we will address isolation problems and their solution for the person overcoming homosexuality.
What characterizes the relationships that we need? As we look at people who live isolated lives, what is there in a relationship that will meet some of their fundamental needs, the lack of which may be driving them towards the wrong kind of sexual or emotional relationships?
First, a significant relationship is voluntary. We can work in the midst of a busy office or live in the midst of a sizable family and yet be terribly isolated. Being put together physically with other people doesn't do it. We have to choose to be with those people, and they with us.
Second, there are shared interests, goals, or values and beliefs -- not mutual needs. The relationship based on mutual needs tends toward the co-dependent; it will be life-draining. The relationship based on common interests, goals and beliefs is focused outward and leads to the joy of common discovery and adventures. This makes it life-giving.
This leads right to the third feature of a meaningful relationship, which is that it be enjoyable. I enjoy what we do together, and I enjoy being with you.
Beyond these three elements our important relationships can take many forms. The parties may be alike in many ways or complement each other. They may be close in age or be intergenerational. Although most likely they will be between two people of the same sex, not always. And they may involve a small group -- more than two people -- and in fact with men, this is likely.
What does an intimate relationship have that the type of friendship described here does not have? Generally, it is the element of truly knowing and being known. There is a deeper level of honesty and vulnerability, and thus a deeper level of trust. You truly know me, and you accept me, and so I believe you will always stand by me. Obviously, this greater depth brings special rewards that are not present in other relationships.
But to seek intimacy without letting it grow out of friendship is to do at the emotional level what we have done at the physical level. We are so starved we rush in for the most intense relationship we can get - be it physical or emotional. We go immediately for the kill, whether it is to get in bed together or start telling each other our deepest, darkest secrets. Such need-centered relationships are almost always doomed to failure.
Among men, the process of moving from friendship to deeper relationship to intimacy seems to flow more naturally than with women. First of all men, because they tend to be focused more outward toward the world, tend to base their relationships on common interests and beliefs. Then, often being less verbal, there is less tendency -- and possibly less need -- to speak in intimate terms. Thus, time builds the bond of trust, so that when the real need is there, we know to whom we can go. Men can grow into an intimate relationship and be there for years before the intimacy has to be expressed verbally.
I have a couple such friends. One man had been my friend for 20 years, and I don't think we even once had a deep 'heart to heart" discussion, and we actually saw each other fairly infrequently. Yet, I am sure we both knew the bond that existed between us. When I lost my job, he was there immediately, and his being there was the totally natural thing to do, given the unspoken bond that had developed between us over the years. Several years later when he was in some serious trouble of a very personal nature, I was there beside him. Years had formed a trust which made honesty and vulnerability safe even though words had never acknowledged such a trust.
As everyone knows, women relate quite differently, both because they tend to be more adept verbally, and because of an inner 'knowing' that enables them to understand others at a deep level much more readily than men can. Thus, when a woman is starved for relationships it may behoove her to consciously constrain herself rather than to rush into a relationship with great expectations. Such expectations are seldom realized and often frighten the other person away. We see this over and over again in our ministry.
In our ministry to homosexual overcomers, in stressing too much -- and too early -- the need for intimacy, we frequently set men up for something they are not ready to face, and we push women into something they can't handle. Let's back off a little.
Now, let's discuss what isolates people. What are the things we must overcome in order to be able to enter into relationships with people that will meet our human need to relate and connect?
The first, I think is ignorance. We simply don't know how important relationships are, or we set our eyes on marriage or some kind of profound intimacy and overlook our simple need for human contact. I have found that when I start to drift into isolation, doing something fun with people I like brings me out of it better than anything else - certainly better than introspection about why I am feeling cut off.
Recently, I was going through a period of feeling cut off from other people. One evening my son prevailed upon me and the other members of our household to play a game of Tripoli. I am not really fond of Tripoli, but after an evening of sitting around a table laughing and teasing one another, I came away totally refreshed. I can't explain what happened, but neither can I explain what happens to my body when I eat my cereal in the morning. I have no idea what riboflavin and niacin do for my body, but I trust the experts that I need them. I also trust that being with other people -- even to play Tripoli -- somehow nourishes my soul.
Christians, especially, may have a problem with putting too much emphasis on what they do with other people as opposed to simply being with other people whom they like.
Homosexuality grows out of our responses either to unmet needs early in life or to trauma of some sort -- often abuse. Essentially, these responses are defensive. "You will not hurt me again." or "I will meet my own needs." We do not condemn the child for responding this way; perhaps it was the only way he or she could survive. But when these responses become our way of relating to the world they are wrong; they are sinful. Also, they isolate us.
Most of the time it is our wall of self that isolates us from other people, a wall that we have erected and only we can dismantle. It can take several forms.
Self-protection isolates us. Ultimately, it is the wall against intimacy which says, "If anyone gets close they will hurt me.' But it also is often a wall against any kind of relationship. No one will ever reject you if you don't try to relate to anyone. You will never be humiliated if you never venture out to do anything.
Self-centeredness isolates us. The belief that meeting my needs is so important that all else must take second place is a sure-fire barrier to relationships. The fact is that most of us don't really know what our needs are. Those who drift from church to church because they can't find one that "feeds them" are likely starving to death for lack of relationships. Thinking that their real need is for exciting worship, great preaching or a dynamic singles group, they never stay anywhere long enough to form truly nourishing relationships.
Self-pity, which often follows the other two "selfs" is perhaps the most isolating of all. My emotional pain is the fault of others -- or of God. The sheer unattractiveness of self-pity often assures isolation for the person trapped in it. Who wants to be friends with a black hole?
Self-protection, self-centeredness, and self-pity are all sinful ways of relating to the world. They are sinful because they place us at the center of the universe, and for the Christian they are sinful because they are rooted in a fear that we must be our own protector - God is not sufficient.
The critical step then in tearing down the wall is repentance. We acknowledge to God that our self-protection, our self-centeredness, our self-pity have been wrong ways of coping with life. We must be willing to trust Him as we step out and try to live according to the nature He gave us as relational creatures.
This is a fearsome step for the truly isolated. But it need not be a huge step. It is not a leap over the wall into true intimacy. It is the removal of one stone at a time, to let other people start to enter my life in little ways. It is to try and enjoy another person in the simplest way.
After creating Adam, God declared, "It is not good for man to be alone." Although God's best solution to man's aloneness was to create woman, God was not saying simply that it was not good for man to be without a wife. Clearly, God was expressing man's and woman's need to be in relationship with others as well as one another. His creating the family, His endowing us with differing gifts, the fact that many more things can be done together with others than can be done alone, all indicated that God wanted us to be in a variety of relationships, aside from marriage.
God has given us a means of meeting our immediate intimacy need -- a glorious intimate relationship with His Son.
Meanwhile, we can break out of our isolation from other people if we simply start to seek friendships. They may be slowly nurtured and often difficult, but ultimately they are life-giving. They may lead to true intimacy or they may not, but in the end they will surely be fulfilling for us as relational creatures.
Copyright © 1993 Regeneration, Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from Regeneration News.