Sexual Identity

In one study on sexual identity among Chistians, both those who identified with a gay identity (and were part of the Metropolitan Community Church) and those who dis-identified with a gay identity (and were part of Exodus) shared information on their experiences. Interestingly, both groups talked about what might be considered congruence. Both wanted to line up their behavior/identity and their beliefs/values. Those who identified as gay appeared to line up their beliefs/values with their behavior/identity as gay, while those who dis-identified with a gay identity appeared to line up their identity/behavior with their beliefs/values (with this group, identity was often “in Christ” and behavior often reflected chastity).

 

In addition to congruence, there were differences with respect to attributions about the meaning of same-sex attractions. Those who identified as gay tended to attribute their attractions to who they “really are”; their attractions signalled their “true self” as gay. In contrast, those who dis-identified with a gay identity tended to attribute their attractions to other things (e.g., a reflection of the fall, a result of strained parent/child relationships, etc.).

 

One last thought: For those Christians who identified with a gay identity, authenticity meant worshipping God as who they really are – that attempting to approach God while not acknowledging their gay identity would be inauthentic. In contrast, those who dis-identified with a gay identity tended to view authenticity as important too – that they would approach God on His terms and not form an identity as gay.

 

For reflection: Is congruence a reasonable outcome that mental health professionals could work toward when it comes to sexual identity concerns in counseling? How important is it to live authentically? What are your impressions about how authenticity might be defined differently by different people?

10 Comments

  1. I definitely struggle personally with finding “congruence” between what I feel and what I believe. I certainly think it’s possible (that’s why I’m currently going through therapy). I appreciated what you and Dr. Jones wrote in Homosexuality: The Use of Scientific Research in the Church’s Moral Debate:

    “Homosexual persons are not subhuman robots whose acts are predetermined. They are moral agents who inherit tendencies from biology and environment, and who share in shaping their character by the responses they make to their life situations. Like all persons, they must ask, “This is what I want to do, but is it what I should do?” The existence of inclinations or predispositions does not erase the need for moral evaluation of those inclinations.”

    Knowing that is liberating for me. Just because I struggle with same-sex attraction does not mean I have to surrender myself to it and embrace it. I certainly want to live an authentic life; I’m not hiding in “the closet”, but I am not audacious to think I can come before God on my terms. I respect those who disagree with me among the gay community, but it is impossible for me in my conscience to find a sense of unity or congruence between being a gay man and being a committed follower of Christ.

  2. The reflection question that grabbed my attention was the one pertaining to the definition of authenticity and how it might differ from person to person. It strikes me that Christians would define this very differently from non-Christians. Thinking about the pie graph we looked at in class, it’s easy to realize that different people place different values on different aspects of themselves. For some, sexual attractions are trump; for others, religious beliefs are trump. I think that the authenticity piece is defined by whichever pie slice is largest for that person. The non-Christian who experiences same-sex attractions might define authenticity as being true to their attractions because they place the most weight on that aspect of personhood, while a Christian would seek to maximize the impact of their religious beliefs and be authentic in light of their identity in Christ.

    Most people believe that it is important to live authentically – few would disagree with the statement. However, the tension comes when people believe that everyone should evaluate authenticity by the same standards. If I hold my religious convictions above all else in my life, then authentic living means bringing my desires and impulses under the rule of Christ. If I believe that something else carries the most weight, then I will bring other aspects of identity into line with that main piece. So while most people would agree that one ought to live authentically, and even the Christian could agree with this in terms of Scriptural living, the vast differences in views of personhood result in very different decisions regarding authenticity. Thus congruence is a reasonable goal for therapy, but this might look very different across clients.

  3. Seth,

    I think many people see congruence as a key part of emotional well-being. I hope that in a diverse culture, there will at least be consensus that helping people achieve congruence is a worthy goal.

    BTW: We are actually conducting an initial study of people’s experience with sexual identity therapy and the goal of congruence. We hope to have some preliminary results from a few n of 1 studies available this fall/winter.

  4. I think congruence is a reasonable outcome to work towards, an important point to remember as we enable the client to find congruence is to first work with the client what congruence means to them. It does baffle my mind to read how differently these groups defined congruence, and it makes me question both of their definitions. However, I think most people have differing goals in their life, so in order to live in congruence with those goals their definitions may or probably would look vastly different. To me congruence means living in such a way that you are able to view your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors as acceptable and improving your life rather than being damaging. People would be able to fulfill my definition by either changing their thoughts, feelings, and/or behaviors or by changing their definition of what is and is not acceptable. I see that as what the two groups of people did. I do not know where I stand on the matter of authenticity. Most of my experience is counseling children and adolescents and they are constantly telling me how they can or cannot do something because its not ‘real’, they often associate that with being trustworthy. This associates with the two groups mentioned because they are trying to be trustworthy of what God has ‘given’ them. But they either view what He has given them as a temptation that God trusts them to overcome or a lifestyle that God has trusted them to live out. I wonder how culturally specific the need to be ‘real’ or authentic is?

  5. I think congruence is essential to any identity therapy. I understand that sexual identity therapy fits specifically for those who have hesitations or questions about in defining themselves as GLB because they have same sex attractions. Incongruence seems to be the central issue because the client’s feelings and desires for action do not match their thoughts and values. It seems that most people who go through a change in identity or consider going through a change, whether it is converting from Mormon to Catholic or Democrat to Republican or Heterosexual to Homosexual, are fueled by incongruence between their desires (feelings about behaviors) and values (thoughts or ideals). Once this crisis is thoroughly worked through, it seems that congruence will results in a sense of peace.
    Psychological models often reiterate the importance of living authentically. I am reminded of Erickson’s final stage, integrity versus despair. Integrity comes from a feeling that we have made a contribution in life. If the things we value do not coincide with our actions, it seems that we’re left with despair. For Christians, congruence is a response to salvation. We seek to live a life that matches our values/beliefs. It is a daily process of sanctification. I appreciate Seth’s comments on the impact of values on his experience. That is a hard road to take, but I think congruence is central to humanity and a worthwhile pursuit.

  6. Congruence is definitely a reasonable outcome for sexual identity concerns because when there is a great difference between a person’s value and his or her behavior there is no sense of wellbeing or normalcy. When there is lack of congruence, guilt, shame, and pain with inner turmoil eventually become pathology. Counseling professionals need to create an atmosphere that helps clients work through any incongruence they are experiencing in their sexual identity to bring inner healing. Doing this requires meeting the clients as they are, where they are in their current realities, without labeling.

    It is important to live authentically, because when I do not live an authentic life it is difficult for me to maintain a state of healthy balance and boundary with myself and with others. When I have not accepted myself then it is impossible to accept others and I feel isolated. When there is a difference between my behavior and my value belief system, guilt and shame results. There is a need for me to resolve feelings and behavior to match up with my belief system so that an authentic identity is formed. If there is an inability to do so, denial of my values will result in order to keep a happy medium ensuring behavior, feelings and values match up to minimize any emotional pain.

    I feel because of the need to look externally for outside approval, it is easy to live an inauthentic life. People express themselves differently when asked “who are you?” Authenticity for some depends on their behavior matching up with their religious beliefs, for some it is their behaviors matching up with society’s expectations while for others it is harmonizing their behaviors with the feelings that come from within themselves. As for me, it means being true to myself by harmonizing my behavior with my belief system which hopefully originates from the Holy Spirit.

  7. At this time I believe that congruence is the best outcome (from what is available) for mental health professionals working with people with sexual identity concerns. It seems reasonable to work towards congruence between personal/moral beliefs and actions/lifestyle choices. When there is a lack of congruence between values and actions then often much anxiety, guilt, and/or frustration follows. Helping clients work towards authenticity in their lives seems to provide a greater sense of freedom and self-acceptance while minimizing the unhealthy forms of shame and guilt. It seems that when a client can work towards authenticity then they can begin to work on other personal growth areas.

  8. I wonder if congruence is a reasonable treatement goal or not. People are used to living with incongruence in some area of their lives. We all have unresolved conflicts between our actions and the ways in which our values would direct us to act.

    I am hesitant to endorse a therapuetic technique that helps people remove guilt feelings if those guilt feelings are important because they might direct the person to change their actions. Granted, people with same-sex attraction are unfairly discriminated and ridiculed in our culture, which is a negative cycle for everyone involved to be sure. But, is there value in an appropriate sense of guilt around a homosexual identity? I would hesitate to aim at resolving the guilt of a person experiencing same-sex attraction before I helped them to seperate what part of the guilt comes from within them or from their values, and what part is being placed on them externally.

  9. I think that authenticity is quite important. Only God know when we are truly authentic. I believe that congruence is important. I think the contrast between lining of beliefs/values with ones behavior and the issue of identifying vs dis identifying is interesting. I wonder how each group views the other group in their choice of path to pursue and authentic life through congruence. It almost sounded like the two groups were prioritizing whether beliefs should align with behavior or vice versa. I suppose from my schema I might view that as rationalizing if one were to align their values before behavior. I suppose on some note we all do this in a sense. We create a paradigm of our perceived expectations God has for us and sometimes maybe we rationalize them to be a bit more flexible than they are in reality. I believe others make this paradigm a bit more rigid than God truly is. In the end it seems that the honest pursuit of the authentic heart is what God is after. I can’t imagine the struggle this population must face in trying to resolve their questions and finding congruence as part of God’s creation.

  10. I could certainly see how either of those approaches described could be considered authentic. Those who identify as gay see it as authentic to relate to God as they believe he made them. Those who do not identify as Gay see it as authentic to relate to God as he intended them to be, and disregard their same-sex attraction as a reflection of the fall and an imperfect world with corrupting influences.

    I think it’s appropriate for a therapist to work with an individual from either perspective, provided it is the perspective chosen by the client. I think to be comprehensive about it, however, the therapist should fully inform the client about both perspectives and challenge them to think about how each applies to themselves (assuming their faith is important to them and relevent in the conversation). So yes, congruence is a reasonable outcome, and I believe if it is achieved it will help reduce the distress experienced by the individual.

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