Answer to Amanda’s “Gay OCD” Question and the Importance of Acceptance
Amanda’s suffers from fears of being gay and says that she has read my book and understands that she needs to accept the possibility of being gay to get better (see book for why this is so). However, she then goes on to say that she thinks she may have arousal feelings and this might make it true and that she doesn’t want to accept.
Amanda, you are raising the most important issue about acceptance. To work on accepting the possibility is exactly what you are not doing. And notice how I’m writing this — I’m not saying accept the possibility, because if it were that easy, your problems would be solved in minutes. Acceptance of something we don’t want is an effort and is painful, but it is usually necessary, because the alternative is living in fantasy. Specifically, for you to work on accepting the possibility of being gay means that you would need to consider how you would make your life worthwhile if you suddenly decide you are gay, as opposed to saying it’s possible, but I know that I’m not. You may ask why, so allow me to give you a few examples not involving your particular fear.
To not accept means the individual is in denial, which translates to trying to compare real life to a fantasy. When someone loses a loved one, the statement of denial is: life would be better if they were still here. This may be true, but it is a fantasy, since the lost person will never be back. In this case, acceptance doesn’t mean you don’t care about the loss, but it does mean that you stop comparing your real life to the one where the loved one is still here. You may miss them at times. You may cry for them. But when you are doing something, you would enjoy it rather than wishing for your loved one.
This brings up an important point, mourning – the process of moving from denial to acceptance takes time. No matter how self-aware someone is, when they lose a loved one, they start in denial. To move and work towards acceptance takes time. What you can decide is that you want to do this. Without this decision, the process won’t begin.
The problem with acceptance is that there is always a loss — and it doesn’t matter if you intellectually know the truth, denial is in the wishing. Again, anyone who has lost a loved one knows they are dead, it is the comparing their current life to the one where their loved one hasn’t died that is denial. Mourning is giving up this wishing.
Amanda, for your OCD, you fear you may be gay. So one loss is accepting this as a real possibility. To accept uncertainty means accepting that you really may be. So the second loss is that certainty over this issue will never be had, but learning to not care about it is possible. What would this look like? At present, you seem to know that you don’t want to live a gay lifestyle, so you don’t have to. Even if you decide that you are 100% gay, you could still choose to live as a straight person. So your exposure isn’t saying your gay, but it is saying that if a time comes that I want to live as a gay person, then I will have to figure out how to do it. Until then, I’ll keep living this way and will work on trying to not figure it out, because I also have OCD and I also have to work on accepting that I can’t know anything with certainty and part of the reason for this is that research has shown that the only people who have any certainty are stupid people.
It is true you don’t like this and would like to figure it out, but that won’t happen. Again, the best you get is not right now. It’s true you wish this change won’t occur, but there are a million things you don’t want to happen that you live with — you don’t want to be a mother whose child dies of a horrible disease or gets kidnapped, you don’t want to be maimed and paralyzed in a car crash, you don’t want to get a fatal cancer and on and on. The goal isn’t to know whether or not you are gay, but to work on deciding that if it happens, then you will work on making the best of it. Why would you do this? Because what choice would you have? Will this be your future? Will you live long enough to find out? Maybe.
All we have is the present. The past is pleasant memories, the future is hope. When you have OCD, you don’t even get the present, so the purpose of choosing to do exposure and to work on acceptance is to have a life where you get to enjoy whatever you have. The failure is never in falling down, it’s in not trying to get up.