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The Flesh and Same Sex Attraction

March 31, 2012

“Be transformed by the renewing of your mind,” (Rom. 12:2)

Advances in neurobiology may be on the verge of explaining what St. Paulknew by inspiration – the interaction of the mind and the flesh. (Rom.7: 23-25 KJV).

While we may think of the flesh of the part of us below the neck, the brain is flesh. Our experiences — positive and negative, traumas and joys, repeated behaviors and reactions to stress — set up neural pathways and shape the architecture of the brain. These are like tracks on which our conscious thoughts ride.

Our brains do not come preprogrammed, rather the person comes into the world with senses open to experience and looking for particular kinds of experiences, the first being the light in the mother’s eyes. If the mother, father and others around the baby respond to the baby appropriately, the baby’s brain makes connections which create a secure attachment — first to the mother and then to the father. Through interaction with the mother, the baby learns love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, faith, teachability and temperance (Gal. 5: 22-23). These products of secure attachment are developed through a pattern of attunement with the mother called “affect regulation.” The baby experiences love from the mother and learns how to love. The researchers in this field have pinpointed the age at which the baby begins to experience joy. The mother reflects that joy back in shared exchanges.

Life is not just love and joy; learning how to endure unpleasant experiences is essential to healthy development. When there is pain, the securely attached child receives comfort. When the securely attached baby’s actions displease the mother, she responds with a shame face, but then smiles signaling reconciliation. The baby learns, “I can be wrong, but I can be forgiven.” This is the foundation for an inner peace. A baby’s needs cannot always be immediately satisfied. A mother teaches the baby patience by letting him wait before meeting needs, but meeting the needs before the baby becomes hysterical or hopeless. If a baby is treated with gentleness, he learns to be gentle.

Faith in the supernatural begins with faith in one’s parents. The securely attached child trusts that his parents have his best interests at heart; from this he can trust in God. The mother teaches the child how to do things and the child learns that he can gain knowledge from others; he becomes teachable. The ability to regulate one’s affect – the total reaction to feelings – allows a person to temper their reactions and their desires. He isn’t governed by feelings.

If, for whatever reason, this affect regulation is not provided at the proper time, then baby will not securely attach, but develops an insecure attachment. There are various forms of insecure attachment; the main three being avoidant, resistance, and disorganized. The insecurely attached baby must cope with stress on his own. To do so he develops various coping mechanisms. While these provide a form of comfort, there is a high probability that these behaviors will become dysfunctional patterns of thinking which carry over into childhood, adolescence, and can become the seed of psychological disorders.

St. Paul tells us that the “works of the flesh” are “adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings and such.” (Gal. 5: 19-21) These are patterns of thinking which cause us to be led by our feelings. It is against these that we struggle.

“They that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its affections and lusts.” (Gal. 5: 2)

How do we do this? We have to focus our mind on those “works of the flesh” we want to change and recognize when we are getting on a track that will lead in the wrong direction and make a conscious  decision not to go that way. We crucify the “flesh” – that is, we willingly endure the pain of not choosing the path our brain tells us will provide quick relief. In most cases our brain is misguided – the track we are tempted to follow may provide a temporary relief or pleasure, but down the line there will be suffering.

There is nothing new here. Spiritual directors have for centuries guided souls using the wisdom of scripture. Wise therapists have also been able to help clients change their minds and thereby change their brains. What is new is that science is now able to show us this process in action. We can see the effect on the brain of secure and insecure attachment, see how the connections in the brain are formed, and identify the various chemical reactions.

This can be very helpful to the person trying to crucify the flesh. If given a brain scan at the moment when one felt a strong temptation, the person could see the temptation as a bright spot in the brain and realize he has the power to change the brain by changing his mind.

How does this relate to the question of Same-Sex Attraction?

If, as a number of therapists and researchers have suggested, those who fail to develop a healthy appreciation for their sexual identity (the condition labeled as Gender Identity Disorder, GID) may be suffering from a particular form of insecure attachment and such a disordered sexual identity is probably the most common path to SSA, then it is reasonable to conclude that, in many cases, SSA is an attachment disorder.

There is overwhelming evidence that SSA is not genetically or hormonally predetermined, however, because an attachment disorder affects the development of the right side of the brain, it is imbedded in the neural architecture. It feels “natural.” Because the problem begins in early childhood, the person is convinced that he always “felt different.”

If SSA originates as an attachment disorder, then it is not a normal and healthy variant of human sexual attraction; it is intrinsically disordered. There is ample evidence that SSA rarely occurs alone. Persons with SSA are far more likely that those without SSA to suffer from a number of other psychological disorders. It may be that these problems originated separately from insecure attachment, or they may be effects of SSA.

It may be that persons who later develop SSA were as babies more sensitive to the mother feelings (maternal affect).A child with GID is more likely to experience rejection from peers. A child with an attachment disorder is more likely to be targeted by pedophiles and traumatized by sexual abuse. A dysfunctional family is almost by definition less able to provide for the psychological and emotional needs of the children, and living in a dysfunctional family can be a wounding experience even to those who are securely attached. One only has to look at the list of other “works of the flesh” to see how many of them are more common among persons with SSA.

In addition, persons with SSA are more likely to be addicted to sexual fantasy, pornography, masturbation, paraphilias, and other sexual aberrations. Sexual addiction causes chemical changes in the brain. These set up neural pathways. Changing such pathways is difficult but not impossible. It can happen miraculously through grace, but for most it requires substantial effort. Even when other ways of reacting have been developed, the path may remain intact, liable to be activated during periods of stress.

Just as persons in recovery from other addictions are told to avoid becoming hungry, angry, lonely or tired, persons with SSA must learn to avoid situations that will make them vulnerable. In Romans 1,St. Paul specifically addresses sexual activity between persons of the same sex. He speaks of how men became “vain in their imaginations.” The Greek word for “imaginations” “dialogismois” (dialogismois) is sometimes translated as reasoning, but a more modern translation might be “rationalizations.” Most people who follow the tracks set up by insecure attachment will when challenged provide elaborate rationalization for their behavior. Later in the chapter St. Paul speaks of persons with SSA as “without natural affection.” The Greek word used is “astorgous” (astorgous), which refers to the lack of the natural affection between parents and children. Insecure attachment is a failure to establish the natural bond between parent and child. This can lead to deep feelings of alienation. The child doesn’t trust the parents and the parent may view the child as difficult.

Because attachment disorders affect early brain development, change is not easy, but understanding the cause increases the probability that effective prevention and treatment can be developed.

In the second chapter of his letter to the Romans,St. Paul warns against judgment of those who have fallen into sin. Who among us has not given into bad habits because we weren’t willing to endure the pain of “crucifying the flesh.” In Galatians St.Paul calls us to reach out to those who are wounded:

“Brothers if a man be overtaken in a fault you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of meekness, considering that you could also be tempted. Bear one another burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ (Gal 6: 1-2).”

These men and women are burdened – insecure attachment is a terrible burden — but how do we help them bear it? First, with love and prayer, then with research into the prevention and treatment of these problems. We must be like the father of the prodigal son; we have to stand at the gate and watch for any hint of return, always ready to welcome them back. We must defend the family and marriage – not because all families are perfect, but because children have the best chance when raised by their married biological parents. The more we understand the importance of attachment and affect regulation, the more we see the importance of the father/mother/child triad.

Those who want to increase their understanding of attachment will find John Bowlby’s A Secure Base: Parent-Child Attachment and Healthy Human Development an excellent place to begin. Those who want to understand the advances in the science of brain development can consult the works of Allan Schore. Susan Bradley’s book Affect Regulation and the Development of Psychopathology provides a summary of the material. Bradley views GID as an anxiety disorder which can be traced back to a failure in attachment:

“In the area of gender identity disorder (GID), with which I am very familiar, the same basic formulation applies. I have argued elsewhere (Zucker and Bradley, 1995) that what makes GID different from anxiety disorders is that there are factors in the family making gender more salient. Specifically, boys with GID appear to believe that they will be more valued by their families or that they will get in less trouble as girls than as boys. These beliefs are related to parents’ experiences within their families of origin, especially tendencies on the part of mothers to be frightened by male aggression or to be in need of nurturing, which they perceive as a female characteristic. Girls with GID have a perception of themselves as “protectors,” specifically of their mothers but also of other women. They appear to be identifying with the aggressors (often their father, but sometimes with other aggressive males). Beyond these specific dynamics, both boys and girls with GID display the temperament and attachment difficulties I have described above. Their interactions with parents are conflicted, and these children become highly distressed and anxious, with perceptions of themselves as bad and their parents as angry. I conceptualize the symptoms of GID as a child’s solution to intolerable affects. This is confirmed by the fact that GID typically has its onset at a time in the child’s life when the family has been particularly stressed and the parents are either more angry or less available or both. The GID symptoms, particularly the assumption of the role and behaviors of the opposite sex, act to quench the child’s anxiety and to make him or her feel more valued, stronger, or safer. ” (p. 202)

Jeffrey Schwartz in The Mind and the Brain: Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force explains with many examples how we have the power to change our brains.

Joseph Nicolosi of NARTH has incorporated these insights into therapy. His article on the subject “The Primacy of Affect” can be found at http://www.narth.com/docs/affect.html .By bringing together the new insights into how the brain works with theories of psychopathology and the spiritual insight of St. Paul concerning the works of the flesh, we can provide those who are suffering with real support. If we are able to reject rationalizations and the pride which says that our sinful desires are the “real me” and therefore take precedence over God’s law, we can by changing our minds, change our brains and thereby cease to be captives of our past.  The following words of St. Paul can be our guide:

“Casting down imaginations and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (II Cor. 10: 5).

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. April 1, 2012 3:28 pm

    A very interesting piece of writing, full of untestable armchair theories and suppositions piled one upon another. Can opposite-sex attraction be “explained” along analogous lines, I wonder?

    • April 1, 2012 4:02 pm

      The short answer is maybe. There is a theory that sexual attraction is to the other – thus creating a complementarity in the relationship. Because man and woman are different, motherhood and fatherhood are different, the marriage relationship does not become a competition, both trying to be and do the same thing, rather each taking his or her own part. Read the autobiographies of persons with same-sex attraction and almost all say, I always felt “different’ than my same-sex parent or peers. Because they felt alienated from their own sex, their own sex was different and they were attracted to it. They interpreted this attraction as sexual. Wounded in their masculine or feminine identity they sought to repair that wound. For more information read Joe Nicolosi, Jane Hallman, or my book One Man, One Woman.

      • Andrew Down permalink
        August 23, 2013 1:48 pm

        To be fair 90% of teens are apparently unsatisfied with their appearance, so we’re (I mean LGBT guys & gals) probably more open about it, unaware of commonalities between us “outsiders” and everyone else.

        I identify as bisexual myself, and am a guy, though previously I have come into contact with GID style thought patterns, and what you have written has added up. I do like feeling cute on occasion though, and other times feeling manly. I will be honest.

        Anyway, after a very long battle to be straight and a lot of emotional breakdowns, I eventually realised the only real reason I had for doing so was because I didn’t like the idea of being “different”, and not being in charge of my actions. To be honest I have arguably given up, or maybe I just accepted myself for who I am. Because of this my openness to communication and love has indeed shot up. This happened only after admitting to myself I like being fucked.

        I think it might be worth looking into the history of the DSM though, psychiatry is a little different to psychotherapy – from what I’ve seen it’s doing more harm than good..

        P.S. I also just thought I’d plug/recommend “The True Believer” by Eric Hoffer

        Godspeed

        Andrew

  2. Sarah permalink
    June 1, 2012 5:43 am

    “Our brains do not come preprogrammed…”

    Since much of your argument rests on this premise, I invite you to consider the vast amounts of research and literature which directly contradict this assertion. It is now widely accepted that all people are born with certain predispositions, determined by genetics and/or conditions during very early fetal development. It has been said that the most important thing parents will ever give to a child is their genes.

    Some of these innate traits are shared by all in the species, and some vary from person to person. At this point, no conclusions have really been drawn regarding just how much is “nature” and just how much is “nurture”, but the general consensus is that each provides a non-trivial influence on our thoughts and behaviors.

    There may be merit in considering questions of attachment when counseling members of the LGBTQ community, just as there may be merit in exploring and trying to change spirals of negative or self-destructive thinking. But your implication is that all forms of LGBTQ thinking fall into the category of being negative and/or self-destructive. For this you provide no justification beyond scripture (using passages which are, in themselves, vague and essentially non-supporting).

    Frankly, arguments based on biblical assertions are not very useful. On the one hand, you seem keen to provide scientific justification for a portion of your beliefs, and scripture for the remainder. By doing so, you cut your argument in half. It is, to say the least, unconvincing.

    However, since you seem keen on using biblical passages, let me offer this one from Psalm 139:

    For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
    I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
    My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
    Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.
    How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
    Were I to count them,
    they would outnumber the grains of sand —
    when I awake, I am still with you.

    If only you, God, would slay the wicked!
    Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!
    They speak of you with evil intent;
    your adversaries misuse your name.
    Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord,
    and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?
    I have nothing but hatred for them;
    I count them my enemies.
    Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
    See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.

    Biblical passages really have no place in reasoned discussion. They are not about describing the world (which science does quite well), but can certainly play a role in understanding it, discerning meaning from it, and finding ways to meet it. As such, I commend this passage to you to fuel consideration of the meaning of your arguments (rather than their soundness).

    I have no doubt that you, Mr. O’Leary, would consider LGBTQ inclinations to reside among the “anxious thoughts” and “offensive ways”. But you might do well to consider whether your brand of intolerance, judgmentalism and specious reasoning in the name of God might be fairly described by the phrase “your adversaries misuse your name”.

  3. Michael Hurley permalink
    July 5, 2012 12:53 pm

    Here in Maryland, it appears as if we will have a referendum on the ballot this coming November which will accept or reject a law that will allow “same sex marriage” in this state. This issue will also be raised at upcoming debates between the presidential candidates. I can almost hear the responses already. Gov. Romney will say, ” I believe that marriage should be between one man and one woman” but I question his ability to defend that position. President Obama will say, ” My position has ‘evolved'”(not flip flopped). He will say that his position is now more “progressive”…a word that has been highjacked by the sexual left. And he will equate “marriage equality” to the struggle for racial civil rights and the women’s movement. This retort will register will a lot of Americans. What is your opinion Dale on the validity or flaws of these analogies?
    Mike H

    • July 5, 2012 5:40 pm

      It isn’t that two persons of the same sex may not (that is are not permitted) to marry, but that they cannot (are not able to marry). Marriage requires two things – consent and consummation. A marriage can be consummated only by that sexual act that involves the persons equally – the marital act. Two person of the same sex can engage in various types of genital stimulation, but these if done by a man and a woman would not consummate a marriage. If one of the parties were to go to court and swear that they had never consummated the marriage in the prescribe way, the marriage would have legally never existed.

      What the gay activists want is to redefine marriage.

      There is nothing equal about the genital acts done by two persons of the same sex. They do not make them one flesh. These acts cannot lead to the conception of a child who is the fruit of their union.

      It isn’t that people with same-sex attractions are not equal as human beings to others, but that their genital acts are not equal to the marital union.

      However, here is the problem. Politicians (and frankly many ordinary people) don’t want to talk about the reality of the sexual union and the difference between what persons with same-sex attraction do and what husband/wife couples do. So they talk about tradition – the way it has always been – but it isn’t tradition, it is biology — a misuse of the equipment, a biological dead end.

      What we can talk about is the children that same-sex couples acquire, and the negative effect on them of being denied a parent of both sexes, effects which has now been demonstrated. Marriage law is designed for the protection of children.

      We can talk about the fact that gay activists use the redefinition of marriage to push their entire agenda into schools and into laws, making it a crime to speak the truth about same-sex attraction, to preach about sexual sin, and to prevent and prevent and treat same-sex attraction. The gay activists stand ready to use any success in this area to demand that the clear prohibitions on their behavior in scripture and church teachings shall be declared discriminatory and those who hold to them labeled as bigots.

      • Michael Hurley permalink
        July 5, 2012 8:03 pm

        OK so what is the APA….the American Psychiatric Association…or the American Psychological Association….or both. If both Associations exist,which one deleted homosexuality from is’s treatment manual in 1973. And how has the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual) lobby affected each organization?

      • July 6, 2012 3:38 am

        The American Psychiatric Association puts out the DSM, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, which becomes the guide and the others follow. You might want to read Homosexuality and American Psychiatry: The Politics of Diagnosis, by Ronald Bayer. He supported the decision but admits it wasn’t based of new research, but the fruit of threats and politics. The NARTH website also has information on the on-going battle over treatment for unwanted same-sex attraction.

  4. February 13, 2013 2:19 pm

    It seems like you actually fully understand quite a bit
    about this specific issue and it demonstrates by means of this unique article, named “The Flesh and
    Same Sex Attraction daleoleary”. Thanks
    -Maura

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