THE FEAR OF DENIAL
“Peace” ... what an absurd word for an OCD sufferer. The anxiety that results from the persistent, unrelenting barrage of repulsive mental images is anything but peaceful. It is a psychological war zone where everything is most often, in pieces. You desperately attempt to place the shattered pieces back together but nothing fits ... nothing makes sense anymore. Jonathan Grayson, PhD, explains this feeling in his book Freedom from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: “It is as if you have simultaneously lost your mind and, at the same time, are so sane that you are a witness to the loss.” Sufferers of OCD acknowledge that they are loosing control of their minds but feel they can do nothing but sit in their lifeboats and watch their ships sink slowly into the icy waters of anxiety, chaos, depression and fear.
The fear of being in denial is probably the most fearful thought that the OCD mind will ever encounter. All other panics, spikes, worries, and anxieties are spawned by this central fear. It is the “Grand Central” or mission base of the sexual obsession and all the mental energy of the sufferer is leveled against assuring themselves that this isn’t true.
At some point, you discovered your relentless fears of being a homosexual is not the beginning of a “coming out” process after all but a symptom of a psychological disorder. With this newly discovered knowledge the initial feelings are deep sighs of relief. You know for certain not that the worry was not the result of being in a state of denial of your “true self.” At first, you assume that this confirmation that you really aren’t gay but just have an anxiety disorder will allow your mind come to its senses and stop the reel of repulsive images and compulsive checking. Hence, with the newly discovered information, every time you experience a spike, you will tend to write it off as simply the OCD messing with you.
But sooner or later, the heart of the OCD mind kicks back into gear – doubt. And despite your knowledge on the disorder, you begin questioning yourself yet again: “If this is just an anxiety disorder, then why do I sometimes feel attracted to good looking people of the same sex,” or “why am I still visualizing myself doing sexual acts to people of the same sex to check if it stimulates me or not?” Or, “if this is only OCD messing with me, why do I feel sometimes that I actually get stimulated when I think of this stuff?” Hence, the most pertinent question becomes “is OCD really the cause of all this anxiety or am I using it as an excuse to hide the fact that I’m really a homosexual?” This can be the most threatening and debilitating thought to the psyche of the individual because there is no way to offer a definitive answer to the question. You already know what OCD is, how it works, its treatments and so forth. However, this thought makes you doubt that you have OCD altogether! “What if treatment doesn’t work?” you ask. “Would that mean that I really am gay? … oh no, I don’t want to take treatment just to find out it doesn’t work.” Your panic stricken mind paralyzes you into a mental stalemate. En route to your success, this fear ultimately becomes the last obstacle throughout the recovery process.
NOT A SEXUAL IDENTITY CRISIS
You always to have to remember that what we are dealing with is not a sexual identity crisis, but an insecurity disorder, in that OCD will not only make you doubt your sexuality, but it can also make you doubt that you have the doubting disorder altogether! Look at OCD as a little annoying kid that just wants to get under your skin. Everything you say, this stupid kid says the opposite. You say “I’m straight”, he says “you’re gay.” You say “I have OCD,” he says “nope, you’re just in denial.” OCD’s primary objective is always to try to turn everything around to prove its distorted and deadly imagination, even denying OCD as the reason for your turmoil. And it is all too often successful at this assignment.
From reading the countless stories of OCD sufferers, there seem to be some thoughts that are universal when it comes to sexual obsessions and compulsions that reinforce this fear of being in denial. I will do my best to offer a response for each, but you must understand that OCD isn’t cured by hearing or reading reassuring answers in order to combat to your spiking episodes. The key to getting better is to allow the thoughts and images to come into your mind without analyzing them. "I don't know what that thought means and I don't care!” But just for the sake of temporary relief, here are some common thoughts and questions that torment the OCD mind with and my response for each:
· “It feels so real” – If it didn’t feel real then you wouldn’t have OCD. The obsessions are real, as well as your anxiety, pain, fear and frustration. However, they do not represent your true desires. The obsession or spikes will try to deceive you in everyway possible to make you believe that you are turning into somebody that you are not by making you feel attracted to the same sex. People with HOCD are actually as straight as they get, because if you weren’t so repulsed by the thought of being gay, then you wouldn’t obsess about it to begin with. <!--[endif]-->
· “Am I in denial of my true sexual orientation?” – Let me say first that if you were created straight, then you are quite simply, straight. If you believe that you were created you gay, then that is indeed who you are. But I don't believe you will suddenly become someone who you innately are not. If you were straight since you were born, then to "turn" gay (if that's even possible), would in itself be a denial of who you truly are and will always be. Likewise, if you have always been gay, to suddenly turn straight, would violate the fundamental nature of who you are and always have been. I have heard of people that claim to have been "delivered" from a gay lifestyles when they have an experience with God or choose to belong to a faith that does not accept their particular lifestyle. However, the difference is that it is their choice to do so. It doesn't mean that homosexuality has become suddenly repulsive to them because its it is still the fundamental makeup of who they are (or at least were) even if they choose to no longer live that lifestyle.<!--[endif]-->
· “What if I do get aroused by a person of the same sex, does that confirm that I truly am gay?” No! There is never any need to fear that you are turning gay. HOCD will try the old trick about not finding the opposite sex attractive. Rest assured, your drive does come back; it simply isn’t in full operational capacity right now. The question is, if it did come back right this very moment and you were able to get as aroused as you use to before the onset of HOCD, would you question whether that arousal was caused by a the same sex, which would cause you to spike and obsess even more? I believe your subconscious mind is trying to protect you and mobilize a counter attack against the anxiety. It’s doing this by temporarily disabling your sex drive. Sort of like when you get a sore throat. It feels uncomfortable because your immune system is sending your natural body agents to fight against the germs that are there. It doesn't feel good and we usually take pills to escape the pain, but that pain is our body's natural response to defend itself. That is what is has happened with our sex drives. Therefore, use this time of a diminished sex drive to work through your HOCD so that when you sex drive does return, you will fully appreciate it without all the doubt and worry that comes along with this mind virus called HOCD. And you will work through this. <!--[endif]-->
<!--[if !supportLists]-->· “What if these repulsive thoughts slowly become arousing to me” Any arousal that you feel as a result of these thoughts is your mind playing tricks on you. When you are checking yourself for signs of arousal during a spike, you can actually produce a groinal response simply by focusing on that part of the body. <!--[endif]-->
<!--[if !supportLists]-->· “Can I suddenly turn into a homosexual at this age?” – Nope. You can't "turn" gay at any age. You were born straight. OCD will fill your head with lies, but remember that that is all they are ... lies.<!--[endif]-->
<!--[if !supportLists]-->· “Can deep friendship make you feel like you want to be close to a person?”<!--[endif]--> - Of course! You can have deep friendships with the same sex or the opposite sex with no sexual overtones. Deep friendships involve caring, empathy, familiarity, some light physical stuff (arms around shoulders, back slapping, and so on) and emotional attachment. People with HOCD tend to confuse that with sexual attraction because your friends are the easiest targets for the obsession to latch unto.
<!--[if !supportLists]-->· Isn’t the coming out process an extremely stressful experience for anyone?<!--[endif]-->
<!--[if !supportLists]-->· “Do bisexual people sometimes not know about HOCD and label themselves it because they feel these fears?” – Bisexuals who get HOCD falsely fear that they are attracted to only one sex, usually the one they are not involved with, instead of both. A person with HOCD who fears he or she may be bisexual is not. Remember that HOCD makes you fear you are what you are not. <!--[endif]-->
<!--[if !supportLists]-->· I’m having dreams of having sexual encounters with the same sex. Does this mean that my subconscious mind is telling me this is what I want? – Okay I once had a dream that I had sex with my mother. Now that is just plain nasty no matter who you are. But that does that mean that my brain is subconsciously telling me that I actually want to do that? Of course not. The brain is weird and the images in dreams almost never mean what they appear to mean. It’s probably the obsessing that is causing the dreams. We've all had those dreams. You will have pleasant, bizarre, gross and just plain nasty dreams from time to time. <!--[endif]-->
Like I said earlier, despite of your knowledge of OCD, the disorder isn’t cured by hearing or reading reassuring answers in order to combat to your spiking episodes. You can read and reread the above questions and answers to your heart’s content, but the lingering question in your mind will remain: “what if I am in denial?” Let’s examine this reasoning;
First, we must understand what it actually means to be in denial. Psychologically speaking, denial is a common defense mechanism that everyone uses to some degree. It is subconsciously utilized to ignore or avoid unpleasant realities. When dealing with mature adults, the concept of denial is most often associated with death or addiction.
The concept of denial is often seen as one of the most controversial defense mechanisms because of its vulnerability to be manipulated to create an unfalsifiable theory. An unfalsifiable theory is an unsupportable, untestable theory that cannot be either proven or disproved to be true. For example, anything that the patient says or does that disproves the presupposition of the interpreter is wrongfully concluded that the patient is in denial, rather than attributing the error to the interpreter’s theory. But in the case of HOCD, you become both the patient and the interpreter. The diagrams below represent the typical cycles that an HOCD sufferer experiences during a typical spike, and how the ensuing mental reasoning and rumination always provides an unfalsifiable theory.
The typical cycle follows these four steps: (1) The Defense, (2) The Reasoning (3) The Denial Counter-defense, (4) The False Conclusion, which, in turn, brings you right back to your original defense. This can go on over and over again in fruitless rumination. I believe all spikes follow one of these four patters, which are basically all slightly different versions of the same false thinking pattern.
These four diagrams represent an anatomy of the HOCD spike. Let’s imagine a hypothetical situation for an instance that would generate such a spike.
Imagine for a moment that you are watching television on a Friday night after a long day of work. You haven’t been obsessing much lately and almost begin feeling some sense of the old you coming back. You relax in the recliner, flip off your shoes and click the “on” button on the remote and wait as the television forms a picture. The television is turned to Entertainment Tonight and before you get a chance to change the channel you begin to hear a latest reviews for the movie Broke Back Mountain. You hear of the story of two cowboys who were married and had families but had dark secrets of homosexuality in their closet. This hidden desire emerges again when the two men meet again later in life and pursuits a secret affair together.
Suddenly, you feel your heart start to beat faster and your breathing gets noticeably heavier. Slight sensations in your groin make you start to shake like a nervous wreck. You can feel the spike welling up within you like a tumor the size of a baseball and then it explodes: “You are just like those cowboys,” the spike screams at you. The spike continues with the excruciating thought: “Sure you can deny this and maybe even marry, but you’ll always be gay.” As fast as your thumb can press the clicker, you try to change the channel, but the spike yells louder, “go ahead, change it and prove that you are just afraid of accepting this truth.” Fearing being in denial, you decide to watch the program and nevertheless continue with the miserable cycle of endless spikes. Just another catch22 … a detonation of TNT right in the core of your mind.
In the first diagram, we begin with the correct premise: “I am a heterosexual.” Usually, this statement becomes a repeating ritual where the spiker would repeat this over and over again to themselves. It may even be intertwined with a counting ritual, such as repeating the phrase a certain amount of times until the anxiety subsides.
In all four of these scenarios, the only conclusion that your mind will allow you to draw is that you are in denial and therefore, homosexual because whatever you say or do is cancelled by the thought of being in denial. If you feel attracted to the opposite sex, your mind reasons that the stimulation is due to being in denial and thus, attributes the stimulation to the same sex. Likewise, if you feel repulsed by same sex relations, then your mind will draw the conclusion that the repulsion is just an excuse to hide the “reality” that you are in denial. This method of reasoning allows no evidence to prove your rightful sexual orientation of heterosexuality. Hence, checking rituals become a compulsion because it is a never ending cycle of questions and answers trapped in a closed circle as illustrated in the diagram one through four
The only way that this graph will work is if we start with the false premise: “I am a homosexual.” This false premise will work because your obsessive mind will immediately spike and affirm your obsession by telling you that you are attracted to members of the same sex. As mentioned above, during a spike, you become two separate characters, the patient and the interpreter or psychiatrist.
The obsessional doubt plays the part of an ignorant psychiatrist that received his doctorate from Saint Spike University – the kind of psychiatrist with the shiny bald spot, rounded bifocals, and obnoxious bow tie. He is the type of person the type that has all the education in the world and sounds extremely intellectual when he speaks but has absolutely no clue what he is talking about.
The patient represents your normal functioning mind – the bright, secure, creative, and passionate person that you still are. These two voices exist in your mind and have constant dialogue between each other. However, there is a problem. Your psychiatrist has already predetermined your diagnosis even before meeting you. During your exhausting sessions together you present him with all the evidence that the scary thoughts do not represent who you are. You tell him how you were always attracted to the opposite sex, you still enjoy fantasizing about the opposite sex, you have never done what you were afraid of, etc. Your inner “psychiatrist” gives you a few grunts to pretend he is listening while drawing stick-figures on his notepad. “So doc, what do you think is wrong with me” you ask as the session comes to an end.” Hearing no response, you ask him again as he sleeps soundly behind you. He sits up quickly and struggles to formulate an intelligent response. “Um ... sounds like denial to me” he answers back. “Just accept what you fear and you will stop worrying. What is the worst that can happen? You may find that you are what you fear, but I think accepting that would be better than living with OCD” You think to yourself “I would rather live with OCD for life than accept the possibility of that lie.” You wonder to yourself if he has heard anything you have just said and before you get a chance to speak he is scheduling your next session. “Okay, so we will meet again in two and a half minutes ... sound good? Okay, see you then.” On your way out you wonder “Why am I paying this idiot to give me counseling? He is making me worse!”
So ask yourself this question: what are you paying your ignorant psychiatrist called obsessive thoughts when he is only making you worse? “How am I paying” you ask? You are paying with your mental energy and time, which is far more valuable than money. The same time you spend on “what if” thinking is the same time you could use to do something far more productive, constructive and rewarding. Here are some tactics you can use when you start dialoguing with your psychiatrist:
1. When you start obsessive, view your thoughts as a counseling session with a moron.<!--[endif]-->
2. Say to the psychiatrist out loud or quietly “why are you talking, I fired you” or “I’m sorry, I don’t talk to morons.”<!--[endif]-->
3. Imagine yourself getting up and walking out of the counseling session right in the middle of the moron’s statement. <!--[endif]-->
4. Say to the psychiatrist “I know you think you’re intelligent and that you think you know what you’re talking about ... but maybe you should consider going back to school.”<!--[endif]-->
5. Purpose to never speak to morons. <!--[endif]-->
The purpose of these statements is to refuse to engage in pointless dialogue with an obsession that won’t listen anyway. Like anyone on the outside world, you must choose not to care about the presuppositions that this psychiatrist has placed on you. These are just five examples of what you can say when your obsessive thoughts try to offer you its ignorant, mindless opinion. You can formulate your own and make it as personal as you like. However, make sure to keep the obsessive thoughts as personified as possible in that you could easily see it and talk to it (privately) as the absolute moron that it truly is.
It is important to note to not view your actual behavioral therapist as the ignorant psychologist described above. For he or she may be the only person qualified to guide you to recovery, though you may feel otherwise at tough times during your counseling. There will be instances where you therapist will ask you to do things that seem counterproductive to your recovery, but the goal of these exercises are to desensitize you to your fear, not to transform you to who were prior the onset of your obsessive-compulsive symptoms.
THE DEATH OF THE SEX DRIVE
An OCD sufferer who experiences obsessional doubt related to his of her sexual identity calls into questions every possible factor that may evidence the reality of the fear and conclusively answer the anxiety inducing “questions.” For the HOCDer, one of the most significant factors that seemingly validates the sufferer’s sexual orientation is that of sexual responsiveness.
A person with obsessional fears of homosexuality attempts to arrive at a concise resolution that they are indeed straight by constantly monitoring their level of arousal when ruminating about members of the same and opposite sex. When fantasizing about the opposite sex, if one does not achieve a level of arousal that is perceived to be normal, than that confirms that a transformation is taking place. In the same manner, if watching explicit material or mentally visualizing members of the same sex produces the slightest inclination of a sexual response, this provides evidence they are what they fear. These “stimulation tests” can be very damaging to the HOCDer because the obsession no longer becomes an irrational fear relegated to mere intrusive, repulsive thoughts in the mind, but a physiological response that can be felt throughout the body. “If I’m actually getting turned on by this stuff, then this must prove that I am in denial and truly desire these thoughts.” Or vice versa, “If I no longer get aroused like I use to by these encounters/thoughts/images, then I must be a homosexual.” These stimulation tests seems like a logical and conclusive means of answering these questions because of the belief that one cannot be aroused if the thought that causes the arousal is not desired. However, any OCD expert will agree that this method of self-evaluation fails at providing any evidence to the questions the sexual obsession presents. That is because, as mentioned earlier, these questions are not real questions. Thus, any answers that this method of testing provides are not real answers as well. Dr. Steven Phillipson’s article, I Think It Moved, addresses the main problem why the concern with changes in the sex drive is so prevalent amongst HOCD sufferers. In his article, Dr. Phillipson states “For the human sexual process to work effectively, the combined experience of both relaxation and arousal is a necessity. As it turns out, being anxious and aroused are mutually exclusive experiences.” If this is indeed true than any “arousal” produced by a spike is a counterfeit. Let’s examine why:
The anxiety created by obsessive thinking naturally has an effect on your sympathetic nervous system, which controls your sexual arousal. When dealing with all other obsession, the sufferer connects any changes within their sex drive to the anxiety itself, rather to the content of the obsession. In this way, those dealing with non-sexual obsessions do not monitor their libido as either vindicating or convicting evidence of the obsessive fears. They see a diminished sex drive like any other symptom of anxiety, no different than insomnia, hypersomnia, loss of appetite, pressure in various areas of the body, headaches, shortness of breath, etc. HOCDers, on the other hand, do not see their changes in their sex drive as just a symptom of anxiety. Rather, they wrongly perceive their anxiety as a side-effect of a diminished sex drive instead of the other way around.
It is a fact that sexual responsiveness is naturally affected when critical levels of anxiety are present, regardless of what causes the anxiety. The problem is that the causation of anxiety for HOCD sufferer is doubts about their sexuality. Thus, this natural sexual symptom of anxiety becomes an even greater cause of extraordinary agony for the sufferer because their fears are reinforced by this normal subconscious reaction.
With this information, it is clear why the desperate effort to achieve a desired level of arousal when fantasying of the opposite sex in order to constantly reassure yourself that you are completely straight often creates the reverse effect of discomfort and non-sexual responsiveness. Or in equal desperation, one may completely avoid arousal, only to experience arousal-like sensations in their groin, which is frequently misinterpreted as sexual stimulation. To both male and female sufferers alike, this is generally known as “groinal response.” The restless mind of the HOCDer is endlessly searching out evidence, asking questions and exploring possibilities that seek to put to end the obsession. Since arousal is perceived to be the most substantial evidence of determining ones sexual orientation, the mind constantly searches for indicators that may reveal if even the smallest traces of arousal are present and the sources from which they came. However, these searches for sexual arousal are likely to increase the probability that such sensations will be found. In Dr. Steven Phillipson’s article mentioned earlier, he explains; “If a “gay spiker” were to see an attractive person of the same sex and check whether they are having a completely neutral sensation in their groin, there is a significant likelihood that they would feel a tingling sensation and miss out on the opportunity to disqualify their homosexual inclination. The actual physical experience in their groin often validates in their own mind that they have definitive proof that this is not just a psychological condition but an actual manifestation of homosexuality.” To say it plainly, it is not what you are thinking about that is causing you to sense feelings of arousal. Rather, it is the obsessive need to constantly seek reassurance that is causing you to sense such feelings. This method of checking will only produce phony results that will most likely only reinforce the obsession and increase the tormenting thoughts and physiological discomfort.
This plethora of mixed messages, overwhelming anxiety and paralyzing fear often results in a system failure or crash of the sex drive. It is my opinion that this crash debilitates the true sex drive which allows you to be aroused by members of the opposite sex, which is what you truly desire. However, it often leaves the counterfeit feelings of arousal caused by the anxiety and obsessive thinking, since the side-effects of anxiety are exempt from the disruption of the sympathetic nervous system. This is the primary factor which seems to explain why HOCD sufferers report feeling like they have lost all sexual inclination towards the opposite sex while the counterfeit feelings of arousal from the obsession seem to remain intact and continues to validate the fear of a homosexual transformation.
Across the board, sufferers of the sexual obsession seem to experience a change in their sex drive where they feel they have lost their sexual responsiveness for the opposite sex. As a result, the obsessive thoughts create a compulsive need to constantly reassure yourself that your sex drive is not only intact, but is operating for the proper gender. Like every other OCD sufferer, these fears have locked you into an endless cycle of obsessions and compulsions. You feel afraid because your mind is telling you that you are loosing your sex drive so you engage in sexual activities to ensure yourself that you are not. When you force yourself to become aroused and engage in sexual activities and experience an orgasm, your mind then tells you that the reason you had the orgasm was because you were really thinking about a homosexual “fantasy.” Each day you continue to do this over and over again hoping that one magical experience will free you from the tormenting thoughts of the obsession. Did you know that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results? After many months of constantly feeding your compulsive behavior and you continue to remain in the same mental position or worse, then you must begin to explore other options in order to stand any possible chance of recovery. Here then are some suggestions I would recommend that may help you deal with your concern about changes in your sexual drive;
First and foremost, I would suggest that you refrain to the best of your ability from everything sexual for a season. Ceasing everything sexual means not only to stop having sex, but everything sexual: no phone sex, no pornography, no masturbation, nothing This will undoubtedly cause a your body to go into a sexual withdrawal and cause a temporary increase in spikes because you have so conditioned your body to relieve your anxiety through these means. The problem is that you have desensitized yourself to natural arousal and are not allowing your body enough time to attain genuine arousal. You are forcing yourself to be aroused in order to check yourself. When you quit all sexual activity your body will SLOWLY begin to build up a natural sex drive again and when this natural process happens then the natural attraction for the opposite sex will also resurface. Your body must be reconditioned to achieve sexual arousal on its own without being forced into arousal due to your fear of never being able to become aroused again.
Secondly, consider how many drugs you are on for OCD and/or other related disorders and decide which ones are absolutely necessary and eliminate those that aren’t. Of course, consult your doctor when making your decision. Sometimes, prescribed medications can do more harm than good, even if it is directly intended for anxiety disorders. Many medications have side-effects on your sex drive causing it to function at a lower level then normal, depleting the already lowered drive you are experiencing due the natural side-effects of anxiety. It is obvious how this can be counterproductive to your recovery. You should talk to your doctor about any concerns you have about the medication(s) you are on and get a second and third opinion if necessary.
Thirdly, if you have obsessed yourself with researching OCD and have become addicted to online forums or message boards created for the discussion of sexual obsession and compulsions, take a sabbatical to clear your mind. Online forums and message boards have the potential to become a compulsive activity if you are not careful. Connecting with other sufferers in order to find help and support is a great way to begin your road to recovery. But many abuse these tools and other sufferers as a habitual means of checking and reassurance, voicing the same questions and concerns day after day each time a spike strikes. If this is you, I would first recommend that you take a break for at least one week. When you return, I would strongly recommend that you police your use of such internet recourses or anything else that you find yourself devoting an extraordinary amount of time to. You may even want to set up a schedule or a personal posting limitation or keep a personal log to answers that you can refer to instead of repeating your worries. This will help you not to center your entire life and every waking thought around your obsessions and compulsions.
Forth, I strongly implore you to consider professional help. A practicing and trained OCD specialist will never tell you that you are just in denial. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy is the most effective form of treatment existing in the field today for OCD sufferers. You will do yourself a great disservice if you never take advantage of this form of treatment. The personalized attention you will receive from a CBT psychiatrist will enable you to voice your concerns about your sex drive and receive professional advice to put you at ease and back in control.
You can rest assured that your sex drive has not gone AWOL forever. It will return as you learn to deal with your anxiety and continue moving forward on your road to recovery.