Sunday, November 8, 2009

Moral Hazards

She was a professional woman.  Raised in a strict, churchgoing and dysfunctional family.  And she was gay.  That's what brought her to my doorstep.  Seeking a way out of her dilemma.  Seeking, but not finding, something I could not give her.  Because she was also trapped in her own mind - her beliefs and her self-evaluations and her view of God so powerfully stuck, so resistant to change.

Her church was telling her that what her mind and body felt were sinful longings.  As to behavior, she really hadn't done much of that.  Too much rejection from family the one time she briefly lived with a woman.   Church was important to her.  Her main source of social interaction outside her family of origin.  But God was, for her, a demanding judge, someone to fear.  And the bible hadn't seemed to help either - as she tended to focus on those passages which, she feared, would be in waiting for her when her behavior came to "Judgment" one day.

She really didn't make much progress, I think.  As her mind was so fixed - like concrete that had set long ago.  And she finally stopped coming.  Still depressed, but no longer suicidal. 

But though she left therapy, her therapy did not leave me.  Her plight was not just one of being rejected for being gay.  Though she had been.  More than anything it was related to a failure of religion to be there for her.  A failure of her faith community to provide solace or even a chance to open up.  A failure of her church to reassure her of God's care and protection and love; God's ultimate delight in her and fervent wish for her well-being.  But it wasn't only that.  Our image of God is powerfully affected by the image we form, based upon our parents.  Our conscience is formed from interaction with parents.  And she just couldn't take the risk of "giving up" her long-ago cemented ideas about God, sin, faith, religion, and the parental rejection they all symbolized.

Somehow she could never chip away at that cement:  For the Bible told her so.  And she was so closed-off, from having to hide so much of herself, feeling so ashamed - that it prevented her from forming a close enough bond with me.  A bond that might have given her enough "security" and "safety" to risk letting go of what kept her imprisoned, unhappy, unfulfilled, isolated.

She needed to protect herself.  But in doing that she was also (unwittingly) hemming herself in.  She was too fearful of parental disapproval, church disapproval, bible disapproval, God disapproval.  So what did it matter if I was OK with it?  She herself disapproved.

One thing about being a therapist.  So many people get better, move on.  There's a sense of completion.  But you never forget the people you couldn't help.  That thought nags at you.  Especially when, like this person, part of the problem lies in society and in religion.  You get concerned about the many ways churches hurt people, rather than helping them.  You cringe at so many ways that society hurts and fails to help.  Of course you knew that before, but that was before you knew this person.  (And naturally, it's not just one person I'm thinking of.  I just picked the one that's nagged at me the most.)

That's why civil unions alone will never be enough.  People like my former patient need compassionate pastoral and communal care as well.  God is Love.  Love is of God.  So long as we are faithful to the one we love, how could that love possibly displease the One who first LOVED us?  Who literally loved us - into BEING? 

Long ago I decided that if I had to choose between moral hazards, I would prefer to err on the side of love.   (Seems to me I picked that up from an itinerant Jewish Rabbi "who spoke with authority" and whose actions, according to his own testimony, were meant to reveal his Father's Love - love especially for the lost and forsaken, the excluded and the outcast.) 


colkoch said...

TheraP you are so right. The one's we can't help very much are the clients that stay with us. That's certainly been true for me.

Too many times the source of the depression is self hate from abuse, and what churches teach about gays is most definitely abusive in this sense.

Great post.

TheraP said...

Well, as to the ones who need supportive therapy, forever, I view that as like "insulin" for the diabetic. I'm ok with that.

But yes, it's very, very difficult to deal with self-hatred. In that case it's almost as if the person sticks around trying to change the therapist! Into agreeing to hate them. That is tough going. Usually, I think, there is something else below the self-hatred. But hard to get to. Fear of loss, I think. And if they gave up the self-hatred and got better... then they'd lose the therapist!

Glad you enjoyed this post. (I thought you might.)

I also posted it at TPM - and am amazed it's not caused fights to break out!

TheraP said...

Well, well, well, well, well..... I have just come across an address by an ELCA Lutheran Bishop Emeritus, apologizing (just 5 days ago!) for his former rejection of homosexuality - in a public context - which was reported by Minnesota Public Radio. You can read the brief text at The Wild Reed.

(I am profoundly moved by this.)

tuhermana said...

Your post was deeply touching and reminded me of my work with domestic violence and faith leaders, TheraP. One aspect of DV that is not commonly recognized is the crisis in faith that many victims experience when they turn to their religion and their faith leaders for help and guidance only to be told that their faith’s teachings either tacitly condone the violence, fail to condemn the violence, or require that they continue to tolerate the violence. DV separates them from God and many faith leaders are complicit in the separation. Many victims remain in violent marriages for years, some are killed, because they believe that this is what God wants; that the covenant of marriage when corrupted by violence is still binding. I remember one young woman especially, who turned to her clergy person about the abuse and was told to pray harder to be a better wife. She had the sense to end the marriage. But she also ended her relationship with Christianity and became a Wiccan. Not a bad thing, but surely not the sanctuary any Christian church would have wanted for her.

With regard to your patient, my own experience with childhood demons (which were not the same as hers) is that it is a process and her time with you was most likely an important part of that process. She may yet become whole. You did what you could and provided what she was ready for at the time. Personal growth is like a weed, unpredictable and hard to kill. :-)

TheraP said...

Gracias, tuhermana, for your lovely comment - which arrived as a Christmas present this morning. I found it both wise and comforting. And thank you for the lovely analogy about weeds. It is very deep and I will never forget it.

What you say about domestic violence is also true of sexual abuse. I have worked with several women whose abuse occurred in the context of being told that they "had" to do what a man told them (in a the context of a religion which emphasized "submission" to male authorities). Implicitly, I think this is also the context of abuse by clergy - whom many women view as somehow more godly, more special, and therefore view themselves as somehow also "special" or "chosen" - all of which is a total perversion of both the role of clergy and the role of religion. See this post elsewhere for commentary on the role of a spiritual shepherd:

Peace be with you.

TheraP said...

I just got a link to an article via John FH at Ancient Hebrew Poetry, which fits right with this post:

It is so helpful that there are some pastors and professors of biblical interpretation, even some evangelicals, who try and approach the issue of homosexuality and Christian ethics with nuance and in particular with compassion. For example, John's comment here: