Put most simply, Surrender is letting change happen. Surrender means releasing from our lives everything that inhibits growth and receiving into our lives those things that foster it. As the previous sentence suggests, surrender is bi–directional—it involves both letting go (releasing) and letting in (receiving).
Let me explain this with a metaphor. Imagine a fortress that has been defending against an invading force for some time. The occupants of the fort are out of provisions and ammunition. They are beginning to starve and die. They are beaten and ready to surrender. But if they are to surrender, they must first put down their weapons. This represents the “letting go” aspect of surrender. Once they have relinquished their arms, they must accept the new command of the opposing force. This represents the “letting in” aspect of surrender.
Three traits tend to make the principle of surrender difficult for those of us with SSA to live. First, we tend to have difficulty making emotional shifts and being emotionally open. This was discussed under the topic: Authenticity. Second, we tend to have some counter–productive thought patterns. And third, we tend to get stuck in certain destructive behavioral patterns. Let’s discuss each of these traits in more detail.
Difficulty with Emotional Shifts
Our difficulty making emotional shifts likely comes from having grown up with shame and other relational problems, which may have impaired our ability to process and move past the emotional conflicts and traumas that are a normal part of life. This makes it difficult for us to shift from negative and defensive feeling states to positive and relational ones—for example, from sadness to relief, anger to forgiveness, or fear to confidence. Without this ability, we have difficulty making and maintaining relationships with other males, which are necessary for masculine sufficiency. The inability to shift emotionally can compound our difficulties by interacting with our engrained thought patterns and our compulsive or addictive behaviors, which I will describe below.
Counter-productive Thought Patterns
Our thought patterns tend to be toxic or obsessive—or both. Toxic thinking, also referred to as thinking errors, could be described as seeing yourself, your situation, your relationships, and the world in ways that are inaccurate and overly negative. Obsessive thinking often shows up among us as a tendency to become fixated or stuck on certain thoughts, thinking about them over and over again. It may also show up as perfectionistic beliefs and expectations of our selves or others. And it can manifest as rigid and stubborn thinking. Very often, this trait seems to have been worse in childhood than it is now. Whether or not our toxic and obsessive thoughts are directly linked to homosexuality, they tend to slow the change process down. And they often lead to compulsive behaviors, further slowing the process of growth.
Destructive Behavioral Patterns
Behaviorally, we tend toward compulsions, addictions, gender–atypical behavior, and distractive ways of living. Compulsions result from obsessive thought patterns and can show up in two different ways. First, compulsions can be part of obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD), in which case the compulsive behavior is an attempt to stop the anxiety that comes from the obsessive thought. Although performing the compulsive behavior does seem to reduce the anxiety, it does so only temporarily.
Second, compulsions can be part of a behavioral pattern in which we unconsciously set up a situation that repeats a painful or disturbing dynamic from childhood in an attempt to “get it right.” These “repetition compulsions” are common among men with SSA. For example, men will often engage in sexual patterns that play out unresolved childhood issues, such as a desire to be admired, an insatiable curiosity about men’s bodies, or a sense that they deserve to be punished. Men who have been abused will often act out in ways that resemble their abuse. And men who were introduced to sex through sexual play with another boy will sometimes repeat that situation again and again in their adult lives. These repetition compulsions merely create more painful—though familiar—feelings and end up working as more of a punishment and distraction from moving on with life. We never really do “get it right.”
Sexual addiction is quite common among men with SSA. It may include fantasies, pornography, masturbation, and sex with other people whether live or by electronic means. These behaviors are repeated again and again for pleasure or for relief from pain. Some men lose control of the frequency and intensity of the behavior, engaging in it even though it presents ever–increasing risks. At its most extreme, sexual addiction can be extremely destructive and even life threatening.
Gender–atypical behavior, although less serious than compulsions or addictions, can nonetheless slow our change process. This includes acting in a flamboyant or effeminate manner and any other behavior that comes across to others as immature or that makes us feel less masculine or more feminine. Gender–atypical behavior can maintain gender incongruity by reinforcing a non–masculine self–concept. And it can worsen same–sex disaffiliation when it makes other men uncomfortable interacting with us, effectively putting a wall between them and us.
A final behavioral problem that deserves mention might be termed the “distractive lifestyle.” This refers to ways of living that keep us so busy doing other things that we never have time to pursue healing and change. Excessive television watching and frequent partying or leisure activities are easily identifiable as distractions from the more important healing process. But the three main distractions I’ve noticed are overworking, frequent travel, and heavy study loads among students. These are also the most difficult to change because they often seem to be necessary and unchangeable.
Now let’s consider ways of living the principle of surrender by looking at it from four perspectives: cognitive, emotional, spiritual, and behavioral.
Cognitively, it is often necessary for us to develop new beliefs about ourselves and about others. Perhaps the most significant belief about ourselves that we might need to let go of is the belief that we are “gay,” in other words, that homosexuality is who we are. I believe that same–sex attraction cannot be changed without a conscious choice to stop defining ourselves as gay or homosexual.
Often the most significant belief about others that we have to release is the stereotyped perspectives of heterosexual men, whether positive or negative. Close friendships with men can help greatly in this process, especially once trust begins to develop. Trust itself is a surrender of defensiveness, and it can open us to seeing other views on life that will challenge and correct our own.
If toxic or obsessive thinking is part of the equation, it needs to be diminished. A number of self–help books and programs can be found online to help with this. Certain cognitive therapies can also be very helpful in diminishing this problem. In very serious cases, medication may be necessary to bring OCD under control.
Emotionally, the principle of surrender begins with letting go of defenses and fully receiving and feeling our emotions. Emotions bring physical sensations and impulses in the body. For example, anger might bring a pounding heart and an impulse to hit. Emotions also bring understanding to the mind. For example, anger might bring recognition of the extent of the abuse we suffered.
Sometimes we need to learn how to release the impulses or “charges” that come with our emotions in ways that don’t hurt ourselves or others. And we may need help making sense of our feelings and integrating this new understanding, which will create growth and expansion of our emotional capacities.
Many of us also find that we must surrender emotionally in relationships with trustworthy people by releasing information about ourselves, exposing our feelings, and opening ourselves to receiving love and affirmation from them.
Spiritually, surrender may occur in one powerful act of faith—willingly letting go of the control of our lives, trusting that something bigger than us will benevolently step in. Some of us can do this. Others can only spiritually surrender a bit at a time as we gradually feel greater trust through successful experiences with powers greater than our own, whether that power is seen as the natural change process or as God.
For many of us who are religious, the love shared between us and God creates willingness and a desire to surrender. Whether done at once or through many small decisions, spiritual surrender requires a recognition that we are a smaller force in the universe and that there is some force greater than ourselves that wants our wellbeing.
Spiritual surrender also involves seeking transcendence. By this I mean seeking to rise above where we have been, looking within ourselves for more mature responses, and going to sources higher than ourselves for guidance and inspiration.
Behavioral surrender depends on the other three kinds of surrender (cognitive, emotional, and spiritual). For example, if we need to let go of sexual addiction, we may need to abandon such rigid beliefs as, “I can control this by myself” (cognitive surrender). We may also need to work through deep feelings like anger and shame (emotional surrender). And we may need to submit our will to a Higher Power (spiritual surrender). Working through and surrendering these underlying issues can have a dramatic impact on an addiction. Additional 12–step work and addiction counseling is often necessary to fully overcome an addiction.
Those of us who are concerned about gender–atypical behavior (effeminacy or “acting gay”) might consider whether these behaviors are a reflection of our self–perception. Emotional and cognitive surrender is the pathway to deep changes in self–perception. At the same time, for some people, choosing to surrender non–masculine behaviors and to adopt behaviors that we perceive to be more masculine can be quite helpful in the overall process.
Finally, surrendering a “distractive lifestyle” necessitates emotional surrender of our fear of the change process. It may also require a behavioral intervention to help change this pattern.
Take the concepts presented in this lesson to a deeper level in your life through action. Consider the ideas below, then come up with an activity that will stretch you.
Each topic presented in this lesson will be explored in much greater length over the course of the entire GWX curriculum.
- Journal about one or two things you feel a need to let go of as described in paragraph two of this lesson. Then journal about a few things you feel you need to let into your life as described in the same paragraph.
- Think about the three traits described at the top of this lesson that tend to get in the way of surrender (difficulty with emotional shifts, counter-productive thought patterns, and destructive behavioral patterns). Consider whether any of these is a problem for you. Journal about it. If you are working with a therapist, discuss it with him or her.
- Make a plan for overcoming one of the traits described in the first three sections of this lesson that may be blocking your ability to surrender. Then, carry out the plan. You may be able to do this on your own, or you may require the help of a therapist or group. Notice and attend to the feelings that come up in this process.
- After reading the sections on the four different types of surrender (cognitive, emotional, spiritual, behavioral), decide whether you have work to do right now in one of those areas. Then, create and carry out a plan to surrender something in that area. Be attentive to the feelings that come up as you do this.
Ideas for Groups
All of the activities described above can be adapted for group use. Below are suggestions for how to adapt them.
- Activities 1 and 2: Invite group members to complete one of these activities on their own and then discuss their experience during group. You might develop an experiential activity to help men process what comes up.
- Activities 3 and 4: Invite group members to individually decide on a specific plan as suggested either of these activities. Then ask them to consider how the group can assist them with their plan. Be conscious of realistic limitations on group members’ time and resources. And be sure the follow through entirely with what the group commits.
(Men with lengthy experience regarding this topic)
- Reflect on what you have learned and how you have grown in the areas discussed in this lesson. Identify the most important resources, experiences, processes, or lessons you have encountered. Write these things down and share them with GWX.
- Write about a specific experience you have had with surrender and share it with GWX.
- Develop an individual or group activity for this lesson. Try it out to see if it works. Then share it with GWX.
Sharing our life experiences is a powerful way to more deeply integrate what we learn. You are invited to share your experience with this lesson with anyone close to you whom you trust. And you are especially invited to share your experience back to the GWX community by writing a post of up to 400 words.
If you have something longer to share, such as a group process protocol or some additional reading, please send it to: firstname.lastname@example.org