Patience: Opening up to others about same-sex attraction can be very difficult. Fear, anxiety, and shame can slow the process down considerably. Also, many of those with same-sex attraction, both men and women, are vulnerable to feeling betrayed by men. Best results usually come from allowing the person time to consider what they say. It may take them a few or even several conversations before they disclose everything. Depending on the nature of the relationship, there may be things the person will choose not to disclose to you. For example, children are often reticent to disclose to their parents about their sexual behavior. It is important to respect their boundaries.
Deliberation: Fully understanding the person with same-sex attraction may take time. More often than not the challenges they face are more complicated than first meets the eye. For this reason, we’ve found it’s best to listen a long time before speaking to the concerns being shared. Becoming “the expert” and offering premature, uninformed counsel often results in the person feeling misunderstood, dismissed, or abandoned. Also, if you have not personally experienced same-sex attraction, be cautious about offering advice on how they should handle things.
Compassion: Feelings can be very deep and painful among those with same-sex attraction. In addition to the fear, anxiety, embarrassment, and shame they often experience just talking about these issues, they may also be feeling loneliness, emotional pain, deep grief, self-hatred, unresolved anger, and tremendous internal conflict. Sensing the compassion you feel toward them for their struggles can be very healing and encouraging. Our therapists have found that asking for permission before bringing up potentially shameful, embarrassing, or painful subjects communicates respectfulness for their feelings, and can help them feel safe and secure.
Poise: In order to best help those with same-sex attraction, avoid showing discomfort or embarrassment as they disclose information about themselves, particularly if they disclose behaviors that are hard for you to hear. Family members who experience extreme discomfort might consider getting therapy for themselves to overcome the discomfort.
If you are a parent or spouse, avoid the natural tendency to make the conversations about you by doing things like asking them what you’ve done wrong, becoming over-emotional, or getting angry. While these responses represent legitimate thoughts and feelings on your part, they should be handled out of your child’s or partner’s presence through your own soul-searching, and, if needed, through counseling.
Realistic Caring: Being realistic about your capacity to help is important. For both friends and family members, it’s best to commit only to those actions or processes that you can realistically accomplish—neither overpromising nor abandoning the person. Best results come when you are clear about the role you believe you can fulfill, and when you assist them in finding the professional experts to handle what is beyond your capacity.
Confidentiality: Many individuals delay disclosing their struggles to friends or family members, or resist being completely honest, because they fear that information they share will be conveyed to other friends or family members. Assuring the individual of confidentiality can help allay those fears. Then, keeping that confidentiality is absolutely essential.