by David R. Farnsworth, MA, LPC, NCC
Oftentimes in psychology, we talk about attachment theory in developmental terms with children. I have often seen some benefits of applying this theory to the LGBT population within the larger context of their attachment development to the heterocentric society in which they live.
Someone simplistically put: if a child touches a hot stove, they soon learn not to touch it. If something proves itself to be dangerous, traumatic, or unsafe long enough, then what is the natural and instinctual response? People will usually not attach themselves to it. Thus is the same when the unsafe item is society at large.
Now, credit needs to be given that society has evolved much in the past decade for LGBT individuals, but not in all places and not for all LGBT individuals. We think of the 1970s and 80s where LGBT individuals were cultural pariahs migrating away from society into the arms of the LGBT communities that were built up in urban areas. One would say that they found a place where the “stove is not hot” and they felt safe to attach themselves and found corrective experiences with “chosen families.” However, there are those that never find a sense of safety in this society and become arrested in their attachment development.
Now, the idea that all human beings (regardless of individual personalities) must form healthy attachments and cultivate meaning and purpose in their lives in order to find true happiness and fulfillment is a powerful challenge to the LGBT individual who fears attachment beyond all else.
This insidious lack of attachment causes such intense anxiety that often permeates throughout the entire LGBT individual’s life, unless it is faced. The pain and trauma that some LGBT individuals face at the discriminatory hand of our society has rendered them like a Post-It note that has been stuck and unstuck so many times that the stickiness has rubbed off. It can no longer adhere and resembles an ordinary square piece of paper.
Now what does all this psychobabble look like in real life? Oftentimes it is a grand interference in bonding in relationships leading one to move from one relationship to another, or to stay in a relationship longer than one should because of the fear of finding something else safe; moving from place to place and job to job; lack of deep and meaningful friendships; a focus on accumulating material possessions; staying in the home; too much television…all of which leads a person to a sense of depression and loneliness because the lack of attachment is not cultivating meaning in life.
What a lot of hopeless damage a heterocentric society may appear to do to an LGBT individual, however, there is always hope to regain a sense of safety and attachment. One can apply a new coat of adhesive to the Post-It note for it to adhere again. It takes time and healing and a strong courage to trust those who are with you on this journey.
Not to say that forming attachments in this society is simple for heterosexual individuals, but there is a grand sense of “heterosexual privilege” that is unseen, but felt and executed on a daily basis that LGBT individuals have to work against.