Payam Ghassemlou Ph.D.'s Posts (11)

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Since being vulnerable does not always come easily to many of us, it is important to have empathy for anyone who struggles with it. The internet is flooded with writings and talks on encouraging people to show vulnerability. Having trouble expressing it often gets associated with a lack of authenticity. Such judgmental interpretations can frequently trigger shame in people who don’t feel safe enough to be vulnerable due to certain socio-demographic factors. There is a misconception that expressing vulnerability is a matter of courage or just making a mental decision. By helping others reclaim it, I have realized the issue has little to do with bravery or honesty. It has more to do with the state of one’s nervous system. By having a somatic perspective on understanding vulnerability, we can open a new path toward befriending it.

There are many different paths toward befriending vulnerability which includes using the body to build a greater capacity to embrace it. Our response to many emotional experiences can be felt in our bodies. For example, Lucas, a 30-year-old cis gender gay man, disclosed having difficulty asking guys on dates. Doing so makes him feel very vulnerable. Among other bodily reactions, he reported tightness in his chest along with uncomfortable restricted breathing when faced with uncertainty to his invitation. Lucas has a history of growing up with the stress of homophobic mistreatment. He often felt unsafe at school due to the devastating experience of being bullied or called derogatory names. Fight or flight was not an option when he was feeling helpless and hopeless dealing with his traumatic school environment. Instead, his body resorted to numbing and shutting down. This response became his default whenever faced with overwhelming situations like entering a vulnerable state. Lucas’ reactions to becoming vulnerable had nothing to do with a choice or a lack of courage. It had more to do with his body’s threat alarm being frequently on.

In general, LGBTQ children are often at risk for being bullied, and they need protection. Lucas and many other queer youngsters growing up place their trust in individuals and institutions who were supposed to protect them from harm. Failure to receive such a protection at a critical developmental phase became a source of hurt and betrayal. The trauma of growing up gay in a world that did not embrace LGBTQ identity with kindness and acceptance led Lucas and many others to associate vulnerability with fear and betrayal. Given his traumatic history, Lucas needed help learning how to feel safe in his body when becoming vulnerable. Regulation of his psychophysiological arousal in response to vulnerability has been an important healing task for Lucas, especially when it came to making connections with other single gay men.

Taking a somatic approach toward working with vulnerability involves understanding the role of the autonomic nervous system (“ANS”). The ANS is the part of the nervous system that governs the fight, flight, or freeze instinct and is responsible for the unconscious bodily functions like breathing, digesting food, and regulating the heart rate. It also plays a vital role of supplying information from our organs to our brain. This system works automatically (autonomously), without a person’s conscious effort. The ANS is central to our experience of safety, connection with others, and our ability to bounce back from life’s overwhelming experiences. Relying on neuroception, a term coined by Dr. Stephen Porges, our ANS can differentiate between safety, danger, and a life threat. Neuroception, as Deb Dana (author of The Polyvagal Theory in Therapy) explains, is automatic, and it does not go through the thinking part of our brain. Everything from sound to smell to temperature in our environment, people’s tone of voice, and eye contact can influence our neuroception. It is like “internal surveillance” that looks for cues of safety and danger inside the body, in one’s environment, and in relationship with people. It helps us take immediate action in the face of danger or threat. The goal of neuroception is to keep us safe and alive. Based on my training in Somatic Experiencing®, Touch Skills Training for Trauma Therapists, Polyvagal Theory, and other body inclusive approaches, I have learned the autonomic nervous system is a relational system that has been shaped by experience. We now know previous negative life experiences and traumas can significantly affect how our neuroception accurately assesses safety, danger, or a life threat. This can explain why many people including Lucas with history of being judged, humiliated, and violated often avoid entering a vulnerable state. Their faulty neuroception causes them to feel unsafe in the absence of real danger.

Since “how we move through the world is guided by our ANS,” it is important to examine how growing up in a homophobic and transphobic environment negatively affected the working of the ANS. In my counseling work with gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer identified, and transgender people who have experienced homophobic or transphobic mistreatment, I have noticed their nervous systems are often shaped toward self-protection versus making connections. Repeated past humiliation and rejection by others have made it difficult for many of them to be open and willing to love and be loved. Given the important role that ANS can play in people’s ability to embrace vulnerable situations and form relationships, it is important to learn how to regulate it. When working in a regulated way, the ANS does not enact the response to the present moment situation based on one’s past conditioning.

Autonomic regulation has less to do with talking about our past trauma events and more to do with shifting our autonomic state that can be stuck on FFF (fight/flight/freeze) toward safety and relaxation. When Lucas was invited to share about his history, it was done for the purpose of having greater empathy for his suffering and learning how fear became associated with vulnerability. Lucas’ personal stories with homophobic mistreatment was handled with care and in a titrated manner to avoid re-traumatization. In general, encouraging people to get into their trauma stories all at once can become overwhelming for them because the nervous system cannot tell the difference between the original event and the telling of the event. Healing does not always need to involve re-telling the story. As Peter Levine, the founder of Somatic Experiencing International, stated, “Trauma is not in the event, but in the nervous system.” Based on my personal and clinical work, I also concur that trauma becomes embodied during a person's life and can affect the working of the ANS. Much of the healing from this trauma needs to happen through the body. In particular, the nervous system needs to be regulated.

The work of Stephen Porges’ Polyvagal Theory has brough to light the role of the vagus nerve in how we experience safety and connection. The vagus nerve which is divided into two pathways, the dorsal vagus and the ventral vagus, is the main component of the parasympathetic nervous system. The ventral vagal of parasympathetic system plays a crucial role in our experience of safety in our bodies. Activation of the ventral vagal force in the ANS includes but not limited to awareness and tracking of pleasant bodily sensations. For example, when I invited Lucas to notice his body being supported by the couch, he commented, “I can sense my body feels relaxed and comfortable.” By bringing awareness to comfortable sensations in his body, he began to breathe deeper and noticed a sense of expansion in his chest area along with his shoulders becoming more relaxed. For Lucas, tracking bodily sensations that were comfortable invited the flow of the ventral vagal of safety and connection.

Another useful somatic intervention involved identifying and embodying helpful resources that contributed to his healing journey. For example, attending LGBTQ Pride events and volunteering at the Los Angeles LGBT+ Community Center felt empowering for Lucas. By tracking his pleasant bodily sensations as he was sharing about these helpful resources, he was creating a physiological event in his body which contributed to regulating his nervous system. As the therapy session progressed, he found it easier to imagine and plan on asking a guy he met at his gym on a date without experiencing tension in his body. Repeated awareness of pleasant sensations in his body increased his ability to distinguish sensations of distress versus sensations of well-being. The more he focused on what felt good on the inside the more his autonomic dysregulation settled, and his window of tolerance expanded.

What makes each one of us feel vulnerable is unique and personal. What feels vulnerable to Lucas can feel quite different to another. Regardless of what activates it, the admission ticket to a more meaningful life for Lucas involved embracing vulnerability. It was important for him to liberate vulnerability from years of cumulative stress of dealing with homophobic bullying, and other fearful situations that he had to endure. By welcoming vulnerability and learning how to work with its transformative power, he was able to enrich his life. A “body-inclusive” therapeutic approach offered Lucas tools and practices to lower his activation and regulate his nervous system in response to his life stresses.

A Queer Perspective on Somatically Befriending Vulnerability



© Dr. Payam Ghassemlou MFT, Ph.D. is a mental health counselor in private practice in West Hollywood, California.

*Names and other details have been changed for privacy and confidentiality.

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"Having gratitude for the body’s role in deepening one’s spiritual practice is important. The lived experience of one’s practice through the body is a different process than reading about those practices. It is like the difference between reading about wine versus drinking wine. The latter can lead to mystical intoxication.".....

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Personal Myth


For over twenty years, I have been listening to life stories of many incredible people. It is part of my job.  Many people might think I am listening to their problems, but I hear stories. People who come to me are brave storytellers. It is a privilege to hear a personal mythology that has never been shared before. There are times when someone’s story is a mixture of broken pieces of tragedies and losses. No matter how fragmented and tragic a person’s story, I know there is a hero somewhere in it, waiting to be validated. I view psychotherapy as a place of storytelling where a fragmented tale can be weaved into a hero’s journey, and help people feel proud of their resiliency and courage to survive. This is how people become mythical beings. Often the emotional wounds begin to heal once the personal narrative finds a voice. 

Sometimes the stories are forgotten, or filled with emotional intensity that is too painful to share. It is not easy to share narratives that have been captive by fear and shame in the dark corner of one’s memory. I empathized with how hard it must be to liberate a personal story that is filled with tragedies. Perhaps, the story was shared once before, and the storyteller did not receive the empathy she or he deserved. With the help of a caring listener, private life stories can see the light of consciousness. Sometimes a person’s sense of wellbeing depends on transforming painful untold stories into to healing narratives.

What happens to those banned stories that don’t break away from the basement of one’s repression? It is not uncommon for emotionally injurious life events to get pushed out of the realm of awareness. But they do find a back door to escape. Those forbidden tales find expression through reenactment which is unconscious compulsion to repeat the traumatic past. I sometimes notice an unhealthy pattern of behaviors in people’s lives correlates with their unexamined past histories.  Once the tale of mistreatment is empathized with, reflected upon, and understood, it often leads to insight and behavioral change. People do not have to recreate their history of mistreatment. It is hopeful to know that illuminating significant life events to gain insight, and find meaning in them can be a liberating experience.

There are times that one’s personal story is filled with so many atrocities that sharing them can feel re-traumatizing. Sharing one’s traumatic tale needs to be done with the help of a trained counselor. It takes special clinical skills to help someone not only find a channel to release the untold story but reveal the truth of what one endured. During one’s psychotherapy process, the untold or forgotten personal story can be conveyed through dream analysis, bodily sensations (somatic psychotherapy), dance movements, psychodrama, drawings, sand tray images, paintings, journaling, and other channels of expression. We are living in an exciting time in which healing counseling tools are available to people.

Not all personal stories involve devastation. Life stories that involve joy, accomplishments, and overcoming obstacles need to be embraced as well. Such uplifting legends can be life affirming and lead to feelings of gratitude. Having a balanced view on life experiences can add harmony to one’s life. We all carry special stories that once acknowledged and understood can add meaning to our lives and inspire others. Everyone deserves to be heard and deeply understood.



© Payam Ghassemlou MFT Ph.D. is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (Psychotherapist) in private practice in West Hollywood, California. www.DrPayam.Com


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Boredom from a Gay Perspective

Boredom from a Gay Perspective


Payam Ghassemlou Ph.D.

Gay people are naturally creative and industrious. They are often a small percentage of any population and yet their societal contribution is enormous. I take a great deal of pride knowing not only gays, but also our courageous lesbians, transgenders, bisexuals, and queer members of our community have always stood up for causes that make this world a better place. This short article mostly focuses on gay men and the issue of boredom. Many points being made here do apply to lesbians, transgenders, bisexuals, and queers as well.

Despite growing up gay in a homophobic world which can discourage artistic expression, gay people’s creative spirit continues to shine. Given their rich imagination, the experience of chronic boredom and a sense of inertia is contrary to a gay person’s true essence. Whether boredom is momentary or a long lasting experience, it stops people from living a full life. In order to deal with boredom, it is important to understand and learn how to transform it. Examining and understanding your emotions is an opportunity for personal growth. One of the places to examine your emotions as a pathway toward knowing yourself is in a therapeutic setting with a licensed psychotherapist. Working with emotions can be intense, and you need a trained professional to help you navigate through the sea of emotions. In my work as a psychotherapist (licensed MFT), I work collaboratively with my clients. I explore their somatic experiences, feelings, and thoughts in order to support them on their journey of self-discovery to alleviate their boredom.

What is boredom? From a psychological perspective boredom is an emotion, and like any emotion, it can carry important information and messages about your current needs and sometimes unmet needs from the past. It can also reveal something about your current state of mind which becomes an opportunity for deeper analysis. People who are bored often experience life as monotonous. Sometimes boredom can accompany another emotion such as frustration or a feeling of emptiness. When a person gets overwhelmed by ongoing feelings of boredom he can asks himself, “What is boredom trying to reveal to me about my relationship to my psyche, my soul, and the world around me?” or “How can boredom become an opportunity to add meaning and purpose to my life?” The answers to these questions require personal reflection which can become a doorway to a deeper connection to oneself.

An important approach toward understanding boredom needs to involve evaluating your relationship to your sense of curiosity. Curiosity is an emotion that plays a vital role in motivating you to show interest in yourself and the world around you. When fully in effect, curiosity can neutralize your sense of boredom and help you to passionately engage with the mystery of life. When curiosity is embraced, boredom disappears.

When you show curiosity toward your experience of boredom, you are less dominated by it. In general, becoming curiously conscious of your emotions help you to be less controlled by them. By becoming aware of any particular feelings in the moment, you can choose to either embrace the emotion and fully experience it or let it go. “Empathic witnessing” of an emotion such as boredom in the moment without judgment gives you more choices on how to deal with your emotions. 

Sometimes boredom, like a habit, stays with people and it takes willpower to try to change it. Your willpower can be used as a determination muscle to focus on making positive changes in your inner and outer life. You can use your willpower to direct your attention away from boredom and use your curiosity to explore uplifting experiences. For example, when feeling bored you can make an effort to get out of your “comfort zone” and explore healthy activities that you never tried before. Eventually, being curious becomes a personal habit that replaces boredom and enriches your life.

It is important to note that embracing curiosity might be challenging for many gay people because of a homophobic upbringing.  Many gay individuals as a youngster felt too ashamed to show curiosity toward their homoerotic feelings which caused them to find curiosity too threatening to embrace. The habit of embracing curiosity needs to take place at a young age with support of caring adults. The absence of such support makes curiosity less accessible and difficult to embrace.

As you engage with your boredom through your curiosity, you can notice where in your body you sense your boredom. Locating bodily sensations that correspond to how you feel in the moment is another important way of managing your emotions. I often hear clients share with me about experiencing boredom as a sense of dread and emptiness in their chest area. Individuals that I work with in a therapeutic setting often find it helpful when I invite them to curiously scan their bodies and look for sensations of strength. Focusing on a sensation of strength anywhere in their bodies which might include places like the upper arms or legs can lessen their sense of inertia. For others who can’t notice any sensation of strength, they might benefit from making a pleasant or neutral sensation as their focus. For example, neutral or pleasant sensations can be experienced by inviting clients to notice the support of their upper back against the couch. In general, tracking the neutral or pleasant sensations in your body can add harmony and balance to your inner world.


Your curiosity can also be directed toward examining your thinking patterns and belief system. You might discover a link between your beliefs, thoughts and boredom. Many gay people were raised to believe that they were sinners for their same sex attraction.  As such, they have developed a belief system that does not leave much room for feeling deserving of happiness. Thought patterns based on such a negative core belief system can lead to a life void of joy and pleasure. By using the muscle of determination with an attitude of empathy and kindness, we all can change our negative beliefs and thinking. By developing a belief system based on love and acceptance of ourselves, we can feel deserving of joy and vitality instead of boredom and inertia.


From a spiritual perspective, chronic boredom might reveal a lack of relationship to one’s soul and the soul of the world (Anima Mundi). Given that gay history has been often intertwined with shamanism and mysticism, getting bored and living a dull life reveals disconnection from one’s gay essence. From a spiritual perspective, the remedies for such condition can involve not only connecting to one’s gay soul but also connecting to a sacred place within one’s heart through meditation and other spiritual practices that correspond to one’s chosen path. Recognizing a divine spark within one’s heart can be enough to transform boredom and sense of emptiness to feeling of aliveness.

Boredom affects everyone, and it becomes a reason for concern when it turns to an ongoing psychological state. Boredom like any challenging emotion can become an opportunity for deep psychological work. Don’t hesitate to reach out and ask for help when boredom turns to a painful psychological state.



© Payam Ghassemlou MFT Ph.D. is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (Psychotherapist) in private practice in West Hollywood, California. www.DrPayam.Com


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Gays in Search of Meaning

Gays in Search of Meaning

Many gay people are acknowledging a need for a more meaningful way of living to avoid a motionless and purposeless existence. Lack of depth and meaning has caused many gay people to experience feelings of boredom and emptiness. Such feelings have forced many to look for something outside of themselves in order to feel content. Some indulge in drug use, excessive drinking, or brief romantic affairs, while others might engage in excessive shopping, traveling, or overeating in order to cope with their negative emotional states. Even though such activities might feel pleasurable and provide a momentary sense of euphoria, they do not lead to a real experience of vitality and aliveness. There is a different kind of intoxication that involves the experience of the soul. Such experience is beyond the ego’s need for cheap thrills. By embracing what is inherently sacred about our gayness, we can start to live a soulful life...…….click on the link: Gays In Search of Meaning



© Dr. Payam Ghassemlou MFT, Ph.D. is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (Psychotherapist), in private practice in West Hollywood, California. , Gays in Search of MeaningGays in Search of MeaningGays in Search of Meaning

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LGBT Suicide and the Trauma of Growing Up Gay
By Payam Ghassemlou MFT, Ph.D.

As a mental health counselor for the past twenty years, I have listened to many painful stories by some of my lesbian and gay patients regarding growing up in a homophobic and heterosexist world. Many of my gay and lesbian patients, including a number of bisexual and transgender individuals, shared with me that as young as age five they felt different. They were unable to articulate why they felt different, and, at the same time, they were too afraid to talk about it. Many reported that they knew this feeling of being different was related to something forbidden. “It felt like keeping a tormenting secret that I could not even understand,” described one of my gay patients. Others shared with me that the feeling of differentness revealed itself in the form of gender nonconformity which could not be kept secret. Therefore, it made them more vulnerable to homophobic and transgender phobic mistreatment at school and often at home. They had to cope with a daily assault of shame and humiliation without any support.

The experience of carrying a sense of differentness as it related to some of the most taboo and despised images in our culture can leave a traumatic scar on one’s psyche. Most school age children organize his or her school experience around the notion of not coming across as queer. Any school age child’s worst nightmare is being called faggot or dyke which is commonly experienced by many children who do not flow with the mainstream. One gay high school student disclosed to me that on average he hears more than twenty homophobic remarks a day. Schools can feel like concentration camps for LGBT children or any child who gets scapegoated as queer. For the most part, LGBT kids do not get any protection from school officials, and this is a form of child abuse on a collective level. Mistreatment of LGBT youth and a lack of protection are contributing factors to the issue of LGBT teen suicide.

The feeling of differentness as it relates to being gay or lesbian is too complex for any child to process and make sense of especially when coupled with external attacks in the form of homophobic, derogatory name calling. Unlike a black child whose parents are typically also black or a Jewish child with Jewish parents and relatives, the LGBT youth typically does not have gay or lesbian parents or anyone who would mirror his or her experience. In fact many families tend to blame the mistreated LGBT youngster for not being like everyone else and make the child feel like he or she deserves this mistreatment.

When parents are either unable or unwilling to “feel and see” the world through the eyes of their child, and do not provide a reflection to their child that makes the child feel valued that child can not develop a strong sense of self. Facing with isolation, confusion, humiliation, physical violence, not being valued in the eyes of parents, and carrying a secret that the youngster connects with something terrible and unthinkable is too stressful for any child to endure. Especially when there is no empathic other to help him or her to sort it out. The youngster suffers in silence and might use dissociation to cope. In a worst case scenario, he or she could commit suicide.

Many LGBT youth who found the courage to open up about their identity issue have experienced rejection by their families and peers. Many families treat such disclosure as bringing shame on to the family and throw their kid out of the house which forces the kid to join the growing population of homeless kids on the street.

The stress of trying to come to terms with a complex matter such as same sex attraction, family’s rejection as a result of finding out about same sex attraction, and becoming victimized through verbal and physical abuse by peers due to being different are contributing factors to the trauma of growing up gay or lesbian. Such traumatic experience can explain why lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth are up to four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers. Suicide attempts by LGBT youth is their desperate attempt to escape this traumatic process of growing up queer.

Those of us who survived the trauma of growing up queer without adequate support and managed to reach adulthood can benefit from making internalized homophobia conscious. When a gay or lesbian youngster experience humiliation every school day for being different and has no one to protect him or her that child can develop internalized homophobia. Internalized homophobia is internalization of shame and hatred that gay and lesbian people were forced to experience. The seed of internalized homophobia is planted from early age, and having a psyche contaminated by the shadow of internalized homophobia can result in low self esteem and other problems later in life. Bisexual and transgender youngsters can also internalize the hatred they had to endure growing up and may develop self hatred.

Not dealing with internalized homophobia is ignoring the wreckage of the past. Psychological injuries that were inflicted on LGBT people as result of growing up in a homophobic and heterosexist world needs to be addressed. Each time a LGBT youngster was insulted or attacked for being different such attack left a scar on his or her soul. Such violent mistreatment caused many to develop feelings of inferiority.

Life after the closet needs to include coming out inside. Becoming aware of repressed or disassociated memories and feelings around homophobic mistreatment of growing up is part of coming out inside. Coming out inside is about approaching unconscious and understanding the development of internalized homophobia. Some painful experiences that contribute to the development of internalized homophobia can get split off and remain in the unconscious. Those split parts can impact how one treats himself or herself in life. Providing empathy and regard for one’s gay inner child who endured years of confusion, shame, fear, and mistreatment due to his or her identity is part of the psychological healing process.

The solution to the demon of internalized homophobia is self-knowledge and self-acceptance. As a community, learning to know ourselves can add vitality to our struggle for freedom. The LGBT liberation movement should not only include fighting for our equal rights, but also working through the injuries that were inflicted on us for growing up queer in a heterosexist world. External changes such as Marriage Equality or the repeal of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy alone cannot heal us from homophobic mistreatment and rejection we received growing up gay or lesbian. We need to open a new psychological frontier and take our struggle for freedom to a new level. Our civil rights movement is like a bird that needs two wings to fly and not just one. So far, the political wing has been the main carrier of this movement. By adding psychological healing work as the other wing, our bird of liberty can fly higher in the sky.

© This article is copyrighted by Dr. Payam Ghassemlou MFT Ph.D.,

a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (Counselor/Psychotherapist) in private practice in West Hollywood, California.
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Deeply Gay

Deeply Gay


Payam Ghassemlou MFT, Ph.D.


Many gay men who do not find meaning in a “work & play” lifestyle are seeking connection to something more meaningful. Those of us who have gone through the emotional labor of tearing down the closet door and working through painful issues that were inflicted on us as a result of growing up gay in a homophobic world are now facing the question of life purpose. We ask ourselves, “What is the true purpose of my life?” In this short article I will explore this issue with the hope of inspiring others to live a more meaningful life.


Acknowledging your need for a deeper existence is not only an invitation to reflect on your life and question its meaning but also avoid a purposeless existence. Arriving at this place in life where you reflect and show curiosity about the meaning of your existence can be a profound experience. This arrival does not need to be an existential crisis. It can feel like a crisis if you examine your life with the judgmental attitude of regret and resentment. It is important to reflect on all aspects of your life with the attitude of empathy and compassion which can protect you from becoming self critical.


Gay men who are growing older but not deeper can face feelings of emptiness and boredom. The reality of aging and not having enough tools to cope with the physical and emotional changes that often accompany aging has left these men vulnerable to depression, anxiety, and acting out behaviors. Some have turned to unhealthy coping styles such as addictions, isolation, overspending, expensive plastic surgeries, and in the worst case scenario to suicide as a desperate attempt to escape the painful feeling of emptiness. Other gay men let life happen to them in a more disconnected way. They go through life as if asleep without participating in it. There are also vibrant gay men who live life to the fullest. These men have gone through the deep work of inner transformation to get to such a meaningful place in life.


Life purpose, like the ocean, has different depths. Parts of the ocean are deeper than others. It all depends how deep you are willing to descend into the ocean of your life. There are different approaches to this decent, and everyone needs to find his or her approach. It takes courage to immerse oneself in the ocean of life rather than just standing by the shore. As Persian poet, Hafiz stated, “How can they know of our state, those who go lightly along the shore?” Or as Rumi put it, “You have been walking on the ocean’s edge holding up your robes trying to stay dry, you must dive deeper, 1000 times deeper”.


There are purposeful and meaningful activities such as political activism, artistic expression, parenting, traveling, embracing hobbies, or attending school that can improve the quality of your life. Many people have found these activities enriching. You can immerse yourself deeper into the ocean of your life by aiming for a life purpose that not only embraces such productive activities but also goes beyond such personal development. You   can work on reaching a state of being that goes beyond your limited ego self and focuses on the love in your heart. A state of being that embraces personal development for the good of all people. Living life according to your loving state of being encourages you to take the welfare of people and the planet in consideration. You can experience not only inner personal changes and contentment as result of operating from this state of being but also meaningful changes in your external life. For example, slowing down and living in the moment versus worrying about future is one of the changes you might notice.


Experiencing a state of being that comes from connection with the sacred place in your heart can be facilitated through meditation.  Meditation is about concentration, and it requires consistency in order to be effective. On a daily basis spend time on meditating with love as your focus. Deep in everyone’s heart there is a place of love and tranquility. Gently close your eyes and silently embrace that sacred place in your heart. You might not be able to find connection to it right away. Having a guide or teacher in this process can be helpful. I have found Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee and Irina Tweedie’s writings on Sufi meditation very helpful in this process. I have also found beauty as my guide to embrace love.


Generally, as gays and lesbians we have deep appreciation for beauty. Beauty as our guide can help us to embrace love. For example, looking deeply into eyes of a beautiful person that you desire for the sake of embracing love in your own heart can ignite a powerful flame of love. That energy of love can be directed toward the soul of the world and be shared for the good of all. Or the breathtaking view of beautiful sunset is another scene that you can’t help but to appreciate and love. Focusing on beautiful experiences for the sake of awakening the love feeling in your heart and meditating on it is a powerful practice. Such practice can help you to bring forward a loving state of being.


You might think meditation with love as focus is too simple to be considered a life purpose. That is understandable given we live in a consumerism society where people are conditioned to seek fulfillment through over achieving and materialism. In reality, meditating on love, on a regular basis, and for the sake of love itself, is not that simple. Slowing down for few minutes and embracing love in silence can be very difficult when you have to be on 24/7.


Living in a society dominated by corporate greed and extreme inequality where individuals are expected to work long hours with less time for personal time, meditation for the sake of love can be a challenge. Each time you make time for such practice you also saying “no” to all the situations that are trying to enslave you for their own profit and gain. As people we can turn to love as life purpose and pour that energy into our troubled world. Each love filled breath of your meditation can connect you more deeply to your loving Self. You have the potential to be a purifier by the quality of your meditation.  With every breath, you strengthen the love in your heart and you can send loving energy into everyone’s heart. From this zone, your loving state of being can impact the universe.  Just like an alchemist, you can transform your life to a more meaningful existence. What deep and lasting contentment you can find in your life as you enter nourishing meditation.



© This article is copyrighted by Dr. Payam Ghassemlou MFT, a psychotherapist in private practice in West Hollywood, California. www.DrPayam.Com




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Homophobia Enemy of Curiosity


 Homophobia Enemy of Curiosity

By Payam Ghassemlou Ph.D.

The landscape of our life is as vast as the degree of our curiosity. This is an emotion that can be put in motion by a wondrous dance with creation. Curiosity motivates us to show interest in ourselves and the world around us. With curiosity, we can passionately explore the mystery of life. It also engages us with the content of our universe and helps us to come to life in a new way. When life comes to us through our curiosity, we become an active player in our life. We no longer sit passively and let life just happen.

Lack of curiosity keeps us prisoner in the small pond that we call our life. Without curiosity, we can never leave this small pond and merge with the ocean or never ride the inquisitive waves. When we don’t explore, notice, ask questions or embrace the wonder of life we are not living a full life. Without curiosity our life lacks meaning and vitality. This is why curiosity is so important in order to live a meaningful life.

Curiosity requires support and tolerance to leave our comfort zone and venture into the unknown. Curiosity starts early in life, and requires support from care givers in order to fully blossom. All small children need to learn about their emotions including curiosity and healthy parenting includes this task.

One of the barriers toward developing a strong sense of curiosity for gay and lesbian youth has to do with a homophobic upbringing. Homophobia prevents gay and lesbian kids from fully embracing their sense of curiosity. Many of my gay and lesbian patients, including a number of bisexual and transgender individuals, have shared with me that as young as age four they felt different. They were unable to articulate why they felt different, and, at the same time, they were too afraid to talk about it. Many reported that they knew this feeling of being different was related to something forbidden. Many found it too threatening to show curiosity toward their feeling of differentness hence their sense of curiosity got discouraged from early age. Growing up in a homophobic atmosphere caused their sense of curiosity to be replaced with fear and shame.

When an adolescent’s curiosity about his or her same sex attraction gets fed with homophobic messages of disgust, he or she can develop self hate and be forced into a closet of shame. Homophobic messages and violent attacks can discourage his or her sense of curiosity, which can have negative consequences including lack of relationship to one’s inner life. It can prevent the youngster from learning to know himself or herself and develop a deeper emotional insight.  

Depression is common among those gays and lesbians who suffered homophobic mistreatment growing up. Many of them who felt different and did not flow with mainstream reported suffering in silence without any support in understanding their feelings. Curiosity toward complex matters like feeling of differentness and same sex attraction requires support from caring adults. Many reported they did not have support to follow their natural sense of curiosity and explore their feeling of differentness. As a result their ability to be curious was hindered which caused a sense of deadness inside them and resulted in long term depression.

Thrill seeking behaviors such as drug abuse and risky sex are another example of consequences for underdeveloped curiosity. Some gay individuals use thrill seeking behaviors as compensation for their insufficient relationship to their sense of curiosity. Thrill seeking behaviors are ways they might try to cope with the void and emptiness that results from lack of access to their curiosity. Life can feel meaningless without freedom to be curious.

The journey toward healing from the impact of homophobia on one’s sense of curiosity requires support from caring counselors or psychotherapists who have experience treating such matters. Curiosity, like a muscle, needs plenty of exercise to stay fit. Your gym is the present moment where you can exercise your sense of curiosity. I have found mindfulness practices such as consciously choosing to adapt an attitude of curiosity toward our present moment is a simple and yet powerful step toward redeeming one’s sense of curiosity. For example, a simple walk from your car to the store can become an opportunity to awaken you feeling of curiosity. By curiously noticing the ground under your feet as you walk toward your destination or paying attention to the noise in your immediate area, you can be present and engaged with life. This form of active engagement with your present moment can enhance and improve your ability to be curious.

It is never too late to heal from the impact of homophobia on our ability to feel our curiosity. With curiosity, our life no longer lacks purpose, and we can passionately explore the mystery of our inner life and embrace our gayness.

© This article is copyrighted by Dr. Payam Ghassemlou MFT Ph.D., a psychotherapist in private practice in West Hollywood, California.





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