In todays world, where we are the most hated and misunderstood of sexual minorities, it is unsurprising that so many people suffer with issues of guilt and shame, at least to some degree. It’s an issue that I have direct experience of, since for my dad it was paralysing, to the point of him breaking up with me. So if you or your other half are going through this right now, I understand, and it’s why I am writing this article.
So, in order to tackle such feelings, we have to first understand where they come from. What is it that makes people feel this way, even when the relationship is healthy and loving? I believe the big one to be internalization of societal opinions, a version of the whole ‘if everyone believes this then it must be true’ fallacy.
What exactly is being internalized which could produce guilt and shame?
Consider the below statements, these are public opinions about incest:
- Nobody in their right mind would want to do that, therefore anyone who does must be mentally ill.
- It’s harmful for the people involved
- It’s harmful for the family unit and undermines the function of the family
- It always involved manipulation, grooming or sexual abuse
- People aren’t able to consent to their relatives
- People who do that are perverts
- It’s on par with bestiality, necrophilia and pedophilia
- They’ll make deformed babies
- People who do that are retarded
- People who do that must suck at dating/are so ugly that they can’t get dates
- That’s just gross, anything that gross is just WRONG
- It’s wrong because it’s illegal, and illegal because it’s wrong
Now, you and I can see that this list of popular beliefs are completely out of touch with the reality of our relationships and lives, so you might think on the surface that nobody would internalize complete horse shit like this because the logical mind would never accept such statements as true when it runs counter to ones own experiences. But as with most emotional problems, sometimes what is actually happening in the mind isn’t logical.
How does the mind accept these inaccurate statements as true?
Well, to begin with, these ideas are floating around in the cultures in which we were born into. Look at it this way, nobody had to tell you that pop music is cool, that you should wear trainers with a pair of Jeans, that you go to a job interview smartly dressed and use your best manners, that it’s polite to smile back or say hi if somebody smiles at you, that it’s rude to jump the queue at the checkout, that you should offer your guests to your home a drink of tea or coffee because it’s inhospitable not to… these things you learned because you observed the actions of others, you may have read about them in magazines or newspapers, you internalized these cultural norms as YOUR norms.
Most of the time this process of internalization is beneficial, it allows you to navigate your social environment without having to second guess yourself with each new situation. We all obey these rules and norms quite subconsciously, and for the most part, most people conform to the norms of the culture in which they are raised, that’s expected.
However, that doesn’t mean that all norms and beliefs floating around a culture are beneficial. Some of them are very harmful, and that includes the beliefs about incest (and of course, other sexual minorities involving consenting adults). Such beliefs lead to the stigmatization, and criminalization of people who felt strongly enough about each other to buck the trend. In turn, the stigma and criminalization reinforce the false beliefs on which they are founded, creating a negative feedback loop.
Since these beliefs are absorbed as if through osmosis, and they entered into the subconscious mind without the filter of rational thought, this is how people who are consang can unwittingly believe some very negative things about themselves. Most of the time, these beliefs were absorbed long before the person entered into a consang relationship. Sometimes these beliefs don’t ever come to the surface fully, in which case the affected person may experience it as a more general feeling of ‘wrongness’ just for being what they are. Other people may experience some of these feelings more directly, and they ask themselves questions like “am I a pervert?” or “what the fuck is wrong with me, I shouldn’t be feeling this?”
How can a person get rid of these unwanted feelings?
There is no quick and easy fix to this I am afraid, and the only process I know of is to fish these beliefs out from the subconscious mind into the conscious one so that they can go through the minds logical filter. This is an emotional exercise as much as an intellectual one.
In order to fish out these wrongful beliefs, one must think about the guilt that they’re experiencing, and ask ‘why do I feel that way?’ and to answer themselves honestly. They must then process their answer through the logical part of the brain, and find out whether these beliefs are true or not.
Let me make up an example so I can show you what I mean, let’s say a guy is involved with his younger sister and has been for a couple of years, neither have children and are both settled in their jobs. Say they moved in together a few months ago, their apartment is great, their relationship is great, they’re in a reasonably safe position as they’re not around others who know them as brother and sister and who could rat them out to authorities if they’re discovered. Yet despite all of this, he still feels bad about himself.
So one day he sits down and asks himself ‘why do I feel this way?’
He answers himself ‘because we had to move away from our other relatives so we wouldn’t be discovered, that’s been hard on both of us’
Why did you feel you had to do that?
Answer: Because otherwise we would be thrown in jail and publicly shamed
Why is that?
Answer: Well, it’s not normal or right is it.
What makes you say that?
Answer: Well, it’s illegal, and people find it gross so it must be perverted.
Do you think you’re a pervert?
Answer: Maybe, probably… I don’t know
Well, are you and your sister hurting anyone?
Answer: Ourselves, because we had to move away. Our family who are now denied our presence in their lives.
Is that your fault, or is it the fault of peoples reactions towards incest?
Does your relationship feel wrong to you?
Answer: No, we love each other.
Have either of you any mental health problems?
Answer: Anxiety and insomnia sometimes.
Why do you think that is?
Answer: It’s been playing on my mind a lot.
Is that your fault, or is it societys fault for not accepting couples like you?
Answer: … never thought of it that way.
So do you think you deserve to feel bad?
Answer… well not really…
Okay, I know this is a simple example I just made up off the top of my head, but you see what I mean. If you’re suffering with guilt and shame, you need to ask yourselves the right questions. Get to the root of WHY you’re feeling what you feel, so you can fish out the harmful beliefs and replace them with healthy self-supportive ones.
I’m not saying it’s easy, it isn’t. You might also experience a lot of anger during and after the process towards the world on account of what you’ve mistakenly been forced to feel. That’s NORMAL, I went through it. It shows that you’re accepting yourself as is, and have correctly rejected the false beliefs that were the cause of your problem. From here you can not only rebuild your self-esteem, but experience tremendous growth as a person. It can teach you to be less judgemental of others, and to be more compassionate and forgiving, to youself as much as to others. This is important for yourself and your relationship, your partner won’t want to see you suffering, if you’re the consang partner of somebody who is going through this, I understand your plight all too well.
But you’re not a therapist, how can you say this will work?
Because this is how I questioned myself in the early days of my relationship with my dad, it worked for me. Every now and then I’ve also helped others online by asking them these kinds of questions, and some people feel better just for having read this blog and others on the subject… I advocate it because IT WORKS.
I’d also recommend to anyone struggling, to join the community at Kindred Spirits. You can talk to other people who are going through the same things and that can help by giving you some extra perspective. You don’t have to be alone with these issues, we’re a friendly bunch and being in a mutually supportive environment helps a lot.
Nobody should have to go through this, but sadly because the world doesn’t accept us, guilt is probably going to continue to be an issue for us until we get our rights and are accepted as a normal part of life. In the meantime, those of us who can help others have a moral obligation to do so.