[sociallinkz] Jim, a gay man in his early 30’s and a mid-level manager at his company, has been dating Marshall for about six months now. Things have been going great so far. That is, until Marshall introduced Jim to his parents. Marshall and Jim met his parents ata restaurant for dinner. Marshall’s parents had always been supportive of him and were friendly towards Jim. Marshall’s dad starts asking Jim questions about his life, his childhood, and his career. At first, Jim responds by lightheartedly answering the questions and enjoys the feeling that Marshall’s parents want to get to know him.
However, as the questions move into the realm of future goals and questions about his career, Jim becomes increasingly agitated and loses his appetite.
He makes up an excuse to leave dinner early and goes home. When Marshall calls him after dinner to check in, Jim becomes angry, stating that he felt that Marshall’s father was being judgmental and critical of him. Marshall hangs up perplexed and Jim goes to bed confused about his feelings and unsure about where all of this is coming from.
What just happened here?
At first glance, Jim’s reaction to this situation doesn’t seem to make much sense. However, the pieces of the puzzle come together when one looks at a different, but similar experience in Jim’s life:
A 17-year old Jim sits at his kitchen table eating dinner. His mom, dad, and sister are seated with him. Jim had come out to his parents last year and was currently dating his first boyfriend. His mother was supportive, but his father, a blue-collar worker in construction, was having a hard time accepting his son’s sexuality. College is fast approaching and Jim is unsure of what the future holds for him, though he has a lot of great ideas. His father begins questioning him about his future plans. Jim excitedly tells his dad that he plans go to business school and get an MBA. Jim’s father scoffs, “Good luck. There’s no way a f***** like you is gonna get anywhere fast.” Jim’s stomach drops as his excitement turns to shame and then anger. Jim pushes his food away from him violently and storms off to his room.
You might think our lives have nothing in common with the movies, but the truth is that many of our experiences in life play out in what some call “scenes.” These scenes are specific events in your life that have meaning beyond a normal memory. Something becomes a scene and not just a memory when there is a heightened emotion and an object for that emotion. That object could be a person, a thing, or the experience itself.
When something happens in our life that reminds us of one of these scenes (a trigger) we react as though we were living through the original scene all over again, even if that reaction is disproportionate or even completely irrelevant to the current situation.
There are three parts to a scene:
- Imagery (What you experienced)
- Emotion (What you felt)
- Internal Script (What message you received)
Imagery is what all five of our senses take in during a scene. This includes what you see, what you hear (specific language used), what you taste, what you physically feel, and what you smell. When you experience any of these things, or a combination of them, you can feel as if you are experiencing the scene all over again.
Every scene must have at least one strong emotion. Emotions should not be considered outside the context of the larger bodily system. Think of the sweaty palms and racing heart you feel when you are nervous or the cheek blush and the inability to speak without stumbling over words you experience when you are embarrassed. Experiencing an emotion that is part of an important scene in your life can instantly transport you to that place again.
When an experience becomes a scene, we automatically create “rules” and internal dialogue based on the scene. These scripts we create may or may not be conscious. They can dictate future behavior and our responses when something reminds us of a scene.
“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.
― Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
Many people in gay and lesbian relationships find themselves living through old scenes over and over. So where does that leave us? How do you break free from old scenes and create new ones? The first step is awareness. Once you are aware of what is happening, your power to pause and choose a different response increases. Of course, that is easier said than done. It can be helpful to enlist the support of someone close to you or a professional to help you notice and work through old scenes.
IntraSpectrum Counseling is Chicago’s leading psychotherapy practice dedicated to the LGBTQ+ community, and we strive to provide the highest quality mental health care for multicultural, kink, polyamorous, and intersectional issues. For anyone needing affirming and validating support in their healing, please click here or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kaufman, Ph.D., G., & Raphael, Ph.D., L. (1996). Coming out of shame; transforming gay and lesbian lives. New York, NY: DoubleDay.