The Battle For Normality

Ch. 7: Knowing Oneself

Written By: Gerard van den Aardweg, Ph.D.

(Book originally Published in 1997. Chapter Seven posted with the kind permission of Dr. van den Aardweg and Ignatius Press in March 2008)

Working through Childhood and Adolescence

Self-knowledge is, first of all, objective knowledge of one's "character" or personality, i.e., one's motivations, attitudes, habits; it is the knowledge of ourselves others would have if they knew us well. It is much more than knowledge of our subjective emotional experiences. But for self-understanding one must also know one's psychological history and have a reasonably clear notion of how one's character and neurotic dynamics came about.

Very probably, the homosexually inclined reader has automatically referred to himself much of what was brought to the fore in the preceding chapters. The reader who wants to apply these ideas to himself-who wants, to be his own therapist-would do well, however, to go over his psychological history more systematically. To this end, I present the following questionnaire.

The best method is to write down your answers, in order to make your ideas on yourself as clear and concrete as possible. Look at your answers again after about a fortnight and correct what you think needs to be amended. Often one discerns certain relationships better after having let the questions sink into one's mind for a while.

Anamnestic Questionnaire (Your Psychological History)

  1. Describe your emotional relationship with your father while you were growing up. Which of the following characteristics apply to your relationship: familiarity, encouragement, identification, etc.; or distance, feelings of being criticized, feelings of lack of acceptance, fear, hatred, or contempt of him; a conscious longing for his sympathy and attention, etc.? Write down which characteristic(s) suit(s) you best, adding any characteristics that are missing from this short summary. A differentiation as to period of development may need to be made, for example: "Up to puberty (until about 12 to 14 years), our relationship was ... ; afterward, however. .."

  2. What did I think (especially in puberty/adolescence) my father thought of me? This inquires into the young person's view of his father's view of him. The answer may be, for instance: He found me uninteresting; he esteemed me less than my brothers (sisters); he admired me; he favored me, etc.

  3. Describe your relationship with him now, and how you behave toward him. For instance, are you close, friendly, at ease, respectful, etc., or hostile, quarreling, tense, provoking, fearful, distant, cold, arrogant, rejective, fostering rivalry, etc.? Write down your own characteristic attitudes and behaviors toward your father as you usually display them.

  4. Describe your feelings for your mother and your relationship with her during childhood and puberty (the answer may have to be divided). Was it familiar, warm, close, relaxed, etc., or constrained, fearful, distant, cool, etc.? Specify your answer, choosing those characteristics that you think are most typical in your case.

  5. How do you think your mother regarded you (during childhood and adolescence)? What was her view of you? For instance, did she see you just "normally', as the boy or girl you were, or did she regard you in some special way, as her intimate friend, her favorite, her ideal or model child, etc.?

  6. Describe your current relationship with your mother (see question 3)

  7. In what way were you reared by your father (or grandfather, stepfather)? For instance, according to a protective, encouraging, disciplining, free, trustful, confident "method"; with many worries and complaints; in a strict, over-disciplining, demanding, critical way; in a hard, or soft, indulgent, pampering, infantilizing, or babying way? Add any characteristic left out of this list that would better describe your case.

  8. What methods did your mother use in bringing you up? (See question 7 for characteristics.)

  9. How did your father regard and treat you as far as your sexual identity was concerned? With encouragement, appreciation, as a real boy or girl, or with little respect, with little appreciation, with criticism, contempt, etc.?

  10. How did your mother regard and treat you with regard to your sexual identity? (See question 9.)

  11. Where did you fall in birth order among your siblings (only child; first of _ children, second of _ children, last of _ children, etc.)? In what way did this affect your psychological position and treatment within the family? For instance, an "afterthought" child may have been more protected or pampered; the only boy among several girls is likely to have had a different position and treatment as compared with the eldest of more boys, etc.

  12. How did you see yourself compared to your same-sex siblings? As preferred by father or mother, as "better" in some capacity or character trait, or as less valuable?

  13. How did you see your masculinity or femininity as compared with your same-sex siblings?

  14. Did you have same-sex friends in childhood? What was your position among your same-sex peers? For instance, were you one with many friends, popular, a leader, etc., or an outsider, a follower, etc.?

  15. How about your same-sex friendships in puberty? (See question 14.)

  16. Describe your contacts with the opposite sex in childhood and puberty, respectively (for instance, none, or associated exclusively with the opposite sex, etc.).

  17. For men: Did you as a boy play with soldiers, war toys, etc.? For women: Did you play with dolls, stuffed animals?

  18. For men: Were you interested in baseball or soccer? Furthermore, did you play with dolls? Were you interested in clothes? Specify.

  19. For women: Were you interested in clothes and make-up? Furthermore, did you play boys' games by preference? Specify. 

  20. Were you either verbally or physically aggressive and self-affirming as an adolescent, moderately so, or just the opposite?

  21. What were your principal hobbies and interests during adolescence?

  22. How did you see your body (or parts of it), your physical appearance (for instance, as beautiful or ugly)? Specify as to what physical attributes distressed you (figure, nose, eyes, penis or breasts, height, fatness or thinness, etc.).

  23. How did you see your body/physical appearance in terms of being male or female?

  24. Did you have any physical handicap or illness?

  25. How was your usual mood in childhood, and, secondly, in adolescence? Cheerful, sad, temperamental, or constant?

  26. Did you go through any specific periods of inner desolation or depression in childhood or adolescence? If so, how old were you? And do you know why?

  27. Did you have an inferiority complex as a child or as an adolescent? If so, in what specific areas did you feel inferior?

  28. Can you describe what kind of a child/adolescent you were in terms of your behavior and tendencies during the period you felt your inferiority most acutely? For instance: "I was a loner, very independent of everyone, withdrawn, self-willed"; "I was shy, overcompliant, servile, lonely, yet angry inside"; "I was like a baby, easily brought to tears, yet pedantic"; "self¬-affirming, attention-seeking"; "I was always pleasing, smiling, and easy-going on the outside, but inwardly I was unhappy"; "I played the comedian"; "I was overly compliant", "a coward", "a leader", "domineering", etc. Try to remember the salient characteristics of your childhood or adolescent personality.

  29. What other important things played a role in your childhood and/or adolescence?

As to the psychosexual history, the following questions will help to guide you:

  1. At about what age did you feel your first infatuation with a person of the same sex?

  2. What physical or personality type was he or she? Describe what attracted you most in him or her.

  3. Approximately how old were you when you felt your first homosexual inclination or fantasy? (The answer may be identical with that to question 29, but not necessarily so.)

  4. What kind of persons usually arouse your sexual interest, in terms of age, physical or personality traits, behavior, or dress? Examples for men include: young men from 16 to 30 years, preadolescent boys, feminine types, masculine types, athletic types, motherly types, soldiers, slender types, blonde or dark-haired types, popular types, easy-going types, "rough" types, etc. For women: young girls, age _; middle-aged women with certain characteristics; women my age; etc.

  5. If applicable, with what frequency did you practice masturbation in puberty? And thereafter?

  6. Have you ever had spontaneous heterosexual fantasies, with or without masturbation?

  7. Have you ever had erotic feelings toward or infatuations for someone of the opposite sex?

  8. Are there any peculiarities in your sexual practices or fantasies (masochism j sadism, etc.)? Describe succinctly and soberly which fantasies or behaviors of others are exciting to you, for these may reveal something about the areas in which you feel inferior.

  9. After having thought over and answered these questions, write a short life history containing the most important developments and inner events of your childhood and adolescence.


Knowledge of the Present Self

This part of self-insight is essential; insight into one's psychohistory, the subject of the previous section, is in fact useful only insofar as it promotes insight into the present self, that is, the present habits, emotions, and, most important of all, motives that are related to the homosexual complex. For effective (self-) treatment, it is essential that one comes to see oneself in an objective light, as another person who knows us well would see us. Indeed, observations by such others are often of great importance, especially when they come from persons who share our normal daily activities. They may open our eyes to habits or attitudes to which we are blind or which we would never admit. Here then is the first method of acquiring this self-insight: collect and carefully consider remarks made by others, including those whom you do not like.

The second method is self-observation. It primarily focuses on inner events-emotions, thoughts, fantasies, motives/ drives-and secondarily on outward behavior. As to the latter, we can try to represent how we behaved, as if we were looking at ourselves, like a second ego, objectively, from a certain distance. Of course, inner self-perception and representation of our behavior through the eyes of an onlooker are interconnected processes.

Self-therapy, like standard psychotherapy, commences with an-introductory period of self-observation, about one or two weeks. It is good practice to keep notes of these observations regularly (though not necessarily every day, only if there is something of importance to note), to write them down soberly, but straightforwardly. Use a special notebook for that purpose and make a habit of jotting down your observations, as well as questions or critical reflections. Writing increases the sharpness of observations and insights. Moreover, it enables one to study them some time later, which many experience as even more revealing than noting them at the moment of their occurrence (or soon afterward).

What should be recorded, in the self-observation diary? Avoid keeping merely a book of complaints. People with neurotic emotionality tend to ventilate their frustrations and thereby to complain about themselves in such a self-observation diary. If, after some time, they recognize their self-complaining in rereading their notes, then this is pure gain. They perhaps have unwittingly registered their self-pity truthfully at the time, so they can later make the discovery: "Oh, how I did feel sorry for myself!" The best policy, however, in writing down one's inner frustrations is to indicate summarily how one felt, but not to leave it at that. Add an attempt at self-analysis. For example, after noting "I felt hurt and that I was not understood", try to reflect about that in an objective way: "I think there were perhaps reasons for feeling hurt, but I was oversensitive to that treatment; I behaved like a child", or "In my feelings, there was clearly an element of hurt, childish pride", and the like. The "diary" can also serve as a notebook for insights that sometimes come quite unexpectedly. Resolutions one has taken are also important material, especially as writing them down makes them all the more concrete and firm. Registered emotions, thoughts, and behaviors, however, are solely a means to an end, namely, better self insight. Thinking them over eventually leads to better discernment of one's motives (especially those that are infantile or ego-centered).

Points of attention

Self-knowledge often comes about by taking a closer look at feelings and thoughts that are either unpleasant and/or agitating. When they occur, search yourself as to their meaning; what made you feel like that? Such negative feelings would include loneliness, rejection, abandonment, hurt, humiliation, worthlessness, listlessness, apathy, sadness or depression, agitation, nervousness, fear and anxiety, feelings of being chased, feelings of indignation, anger, jealousy, embitterment, longing, insecurity, doubt, and so on, and especially any feelings that strike you as somewhat extraordinary, as disturbing, peculiar, remarkable, or upsetting. Feelings having to do with the neurotic complex are usually associated with feeling inadequate, that is, one no longer feels master of oneself; one is out of balance. Why did I feel the way I did? Especially important questions to ask oneself are: 'Was my inner reaction that of a 'child'?" and "is a 'poor me' expressing itself here?" In fact, it turns out that many such feelings are childish frustrations, hurt pride, self-pity. The ensuing insight is: "I am inwardly not reacting as the mature man or woman I can be, but more like a child, a teenager." In trying to imagine what one's facial expression must have been, how one's voice must have sounded, what the impression of one's emotional expression must have been on others, one can perhaps see more clearly the concrete 'inner child" one has formerly been. Some emotional reactions and behavioral habits may easily be recognized as the actions of the "child" ego, but it can be difficult to see childishness in other frustrated feelings or impulses in spite of their being experienced as troublesome, undesirable, or compulsive. Displeasure is the most common indicator that something infantile is going on. It often points to some manifestation of self-pity.

But how does one distinguish infantile from normal, adequate, adult displeasure? In general, (1) noninfantile sorrow and complaints do not primarily concern one's importance; (2) nor do they as a rule bring a person completely out of balance, a certain inner self-mastery remains; and (3) except in extraordinary situations, they are not accompanied by an overwhelming emotionality either. On the other hand, certain reactions may consist of both infantile and mature components. A frustration, a loss, or hurt may be painful in itself, even if one reacts to it as a child. If one cannot see if or how far a reaction stems from the "child", it is better to drop the incident for the moment. Later on, looking back at it after some time, it may become clear.

One must scrutinize oneself with regard to certain social behaviors. This concerns ways of relating to others: being overly pleasing, servile, stubborn, hostile, suspicious, arrogant, clinging, protecting pr protection-seeking, leaning on other people, being dominant, tyrannizing, hard, indifferent, critical, manipulative, aggressive, vengeful, fearful, avoiding or provoking conflicts; being inclined to contradict negatively, boasting and showing off, reacting with theatrical or dramatic behavior, being exhibitionistic and attention-seeking (of which there are infinite variants) and so on. There are differentiations to be made here. One's behavior can differ depending on with whom one is dealing: others of the same or of the opposite sex; whether they are family members, friends, or colleagues; whether they are authorities or subordinates, strangers or people one knows well. Make notes of your observations and specify them according to the kind of social contacts to which they refer. Indicate which behaviors are most characteristic for you and your "child" ego.

One goal of this self-observation is to discover the roles one plays. These are roles of self-affirmation and getting attention in the majority of cases. One can act the successful one, the understanding one, the humorous one, the tragic figure, the sufferer, the helpless one, the faultless one, the important one (infinite variations). Role-playing, which betrays inner childishness, implies a measure of insincerity and inauthenticity; it may border on lying.

Verbal behavior, so typically human, can be very revealing too. The tone of voice itself may be informative, as with the young man who noticed how he drawled out his words, somewhat plaintively. "I believe I unconsciously take on a weak and babyish attitude, trying thereby to put others in the position of nice, understanding adults", was the result of his self-analysis. Another man observed that he was used to speaking in a dramatic tone to describe everything about his daily life and person, and indeed he tended to react a bit hysterically to the most common events.

Incidental observation of the content of one's verbal expressions can also be most instructive. Neurotic immaturity nearly always expresses itself in the tendency to complain - verbally and otherwise - about oneself, one's circumstances, others, life in general. And a considerable amount of egocenteredness is manifest in the conversations and monologues of many persons with a homosexual neurosis as well.

"When I visit my friends, I can talk for more than an hour about myself," one homosexual client recognized, "while my attention wanders when my friend wants to tell me something, and then I can hardly listen to him." Such an observation is not exceptional at all. Ego-centeredness goes along with complaining. And many conversations of "neuroticistic" people end up in complaining. Record some of your informal conversations on tape and listen to them at least three times-a sometimes unflattering, instructive procedure!

What must be especially scrutinized are one's behaviors, attitudes, and thoughts with respect to one parents. One may be - as far as the "child" ego is concerned-clinging, rebellious, contemptuous, fostering rivalry, rejecting, attention(or admiration-) seeking, dependent, (overly) critical, and so on. This applies even if the parent(s) is (are) dead; one's infantile attitude of overattachment or hostility and accusation may remain alive in spite of that! Differentiate between the observations of your relationships with your mother and your father. Remember that the "childish ego" almost certainly shows up in the relationship with one's parents, whether in external behavior or in thoughts and feelings.

The same self-observations must be made concerning one's spouse, homosexual partners, or fantasy-partners. Many childish habits manifest themselves in the latter area: childish attention-seeking, role-playing, clinging, parasitical, manipulating, jealousy-inspired actions, and so on. Be radically sincere with yourself in your self-observation notes in this field, for precisely here is an (understandable) wish to deny, not to see certain motives, to justify.

As to yourself, consider what thoughts you cherish about yourself (negative as well as positive). Identify self-bashing, overcritical attitudes toward yourself, self-denunciatory ideas, feelings of inferiority, and so on, but also self-congratulation, self-flattering imaginings, hidden self-admiration in some sense or another, daydreams about yourself, and so on. Check inner manifestations of self-dramatization and self-victimization in your thoughts, fantasies, and emotions. Can you detect in yourself sentimentality? melancholic moods? Is there any conscious wallowing in self-pity? or possible self-destructive wishes or behaviors? (This is known as "psychic masochism", that is, purposely doing what you know will cause you harm or wallowing in misery that is self-inflicted or self-sought.)

As to sexuality, observe your spontaneous fantasies and try to identify the traits of physical appearance, behavior, or personality that arouse your interest in a real or imagined partner. Then relate them to your own inferiority feelings according to the rule that the fascinating traits in another are exactly those in which one feels inferior oneself. Try to discover any childish admiration or idolizing in your consideration of prospective "friends". Also try to discern the act of comparing yourself with the other in those feelings of interest in another of the same sex and in the painful feeling that is mixed up with the lustful longing. In fact, this painful feeling or longing is the childish feeling, "I am not like him (her)", and thus is a complaint or a pitiable "I wish he (she) would pay attention to me, poor inferior creature!" To analyze feelings of homoerotic "love" may not be easy, however, it is necessary to recognize the self-seeking motive in these feelings, the seeking of a loving friend for me, like a child who wants to be babied, egocentrically. Note also the psychological occasions that give rise to sexual fantasies or masturbation. These often happen to be feelings of frustration, so that sexual wishes function as self-comfort for one's "poor me".

Attention must be given, furthermore, to the way one fulfills the masculine or feminine "role". Check if there are manifestations of fear and avoidance of activities and interests typical of your sex, and if you feel inferior in them. Do you have habits and interests that are not in conformity with your sex? Most of these cross-gender or atypical gender behaviors and interests are infantile roles, and, when one inspects them closely, it is often possible to recognize underlying or connected fears and feelings of inferiority. Also these gender nonconformities can be recognized as ego¬centered, immature. For example, a woman could see that her demanding and dictatorial ways "resembled" her manner of self-affirmation in puberty, when she resorted to them in order to find a place for herself among the others, out of a feeling of "not belonging". This role, now her second nature (as this is aptly called), then struck her as a childish "me too" attitude. A homosexual man with outspoken (pseudo)feminine mannerisms observed that he was constantly aware of his behavior. His effeminate ways, he noticed, were closely connected to strong and generalized feelings of inferiority and to a lack of normal self-assertion. Another man learned to recognize his effeminate presentation and demeanor as related to two different attitudes: self-complacency in the infantile enjoyment of playing the role of the lovely, girlish mother's boy and fear (a feeling of inferiority) of assuming a stronger, more manly kind of self-assertion. It usually takes some time of observing oneself before such self-insights dawn upon a person. Incidentally, cross-gender habits are often reflected in hairstyle, clothing, and a variety of mannerisms in speech, gestures, gait, way of laughing, and so on.

Work is another useful point of attention. Is your daily work done- with inner aversion and complaining or with pleasure and energy? With responsibility? Is it a way of immature self-affirmation? Is there much unjustified, exaggerated complaining about the work situation?

After some period of this self-observation, make a very short summary description of the most important traits and motives of your infantile self, or "inner child". In many cases a slogan may be helpful: "the helpless boy who constantly tries to get pity and support" or "the wronged girl whom nobody understands", and so forth. Concrete incidents from the past or present often can sharply illustrate the traits of this "boy" or "girl". Such memories contain a vivid picture of your "child of the past". They contain the "child" in a nutshell. Therefore we can regard them as key memories. They can be of great help at moments one has to visualize one's "child" in order to recognize present infantile behaviors or when one has to combat them. They are mental "photographs" of the "child ego within" that one carries with oneself, like pictures of one's family members or friends in one's wallet. Describe your key memory.

Moral Self-Knowledge

So far, the categories of self-observation discussed here have dealt with rather concrete events, inner and behavioral. There is a second level of self-reflection, however, the psychological-moral level. To observe oneself from this viewpoint overlaps in part the type of psychological self-observations described above. But moral self-insight goes more to the roots of personality. Pragmatically speaking, psychological self-knowledge, which implies moral, self-understanding, can greatly spur the motivation to change. We must remember Henri Baruk's splendid insight: "Moral consciousness is the cornerstone of our psyche" (1979, 291). How could that not have consequences for psychotherapy, and self therapy or self-education?

Moral(-psychological) self-insights generally concern abstractions, i.e., rather constant inner attitudes, although these may be discovered through concrete behaviors. One man saw how he had childishly lied in a certain situation, out of fear of criticism. He recognized in this incident an attitude or habit of his ego that was even more basic than his habit of lying as a defense (out of fear of hurt for his ego), namely, his deeply rooted selfishness, his moral impurity ("sinfulness", the Christian would call it). This is a level of self-knowledge more fundamental than the purely psychological. It sets also free - precisely for that reason - more curative forces than can be done by mere psychological insights. But often we cannot draw the line between the psychological and the moral too sharply, because most sensible psychological self¬insights touch the moral dimension (consider, for example, the recognition of childish self-pity). The interesting correlation is that many things we regard as "childish" are at the same time felt as morally worthy of reproof, sometimes even as immoral.

Selfishness is the common denominator of most, if not all, immoral habits and attitudes, "vices". Those habits are at one end of a bipolar spectrum; virtues, morally upright habits, form the opposite pole. For one who wants to investigate his neurotic complex, it is useful to observe himself for a while under the moral dimension as well. Suggested points of attention are the following:

1. contentment versus discontentment (related, of course, to the tendency to indulge in complaining);

2. courage versus cowardice (note the concrete situations or areas of behavior where you notice particularities);


3. perseverance, firmness versus weakness, being weak-willed, avoidance of hardship, softness to self;


4. temperance versus lack of self-discipline, self-indulgence, self-pampering (lack of self-restriction can be one's vice in eating, drinking, talking, working, or lust-of which there are many kinds);


5. diligence, industriousness versus laziness (in any area);


6. humility, realism toward oneself versus pride, arrogance, vanity, pedantry (specify area of behavior); 7. modesty versus immodesty;


8. honesty and sincerity versus dishonesty, insincerity, and habits of lying (specify);


9. reliability versus unreliability (with respect to persons, matters, promises);


10. responsibility (normal sense of duties) versus irresponsibility (with respect to family, friends, persons, work, tasks);


11. understanding, forgiveness versus vengefulness, vindictiveness, embitterment, destructiveness (as to family members, friends, colleagues, others);


12. normal enjoyment of possessions versus greed (specify manifestations). 

A basic question for anyone searching his motivational life is: Judging by my preoccupations and interests, what is in fact my main or ultimate goal(s) in life? Are they directed toward self or toward others, to tasks, ideals, objective values?

(Goals directed toward self include money and possessions, power, fame, social recognition, attention and/or esteem from others, a comfortable life, eating, drinking, sex.)