Mother-Son Boundary Violations as Blocks to Heterosexual Feelings
by Joseph Nicolosi, Ph.D.
During the course of therapy with same-sex attracted men, when the client is working on increasing his attraction to women, we sometimes encounter a block to the development of heterosexual intimacy which traces back to the boy’s childhood experience with an intrusive and over-intimate mother. The following are some examples.
A client and I were doing Body Work on an attractive female image. As he gazed at the photo, he felt himself slowly developing warm, close feelings. But just as he was beginning to enjoy the pleasant sensations in his body, he hit a sudden block. He felt a rigidity in his chest (i.e., fear). When we analyzed the problem, a jolting memory came up of his mother “playfully treating me like baby” by taking her breast out and putting it to his mouth. He was 10 years old—a preteen at the time—and the incident, which was supposed to be a joke, had brought up alarming, incestuous feelings at that time which he had felt an anxious need to suppress. In fact, he had “forgotten” those feelings until this moment.
Another mother who was a midwife in a small town, was called to help with a birth, and she took her 7-year-old son (now my adult client) along with her. The mother allowed her son to watch the delivery, and to this day, my client recalls the vivid image of the pregnant woman’s bloody vaginal area and of her terrified screaming. This early, and (to him) horrifying experience of a woman’s body created an association that he was unable to erase. From that time forward, he felt a sense of revulsion regarding the female body.
Another client told me of an incident when he was about 13. He was talking to his mother about his anxieties regarding having a girlfriend, and his inexperience about what to do or say. The mother suggested that the two of them— mother and son—practice kissing together. This client did not need to read Freud to see the connection between that incident and his feelings of apprehension toward women. His mother’s total disregard for normal mother-son boundaries had formed a barrier which prevented the client from developing normal heterosexual feelings. By default, he turned to the “safety” of homosexuality.
Many clients tell me that they and their mothers showered together. The mothers thought such an experience would make their sons feel relaxed about the human body, but instead, they produced the opposite effect. Other clients remember disturbing memories of their mothers walking around the house naked, an image which left them with defensive feelings of abhorrence. Some mothers also insisted on frequent cuddling and hugging, even as their sons got older.
In such situations, the feminine body becomes not a mysterious attraction, as it does for heterosexual men, but rather it becomes an object of dread. For the man who develops homosexually, the male body, in contrast, has no negative childhood associations of boundary violations and therefore, it represents a “safe haven” from the intrusive feminine.
Mothers who are flirtatious with their sons in an erotic manner are seeking to meet their own needs, to the neglect of their sons’. Their motivations could range from mere careless naiveté, to desire for narcissistic gratification, thus turning the son into a sort of plaything and failing to acknowledge his masculine dignity.
Mothers must always be sensitive to the healthy physical and emotional boundaries that are required by the young boy to develop heterosexually. To the male, the feminine must always be mysterious and “other than me,” rather than intrusive, controlling, over-familiar, and suggestive of the threat of incestuous attraction, as so many of our homosexual clients report from their childhoods.