Minor Attracted Persons, or MAPs, are the target of social and legal censure; they are hated and despised. Often, they hate and despise themselves. Some hope that the stigma and censure directed at MAPs will protect children by isolating MAPs, and indeed by making them afraid of themselves and what they might do. However, some researchers believe that instilling self-loathing in MAPs reduces their self-control, and makes them more likely to harm others. Encouraging self-stigmatization in MAPs may be counter-productive if the goal is to protect children.
What is stigma?
Stigma refers to attributes or “marks” that are deeply discrediting. People who are stigmatized are perceived as bad, dangerous and weak. Others will often avoid them, or exhibit aggression towards them.
People who feel attracted to prepubescent, pubescent children, and teens are often stigmatized. The public stigmatizes them. Professionals like clinical psychologists often stigmatize them. And the MAP community often stigmatizes itself. Many of them feel guilt and self-loathing.
When MAPs stigmatize themselves, they often try to hide their feelings, because they are ashamed. This means that they will not get psychiatric assistance. It also means they will not be honest with others or with themselves when they need to remove themselves from a situation in which they might be a risk. Instead, they may try to reject or bury their feelings of attraction to minors. Often they do this through “suppression”, a mental control technique that people use to manage unwanted thoughts
Suppression doesn’t work
The problem with suppression is that it doesn’t work. Researchers have found that it is at best unsustainable and at worst a counterproductive method for dealing with unwanted, intrusive thoughts.
Some studies have even found that there is a potential rebound effect associated with suppressing unwanted thoughts. In other words, a person trying to suppress a thought may actually think about the suppressed emotions and ideas more rather than less. When MAPs try to suppress their minor attraction, they could paradoxically increase their own propensity to engage with sexual thoughts involving children.
Acceptance and commitment therapy
In a study of online forum posts by MAPs, it was found that MAPs believe that acceptance of minor attraction and broader self-acceptance was an important strategy in reducing the likelihood of sexual offense. In particular, many posters argued that efforts at suppression led to low self-esteem, which was linked to increased risks of offending.
The approach discussed in the forum posts is similar to what some therapists have called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). Acceptance and Commitment Therapy has been used to change the context of the cycles sexual offenders may go through in trying to suppress deviant thoughts and urges. Treatments that focus on improving stigma-management by increasing self-acceptance and finding means to satisfy emotional and social needs may reduce the risk of sexual offending among this group.
ACT is meant to offer an alternative to experiential avoidance. Experiential avoidance is the process of trying to avoid your own experiences such as thoughts, feelings, memories, bodily sensations, or behavioral predispositions. Acceptance, in contrast, is the opposite of effortful control or suppression. Patients are encouraged to adopt a gentle, loving posture toward themselves, their history, and their programming. This avoids the rebound effect and the low self-esteem associated with it. Acceptance interventions focus on the use of metaphors through which MAPs could stop struggling with their attraction and could instead allow them to adopt behaviors that will not harm others.
Jiménez Díaz describes a clinical case in which a MAP was treated with ACT. When the client experienced pedophilic desires, he tried to control or avoid them, paradoxically making the problem worse. So, the therapist used a metaphor known as “annoying visitors metaphor”. In this metaphor, the sexual thoughts, images, and feelings were described as annoying visitors attending a party they haven’t been invited to. If the host pays attention to them, then they will prevent him from enjoying his party. If he tries to kick them out, an unpleasant conflict can result and can ruin the meeting. The solution is to ignore the thoughts and focus on other less annoying “guests”.
More research is needed about the efficacy of ACT aimed at self-stigmatization in MAPs. But it is a very promising therapy. Some organizations that work with MAPs such as The Aurora Project utilize techniques and principles from both Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT). These techniques are used “to assist individuals in understanding their own patterns of behavior, to find healthy ways to manage difficult thoughts and emotions, and to live a positive life for the future.” Hopefully, further study of ACT will allow therapists to help MAPS reduce self-stigmatization and reduce risks of offending.