Monthly Archives: August 2013

I Murdered Someone Last Night

Last night I murdered a man at a gas station with a shot-gun.  My friend told me to leave the gun like in the Godfather.  Actually he wasn’t a friend.  He happened to be a childhood acquaintance.   At one time I thought was my best friend.  He was always criticizing me in the form of ball busting.  He always purposefully misunderstood what people said and rephrased it as something risqué.  For example, I might say, “My heart is beating.”  To which he would reply, “Your fart is beating?”  Later on I found out he was talking shit about me behind my back.  This was in middle school some time.  I remember working up the nerve to buy a ticket for a dance for the first time.  They were selling tickets from a table on the stage in the lunch room.  I had never bought a ticket to a dance before because I felt like people would make fun of me.   I was a nerd trying to do something the cool people did.  It was funny in the way a chimp riding a bike is funny.  I was nervous and standing in line but people were cutting in front of me.  Someone told me later that he was laughing at me and calling me a loser.  I felt ashamed and betrayed when I heard that but it sort of opened my eyes that this guy was not really my friend.  I sort of drifted away from him after that.

After I shot the guy I went back to my childhood home.  I remember lying in my childhood bed afraid that I would get arrested for killing the guy.  I prayed to God that no one would ever find out.  Then I thought there must have been a security camera at the gas station.  I felt panic and dread.  I lay there waiting to hear sirens approaching the house and anticipating that it would happen any second.  I prayed some more asking God that I be let off the hook some how.  I thought about what prison would be like.  I did not really have a reason for killing the guy.  I just did it.  Maybe I was trying to impress that childhood friend of mine.

As the dawn light filtered in through the window, I realized I had been dreaming.  I had never shot anyone.  Instead of lying in my childhood bed I was lying on the floor of my new apartment in North Carolina.  I did not have a mattress yet.

Even though this was a dream I actually felt like God answered my prayer.  It was as if the me in the dream was a different, yet equally real, person living in a different reality.  God transported that me into this reality where the crime had never taken place.  By doing this God had wiped the slate clean.  It felt liberating.  This is what forgiveness feels like.

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Stuck Between Stagnation and Fear

My recent move from Connecticut to North Carolina made clear to me that I live between two states, stagnation and fear.  When I feel stagnant I move to change my situation but when my situation changes I experience fear and seek safety.  The safety eventually becomes stagnant and the cycle repeats itself.  For me, both stagnation and fear are intertwined with humiliation.  When I am stagnant I feel humiliation because I feel like I should be moving forward.  The humiliation of stagnation is a safe place for me even though it feels dead.  When I move out of my comfort zone by striving for more than this I risk a more intensive humiliation because somewhere along the line I learned that failure is shameful.  This risk brings about fear.

In 2009 I was laid off from a large law firm in Philadelphia.  I worked their for eight years and hated it.  I had wanted to quit because I was not growing professionally but was afraid to quit because I was afraid of having less money.  This was the humiliation of stagnation.  It felt safe to stay in a job that I hated because I feared taking a risk by leaving.  At the same time my marriage was horrible – probably because I hated my job.  I had financial problems despite my income.  The stress was overwhelming. I became depressed and suicidal (not that I acted on that feeling).  I craved the feeling of safety.  Although being laid off was a relief at first it began to feel unsafe because I had more expenses than income.

So my wife and I rented our house in Philadelphia and moved in with my parents in Connecticut.  In the beginning, although I felt a certain level of humiliation living with my parents my stress level definitely declined.  It was safe.  Comparatively speaking it was emotionally a much better place for me.  Since that time we worked on our marriage, we both obtained new jobs and after a bunch of life changing therapy we were in a position to move out.

As the time for moving approached I felt the fear returning.  Before the move, my mind would race at night about all the things I had to do and all the money I would have to spend.  After the move I stressed about getting furniture for our new place and all the money I spent.  I also felt a level of humiliation for not having our place set up for a week.  I see now that moving beyond my comfort zone makes me fearful and so I seek safety.  I see that safety is a relief and feels good at first.  Eventually safety feels stagnant and confining and I yearn to move forward.  But as the day approaches to actually move the fear kicks in and attempts to stop me.

But on the other side of fear is feeling alive.  And so in order to feel alive I have to be willing to feel fear and not retreat back to safety.  Historically, I have not been willing to do this.  This time around I choose to go through the fear and see what happens.  Hopefully aliveness is on the other side.

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Thoughts On Quotes from Bill Maher and Penn Jillette, Atheism and Religion In General

I heard Bill Maher say this on his show “Real Time” and it got me to thinking.

Explain to me how a book that is written by God, who is perfect, there’s so much–it’s pro-slavery, pro-polygamy, it’s homophobic, God in the Old Testament is a psychotic mass murderer–I mean, there’s so many things in it. I always say to my religious friends, you know, if a pool had even one turd in it, would you jump in? — Bill Maher

First of all, Maher is proposing a straw man argument.  Yes, there is quite a bit of stuff in the bible that is contradictory to modern morality and even to itself at times.  To use that as a strike against the Bible assumes the Bible is supposed to be interpreted literally.  Some people espouse this viewpoint and to them, I assume Maher’s argument is difficult to circumvent.  But certainly all Christians do not agree that the Bible is to be interpreted literally.  So this argument cannot really be used to refute Christianity or (as I suspect Maher is implying) religion in general.

Second this argument is painting religion in a purely intellectual framework.  I would argue that religion makes more sense on the emotional and spiritual levels than it does on the intellectual.  To me, religion seems to come from the limbic system whereas science and logic come from the prefrontal cortex.  That is, religion comes from an emotional, primitive part of the human conscience.  It comes from the place that wants to connect to its source, the infinite unknowable that is reality.  I suspect those inclined towards religion feel an emotional need to connect to this unknowable something.  In this way, faith is a feeling more than an intellectual belief.  Because this something is unknowable, I see religion as a tool created to relate to that something.

This brings me to another quote I ran across recently from Penn Jillette:

If every trace of any single religion were wiped out and nothing were passed on, it would never be created exactly that way again. There might be some other nonsense in its place, but not that exact nonsense. If all of science were wiped out, it would still be true and someone would find a way to figure it all out again. — Penn Jillette

This statement might be true but I would argue religions are products of the culture in which they arose.  We live in a big complicated universe that we don’t understand.  At the same time we feel more comfortable when we understand things so we frame the unknowable according to things we understand and what we understand changes over time and from culture to culture.  That is why Christianity is different from Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and even Scientology.  Religions are different because the infinite unknowable is unknowable.  Science is the same from culture to culture because the material world is knowable.  As such I do not see Penn Jillette’s statement (even if true) to be a particularly effective in terms of undermining the case for religion.

English: Penn Jillette at Rio Las Vegas

English: Penn Jillette at Rio Las Vegas (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Really, the only honest position is agnosticism because we cannot know for sure what is the true nature of reality and if there is something more than material existence.  But agnosticism is neither interesting intellectually or satisfying emotionally.  So those inclined towards religion choose religions (usually) connected with the culture they live in.  That does not mean that religion is wrong or untrue.  It means we are trying to have a connection with the infinite unknowable on some level.

The final point I’d like to make is that it is probably impossible for a person inclined towards religion and a person not inclined towards religion to find common ground on an intellectual level.  This is not something that an honest debate can solve in most cases.  This is precisely because religion is emotional at its core.  I suspect atheism is also emotional at its core in the case of Maher and Jillette given how they argue their points of view.  I have respect for anyone’s belief.  It seems that statements like Maher’s and Jillette’s come off a bit snarky and judgmental.  They seem to observe religion from a purely intellectual vantage point and from there it is easy to claim religion is nonsense.  I certainly do not want to say they are wrong for doing this. I guess I would rather they not support their beliefs by attempting to shame those who disagree.

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Four Reasons To Troll Message Boards

A message board troll deliberately makes inflammatory posts in order to get a reaction from some one or to get other message board members to argue.  I have certainly fit in this category in the past.  At this point I am pretty much a recovered troll, however, as they say in AA once an addict always an addict.  In other words although I no longer actively troll it would be very easy for me to fall back in the habit because trolling is very much an addiction (more later in this post).  From my own experience there are four reasons someone would actively troll a message board.

First Reason – It Is The Other Members’ Fault

I have been a member of a few message board communities over the years.  I can honestly say I never became a member with the intention to troll from the get go.  Usually my behavior shifts in that direction based on the behavior of other members of the community.  This happens because message boards have established communities (unless you join when the board first starts).  Acceptance into the community requires new members to be humble at first.  If a new member is not humble and talks back to the more established members when confronted, that new member will typically be accused of trolling.  Often the established members suspect the new member of being a troll who had been previously harassed off the board and has returned under a new avatar.  If they do not out right accuse the new member of operating a “sock puppet” they will say he is just like every other troll who has been run off the board in the past.  The new member will quickly paint himself into a corner by continuing to defend himself and being a troll will become his identity. From that position he can either stick it out and hope that with good behavior over time the label will go away or he can leave.  That is the goal of the established members.  If he has allies (other members who stick up for him) then he can fight the good fight.  If he is all by himself he may choose to relish in the troll identity.  This is usually done without admitting to the fact that he is a troll and usually results in ostracization or outright banning if the moderators are strict.

This reason (trolling is the fault of the other members) is hard to justify mostly because the troll will never convince the other members.  It is also hard to justify because all the evidence is stacked against him.  I suspect most trolls feel that the other members are to blame in their hearts but that is probably because they don’t want to look at the real reasons they troll (Reasons 2, 3 and 4).

Second Reason – The Troll Seeks Attention And Recognition

I was accused once by a message board member that I was looking for attention and recognition.  That stung and my immediate reaction was to deny it, but upon further self-reflection I realized the accuser was right.  I see this in the way I behave and the way I react emotionally to the behavior of others.  After I post a message I am compelled to keep looking to see if anyone responded.  If my post was intended to bait another member the urge to look to see if a response was made is heightened.  It feels good to see a lot of people respond to a thread I started.  It feels good to have people agree with me.  It does not feel good (shameful) to have people accuse me of trolling or looking for attention.

Third Reason – The Troll Likes To Fuck With People

Trolls like to fuck with people.  They enjoy getting other people angry and seeing them react.  This motivation comes from old bonding, probably because someone did it to them and it was probably one of the troll’s parents.  Without getting too into the Gestalt psychology of it, children bond to the energy of their parents because they need their parents to survive.  Even if the energy is negative, bonding to that is better than the alternative which is death.  When they bond to that energy, as they mature they act out that energy on others including their children.  See My Experience With Gestalt Therapy.  They are also more apt to act out that energy in anonymous situations like message boards where their true identity will not be exposed.

Fourth Reason – The Troll Is Addicted

Trolling is an addiction.  When I actively trolled I worked a boring job I hated sitting in a cubicle all day.  At the same time I had access to the internet.  When I posted an inflammatory post I would experience a rush.  If the post produced the reaction I was looking for (pissing someone off or making them look foolish) I got an even bigger rush.  I have been told this is the same sort of reward that addicts experience when they partake in their addiction of choice (be it drugs, alcohol, porn, food etc.).

I suppose the take home message is that there is more to a message board troll than meets the eye.  Certainly it is not my intention to defend this type of behavior because the truth of the matter is that trolls enjoy making other people feel bad.  They get off on it.  On the other hand, the reason for this behavior exists is probably because the troll is experiencing a great deal of psychological pain that he is not yet ready to face , not that a troll would ever admit to that.

 

Read my ebook Shame and Internet Trolling. Available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and iBooks.

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Connecticut

I have a love hate relationship with Connecticut.  I love it because it is familiar and safe for me.  I hate it because it seems like there are few opportunities and it makes me feel stagnant, like I am missing out on all the excitement going out outside its borders.

I was born and grew up in Connecticut.  At one point in high school my family considered moving.  That thought scared me.  Connecticut was safe (although I was bullied constantly during my childhood).  I went to college in Boston.  When I graduated in 1993 it was really difficult to get a job with a BA in psychology.  So I moved back to Connecticut and live with my parents for a while.  I drove a delivery truck and felt anxious and ashamed that I could not find a better job.  At that time Connecticut felt stifling to me.  There did not seem to be much opportunity and there was not much to do.  Then I moved to Washington, DC.  City life was more interesting but it was also more stressful. I went to law school in New Orleans.  Again, more interesting but stressful.  I got married and moved to Scranton which felt safe but then stifling.  So we move to Philadelphia where I worked for a law firm bored out of my mind, stressed and ashamed because my position did not allow for advancement.  My marriage got worse.  I became very anxious and depressed.  After I got laid off in 2009 I moved back to Connecticut and with my parents.   We had been talking about relocating to Connecticut.  The idea seemed appealing to me.  I had friends and family in the area and the schools are good.  I now see that I just wanted some safety in my life.  At first the feeling of safety was inviting but finally it became stifling again.  My marriage is better now and soon we will be moving to North Carolina.

Connecticut is unique in that there is nothing really unique about it.  I had a girlfriend in college who took pride in the fact that she came from Tennessee.  During an argument she jabbed at me that I came from a state known for absolutely nothing.  I found it strange that she took pride in her state.  I can’t imagine anyone being gung-ho Connecticut.  One time I was talking with a friend’s wife from Massachusetts.  I tried to find a point of commonality and pointed out that we were fellow New Englanders.  She looked at me strangely and said, “Connecticut isn’t part of New England.”  I found this kind of insulting.  She said, “I always thought of Connecticut as that state you drive through…”  Sometimes I think about this conversation and get angry.

I grew up in suburban Connecticut outside of Hartford.  I always felt like there was no real community with roots.  Most of the population was transplanted.  There were very few families that could claim to be multi-generational citizens of Connecticut.  When kids went to college they rarely came back.  I sort of felt like I had missed out on something because of that.

Connecticut is also full of crappy cities.  Without exception, all the cities in Connecticut are run down, poor and without any real attractions.  When I was a kid I used to go to Hartford Whalers games.  They moved out of the state some time ago.  There is always the sense that Connecticut was better back in the 1960s.  I was born in 1971.

I recently got a job where I work from home.  So now I can move and take my job with me.  My wife and I decided to move to North Carolina where the schools are good, there’s a lower cost of living and there is an energy to it.  Connecticut is very safe and has served its purpose.  I will miss the Fall in Connecticut.  I’m sure after a while I will begin to miss the safety as well.  For me, however, the safety is a box that has confined me.  The outside world is more stressful but I want to grow and I have to move on.

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My Experience with Gestalt Therapy

I have experienced Gestalt therapy as a patient and that is the perspective from which I write.  In other words I am not a licensed Gestalt therapist nor have I received any formal training other than what I have learned from my therapist and what I have read on the subject.  For many years I attended a men’s group therapy sessions facilitated by two therapists trained in Gestalt body centered therapy.  After the group broke up I continued on with one of the therapists.  For what it’s worth, this is what I have learned.

I have learned to trust my feelings.  If I feel an emotion in my body it is there for a reason and it is never morally wrong or bad.  I think the root of my anxiety, depression and shame was the belief that my feelings were wrong.  I can remember being a teenager and feeling anger that my parents would not give me more freedom.  They responded by telling me my anger and the fact that I could not control my anger displayed how undisciplined and irresponsible I was.  My anger was wrong and if my anger was wrong by implication I was wrong as a person.  When a “wrong” feeling (like anger) presented itself I had to either deny it or bury it somehow.  That was how I learned to mature.  This requirement that I bury my emotions was the genesis of my addictive personality because I buried bad emotion with whatever addiction I had at my disposal.  Further, this inner conflict initially produced shame and anxiety which eventually turned into depression, anger and grief.  My therapist would always ask me, “what would you have to feel if such and such happend?” as a means of getting me to acknowledge and accept my natural feelings before the urge to deny or bury them took over.

I have learned about “the vicitimizer.”  This is a concept similar to the Freudian “super-ego” in that it is my inner voice that makes me feel ashamed either by criticizing what I am doing in the present, causes me to remember embarrassing situations in the past or makes me anticipate and fear embarrassing situations in the future (all of which trigger the feeling of humiliation).  However, the victimizer is much more vindictive than the Freudian super-ego.  The victimizer is the embodiment of abusive energy from my parents that I bonded to as a child.  When my parents told me I was wrong for feeling the way I did I took that energy into the energy of my body and there it remained all my life.  When I feel the urge to shame my children for little things like having a messy room as I was shamed I recognize it as old bonding.  Through Gestalt therapy I purged this bonding a little at a time and took on new, non judgmental bonding.

I have learned that I am a shame-based person.  That is how I defined myself.  Every situation I encounter is a new possibility to be humiliated in some way.  For a long time I saw a  therapist who was more cognitive behavioral / client driven in practice.  We sat and talked for many years.  I have no doubt that he was an honest and compassionate person but this was not the therapy I needed to move out of being a shame-based person.  He commented that I experienced a “lack of entitlement”.  This is true but we never progressed past that.  Gestalt therapy is driven by the therapist.  There is a path to follow and the therapist has the answers.  Unlike client driven therapy which I assume was designed for me to stumble upon the answer myself in due time.  I want to emphasize that I have nothing against the man as a therapist.  It’s just that Gestalt therapy is much more effective in the treatment of shame in my experience.

I have learned about the “Death Layer” which is an emotional place that holds my greatest fear and a place that I would never have gone had it not been for Gestalt therapy.  For me the death layer is humiliation.  This is a place I tried to avoid at all costs.   Although I never successfully avoided it because I experience humiliation all the time.  But I always experienced humiliation with my guard up and holding myself against it.  Through Gestalt therapy I learned to trust other people and to release my guard and descend into the death layer willingly.  By doing this I experienced the energy or feeling humiliation in front of my therapist and the men’s group I attended.  I learned that it was okay and that feeling did not mean my death (as some part of me whole heartedly believed).  My approach to this inmost cave was accomplished in small doses and took some time.  When I cross that barrier a well of grief that normally exists way below the surface is tapped.  To experience that in a supportive environment (as opposed to a judgmental environment) is both liberating and purging.  This is the path of Gestalt therapy.

I have learned that I have an inner child.  Inside me there is a child that does not trust anyone and expects to be humiliated and shamed at every turn.  This inner child does not even trust me because I have abandoned him every time I have ever been humiliated in my life.  Through Gestalt therapy I have learned to love and support myself when I experience humiliation.  I can be the adult for my inner child that was never there for me growing up.

I have learned that I was fucked with (not in a sexual sense) as a child by the people who were supposed to love me.  When I protested I was made to feel ashamed (ungrateful, selfish, undisciplined, weak).  There was this inner sense of loyalty that I had that made me choose to take the abuse and to agree with it in order to survive in this environment.  I have learned that the people who fucked with me enjoyed it.  I can see that in myself when I feel the urge to fuck with other people.  Again, this was the energy I bonded to.

This may all seem to be a very harsh judgment of my parents.  But they were simply acting in accordance with the bonding they received from their parents and so on down the line.  This is not written to condemn them.  Rather it is written to acknowledge that through Gestalt therapy I have found an effective treatment to break the chain.

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Defining the Mind

There are many theories on the mind and many different terms used to describe how the mind works.  For example, the term “Ego” can mean different things in different contexts.

Dictionary.com lists six distinct definitions for ego, the first two of which are the ones most commonly used in popular culture.  Although these terms are commonly used (sometimes interchangeably) they are quite different.  The first definition is:

the “I” or self of any person; a person as thinking, feeling, and willing, and distinguishing itself from the selves of others and from objects of its thought.
This definition, I believe, refers to the type ego that you might hear used by Yoga instructors, Eckhart Tolle, or Depak Chopra.  This ego is the “false self” that separates itself from the “true self” to cope with and survive in reality.  This ego is often referred to pejoratively as a problem to be overcome or a sickness of some kind.  This is true in a sense because this type of ego often is maladaptive and creates more problems than it originally set out to solve, but this type of ego is also a defense mechanism protecting the self from external assaults.  I believe that was the original intent behind bringing the ego into existence.  It’s an ally that comes to help but then takes over.
The second definition of ego is:
the part of the psychic apparatus that experiences and reacts to the outside world and thus mediates between the primitive drives of the id and the demands of the social and physical environment [also known as the ‘super ego’].
This is the Freudian definition of ego I learned as a psychology major in college.  This ego works in concert with id and the super ego.  The id is the primitive part of the mind that covets.  The super ego is the moralistic part of the mind that councils not to listen to the id.  The ego is the part of the mind that decides between the id and the super ego.  This ego seems more like beneficent administrator than the false self ego.
There are other systems used to define and classify the parts and functions of the mind.  In other posts I have talked about the limbic system and the prefrontal cortex.  There seem to be some correlations between the “false self” ego, the id and the limbic system.  They all seem to covet and do not do not seem concerned with moral issues.  But the limbic system and the id do not think in terms of language and logic but rather emote whereas the false self ego can be critical and judgmental as well as emotional.

Similarly there appear to be parallels between the super ego and the prefrontal cortex.  Both of these concepts can think logically and use language.    The prefrontal cortex is able to receive the urging from the limbic system but then use reason to decide whether it makes sense to act on it.  The super ego challenges the id in a similar but slightly different (more moralistic) way.

The freudian ego and the true self do not seem to be similar concepts.  The freudian ego is similar to the prefrontal cortex in that it receives advice from the id and the super ego and decides the best course.  The true self is mostly awareness combined with compassion and a small amount of will.  This is more of a spiritual concept.

Then there is thinking and feeling overlaid on these structures.  Thinking is labeling, conceptualizing, making into words, reasoning, planning remembering.  Feeling is a physical sensation in the body in the body connected to an emotion such as happiness, sadness, fear.  Feeling is more primitive but it is also more honest.  Thinking is more advanced but can engage in falsehoods.

The conclusion seems to be that there are many overlapping concepts use to describe the mind and its functions.  But they do not fit together seamlessly and can cause confusion.  The reality is that all these concepts do overlap in a manner that is probably not understood completely by any one (or perhaps all) schools of thought.  It might not even be helpful to design an entire system to encompass them all.  Where would that get us anyway?

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