Monthly Archives: September 2013

Shame Begets Shame

Shame-based people become the targets of other shame-based people.  The only relief a shame-based person can find in this world (without going through the painful work of therapy) is to shame other people.  Like an addiction this only provides a very temporary relief but temporary relief is better than no relief at all.

My oldest sister was killed in a car accident before I was born.  My parents were probably shame based before this event but I believe this event intensified their sense of shame.  Because they had no healthy way to address this shame they passed it on to my two older sisters who were alive at the time of the accident.  When I came along I was the easiest target for all the other shame-based people in my family.

My oldest living sister was probably the nicest person to me in our family but she was still capable of cruelty.  I remember her holding me down and slowly letting spit drool out of her mouth onto my face.  When I had a girlfriend in high school and was happy and felt good about being a male for the first time she tried to convince me that I should break up with her.  My whole family participated in this.  When I did not break up with my girlfriend both my sisters treated her badly, like she was less of a person and unworthy to be associated with our family.  My oldest treats my wife in a similar way today.  I am not sure how aware of this she is.

My second, oldest, living sister was perhaps the most overtly cruel person in my family when I was young.  She would laugh at me and tell me I was weak.  She would make fun of the fact that I played computer games.  She would take things from me and tease me.  I remember one time she was picking on me and bullying me.  I had a pole in the garage that I would pretend was a martial arts bo stick.  I brought it out and she took it from me.  I remember crying and following her around begging for her to give it back to me but she refused.  Eventually she broke it in half right in front of me and dropped the pieces down a pole in the yard used as a property marker.  She would beat me up and then tell me that she was doing it to toughen me up.  The day when I pushed her back and stopped her from attacking me was a good day in my life.

My Aunt and Uncle (my mother’s brother) also saw me as an easy target.  They would always tell me how “sheltered” my life was as a reason to discount any opinion I might have.  I remember talking to my Uncle after Thanksgiving dinner one year during the 1980’s before the end of the Cold War.  We were talking about nuclear weapons.  I asked why we had to keep making more missiles even though we had enough to kill most of the life on the planet.  He argued that it was not the number of missiles but rather the technology development that was important.  When I persisted he told me that I lived a very sheltered life implying that I was not as qualified as he to offer an opinion on (I suppose) anything. I committed the sin of being born into an affluent, suburban family and even though I thought myself to be very sensitive to never come off as vain or snobbish I got the sense people just assumed I was just that.  Because of this any opinion I had to offer was invalid according to them.

I don’t write this to place blame.  I write this to describe the no-win predicament of a shame-based person.  I am sure if any of my family members read this they would feel betrayed or insulted.  But this is exactly the predicament that I and all shame-based people live in.  My family shamed me but if I protest I become the one at fault.  I am disloyal, weak, selfish, incompetent, lazy, pampered, foolish.  I want to blame other people for my troubles instead of taking personal responsibility.  This is the way shame always outflanks the shame-based person and keeps them imprisoned.  To break free of the prison I have to honestly describe what happened.  I will be shamed for doing it (of course) but facing and experiencing shame is only way of becoming free of shame.

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Intergenerational Aspects of Shame – The Legacy of the Greatest Generation

Shame is passed down from generation to generation.  I was the youngest sibling and if I am being honest I must admit that on some level the members of my family all took sadistic pleasure in making me feel ashamed of myself.  I am sure a lot of this was done without thinking.  In other words they probably did not make the connection that they sought to make me feel ashamed because it was pleasurable to them.  Rather, they saw me as a flawed person and probably thought they were being virtuous in pointing out my flaws.  To them I probably came off as a contemptible, weak creature undeserving of respect.  My mother criticized me so that I would see the error of my ways and reform myself into the person she wanted me to be.   She limited me to protect me from my inevitable failures and reckless behavior.  My father criticized me because I annoyed him and was undisciplined and therefore deserved punishment.  My older sisters bullied me in order to toughen me up.

I think both of my parents grew up in families where they were treated harshly by their parents.  I have no doubt if I presented this theory to either of them they would respond that I am wrong and that their parents were wonderful people who made great sacrifices to provided for them and brought them up to be honest, hard-working and responsible contributors to society (or something along those lines).  I also have no doubt that is true.  My grandparents (the “Greatest Generation“) lived during the Depression and World War II.   They struggled and persevered and probably had to adopt a severe approach to life because survival was at stake.  Enduring these experiences probably also motivated my grandparents to provide a “better life” for my parents’ generation.  I suspect along the way my grand parents’ generation became jealous or ashamed of their children who grew up in a relatively more comfortable life but did not have to make the same sacrifices to earn it.  This translated to a sense that my parents’ generation had to behave themselves and be grateful for what they had and to the extent they did not do this they were severely punished.  Some of this punishment was physical.  But all of the punishment (including the physical) included shame.  My parents’ generation then grew up and internalized a great deal of this shame.  There was a sense that they inherited the benefits of my grand parents’ struggles but did not have to struggle themselves.  My parents in turn raised my generation in an even more comfortable lifestyle which in turn touched their internalized shame.  This shame manifested itself in irritation with my generation, alcoholism and a tendency to lash out in an extremely disproportionate manner when they perceived a lack of due respect, irresponsibility or un-gratefulness on our part.

I grew up constantly feeling like I was not entitled to what I had and that I should somehow feel ashamed of it because I did not earn it.  For most of my life I thought that I felt this way because I was inherently flawed as a person.  I now see this is the result of faulty programing (perhaps even well-intentioned).  The prior generations did not have the resources to see what they were doing and the damage it caused.  For some reason I was blessed with the ability to see this and am now in a position to mitigate its effect on my children.

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Feelings Associated With Shame

Draupadi as humiliated in Virata's durbar by K...

Draupadi as humiliated in Virata’s durbar by Kichaka (left). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Although the quality of my life has vastly improved over the past four years there are still demons that lurk under the surface.  I am aware of them now and awareness brings separation.  The biggest one, or perhaps the one that encompasses them all is shame.  It manifests itself in a myriad of feelings.

There is a sense that the rules for everyone else do not apply to me.  There is a sense that I have been set aside for special punishment and other people deserve happiness, success and wealth.  There is the sense that I uniquely deserve to be humiliated in life.  I have never felt otherwise except that now I am more aware of it than I ever have been.  I feel a vast reservoir of grief and anger buried inside of me that is met with humiliation when it surfaces in front of other people.  So I keep it hidden.

I often feel like I should not be where I am and that I should feel ashamed for the position I find myself.  I often expect to be told that I’m not allowed to do what ever it is that I am doing or that what ever it is that I am doing, I am doing it wrong.  I feel this way when I am chopping wood in the yard.  A car will pass by on the street and I will feel angry.  I will feel that the people in the car are laughing at me.  It’s as if it is funny if I try to do certain things.  If the wood falls over unexpectedly they will laugh at me.  I remember as a kid thinking that all those assholes from the Village Day Camp were watching me through a crystal ball when I was alone and everything I did was cause for ridicule.  As a grown man, when I mowed the lawn of my house in Philadelphia I would imagine that the neighbors were looking at me and thinking that I was mowing the lawn incorrectly.

People who judge annoy and trigger me because I was judged incessantly when I was a kid.  For the same reason my default setting is to judge other people.  No one has ever apologized for treating me so poorly.  No one has ever apologized for creating this burden that I have carried my entire life and that has turned something that could have been joyful and interesting into something that is stifling and a misery.  My only solace is the hope that I can turn it around.  I can’t dwell on all that I have missed out on.  Nor can I dwell on all that I will never come to experience because my growth and development has been delayed.  The grief and loss that dwelling on these things would cause would be too much to bear.

The healthy thing, the only thing I can do now is to move forward, forgive myself and focus on what I am grateful for.  To do otherwise would only keep me stuck.

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I Have Darkness and Light

Inside me there is both darkness and light.  It is the darkness that gets joy out of fucking with people on message boards and it is the light that has compassion for my children (for example).  After I fuck with people on message boards I feel bad.  It might be tempting to say it is the light that is making me feel bad for doing wrong.  That is morality.  But really this is my darkness now turned on me.  My darkness loves to fuck with people even if (or even especially when) that person is me.  Fucking with someone in this context means deriving pleasure by making another person feel bad.

The darkness is cowardly, dishonest and hides itself because it feels ashamed at its core.  It makes sense that darkness thrives on the anonymity of the internet.  To alleviate the pain of shame it acts out on other people, deriving pleasure by making them feel bad.  The darkness pretends to be the light by espousing morality and punishing immorality but what it is really doing is shaming other people and deriving pleasure from it.

By contrast, the light has compassion, forgiveness and acts wholeheartedly.  Several Bible verses come to mind. In Genesis the first thing God says is, “let there be light.” (Gen 1:3).  Then God separated the light from the darkness.  (Gen 1:4).  In John, Jesus said, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.”  (John 8:12).  Paul speaks of love but I suspect love in this context is the same thing as light.  “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”  (1 Cor. 13:4-7).

It might be tempting to say that labling the good part light and the bad part dark is a way of avoiding blame.  It is a way of saying that I am not responsible for my bad actions but rather the fault belongs with the darkness.  I think this is a message from the darkness which tries to shame and cast blame.  I think recognizing and accepting the darkness inside me is recognizing the truth and thus embracing the light.  When I recognize the darkness and how it acts inside me I am better able to stop myself before I act out and act from a place of honesty and light rather than shame and darkness.

 

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

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Labor Day – The Need to Do Something

Today was Labor Day.  I woke up feeling very anxious.  I felt like I should be doing something. No matter what I do sometimes I feel like I should be doing something else.  I had the day off from work and so did my kids but my wife was working.  I had to come up with something to do and if I did not come up with something the kids would end up watching TV all day.  I hate that because it makes me feel like I am failing as a parent.

We just moved from Connecticut to North Carolina.  The area is new to me and I am not entirely sure what there is to do around here.  There is this lake nearby where we can rent a kayak.  I did not really want to do that because we just moved and I have been hemorrhaging money.  It seemed like an unnecessary expense.  So I was torn.  I am a bad parent if I do not spend money and take my kids somewhere but I am irresponsible if I spend too much money.  I cannot win either way.  I recognize this dilemma because of my experience with Gestalt therapy.  No matter what I do I am wrong.

It is interesting to consider this feeling of needing to do something within the context of Labor Day.  This holiday celebrates labor, hard work.  I used to work for a national law firm and hated it because it felt like I was not doing work of any consequence even though I was working long hours.  I never felt like my work was important.  The dilemma repeats itself.  I work hard but my work is not important.  So I am not really working.  It does not count.  I cannot win.

But there is a small victory in recognizing the fact that I cannot win under any circumstances.  I recognize that there is this force that wants to fuck with me no matter what I do.  When I am not aware of this I think if I just get all my ducks in a row then I will not be fucked with.  This of course, is an illusion.  I am asleep when I think this way.  There is no way to get all my ducks in a row and even if I did I would be fucked with then for some other reason.  When I recognize this I am more awake (in the Buddhist sense of the term ‘awake’).

So where does this leave me?  When I wake up feeling anxious I am being fucked with.  There is an energy within me that is telling me I am doing something wrong.  To the extent I feel anxious I am believing the message of this energy.  To the extent I recognize this dynamic I gain separation from it.  This is a victory but each victory is small.  So on Labor Day my task is to do nothing and to try to be okay with it or at least recognize the energy trying to make me feel not okay with it.

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