Graduation and Shame

I had the expectation that once I graduated from college I would be able to find a job that would allow me to be independent and support myself.  It did not happen.  In 1993 the economy was in recession.  I sent out a bunch of resumes but no one was hiring in my field.

I also had the sense that things had changed since my parents’ generation graduated college.  When I graduated there were more college graduates and fewer jobs to go around.  Despite this change the same expectation existed that a college graduate should be employed and making a living. There was an easy comparison to make.  My parents did it and I could not.

I felt a deep humiliation for which I had no psychological defenses.  That is, I felt humiliated but had no internal resources to address the problem and come up with a solution.  I was still a young man in my early twenties and despite how I felt, I still had a lot of time and opportunities.  Instead my shame convinced me all my opportunities had been squandered, I was a failure and would be for the rest of my life.  The fact that I had no psychological defenses, in turn fed the humiliation and made it stronger.  It froze me in my tracks and my life stalled.  Instead of making goals and persistently pursuing them I felt like I had to hide from the world.

My shame tells me that my predicament was my fault.  When I blame the economy or that my parents did not properly prepare me psychologically for the real world I am trying to pass the blame on to others.  I am not taking responsibility for my own failure. In truth, I believed my shame and always felt like the fault was mine.  I was not assertive enough.  I was too interested in partying during college and did not concentrate on studying to the extent that I should have.  At the same time I graduated in four years with a 3.0 grade point average.  That was not the real cause of my failure.  But even if it was the cause I still should have had the internal resources to pick myself up and move forward.

My shame tells me that someone has to be at fault.  Fault and shame are what keeps civilization in tact.  If I do wrong and do not feel ashamed I am shirking my responsibility.  If everyone shirks their responsibilities then civilization declines into something worse than what had been in place before.  The reason the World War II generation was the “The Greatest Generation” was because they did not shirk their responsibilities.  In this sense feeling ashamed is being responsible or so it was in my mind.  But feeling ashamed to the extent I did paralyzed me and kept me from success and thus perpetuated more shame.  Of course I learned to think this way from my parents.  The way they taught me was based on the way they were taught.  They were successful in a way I was not because they had certain advantages.  Because they were successful they did not have to feel the same shame of being unemployed the way I did.  The way they taught me combined with my unique circumstances (e.g., the recession in 1993) made for the bad outcome.  I see that now.  At the time all I could see was my failure to succeed.

My life up until graduation was a like roller coaster ride.  All I had to do was stay in the car and I would eventually make it to the end of the track.  Once the ride was over I had to get out of the car.  At that point I was on my own.  In my case I found myself lost and could not hack it.  I felt so humiliated because I did not have a job.  When I heard of peers finding employment I felt my shame even deeper.  The fact that they could succeed where I could not was direct proof of my failure.  Because I had failed I also felt like I did not deserve happiness or even to enjoy myself.  In my mind those things came after success.  If they came before success then I was taking something I did not deserve and shirking my responsibility.

I had to reject this line of thinking to move forward in life.  That part, however, is a future blog post. For now, it is important to know that I had a hard time rejecting this mind-set precisely because doing so felt disloyal, irresponsible and a shirking of my responsibilities.  So I hid with my shame and I did not grow because I felt like that was what I deserved and my motivations were all based on minimizing my shame.  Going after what I wanted in life had no meaning to me.  In fact, at that point if someone asked me what I wanted my mind would go blank (and then I would feel ashamed because I could not come up with an answer).

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One response to “Graduation and Shame

  1. Pingback: Hopeless in Connecticut | Winston Scrooge

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