For most of my childhood I was told I was a wimp, a nerd and a geek. That was humiliating. When I got sad about it I was told I was weak. When I got angry about it I was labeled a spaz. Those feelings were also humiliating. Of course I did not like feeling humiliated but I was stuck in a no win situation. The best solution I could come up with was to hide my sadness and my anger because I did not want to feel humiliation on top of humiliation. In this way humiliation kept me from feeling my sadness and anger.
But the sadness and anger did not go anywhere. They were still there, deep down and came out from time to time like an erupting volcano whenever I was pushed past my breaking point or when I was safely alone. For some reason every Christmas Eve I found myself alone watching A Christmas Carol and wept uncontrollably whenever I saw the scene where Scrooge finally accepts his nephew Fred’s invitation to dinner and Fred welcomed him happily even though Scrooge assumed he would not. When the sadness and anger did erupt in front of other people (and to a lesser extent when I was alone) I felt the sting of humiliation which pushed those feelings back down again. The humiliation had the effect of negating my truly feeling those emotions and getting the relief they should have provided me.
I have since learned that in order to be a full person and to grow I must be able to feel my sadness and anger without humiliation. I need to own those feelings as authentic and acceptable parts of me. I need to welcome them in a non judgmental manner and with love. They are the truest emotions I have and I can never fully feel happiness if I am never allowed to feel those feelings without feeling humiliated for expressing them outwardly. They reflect my true self and if I reject them I reject my true self as well.
For a long time I did not know any of this. I thought it was wrong to express sadness and anger. I thought strong, responsible people do not do this and only weak and irresponsible people cannot control the outward expression of their true emotions. But suppressing or perhaps repressing these emotions caused anxiety and depression. It also caused passive aggressive behaviors like internet trolling, and the sarcastic judgment and shaming of others. It also gave rise to addictions that numbed out the feeling of humiliation.
When I finally was able to feel my sadness and anger without humiliation the anxiety, depression and all the rest of it began to ebb. It was as if the humiliation was a foreign entity that invaded my body. It was a parasite that reproduced itself from person to person by the way I was treated and by the way I in turn treated other people. By becoming aware of this dynamic not only did I begin to heal myself but I also took steps to stop the spread of this illness.
There is a large gap of time between last May and this October where I did not make any blog posts. I spent a lot of that time working on a book that I intend to e-publish. The book is autobiographical and discusses the connections between shame and internet trolling. Much of the book is a synthesis of my previous blog posts. I have been in contact with a well-known blogger who has published several ebooks who has encouraged me to do this. So I finished the book a few months ago. The well-known blogger put me in touch with a guy who edits and markets ebooks. I got the book edited and since that time I have been trying to incorporate the edits he suggested. Once I finish that I can start the publishing and marketing stage. The only problem is that I cannot seem to finish the editing process.
I used to wake up every morning at 5:00am and work on the initial manuscript. Once I finished it and sent it to the editor I continued to wake up at that time and write other things. Now that I am close to actually publishing I cannot seem to finish it. I stopped waking up at 5:00am. It is now hard for me to find the time. When I do make the time I sit and stare at what I have written and hate it.
I am sure this is self sabotage. I know I have to work through it. The block is my demon trying to undermine my success but it does it indirectly and passive aggressively. It does not straight out tell me not to do it. It distracts me. It saps my energy. It makes everything else seem more interesting. I am too tired. I have too many other things to do.
Is the answer to plow through it? Is the answer to defeat the demon some other way and then be able to finish my project? I am in the middle of it so I cannot see it too clearly.
There is fear here too. I am afraid that once I publish the book people who are described in it unflatteringly will hate me for it. At the same time I fear no one will read it when I publish it. I hold these two antithetical possibilities in my mind at the same time. The demon, my shame ego, does not care about logic. It merely cares that I feel shame and remain stuck in my present situation.
The well-known blogger I spoke of told me to edit one more time, cut 30% and publish it. I think I have to start waking up at 5:00am again. It is the time of day when I am the most creative anyway. I have a marathon to run this Sunday. Part of me is saying to put this off until that is over. The same part of me (I am sure) is telling me that I am not ready for the marathon. Ha!
On Saturday I watched Notre Dame get beaten by Florida State University. I was on the edge of my seat the whole game. Both teams were undefeated going into the game. Notre Dame was the underdog playing the strongest opponent this season. If Notre Dame won they would be in a position to win a national championship (something they have not achieved since 1988). Notre Dame was ahead for most of the game. In the last quarter Florida State pulled ahead. In the last-minute of the game Notre Dame scored a touch down but a flag was thrown. Some supposed foul was committed by a Notre Dame player nullifying the touchdown and denying Notre Dame a win. I was very disappointed.
I did not go to Notre Dame. I really have not actively followed football until recently. I can claim some connection to Notre Dame because my cousin and other extended family members went there for undergraduate school. I am also Roman Catholic. I like the story of Notre Dame and all its traditions and historically prestigious football program. There is a little bit of a sense (in my mind) that I am not as entitled to root for Notre Dame as someone who actually went there to school but I realize this is mostly about me and not about anyone else.
But also, it is fun to care about something even if it ultimately does not matter. This is a life concept. We will all be dead in 100 years. The universe is infinitely (for all intents and purposes) large. There is nothing I or anyone can do in their lifetimes that really matters objectively when I think about it. So why should mattering matter when it comes to caring about anything? Ultimately, I care about the things I choose to care about. I can certainly be tricked into caring about things that ultimately do not serve my interests but caring is still a choice.
So I choose to care about whether Notre Dame wins. It is fun. I also choose to care about my family because I love them. I choose to care about my country because it is where I am from and connects me to something larger than myself. I choose to care about my religion because it connects me to the infinite, unknowable universe. I also care about all these things because I have been conditioned to do so by the society I live in and was indoctrinated by. In a sense it is easier to care about them than to not care about them but I could choose to not care about them if I was willing to endure the feelings of guilt, disconnection and disloyalty.
I guess the point I am making is that the things I care about are the things I choose to care about. It is these choices that define my sense of self and for that reason alone do they matter. They matter to myself subjectively. They do not matter, however, because they matter in some objective sense of the word.
I hate hearing other people’s eating noises at what I consider to be inappropriate times and places. I used to work with this older guy who sat in a cubicle across the aisle from me. Anytime he pulled out a cracker or a lozenge I quickly put on my head phones and blasted whatever I could in my ears so that I did not have to listen to him. To be caught off guard and actually hear him eat would trigger me so badly I would actually feel rage. Now I work from home and my desk is near the kitchen. Sometimes when I am booting up my computer in the morning my wife will walk into the kitchen and eat a granola bar. This also triggers me in the same way I get triggered when I hear other people talking in movie theaters.
On the other hand, eating noises do not annoy me when I am sitting at the dinner table unless they are over the top slurping or extra loud chewing.
The common thread to all this is shame based judgment. The idea is that other people cannot control themselves and act responsibly in social situations. They are violating the social contract and degrading civilization. As such, I sit in judgment of them in the hopes that they will feel ashamed of themselves. The idea behind this is that since feeling ashamed is unpleasant, the person will associate feeling ashamed with the irresponsible behavior and then stop doing it. Shame based law enforcement is completely passive aggressive in its methods. At this point in my life I am well aware that this energy in me also existed in my parents and was passed down from them to me by the way they brought me up.
When I am triggered, my reaction is strong. Even if I am aware that I am being triggered it is hard not to act on being triggered. This makes me understand how my parents could not control their impulses when I annoyed them by acting in a way that seemed irresponsible or disrespectful. It was their uncontrolled impulses that instilled this urge in me to enforce shame based law enforcement on other people. I try to be vigilant about not passing this heritage on to my children. When they were younger I was unaware of this dynamic so I am sure that some of the energy was passed along. I can take comfort in the knowledge that what I have passed along to my children is much less than what was passed on to me.
There really is nothing wrong with a person eating at their desk or in a kitchen. They are not actively trying to violate me or disrespect my boundaries when they do this. It is my reaction to the situation that is problematic. I do not blame myself for this reaction because it was programmed into me by my upbringing. I cannot be held responsible for that, but I am responsible for being aware of it and making an effort not to pass it on to others.
Throughout my life I have gone through periods where I have worried about societal collapse. Sometimes it would fill me with a such a feeling of dread that I found it difficult to go about my daily activities and carried this feeling around with me for weeks at a time.
Realistically, although unlikely, this sort of thing is not impossible. Societal collapsed happened in the 400s to the Western Roman Empire, so there is precedence for this. When I was younger I worried about nuclear war and swarms of killer bees. After the fall of the Soviet Union I worried about peak oil, an asteroid or commit hitting the earth, the super volcano in Yellowstone Park, the dollar collapsing and viral pandemics. All of these are possibilities and could destroy civilization as we know it causing untold death and misery to those who were fortunate enough to survive.
But I have to wonder, are these worries really an indication of something else? There have been many times that I worried that I would never be successful in life but then wondered why it mattered in the first place because the Earth could get hit by an asteroid and society would collapse and success would no longer be defined the same way under the new social order. I think this line of reasoning is more my shame ego undermining my motivation to succeed. There have been times when I felt this kind of anxiety and it turned out to be an indication that I did not feel safe in the normal functioning of my life. I know this because I expressed these anxieties to a therapist. He responded, “so you need safety?” When he said this I felt an uncontrollable wave of grief well up in me. Once I allowed myself to feel the grief in this safe un-judging environment my anxiety about societal collapse lifted. This pointed out to me that what I thought my fear was about was really a disguise.
Of course it does no good to worry about these things. They are completely outside of our control and that is why they are scary. They threaten to overturn all we cling to in life to make ourselves feel safe. But really this feeling of safety is an illusion as much as the fear is. There are no guarantees of safety in life. There are no guarantees of success. There are no guarantees of misfortune.
We cannot really avoid worrying from time to time. We can recognize this fear for what it is, however. We fear loosing these illusions that serve us by allowing us to function in the face of the intimidating, dangerous, enormity of reality. Thinking about this I really have to resign myself to the fact there is not much I can do to protect myself and must therefore try not to worry and live each day grateful for existence and the good things I experience therein. It is an adventure to live under such circumstances. That answer is not entirely satisfying but truth often is not satisfying. Why else would we cling to illusions?
People motivated by shame are not capable of truly forgiving other people even though they may outwardly appear to forgive wrongs committed against them.
I was taught to forgive because it is the Christian and moral thing to do. But forgiveness motivated by a sense obligation, that forgiveness is the right thing to do and withholding forgiveness would induce guilty feelings is not true forgiveness. It is shame.
In order to truly forgive I must first feel my anger for being wronged. When this happens I must also feel entitled to my anger. I must appreciate and acknowledge the wrong committed against me. If I do not do this any pretense at forgiveness is a farce.
If I am motivated by shame I will not allow myself to acknowledge the wrongs committed against me because I do not feel entitled to my anger. I will act like I forgive readily out of a false sense of morality. I will say I forgive because I want people to like me and think that I am moral and kind.
But when I do not allow myself to feel anger it stays inside and comes out in passive aggressive forms. When I do not allow myself to feel anger there is nothing to forgive really. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that if I do not feel my anger and feel entitled to it, I am not in a position to forgive. I have no standing.
Only when I properly feel my anger for being wronged am I in position to choose to forgive. It has to be a real choice and not one I feel obligated to make. If I forgive out a sense of obligation then I am not the one offering forgiveness. In that situation, whoever imposed the obligation upon me is the one responsible for forgiveness. But forgiveness is personal and cannot be given through proxy. So really, no forgiveness is given at all.
In Roman Catholicism, the sacrament of Reconciliation is performed by a priest acting in the name of God. This is forgiveness by proxy. I am tempted to say that because this is forgiveness by proxy it is therefore not authentic. But I believe something else is at work in this sacrament. Sometimes a feeling of shame is so intense that forgiveness for the sin requiring reconciliation is required. When a person seeks forgiveness of sins through Reconciliation I think he is really thinking of a way to forgive himself for whatever transgression he committed. The shame he has felt for the sins he committed is punishment enough. The anger he has vented on himself has been fully felt only there has been no release because it is directed towards himself. In this instance an outside entity may be required to release him.
Of course self-forgiveness is possible without the sacrament. Like all religious practices they are merely tools we use to relate with the grand, infinite, unknowable universe that exists both inside and outside ourselves.
Filed under Religion, Shame
I have always been afraid to speak my truth because part of me believes that if people really knew what I was thinking they would reject me. As a result I tried to figure out what whoever I was talking to wanted to hear and said it. Over time I developed this skill until it came off as natural. People seemed to like me. The only problems were that I eventually lost touch with who I really was I what I really wanted in life. There was a true self buried deep down that was becoming angry (and sad) for being imprisoned.
At a family wedding I recently attended I had a conversation with my sisters about my aging parents. Later in the night back at their hotel room after a few drinks I sort of let my guard down and started saying some rough things about my parents and them. I let out all my resentments regarding my up bringing and how that created the situation where I no longer knew what I wanted and felt pretty much like a failure.
I told my sisters that I did not really have any feelings for our parents anymore and that every time I talk with them I feel horrible. My Dad does not say much anymore. My mother always makes me feel like I have done something wrong. I do not like feeling this and I am starting to question why I have to submit myself to those feelings just because they are my parents. I also went off on my sisters about how they treated me when I was younger, how cruel they were and how humiliated they made me feel.
My older sister tried to turn it around on me and I told her to go f*ck herself. Essentially I never felt entitled to my anger and grief. If it ever came out of me they made me feel humiliated for it. If I spoke my truth I was made to feel humiliated. That negated any entitlement I had to my true feelings and to my true self.
A therapist told me that because of my upbringing I now have to be willing to feel humiliation in order to express my truth. If I am unwilling to feel that then I will never be able to express my truth. For a long time I was unwilling to feel humiliation and as such for a long time I never grew. I was stuck repeating the same old patterns, feeling the same old frustrations. My truth only came out when my guard was down. When my truth came up I felt humiliated both for the truth I expressed and the circumstances under which it was able to come out.
For a few weeks after the wedding I felt the lingering humiliation for saying what I did to my sisters. I’m sure they thought I was the same old weak little brother they grew up with. Only now I am 40 with a drinking problem. I know what I need. I need to feel my anger and grief. I need to own my anger and grief. If I feel humiliation when that happens I need to not abandon myself and join the forces who think that I deserve to be humiliated. I need to put my arm around that humiliated kid and tell him that I am on his side.