English: American Way of life (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Recently I was on hold with the Water Department. I needed to change my billing address because I had moved. At the time I was renting the house I owned in Philadelphia. For some reason the water department would not change the bill to my renter’s name so I had to get the bill and add it to the rent every month. I remember the hold music was cool jazz and was designed to have no beginning or end. It just seamlessly repeated itself over and over. I recall listening to an episode of “This American Life” where someone was on hold with similar music. They posited that the music was designed so that the listener did not experience the passage of time and therefore did not realize how long they had been on hold.
Sometimes I find myself waiting at a red light and it seems like the light has been red too long. I start to wonder if the timing mechanism on the light is broken. After a period of time I have to make a decision whether I should run the red light or to continue waiting. Running the red light means breaking the rules. Waiting carries with it the possibility that I am being foolish in some way. And so I am left in an unsatisfying limbo.
I just published an e-book. Some friends of mine said they would read it. I have not heard back from them and am left to wonder, did they read it? If so, are they not getting back to me because they did not like it and either do not care or do not want to hurt my feelings. Similarly, I hate sending out an email to someone and they simply do not respond. It makes me feel like I am unimportant. It makes me feel like they think their time is intrinsically more important than my time. Thinking about this makes me angry. It touches my shame and brings up past hurts.
Of course most of this is just my shame ego messing with me. The Water Department is a bureaucracy staffed by government employees punching the clock. I am no more or less important to them than any other caller. The red light is a mindless, mechanical contraption (at least for now) and has no agenda or motivation to shame me. My friends have their own lives and of course their time is more valuable to them than my time is valuable to them. It would be ridiculous to think otherwise. Just as my time is more important to me than their time is important to me. But when there is a lack of information my shame ego fills the vacuum. As will all things connected with my shame ego, awareness of this dynamic is helpful. But awareness does not really erase my impatience. I suppose I must chalk this one up to samsara (life is suffering) and of course I have some nostalgic longing for life not to be like this. As the Buddha said, life is suffering and the cause of suffering is desire. Not that I am a Buddhist but I do think there is some truth to it. Perhaps I am continuously being reincarnated like that hold music the water department plays on the telephone.
(The bulk of the material for this blog post came from my original post entitle Passive Aggressive Behavior, The Truth Will Set You Free. This has consistently ranked as my most popular post in terms of views.)
I used to troll a message board. I describe this in my recently published eBook entitled Shame and Internet Trolling. I targeted a conservative, ex-military guy from Texas. All I had to do was post an article that put the Republican party in a bad light and that would set him off on a vicious anti-Liberal rant. It felt exciting to get him riled up. When he accused me of trolling and / or baiting I would defend myself saying that all I did was post an article I thought would generate interesting conversation. Because I did not comment on the article directly I maintained plausible deniability. It was fun to get him riled up but when he attacked me back I felt horrible. I had to get the last word in. I could not let him get the better of me. Sometimes other members on the message board would take his side. Then I would feel even worse.
The truth is that trolling and all passive aggression comes from shame. If I really felt the article was valuable in and of itself I would have advocated for it. But instead I tried to maintain deniability to protect myself from counter attack and maintain the illusion that I merely posted the article to stimulate discussion. Shame based behavior such as passive aggression comes from a mind that assumes that its true thoughts and feelings are not okay. If somebody else were able to observe these thoughts and feelings they would judge the mind harshly so the thoughts and feelings must be hidden and denied. To the shame based mind image is more important than reality. Of course this mindset is ultimately undermining and self-defeating. Reality is real (by definition). If the mind values image over reality it is in a sense denying reality and at odds with it. This results in more shame and anxiety to boot.
In the Book of John, chapter 8, verse 32, Jesus says, “[T]he truth shall make you free.” In the context of this post this statement is very powerful because shame (the motivation behind passive aggression) is a prison of untruth and unreality. In order to escape the prison of shame the mind must face its highest fear, to expose the truth within to the light of day and for all to see and judge (if they choose to) without excuses. This is a very tall order for someone who suffers from shame. I speak from personal experience and in my experience just as this prison takes many, many years to build and perfect it also takes some time (though not as much) to be torn down. The fear of exposure must be approached with caution and the waters tested gradually over time so that trust of the outside world is built up. Further, and most importantly, the shame based mind must learn to not abandon itself in the face of shame. I used to involuntarily say, “I wish I was dead” to myself whenever I felt shame or embarrassment. Then I would feel bad about what came out of my mouth. Now, when I experience shame or embarrassment I try to be aware of what is going on inside of me and then I say, “I can love myself through this experience.” I have more capacity to let myself off the hook. The reality of the situation is that shame is just an emotion and all emotions are real and okay. They have to be otherwise the one who feels the emotion is not okay. It is difficult to emerge from shame and appreciate this at first. But doing so brings forth the dawn of liberation for a shame based person and when this happens behaviors like passive aggression begin to fade away.