It is interesting to see how much I can change in one year. Last year I wrote a piece about making New Years resolutions. It sort of makes me cringe to read it now. At the time I wrote it I was very interested in dissecting and deconstruction the emotion of shame in an effort to better understand it and by doing so, liberate myself from it. The fact that reading this post now makes me cringe (which is a physical reaction to shame) whereas I did not cringe (presumably) when I first wrote and published the piece suggests that I am indeed now in a different place psychologically. I am aware that imbedded in my cringe is a judgment of my former self. There is a sense that I am now better informed or that I have matured and am now in the position to look down upon this former me. On the other hand, I do not think that me judging my former self is any better than me judging another person. It is essentially criticism and comes from a negative and egocentric place that uses criticism of the other to make myself feel superior.
In that post, my former self began:
So you have decided to make a New Years Resolution and you feel ashamed for various reasons a good deal of the time. Here is what I recommend based upon my life experience dealing with shame issues.
Reading the phrase “[s]o you have decided to make a New Years Resolution…” makes me feel embarrassed. It has an amateurish quality to it. Perhaps this suggests that I have matured as a writer. The embarrassment comes in part from my current self judging my former self but it also comes from me assuming how other people reading this paragraph might have read it and thought that I was acting like a douchebag. This presumes these readers had the maturity then that I have now which may or may not be the case. On the other hand, I am aware that my writing last year comes from a place of compassion for other people who might be dealing with the same shame issues I had dealt with. The fact that I am now judging my former self in this way suggests that maybe I have regressed in terms of my relationship with shame. I am not sure about that because I feel pretty good about myself right now.
My former self continued:
First of all, do not make a New Years Resolution out of a sense of guilt. Only make New Years Resolutions for your own benefit. Of course, your shame ego will tell you this way of thinking is selfish and something to feel ashamed about. Remember that the shame ego is the same thing that will convince you that maintaining the resolution you made out of guilt is too difficult to keep up and then once you stop maintaining the resolution will then tell you that you are weak for giving it up. Of course this requires awareness of when your shame ego is sabotaging your efforts and looking for reasons to feel ashamed (but that is a topic for another blog post).
What I was referring to with the term “shame ego” is that negative, critical, internal voice that probably most people experience to one degree or another. I believe this voice is the result of bad programing and is passed down from generation to generation through the line of fathers. It results from the combination of shame and misplaced loyalty. A person is shamed by his parents. Because they are his parents he must internalize this feeling of shame or else he will be disloyal to them. Being disloyal in turn brings on more shame. When this person becomes a parent, if he remains unaware and has not achieved autonomy from this dynamic, he will shame his children in the same manner because it feels good to his ego which is really in charge. This dysfunctional ego is the source of shame, judgment, jealousy, racism and all the other sins.
Making a New Years resolution seems to me to be an attempt to strive towards some perfected version of the self. This can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on what the motivation behind this striving is. If the striving comes from a whole hearted place, an honest and loving place then it is good. If it comes from an egocentric, shameful, judgmental place then it will always be dysfunctional and will end in harming the self and others. It is ultimately doomed to failure.
My former self continued:
I recommend your resolution should either be to stop performing some self-destructive behavior or to take up a behavior that improves yourself. It should be something you are capable of doing with your whole heart. That is, it should be something you want to do. People with well-developed shame egos have a hard time knowing what they truly want because they have bonded to the message that what they want is wrong.
I think this last point is important. I believe a person cannot be successful in life if he is incapable of articulating what he wants. If he believes what he truly wants is wrong he will sabotage his efforts to achieve this secret goal. If he pursues goals that are not in line with what he truly wants he will not be satisfied when he has achieved them. Shame teaches a person that his desires and needs are selfish and wrong and to the extent he is aware of his true desires he should feel shame. So he buries them and they remain unconscious. The only entity this dynamic serves is the ego which revels in this morass like a pig in its own excrement.
My former self continued:
A good way to tell if something is what you want is to pay attention to how it makes you feel. If it makes you feel good then it is (most likely) good and something you like doing. If it does not make you feel good then it is (most likely) not good and something you do not like doing. Be careful. Some things feel good in the short-term but are destructive in the long-term, like addictions. Addictions are another trap of the shame ego. At first addictions seem like an escape from the shame ego’s constant criticism. That of course feels good. But eventually the addiction becomes self-destructive and gives the shame ego another reason to criticize you.
I would imagine that this last paragraph might irk a person who self identifies as conservative. Perhaps I should clarify that feeling good is an indicator that one is acting in accordance with his true purpose or indeed God’s will. It has been my experience that true purpose is almost never in accordance with the ego and acting in accordance with the ego gives rise to anger, resentment, jealousy, racism and hate.
I believe most people make New Years resolutions because they find themselves lacking and they want to improve. A person’s motivation to improve, his plan to improve and his execution of that plan can always run afoul of the wants and needs of his true self. To right the course of the ship of self, I think it is always a good thing to increase awareness of the self and the ego’s attempts to undermine the self. Awareness of the ego brings about a separation from the ego. In a sense the self becomes autonomous from the ego thus allowing it to act more fully in accordance with its true purpose.