Tag Archives: Humiliation

Gatekeepers

In life there are gatekeepers. These are the people or organizations who label you and based on that label will tell you, “yes you can do this” or “no you can’t do that.” For some people a gatekeeper is a boss who tells them they will or will not get a raise or a promotion. For others a gatekeeper might be a book publisher who tells them their book is or is not marketable.

You cannot control how the gatekeepers will label you. But you can control whether you accept that label in your heart.

In the third grade I had a gatekeeper. She was my teacher.

On day she announced she would be directing a theatrical, musical version of Hansel and Gretel. There would be auditions where each student would recite specific lines she selected and based on our performances she would assign all the roles.

At the time I had a best friend named Robbie. We were both class clowns and were excited by this opportunity. I pictured myself moving the crowd through eloquent oration. I pictured myself delivering the punch line causing the audience to erupt in laughter. At the end of my performance I pictured the crowd showering me with thunderous applause.

On the day of the audition Robbie and I waited in line with the other kids to step to center stage and recite the line. Then we waited nervously until the next day for the results. That whole night I could barely sleep.

The next day the teacher announced the roles we all received based on our auditions. She gave Robbie the lead role of Hansel. She continued to read the other roles and who they were assigned to. I waited. Finally she said my name. I would be playing the role of “Background Tree” in scene four.

The background tree had no lines.

The background tree held a cardboard cut-out of a pine tree with a hole cut out for my face.

The background tree stood behind the four other trees.

…with speaking parts.

I was devastated and humiliated. I cried myself to sleep that night. I assumed this meant the teacher thought I had no talent.

Now don’t get me wrong, I suppose the world needs background trees just like it needs ditch diggers…

But that’s not true…

The world needs ditch diggers.

It does not need background trees.

Obviously the role was not necessary to the play. If I did not show up the performance would have continued swimmingly. It’s not like I had an understudy for the role. In fact, there were three other background trees as I recall. I wonder what they’re up to now?

Clearly this role was created for those kids the teacher thought had absolutely zero talent. But inside me I knew I had talent. I certainly had more talent than it took to play the role of Background Tree.

For a long time, however, I accepted this role I had been assigned. I may have had talent in my eyes but I allowed myself to be placed in the background by the gatekeeper. I became afraid of putting myself out there because I did not want to be in the position where a gatekeeper could shut me down again by saying, “You’re not a Hansel. You’re a background tree.”

And by not putting myself out there I limited myself. I became a background tree.

My critical error was that I accepted in my heart this role the gatekeeper, my teacher gave me. I let it define me. I became afraid to put myself out there because I was afraid someone else would label me a background tree again and I did not want to feel that intense humiliation.

Looking back on this experience I realize that in order not to be a background tree in life I must do three things.

  1. I have to put myself out there
  2. I cannot accept in my heart the roles the gatekeepers assign me if I know in my heart they are not true to me, and
  3. I have to put myself out there again.

The only person who can truly make me a background tree is me.

In life there are gatekeepers. And the gatekeepers might not recognize my talent. I cannot let the gatekeepers assign me the role of background tree in my heart because then I actually become a background tree.

As it turns out I did audition for another play in middle school. This time it was a production of Peter Pan. By this time I knew I was not a background tree and was excited to audition again.

Robbie got the role of Peter Pan.

I got the role of “Generic Lost Boy.”

It stung. Just not as much.

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All Things Must Pass

A Facebook friend posted this article entitled 18 Spiritual Teachings That Will Alter Your Mind and Improve Your Life. The third item on the list reads:

All things must pass.

My first bout of depression in my early 20s was the worst, because I seriously believed it would never end. I thought, Okay, this terrible, listless, sad, anxious state is adulthood… Of course, I turned out to be wrong. The depression lifted (and came back and lifted again, over and over).

My dear friend Liz has a tattoo that reminds her, “This too shall pass.” Depression will pass, but so will joyous times. Our beloved pets and friends and family will pass, and so will we. Rather than hiding from this morbid truth, I now embrace it and live my life more fully because of it.

I am mortal and I will die someday but I still want to achieve things in this life. How do I square these two seemingly opposing notions? I don’t really. I recognize that they are in opposition but I don’t really take the next step (whatever that may be). I ask myself what meaning or value these achievements could possibly have if they are fleeting? The achievements will pass as surely as I will. I want to achieve and be successful partly out of the fear that if I fail to achieve or succeed I will have wasted my life or perhaps I will have lost this game called life. This outcome will be humiliating in a permanent sense and will not pass (that is the fear anyway).

Because there is the hope for things that do not pass such as God and the soul. The notions of a failed life and an un-passing humiliation seems like the concept of hell. The notions of a successful life and an un-passing triumph seems like the concept of heaven. There is something unsettling about looking at heaven and hell in this context however. It seems like the realm of heaven and hell (if they exist at all) are the more important sphere and should not be dependent on the less important earthly sphere.

So maybe it is better if all things truly do pass including myself, my achievements and my humiliations. Perhaps the concept of forgiveness exists in this space. Perhaps without the passing of things there can be no forgiveness.

And ultimately I cannot know if there are things which do not pass until I experience them first hand. In the same respect I cannot be certain that all things truly do pass because I have not experienced everything. All things appear to pass in this material world but do all things truly pass in an ultimate sense? Does it really matter? Is the problem not so much that all things must pass but rather that I cling to things that do pass? If I stand in opposition to the true nature of reality I will always be disappointed. But does it automatically follow that if I embrace reality’s true nature and accept that all things must pass that I will then live my life more fully? Perhaps. At this point I cannot be sure.

 

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Everything I need is already within me

A Facebook friend posted this article entitled 18 Spiritual Teachings That Will Alter Your Mind and Improve Your Life. The first item on the list reads:

Everything I need is already within me.

Authentic power comes from finding balance within; it is not imposed from external authorities.

I have heard this notion many times in Yoga and Buddhist circles. The idea is that I am searching for external validation or seeking to find that place, thing or person that will make me feel complete, meanwhile, all the time I am already whole and complete. I feel like this is true but I don’t really have first hand experience that definitively proves it.

There is an analogy to James Altucher’s idea of “Choosing Yourself.” In the third grade my class performed the play “Hansel and Gretel.” Before the auditions I had this fantasy of being on stage, entertaining the crowd and receiving applause. After the auditions they assigned me the non-speaking role of “Background Tree.” I was devastated and humiliated. I cried all night in my bed because I felt unappreciated and unvalued. Twenty years later I felt the same way sitting behind a desk as an attorney performing document review for nine hours a day.

In Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by three ghosts on Christmas Eve to facilitate his reclamation. Where these ghosts external authorities or were they some manifestation of Scrooge’s subconscious mind or soul? In other words, did Scrooge reclaim himself by finding the balance within by creating these ghosts? Did he choose himself?

There have been many times in my life where I picked up and moved from one place to another. There was always the feeling of liberation initially but eventually all the old feelings of inadequacy and being trapped caught up with me. In this example the external authority failed to make me whole permanently.

So again, it seems like a valid and true concept. On the other hand I find it difficult to muster these inner resources I supposedly have access to. Have I just not found my inner balance yet? Do I already have all I need and not know that I have all I need? If so, that does not seem satisfying to me because I still feel the way I did before I knew that I already had what I needed.

It would be nice to feel like I found my inner balance when it came to enduring criticism from other people.

When I was in law school I helped to represent a prisoner appealing a murder conviction. He had hand written his appeal on a yellow legal pad. Even though a jury of his peers had convicted him and everyone else (including me) knew he was guilty he still advocated for himself.

I can hold onto the idea that I am already complete and all I need to do is to find my inner balance. I can use this idea as an anchor for meditation even though I don’t necessarily entirely feel that way. I can always hope.

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Shame, Critical Thinking and Loyalty

Shame derails critical thinking because truth is not the shame ego’s main objective. The shame ego’s main objective is looking good in the eyes of others. Put another way, the main objective of the shame ego is to avoid humiliation. Put another way still, the shame ego’s worst fear is being humiliated.

If the shame ego were primarily interested in the truth and thought critically it could hear both sides of a debate and determine the winner objectively based on the merits of each argument alone. But with political debates in particular I find that most people do not evaluate the arguments primarily on their merits but rather based upon pre-existing loyalties to political camps and not wanting to appear foolish in the eyes of the opposing camp. I do this myself. When I do this I must realize that I am allowing my shame ego to take control of my thought process and am therefore not thinking critically.

In this context, loyalty can be a tricky subject. Most people think loyalty is an admirable quality. I would say, generally speaking this is correct. However, shame egos are more apt to invest their loyalty for the wrong reasons in the wrong causes. For example, a shame ego might be loyal to a cause because it does not want to appear to be following the wrong or loosing side. It is not so much that the shame ego ignores its critical thinking, but rather the shame ego prioritizes not appearing foolish or wrong above what cause actually deserves or has earned its loyalty. This is why (I believe) arguments involving religion and politics devolve into shouting matches and ad hominem attacks. These type of arguments are about personal beliefs and therefore in some ways define the people making them. If their beliefs are wrong then they as people are wrong. Shame egos cannot abide by this.

Critical thinking requires dismissing shame in order to be objective but a shame ego will not allow this. As such, a person with a shame ego never properly learns to think critically and therefore experiences a warped sense of reality and truth. At its heart, the shame ego is afraid of truth because the shame ego ultimately believes itself to be wrong. As such the truth (it believes) is humiliating and must be avoided, hidden or dismissed. In fact, a shame ego will sometimes deny truth even to itself and will react with anger or aggression against the people who insist on the truth.

Rather than feel the discomfort a shame ego experiences when confronted with the truth it will avoid the truth and therefore is incapable of thinking critically. In order for a person to think critically he must free himself from his shame ego. He must embrace the truth and allow himself to experience humiliation in a supportive, non-judgmental environment. If he is judged then the humiliation becomes too harsh and he will retreat back to the protection of the shame ego. But if he is not judged and can take in the compassion in the face of the feeling of humiliation, then he can start to have compassion for himself. This is the first step in the arduous road to liberation.

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Humiliation Represses Real Emotions and Causes Passive Aggressive and Destructive Behavior

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.

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Speaking Truth

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.

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My Experience with Psychotherapy – Part VI

After about a year of being unemployed I managed to land a contract position working for an insurance company auditing their legal bills.  The hours were full time and the work was a tedious, cubicle type job.  Because I was a contract employee I did not have medical benefits, it did not pay very well and I was treated like a second-class citizen compared to the full time employees. On the other hand, I did have a place to go during the day and I had enough income coming in where I was able to get off unemployment insurance. It was better place to work than Dechert because the hours were not as long and the people were a little nicer. For that I was grateful. Basically, I was working this job because it was better than being unemployed.  But I knew that I was working this job only until I could find something better.

The guys in my Men’s Group were supportive and happy that I finally was no longer unemployed. But they all encouraged me to look for a job that better suited my desires.  At the time I really had trouble articulating what I actually wanted.  When asked this question my mind would go blank.  I knew I did not like working in a cubicle all day.  I had a vague notion that I wanted to write but every time I tried to write I ended up getting derailed.

Then I heard about a history teacher position at the private high school I attended when I was a kid. I loved history and could picture myself moving out of my parents’ house and becoming a part of the school’s community.  The job sounded much more exciting than my soulless, corporate cubicle job. I started to get really excited about it.  I interviewed with some of the school’s faculty.  A few of them were teachers that I had in high school. I thought the interviews went well and I really started to get my hopes up.

I remember going to work feeling good about the prospect of not having to work there much longer.  I went to group and told them about the position.  They all seemed to think it would be a good fit for me.  Weeks went by and I did not hear anything from the school.  Every week in the mens’ group they asked me if I got the job.  I kept telling them I had not heard yet.  Then one day I got an email in my cubicle informing me they hired someone else for the position.

I was devastated. I went to group and told them what had happened.  I could barely get the words out when I described the humiliation I felt.  When I did I broke down crying in front of them. At first I tried to hold back the tears but Scott told me to let them out.  Against every fiber of my being and every instinct I had I allowed myself to cry in front of them.

Craig (one of the group members) told me he thought I was going to get the position but now he knew that I was meant not to get it because I had to go through this experience.  I did not fully understand.  But after that meeting I felt better.  A huge weight of humiliation and defeat had been lifted off my shoulders.

I sent Craig an email and asked him what he meant.

Hey Craig,

Last night seemed significant.  But now I feel like that significance is receding.  Can you please tell me your perspective on my work so I don’t lose what happened?  Does that make sense to you?

Thanks

 

He responded:

 Last night was a miracle.  You let people love you even though you were feeling humiliated.  No one attacked you for being who you are.  You let people witness your vulnerability and your perceived “badness” for lack of a better word and you were loved through it, not beat up.  You let people see into your soul and you survived it.  You jumped from a cliff that you could never survive jumping from and landed on your two feet completely unhurt.  Not only unhurt but a better person for jumping.  George, last night was beautiful.  If there were words that would let me relay the true significance of last night I would share them with you.  Words will never do justice to what we experienced last night.  Please let me point out that I did say “we.”  Every person in that room last night was taken to a place we could never be alone.  I feel sad that Dave and Marc weren’t able to be in your presence last night.  It was easily the most significant night in my group experience other than my own major breakthroughs which I can count on both hands.  Stellar.  I hope this puts a little perspective on what happened last night.  And as an addendum, we can never lose what happens to us spiritually and I mean never as in eternity.  Can we feel that always, I don’t know but I can appreciate it when I do.

Love,

Craig

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