Tag Archives: Sadness

What is the point of having a point? My review of “The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt

Yesterday I finished reading a book that touched my soul entitled “The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt. I feel an emptiness now that I finished because I no longer have those characters around to experience on a daily basis. This feeling of emptiness is important and cathartic. As I approached the end a depression set in. The main character Theo described how his life was a catastrophe. I identified with that. There is all this struggle and persevering and for what? It is one thing to say this but it is quite another to experience through a character. There were scenes in that book that made me weep because they articulated the tragedy that life increasingly becomes the older I get. I felt depressed as I approached the end and saw my own life as a series of struggles I always hoped would resolve into something better but now sadly suspect (and afraid to fully admit) that it probably will not. Not in that way. But then when I finished the book and set it down I experienced the catharsis. The hopelessness of the depression lifted and resolved into something more akin to peace and truth.

There is happiness in life. I have experienced it from time to time. But as I become older happiness becomes more of a memory. It has become something to achieve. It is something I recognize when it happens as a long, lost place of rest, my old home that for some reason, at some point in time I left and because I left I could never really return. I can return. But when I do it not home but rather a place I used to call home. Theo experiences this tragedy and the book in large part is him dealing with the aftermath. He struggles and gets along with life but the damage was done and there is no getting around it.

I was sold a bill of goods at a very young age. I was told that life is good (a gift in fact) and everything would turn out just fine. If I worked hard and played by the rules I would be rewarded. As I got older I struggled with the cognitive dissonance that my own experience did not quite match up with this original picture. I was unsatisfied and concluded the fault must be mine. I was ungrateful, deficient, weak and touched by original sin. I did not deserve this great gift that had been given to me and the only moral solution, the only way to balance the scales was to punish myself with shame. Shame destroyed me and set me back. I can never regain that ground. But here I am still existing, not uncomfortable, happily married with two beautiful daughters. I have largely overcome or worked my way through my shame. But now I am 44 and have so much ground to recover I doubt I ever will.

The point of something is the reason for it to exist. If I make an argument the point of my argument is to convince someone my point of view is correct. But what is the point of that? What is the point of having a point? In 100 years both I and whoever I was trying to convince will be dead and no one will remember the argument I made or even the reason I made the argument in the first place. In a billion or so years the earth will be engulfed by the sun and at some point down the road al the stars will burn out. What then will be the point of my argument? What could possibly be the point of anything at all during this lifetime if nothing in this lifetime has permanence?

Life has no permanence but I live it as if it does, accepting the idea of impermanence outwardly, paying it lip service, but never fully taking it in. This discordance is the tragedy of life. Life is suffering. Trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. Samsara. Having this point articulated, “pointed” out in a way that touched me the way “The Goldfinch” did feels important. There is some degree of recognition, satisfaction and resolution in the midst of the sadness. Through it, I caught a glimpse of that long-lost home.

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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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