Tag Archives: Shame Ego

Looking Back on New Years Resolutions

NYEIt 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.

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Shame Resulting From Bad Programming and the Compulsion to Defend It

In a previous thread on contraception I had an issue with a semi-stalker who followed me from the comments section of another blog to my own. He accused me of being desirous of “self-annihilation” because my wife and I use contraception. I pointed out that we both still exist and we reproduced twice already. But in his mind (I assume this person was male) any use of contraception is equal to “self-annihilation” without exception. This individual also accused me of posting in the comment section of the other blog for the sole purpose of confusing right thinking Christians who were seeking the truth. I find this behavior fascinating.

I recognize a bit of my old self in him. It is a mixture of close mindedness, judgmental-ism, obsessive compulsion and denial. The mere fact that I believed something contradictory to his beliefs seemed to threaten him. This feeling of being threatened motivated him to blast my blog with comments. I ended up having to delete some of his comments because they were verging on inappropriate. What I find so fascinating about this behavior is it displays how powerful the urge to lash out becomes in a mind dominated by a shame ego. He made personal attacks presuming to know not only my conscious but also my subconscious thought process and motivations. His tone was very angry and aggressive.

As I said, I recognize this state of mind because I have experienced it personally. It is the same state of mind that caused me to obsessively bait a conservative bully on a Star Trek message board. I have described this state of mind as a separate entity called a “Shame Ego” that takes control but sort of masks its true identity by convincing its host that it is the host. In other words, the shame ego thinks for the host and the host believes the thoughts of the shame ego to be its own. This shame ego is the result of bad programming early on in life and divided loyalties. The source of the programming is typically the host’s parents. The host feels bad while running the program but also feels loyal to the source of the programming. As such, he cannot reject it. Often he will turn it around the other way and vehemently defend it by lashing out at those people who question the truthfulness of the programming or whether the programming serves a useful purpose. This is what I believe happened to the person I described earlier in this blog post.

The only way out of this mindset and the misery it generates is to give up defending it. This is difficult because it feels disloyal and wrong to the host. But to continue on with it is not desirable both because it makes the host miserable and because the host tends to spread the virus that is the bad programming on to other people. This bad programming is spread through shame. I have written a lot on shame in other blog posts so there is no need to get into that now.

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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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Fear of Fear Blocks Success

Franklin Delano Roosevelt said in his first inaugural address, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” This always struck me as a catchy and memorable phrase. But I do not think that I have really grasped its meaning until recently. I now take the phrase to mean the “fear of fear” is what stops me in life and blocks my success.

Fear itself is a physical sensation that indicates I am pushing my envelope. Every fear (itself) is valid and exists for a reason. There seems to be two types, instinctual fear and learned fear. Instinctual fear is passed down through evolution and hard-wired into genetics. It is what tells a deer to freeze when it suspects danger and to bolt when danger is approaching. Learned fear comes from some traumatic event that a person has learned to avoid so as not to repeat it. Both types of fear are defense mechanisms designed to avoid danger. This is a good thing, but when I accumulate too many fears or fixate on one particularly deeply rooted fear in a key area my envelope becomes shrunken and the avoidance of blocks my growth.

As such, facing fear is how I push the envelope and grow. If I run from fear I will remain stuck in life and will never grow.

When I was a kid I was horrible at sports that required hand-eye coordination. I felt humiliated when I struck out or did not catch a ball thrown to me. Over time I avoided playing these types of sports as a way to avoid humiliation but as a result I never gained mastery. Running from this fear effectively meant that I would never grow in this area.

I suspect the “fear of fear” comes from shame. There was a time in my life when I simply experienced emotions and did not process them to the extent I do as an adult. Over time I learned to fear certain things and they accumulated in my mind forming what I call my shame ego. It is the shame ego that produces meta thoughts and meta feelings. These are thoughts evaluating other thoughts or feelings about other feelings.  A ball is thrown to me (for example) and I put my hands up but the ball sails past me and lands on the ground. I then experience the thought that I am not as proficient at catching the ball as other kids. I then feel humiliation. I then think I am weak and a spaz, etc. The next time a ball is thrown in my direction I experience the fear that I will fail again and repeat the experience of humiliation. I then begin to avoid experiences that elicit that type of fear.

Fear of fear is a meta feeling. For the purposes of this article there is no need to go into where these meta thoughts and meta feelings come from. It is helpful enough to begin to be aware of them and notice them when they occur. When this happens I can begin to separate myslef from them. Then I can choose not to let my actions be governed by them.

If I fear fear then it becomes a wall. If I respect fear and know that it is there for a legitimate reason and therefore nothing to be ashamed of I can then become curious and playful about the fear. Then fear becomes an opportunity to push my envelope and grow.

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Waiting on Hold

English: American Way of life

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.

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New Years Resolutions for Shame Based People

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.

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).

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. 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. Somethings 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.

James Altucher recommends performing what he calls a “Daily Practice” where you perform activities daily that benefit four aspects of the self in order be happy. The four aspects are Physical, Intellectual, Emotional and Spiritual. He claims (and I believe him) that you need to nurture these four aspects of the self to be happy. Quick examples: Physical – exercise (even just a little), Intellectual – read a book, Spiritual – meditate, pray, read something spiritual, Emotional – do something that makes you happy, avoid things that make you unhappy. Read the article I linked to above for good ideas about making a resolution that comes from your heart and not shame.

To maintain this resolution make it a habit. Take time out first thing in the morning to perform this resolution. Make it the first priority. Do it with your whole heart and not out of a sense of obligation. Good luck and Happy New Year.

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Genesis Through the Lens of Shame Part III

After the story of Cain and Abel Genesis skips forward in time through the use of genealogies. As a reader, my shame ego looks over my shoulder when I reach the genealogies in Genesis. It makes me feels like I should read them. Another part of me (my true self) wants to skip over them. Logic weighs in on the side of skipping over them. Their value is as a reference. The information is there if needed but it is not necessary to read them absent a need to find the information. Not to mention the fact that they are boring to read. But when I skip past them my shame ego tells me I am cheating and not really reading the Bible. What happens is I skim over the genealogies not really absorbing the information but satisfying my shame ego’s desire that I mire myself in useless effort so that I feel like I have obeyed the rules while ultimately stagnate my growth.

After struggling with the genealogies, we arrive at the story of Noah and the Flood. God is frustrated with his creation he endowed with free will. It turns out mankind used this gift of free will and chose not be as God intended and so he decided to wipe them out.

And God seeing that the wickedness of men was great on the earth, and that all the thought of their heart was bent upon evil at all times, it repented him that he had made man on the earth. And being touched inwardly with sorrow of heart, he said: I will destroy man whom I have created, from the face of the earth from man even to beasts, from the creeping thing even to the fowls of the air for it repenteth me that I have made them. But Noah found grace before the Lord. (Gen 6:5-8).

I suppose Noah found favor with the Lord because he followed the will of the Lord seemingly without questioning. He had no free will or was unwilling to exercise it. God then meticulously instructs Noah on how to build the ark and how to populate it. Noah does all that God tells him to do without question. After he builds and populates the ark God floods the world and wipes out his creation. After the water recedes Noah and the other survivors leave the ark Noah makes an offering to God. He is pleased and promises that he will never again destroy the world with a flood.

Later Noah plants grapes and makes wine. He then drinks the wine, becomes drunk and passes out, naked in his tent. His son Ham sees him naked and tells his two brothers Shem and Japheth who walk in the tent backwards so they do not see their father naked and cover him with a cloak. Noah then wakes and finds out that Ham had seen him naked. Curiously, Noah then curses Canaan, Ham’s son.

Noah carries the shame ego passed down from Adam and Cain all the way through the genealogy to Noah. Noah curses Cannan and not Ham or his brothers because shame is cowardly and attacks the weakest target. Shame robbed Noah of his free will and his true self. When Noah got drunk these walls broke down. He then felt embarrassment and rage and vented it on Cannan who presumably would then shame his son so that it could be continuously passed down through the genealogy after Noah. It is this same shame that had been passed down to me. It is the one that makes me feel bad for wanting to skip the genealogies in the Bible.

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