When I graduated college a fraternity brother of mine bought a house. He said it made more financial sense than renting. At the time I had no financial means to buy a house but the thought sort of stuck with me. I envied him because he had the financial means to buy a house and I did not.
When my wife and I rented our first apartment in New Orleans the carpet bothered me. I got the management to put in new carpeting and they raised my rent. I did not have a vacuum so I bought a cheap one that did not work. This stressed me out. I rented steam machines from the grocery store but it never really did a good job. We bought a couch to replace the futon. With each purchase motivated by shame I felt good at first but when they produced bad results I felt ashamed with my failures.
When we moved to Scranton I felt ashamed and annoyed to live with her father. I felt embarrassed that we were not living on our own as people of our age should be doing.
So we moved to an apartment. We could not get the couch into the living room. I felt frustrated that the couch was in the dining room and my wife did not put on the legs. I felt ashamed when my parents came to visit because they would judge me as a failure.
When we moved to Philadelphia we lived in a high-rise. I did not like that only bathroom was accessible by going through the bedroom. When we had guests over I felt ashamed that they had to walk through our bedroom to get to the bathroom.
So we moved to another apartment with two bathrooms.
We were about to have a kid so we bought a row house. At first it felt good. Then I felt ashamed because our bathrooms were outdated so we had them redone but the workers ruined the carpet on the stairs going back and forth. I could not get it clean and there was no room for guests so we bought a bigger house with a bigger mortgage at the height of the housing bubble. My father helped me out with the down payment. At first I felt good because I had a house that I was not ashamed of. But then my wife lost her job and I lost my job and we could no longer afford to send our kids to the private school they were attending. Since the schools in our neighborhood were not that great we moved in with my parents where the schools were good. We tried to sell our house but no one was buying. So we rented it for four years. When we finally sold it we sold it at a substantial loss. I felt ashamed that I had lost all the money we put into that house.
The grass is always greener. When I get to the other side it feels good for a time but then my shame ego convinces me that where I am is not good anymore. My shame ego will never be satisfied for long and will always try to convince me that what am doing and where I am living is wrong.
Sometimes I think that heaven (God’s House) is the ultimate version of the grass is always greener on the other side.
If the shame ego dies with the physical body then the grass will indeed be greener.
The desire for fame for the sake of fame seems to me to be motivated by shame. We all want to be loved. The shame ego wants to be loved as well but it also believes that if other people knew the real “it”, they would reject it. So it forgets about the things that make it lovable and the things it loves and only focuses on trying to get other people to love it through deception (because truth will not work). When they do not love it (perhaps because they sense it is being fake) it hates them for it.
In third grade auditioned for a part in the play Hansel and Gretel. I pictured myself on stage entertaining people and receiving applause. After the audition I found out I had been assigned the role of background tree. I had no lines and stood in the background during one scene of the play. I was devastated. I could not understand why the teachers assigning the roles did not recognize my talents. I was used to being picked last for the kickball teams at recess and being assigned to the outfield in Little League baseball. But that was sports. This was something creative, the area in which I thought I excelled. The night I received my role I cried myself to sleep.
I have consistently acted in life that if I played by the rules, worked hard and denied myself eventually I would be rewarded. The world would love me some day. So far I have pretty much been a background tree. That is all I will ever be if I wait for the world to reward me for “paying my dues.”
At the same time there is the sense that if I do not achieve success in life that my life will be a failure and I will be humiliated. But if I unpack the idea of success it has less to do with achieving something specific and more to do with achieving the notoriety that comes with achieving something specific. It has to do with achieving fame and the approval of others. This is my shame ego’s prime motivation.
With acting, it should be for the love of acting and not the desire for fame. Even when I write this blog I find myself really motivated by the number of hits I get. But is that so wrong? It seems misplaced. To write the best blog it seems to me the focus should be on the writing and not on the reaction to the writing. Or maybe it is okay for there to be a little of both motivations.
I am in the process of finishing a book I hope to e-publish in the near future. I find myself struggling with the idea that I need to accomplish something (like publishing a book) because it will then validate my life in some way. I picture myself being interviewed, having a new source of income and reading the reviews. But then I think about society collapsing soon after, making wealth and fame irrelevant. Is it selfish to want these things? My shame ego definitely wants to convince me of this. It also wants me to feel foolish for even thinking it is possible. I was born to be a background tree after all.
There is a large gap of time between last May and this October where I did not make any blog posts. I spent a lot of that time working on a book that I intend to e-publish. The book is autobiographical and discusses the connections between shame and internet trolling. Much of the book is a synthesis of my previous blog posts. I have been in contact with a well-known blogger who has published several ebooks who has encouraged me to do this. So I finished the book a few months ago. The well-known blogger put me in touch with a guy who edits and markets ebooks. I got the book edited and since that time I have been trying to incorporate the edits he suggested. Once I finish that I can start the publishing and marketing stage. The only problem is that I cannot seem to finish the editing process.
I used to wake up every morning at 5:00am and work on the initial manuscript. Once I finished it and sent it to the editor I continued to wake up at that time and write other things. Now that I am close to actually publishing I cannot seem to finish it. I stopped waking up at 5:00am. It is now hard for me to find the time. When I do make the time I sit and stare at what I have written and hate it.
I am sure this is self sabotage. I know I have to work through it. The block is my demon trying to undermine my success but it does it indirectly and passive aggressively. It does not straight out tell me not to do it. It distracts me. It saps my energy. It makes everything else seem more interesting. I am too tired. I have too many other things to do.
Is the answer to plow through it? Is the answer to defeat the demon some other way and then be able to finish my project? I am in the middle of it so I cannot see it too clearly.
There is fear here too. I am afraid that once I publish the book people who are described in it unflatteringly will hate me for it. At the same time I fear no one will read it when I publish it. I hold these two antithetical possibilities in my mind at the same time. The demon, my shame ego, does not care about logic. It merely cares that I feel shame and remain stuck in my present situation.
The well-known blogger I spoke of told me to edit one more time, cut 30% and publish it. I think I have to start waking up at 5:00am again. It is the time of day when I am the most creative anyway. I have a marathon to run this Sunday. Part of me is saying to put this off until that is over. The same part of me (I am sure) is telling me that I am not ready for the marathon. Ha!
I never realized Steve was an atheist. I think he grew up Roman Catholic in another Connecticut suburb just like me. Now I know full well Roman Catholicism in suburban Connecticut during the 1980s and 1990s was nothing earth shattering in a spiritual sense. There was a lot of talk about feasts, joy and celebrations when nothing of the kind manifested itself. Nobody sang the songs in church. If I did, I felt extremely self-conscious. Mr. Battiston preached pretentiously from the pulpit and he was only a deacon and his kids bullied me throughout my childhood. The folk masses sucked (Mrs. Battiston played guitar). People left the pews before the last verse of the last hymn. There was nothing spiritually going on at all. Based on all that and assuming his experience was similar to mine, I can understand why Steve rejected that form of Roman Catholicism.
At his wedding Steve had a UU minister. Later on he explained to me that he and his wife told the minister they did not want any reference to God in the ceremony. One drunken night I asked him if he ever read the bible. The reason I asked him was because I had just read the entire bible for the first time. It was something I did to pass the time at work. Steve reacted with annoyance. I think he suspected that I was trying to spread the word or some such. In truth, I really felt that the bible was interesting from the standpoint of literature, the impact it has had on our culture and therefore deserved respect. I was motivated to share that intellectual experience mostly.
The conversation progressed to Steve telling me that he was a science teacher and he looked at data to discern the nature of reality. I presume he suggested that he thought religion was uninformed or ignorant because it was not based upon observable data. Later he asked me why life was not enough for religious people. I remember thinking that was a legitimate question but I also thought this question suggested religious people were somehow greedy.
My response to the question at the time was something along the lines of, “I don’t know, but I know it’s not enough.” Part of me wants to say that for a person like Steve (unencumbered by a shame ego) it is easy to say that life is sufficient and satisfying. But for a person encumbered by a shame ego there has to be a resolution, and if resolution does not happen in this lifetime it must happen elsewhere. But that argument is the shame ego’s argument. It is not approached whole heartedly.
To approach the question whole heartedly, I must say the world does not make sense to me without some spiritual underlying reality. This belief was confirmed first hand through several acid trips. I know it can be argued that the influence of drugs caused me to falsely perceive the existence of a greater reality. But to me those experiences felt far more real than reality. Please note that I in no way advocate or encourage the use of any drugs. I am simply describing my own experience.
So Steve is correct when he says that religion is inconsistent with science in that science only perceives the existence of measurable data as real. However, I believe with my whole heart that there is more to reality than materiality. I also had a conversation with Griz (another atheist) about this. I said there must be more to reality than what we perceive. He said, “What would that be?” as a counter argument. But what would the New World be before Columbus discovered it? What would relativity be before Einstein promulgated his theory? To simply ask what they might be does not prove their non existence in my mind.
I have a friend named Steve. Steve lives in a world completely unbounded by shame. He fascinates and irritates me at the same time. He fascinates me because I have no personal frame of reference for his world view but I also am envious of the freedom in which he seems to live. He irritates me because from my shame ego’s perspective his mere existence is a negative judgment on how I live my life.
I remember hiking with him many years ago. We were walking along a mountain trail. He suggested we go off the path. The neo-hippie wannabe part of me readily agreed. Yeah! Stick it to the trail man who wants us to hike in specificly designated places! Another part of me was annoyed. We had a perfectly good trail to walk on, we were outside, getting exercise, being healthy and enjoying nature. His suggestion implied that walking on the path was conformist and somehow an inauthentic experience of the natural world.
Recently I thought about this interaction when I was walking on a sidewalk. Clearly the sidewalk was the designated place for me to walk. I felt annoyed that the sidewalk builder was dictating where I should walk. I considered walking off the sidewalk and cutting through a yard. Then it felt like Steve was telling me where to walk and that felt annoying too.
In this scenario I do not really know what I want. If I walk on the sidewalk I am conforming to society’s rule. If I stray from the sidewalk I am conforming to Steve’s neo-hippie ethic. If I ask myself what I truly want to do in this scenario my mind goes blank. I have no real, whole-hearted desire. Rather, I am trying to please two alien masters. I am motivated by a desire to avoid the shame that goes along with making the wrong choice.
Even though I do not know what I want, I think the feeling of being annoyed is informative. From the shame based perspective, feeling annoyed is wrong. By being annoyed, on a passive aggressive level I am fighting the system and fighting the system is sinful. Passive aggression is a primary tool in the shame-based tool box. But the feeling of being annoyed is also a message from my true self. There is something happening in the universe that I do not like. That is the truth. That is the key to finding out what I truly want.
Gestalt therapy taught me that my feelings are always right and never sinful. That is, there is always a legitimate reason behind my feelings. They do not arise because I am flawed. I think my feeling of being annoyed comes from the no win situation my shame ego has constructed for me. I can choose to walk on the sidewalk or cut across a yard. Either way I am conforming and as such, unoriginal and inauthentic which is shame worthy. It is the no win situation itself that irritates me. I want to be unbound by shame and the no win situation.
I imagine Steve would not spend a second of his life considering any of this. He would walk where he wanted to walk because he wanted to. How utterly simple. How utterly beautiful. The no win situation is a construction of my shame ego as is not knowing what I want.