Sunday, December 21, 2008


It seems that whether by design, or accident, an important part of being socialized has to do with denying the Truth of oneself.

The socialization process starts from birth, if not before, and the pliable clay that is infancy is molded into the image the adult sees fit. In exceptional cases, the person may be able to consider and question what is being taught; for most of us, it is the water we swim in. It isn't until we are older, and perhaps our lives aren't working well for us, that we reconsider some basic assumptions.

Very early, before we knew we were agreeing to something, we were agreeing to an abstract model of "the people we should be" and "the people we shouldn't". People we should be were selfless, generous, helpful, and generally didn't trigger negative emotions in important adults (namely parents and teachers). People we should not be were selfish, unwilling, stingy, unkind and generally anything else that triggered irritation or anger in important adults.

Manifestations of feelings that went counter to the first group, and were umbrella'd under the category of the second, were BAD, and by extension the feelings themselves were deemed BAD.

I suppose this makes sense in a belief system where human beings are born BAD, and that we will always be at war with our BAD nature until we die.

The covert message, intended or not, is that not only certain actions are wrong: our very feelings need governing too. If we want to be "good", then we can't even allow feelings that are associated with the second group to rise to our level of consciousness. Self censorship is born. And therefore the truth of our Selves, the Selves that are experiencing these feelings, are submerged.

We may feel called to by this submerged Self, all our lives. A feeling of a lack, which the Christians say Jesus is supposed to fill. Buddhists attribute it to the suffering that is caused by "attachment" to things, people, outcomes. Some people drink, others do drugs, others take risks.

For those who wish to journey back to this place of authenticity of Self, there are successive guardians at the gate. I met one Guardian last week, in the tacit agreement that choosing something for your self, without a "good reason" is selfish, mean, grasping. That was the scarecrow flapping in the breeze, this sense of agreement with what my feelings "meant" (something awful about me). If I acknowledge that the feeling inside from which springs the reluctance is a core "No", then I realize that an agreement I made before I knew I was making an agreement--is irrelevant.

I think I found a new Guardian yesterday when Gary took the boys on an all-day errand trip. Funny what I can think up when I have some uninterrupted time.

This Guardian is more potent. It's called Shame.

I think I will leave it at that, for now.


Mrs. Spit said...

This has left me thinking. . . .

Wordgirl said...

I've often thought if at the heart of it all I was a selfish person -- because I so fiercely guard my privacy, my time, my silence -- and I've given real thought to what one sacrifices when children come into the picture -- women especially -- we are supposed to give that part of us up --- or its supposed to be so natural for us to give over all of ourselves to this business of child-rearing...I don't have much in the way of shame -- and I've wondered about that too -- I had a relatively secular upbringing -- and in some ways my mother's brand of parenting -- feeling completely paralyzed by life and numbed to anything but the family drama or despair -- led me to wander alot freely -- and in some ways I had a great gift that way...I wonder how one could confer the same thing on a child -- but not through benign neglect due to depression -- hmnnn...

Have you read Susan Sontag? I read an excerpt from her journals in Harpers last night and I thought of you...

excavator said...

Mrs. Spit, I'd love to know what you're thinking.

I actually did want to make the post about Shame, but the concept keeps falling apart in my mind. I found an interesting medical site that discusses shame, guilt, pride, hubris--it's inspiration but so far I can't get it to cohere.


One interesting aspect of what they call the "self conscious emotions" is that there is no one experience that can 'guarantee' shame in anyone. Much is dependent upon the experiencer's inner temperament and psychological structure: how things are perceived, and categorized.

So, hopefully I can explore this later.

Ailey said...


Your post on shame left me wanting more. I look forward to when it stays together enough in your head to carefully make the transfer over to your blog. Thanks again for sharing you.

excavator said...

Hi, Ailey! What do I need to do to be able to comment on your blog?

I don't know if I'll ever be able to complete this theme since, like Tantalus, as I approach, Solitude keeps receding (see my "Relentless" post).