Why, oh why did I do that?

Most Americans worry about personal failure–on school tasks when young, on one’s vocation when older. But the emotion that follows failure depends on the interpretation imposed; shame if due to inadequate talent, anger if the product of prejudice, and guilt if the result of insufficient effort.
                                                                                                       Jerome Kagan,
                                                                                                      Harvard Researcher


ABOUT THE PICTURE AND THE TOPIC: I still blush and laugh at myself over an embarrassing moment from my teens.  I was sixteen going on seventeen and madly in love, but very much a Ms. Goody Two Shoes.

Way back then, Clark Gable kissing Vivian Leigh and sweeping her off to their marriage bed  in Gone With the Wind was considered scandalous. Moreover, when Rhett said to Scarlett at the film’s end “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a DAMN” I suspect the movie was banned in Kansas, Salt Lake City, as well as by the Catholic Church or any number of other “Goody Two Shoe” places.

I read the book at an early age–about eleven or twelve.  To read it dear mother had to roar at the town librarian for refusing to let me sign an adult book out on my own. I went home and complained to Mom, who then traipsed into town and signed it out.  Wasn’t there, but do know that afterwards, I could sign out any book I wanted.  Had to put up with the librarian’s looks of disapproval, but still moved happily into reading adult level books without having to bother my mother.

None of the sex described in any book I found at the town library approached transparency.  For most of my teen years, no matter what books I read, sex was a kiss followed by a warm rush or the earth moving.  Not graphic at all.

And of course there was no sex education in the schools, and one did not talk about sex or ask questions about sex of grown-ups.  As an eight year old, I asked my mother what the F-word meant having seen it written on a bathroom wall.  Got my mouth washed out with Old Dutch Cleanser.  Never asked her about the birds and bees and it took two years of analysis to say the F-word to my shrink.  I was in traditional analysis where the command was say whatever comes to mind.  And eventually that word kept coming to mind.  The shrink said at one point that my mother was a bit confused and full of contradictions.  I think that may have been the most helpful things Shrink of Mine said. Began the process of putting my mother in perspective.

Anyway, back to my moment of shame as a sixteen year old. My then one and only, forever (no not my Cranky Old Man)  love of my life and I were at a party with our eight closest friends.  I think we had been at the party about 15 minutes when I saw  the fly on my treasured Lee Jeans was down.  Poor boyfriend, he didn’t know what the problem was, but I fled the party crying and insisted he take me home.  Don’t think I ever explained why.

My goody two shoes self thought my friends would think we had done it–before coming into join them.  Hysterical, because I didn’t do it until well into my 20’s and suspect at least one of the friends at the party was doing it regularly by that time.

When I met my friends the next day at school, I mumbled something about being afraid I was going to be sick.

Sad isn’t it?  Moreover, as I type this I realize there lies part of the motivation for writing my book.  One of the themes is how women were taught to be ashamed of their bodies by both the Romans and the Roman Church.

As some of you know, I offered a read of the prologue to my novel and have declared a “peace or drown” publication date of March 21, 2011.  Do-or-stop-trying time.  Well, several of you asked for the prologue.  My compulsive self did yet another final reading before sending it on and died that it had been sent to a few other readers without such a perusal.  Far too many typos.  I wept.

Then corrected those I found and sent it on with a warning not to bother if typos bothered.

Then sent letters of apologies to the earlier readers and asked everyone to read for the story, not the mistakes as it is going to a professional copy editor as soon as I have  read it yet again.

I refuse to  stop trying, but I am going to whine a bit, so skip this if you wish.  Jerome Kagan is one of my gurus.  I love the man.  Most of my love centers around two things.  The first, is that he is one of the few modern students of human nature to say chance is part of who we are and how we fare in life.  You know this Cranky Old Lady rants against the “Just Do It” gurus.  Do it, but also pray for Lady Luck’s help and be grateful for all you have been given.

About shame, Kagan says  it is nature’s way of keep us from doing the unforgivable.   He says it develops just about the time Able-aged younger siblings start messing around Cain-aged big brother’s belongings.

I fight shame.  I do not do the unforgivable–well according to my vegan friends I do, but I do send thoughts of gratitude when I eat meat and fight for the humane treatment of all animals.  Anyway, most people think of me as a Sweet Old Lady or a harmless Cranky Old Lady.  And I pride myself on being kind and caring.

Still shame haunts me often and reading Kagan’s quote I realize I am ashamed mainly because I lack a very specific talent and although I  often think I try hard enough when I see typos and misplaced words I feel I didn’t. A little bit of anger gets in there also as there is an elitism in some writers and readers.  A typo and you are dismissed.


STAYING STRONG TIP:  All the experts on managing negative emotions say do the opposite of what the emotion suggests.  I agree, but also think doing a reality check should be the first step.

My shame tells me to sink through the floor, vanish to some lower region and never show my face.  That is what shame always does.  Guilt makes you think you have done something wrong.  Shame makes you think you don’t deserve to be part of the human race.  Reality checks are needed for both emotions.

One of the sad things done by therapists–and remember I am one–has been to blame shame on parents and allowed the parent bashers  to grow in power.  Children need to blame parents; adults need to accept responsibility for their own actions.  And far too many of American children at age forty, fifty, and sixty are still blaming parents for all that is wrong with the world including their own short comings.  Let me also point out that lots of therapists have made money selling that idea.

So here is the tip.  View both guilt and shame as calls to think a bit about what you are doing.  Do a reality check–who is getting hurt and how deeply hurt.  A secret child molester? Feeling guilty you should and feeling shame, you should, but most of all, you should stop your evil behavior.   You are doing evil.

Not harming anyone.  Continue doing what you are doing.  You will find the pain of guilt or shame may continue to visit, but they will not control you.

FUEL MY HOPES:  Be kind to  me,  get kindness badges for you, and help others get and stay strong.  Kindness is an Emotional Fitness Exercise.  Click here for all 12 Daily Emotional Fitness Training Exercises.Thank you and love you all.

Image by: www.123rf.com


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