Monday, September 6, 2010

On Not Programming, Astrology, and Shame

I haven't programmed a single line since the other night, nor have I been back to write. I guess the going is getting tough. Traditionally, that's when I give up on whatever project I am currently working on and move on to the next big thing. It's simply painful.

So, given that, I thought this would be a great night to tackle this topic of shame that keeps emerging from between the lines of other narratives. This is a good plan, yes? I'm starting to lose steam, so maybe, just maybe, the next thing I should tackle is *cue scary theme music* the deep, dark, secrets of my sooouuuull... If I had a soul, which is in doubt.(SKEPTIC).

That said, I shall take a brief detour to talk about astrology. Now, I do not believe in astrology. I am fully aware that the chances of distant stars having any significant measurable effect on any individual human life are so remote as to be ridiculously nonexistent. I have taken a college level astronomy class in which my professor took great pains to explain that the constellations present at the hour of our birth are, due to certain changes over time, not even the same as the "sign" we are supposedly born under. I am fully convinced that most of the people who believe in and practice astrology are either under the influence of a pleasant delusion that they have an inside track into the workings of the universe, or making the stuff up for some other nefarious purpose, like getting other people's money.

Even so, I shall take a brief detour to see if I can get any information about my birth chart. I blame a really terrible unauthorized biography that I just finished, and the author seemed wedded to the idea that the birth charts of the involved individuals had a great deal of influence on their lives. I know this is so much hokum. There is still always some part of me that looks for the inside scoop and advantage in understanding; astrology provides a convenient (if misguided) framework to hang ideas on.

I took the detour and went and ran my chart on the internet. I have no idea what calculations they used for this mysticalness. It tells me that I am an Aries, typically characterized as masculine, energetic, and agressive. My moon is in Libra and rising sign is Pisces, if I remembered the time of my birth correctly. I have a whopping helping of Pisces in my chart. The rest is a mashup. I still don't have any idea really what it means, and it no longer gives me the same satisfying buzz that it used to when I was younger. I guess you have to have at least a smidgen of belief to make it fun; I just have curiosity and stubborness.

I no longer feel smarter than everyone else. That was last week, when I thought giftedness was something real. Now, I just feel lonely.

But, I still haven't tackled the shame thing. Shame relates to a perpetual feeling of being different from other people, especially in a way that they might find threatening or disturbing if they were able to discover it. For me it seems to relate to the need to camoflage, to blend in just enough to appear nonthreatening. At the same time I find people endlessly fascinating, but in an almost distant or clinical way at times. I care for their welfare more when they are remote.

I'm not quite getting there. Shame is about hiding in plain view. Shame is about fear of discovery. Shame is about not meeting expectations or living up to vague dreams. It's about wanting what I want, as opposed to what other people want me to want. Shame is not bringing people into my home because I don't feel proud of it, for example. So it has to do with maybe not doing things that I might do differently if I didn't feel ashamed.

There's still something more to this that I'm definitely not able to tap. Maybe it's because I am not feeling the actual emotion at the moment, and I am having trouble coming up with a vivid enough example to evoke the feeling. I think most people are aware of the type of dream at night that where you find yourself at school without your pants on, only to wake up. So I think that an example like that is classic shame; it has to do with transgression, but also with a fear of inadvertently breaking an unwritten rule and suddenly realizing that I have done or might have done something shameworthy-- the equivalent of suddenly realizing I have no pants on and I'm in front of the class.

I stumbled across the above website while thinking over this whole idea of shame and will quote some of it here so that I can respond:

"We feel shame when we think of poorly of ourselves. Shame is the emotion that encourages us to do our best. When we are ashamed we may feel vulnerable and even helpless. Shame reflects a decrease in stature while pride is the emotion reflecting an increase in stature."

I think this page does an absolutely brilliant and incredible job of narrowing in on this elusive demon that I have just been struggling so hard to pin down. The first point it makes is that shame is about "thinking poorly of ourselves," which helps point to the fact that this is an entirely internal state for me-- obviously, people can diplay their feelings of shame, but typically when I feel shame, my instinct is to hide the emotion. So it is an internal experience, not external. Second, shame as something that causes us to to our best, may be part of the puzzle of how I can possibly be an overachiever and yet still be having these feelings.

Third, helplessness and vulnerability are pinpoint accurate summaries of how shame causes me to feel. Helpless, trapped, and dangerously vulnerable, as if waiting for an attack that I cannot prevent.

This whole page leaves me terrified, actually, which means that I'm on the right track, now. It's too easy to stay clinical, abstract, and detatched while tackling these things.

Next, shame reflects a decrease in stature. I had to go look this up. Stature is different from status- it is the ability to help others. Related to status, it has to do with possessing traits that are of value to others or that are percieved as having value to others. It would be, then, a decrease in power and in value to other people, both of which are pretty serious threats.

Finally, it states that pride is the opposite emotion, that reflects an increase in stature. (Oh, how Darcy's and Elizabeth's comments from Pride and Prejudice come to mind!) But in my previous example, the reverse feeling (pride) would cause me to invite others to my house because I would be proud of it and would want to share that emotion with other people.

I've reached the end of my ability to write tonight- I'm just too tired to continue. I guess I'll have to do a multi-part series on this one.

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