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I Shamelessly Stole From Baffled Mum Today

Baffled Mum’s post today, “Who Will Miss You?” is an outstanding illustration of why I like to steal things.

That’s my polite way of saying the idea for this post is stolen from a post of hers.

[Back story] Baffy — as she kindly allows me to call her — Baffy overheard some jerk rhetorically asking someone, “Who will miss you!”  Being foolishly in possession of a heart just as big as her mind (Which seems at least big enough to embrace most anything she wants it to embrace), Baffy posted a concise, surgically accurate response on her blog. Nailed him, she did!  Didn’t call him out by name, but nailed him right properly and good. [/back story]

Here’s my favorite Baffy quote of them all, “Who are we to judge the worth of people anyway?”

Yay!  You go, Baffy! Stick it to that dragon!  That dragon of unnecessary and unwarranted ranking of ourselves and others.

All I want to know is just which god slammed a ten-foot high judge’s bench under the exalted butts of possibly three-quarters or more of humanity?

Call me crazy if you must, but somehow, I doubt anything divine had a hand in placing those benches under those butts.  Somehow, I smell the profane stench of self-righteous self-appointment.  Just ain’t nothing sacred about them benches at all, so far as I can see.

I agree with everything Baffy said today.  Just I want to add this.  Each and every act of abuse the world sees moment to moment of each minute of the day is to me evidence of our co-equality when it comes to our most fundamental human worth.

Every act of abuse from the father’s too sharp criticism of his child to the dictator’s bloody genocide, is evidence of why we must treat each other as equals in basic human worth.

Abuse — it all adds up to a price, a cost, humanity simply hasn’t got it to pay off.

Abuse, Anger, Emotional Abuse, Emotions, Human Nature, Jerks, Life, Regret, Sex, Sexual Abuse, Sexualization

A Jerk in Bed

(About a 4 minute read)

We had been sitting next to each other at the coffee shop’s counter for a few minutes when she introduced herself to me.  Looking up from her magazine, she pointed to the article she’d been reading and said something about it that I can no longer recall.

I was instantly pleased with her for taking the initiative.  I usually like it when women start up conversations with me, and I tend to think of them as a bit adventuresome for having done it.

After that first meeting, I saw her around from time to time.  She would always say hello and we’d usually exchange a few words.  Things stayed casual though.  There was nothing flirtatious in her manner or attitude.

Continue reading “A Jerk in Bed”

Abuse, Alienation, Alienation From Self, Emotional Abuse, Human Nature, Judgementalism, Life, Love, Lovers, Marriage, Physical Abuse, Psychological Abuse, Quality of Life, Relationships, Religion, Religious Ideologies, Romantic Love, Self Image, Sexual Abuse, Sexuality, Spiritual Alienation, Spirituality, Values, Verbal Abuse

The Cheating Wife

(About a 2 minute read)

Father, I have seen how the morals you demand of me
In the name of your God and his hell
Are like winds from two quarters
That carry the dust to my eyes
No matter which way I turn
So I can no longer see the path I’m on,
Nor which path to take from here.

Father, I have seen how the morals you demand of me
In the name of your God and his hell
Are like tungsten rods encasing me,
Confining me to inaction and encouraging resignation
To my hell, the hell my husband
Has created for me that may yet
Prove to be a death camp.

You tell me right and wrong never alter,
Never turn from one into the other,
That I must keep my vows and stay with him,
Merely praying that your God will change his heart.

I am weary now like a bison after wolves
Have chased her for miles to her last stand,
I am all but exhausted and ready to die.
Your words do not comfort me, nor encourage me,
But sound only like you want me to surrender
To the fangs of my enemy, that he might
Rip my throat and my life from me.

You say I must not cheat.
But I am ready to cheat.
I have met one who comes walking
In the grace of love for me.
One who does not merely speak of love, but loves.
One whose touching me has passed a spark
To the dry and brittle twigs of my self-esteem.

He wants me to live, and through him,
I want to live too.

Yes, I know that I’m weak,
Too weak to love myself without him.
But he ignites me, and my weakness
Will soon enough burn away in a bonfire.

Father, have you never been so beaten down
You could not stand up without someone’s help?
Have you never been so tired
You could not go on without first you slept?
Have you never been so defeated
You could not renew yourself?

Father, in your eyes I am no more than a whore,
I am no more than a law-breaker, an outlaw.
But have you considered this:
Even a whore has a right to life,
Even an outlaw has a right to live,
And how moral can your morals be
If your morals deny my life?


This poem was inspired by a poem on Sarah’s blog, “Fresh Hell”, which can be found here.

Abuse, Alienation From Self, Bad Ideas, Drug Abuse, Emotional Abuse, Ethics, Evil, Family, Human Nature, Life, Love, Morality, Morals, People, Physical Abuse, Psychological Abuse, Quality of Life, Rae, Relationships, Sex, Sexual Abuse, Sexuality, Sexualization, Shannon, Spiritual Alienation

Is Ignorance the Root and Stem of All Evil?

(About a 6 minute read)

“Ignorance is the root and stem of all evil” — Plato

Trigger Warning: Explicit references to child sexual abuse, etc.

Shannon’s father and two uncles were widely reputed to be the three most evil beasts in Champaign County, Illinois.  For one thing, before the Chicago gangs moved in with their greater numbers, the brothers and their friends controlled the hard drug trade in the county.

To call them “beasts”, however, is somewhat misleading since it might imply that the brothers were somewhat on the dull side.  In fact, just the opposite seems to have been true.  The brothers had a reputation for brains.  It was pessimistically said, they could not be outsmarted.

Continue reading “Is Ignorance the Root and Stem of All Evil?”

Abuse, Bad Ideas, Christianity, Ethics, Morality, Morals, News and Current Events, Politicians and Scoundrels, Religion, Religious Ideologies, Seduction, Sexual Abuse, Sexualization, Spirituality, Values

Should We Keep the Catholic Church?

(About a 3 minute read)

It seems it has been at least 20 years now since the first credible reports of wide-spread child rape and sexual abuse by Catholic priests began making the news.  Since then, the reports have spread to nearly every industrialized nation where the Church has a presence.  Even Poland, I recall, has reported victims in the thousands.

I suppose too, the documented numbers are most likely well below the actual number of victims.  Ten thousand children in all of Australia?  Seems incredible it should be so few over 50 years.

Continue reading “Should We Keep the Catholic Church?”

Abuse, Creativity, Erotic Love, Friends, Guilt, Human Nature, Life, Love, Lovers, Mental and Emotional Health, New Love, People, Pleasure, Quality of Life, Relationships, Romantic Love, Sexual Abuse, Sexuality, Shame

Diane

(About a 7 minute read)

Diane had a wicked sense of humor.  Usually, she didn’t repeat jokes she had heard, but rather made them up on the spot.  But besides being creative, she was quite level-headed and down to earth.

She was the evening manager of a fast food restaurant.  After we’d gotten to know each other, I took to staying late in my office so I could drop by her restaurant around seven or eight o’clock on the nights she worked.  We’d sit together in the dining room for two or three hours until the restaurant closed.

Diane had the greenest eyes I’ve ever seen on anyone, a pretty good figure for someone who’d had two children, and dirty blond hair.  Her facial features included high cheekbones and an angular chin.  I think Diane’s most beautiful feature after her eyes was her grin. It was wide and generous.

Our conversations were rarely serious, or at least not wholly serious.  Once, Diane soberly mentioned she’d been raised in a nondenominational Christian church before becoming an agnostic around the age of 18 or so.  Somehow that quickly led to a flood of jokes about preaching.  Yet, there were almost always truths wrapped within the jokes — insights into each other’s lives, views, and values.

One of the very few times when we discussed something that neither one of us laughed at occurred about a year after we’d met.  As usual we were sitting in the restaurant when, for some reason I’ll never know, Diane’s mood abruptly changed.  “There’s something I want to tell you, Paul, but it has to be a secret between us.”

“Sure”, I said a bit too casually.

“No a real secret.  You can’t tell anyone.”

“I promise”, I said, becoming attentive.  After searching my face, Diane glanced away, as if gathering her thoughts.

“When I was seven years old, Paul, someone in my family taught me to give him blowjobs.  He’d pay me a quarter.  I’m not sure why, but I want you to know that about me.”

“God!  I mean…God!”  I was too shocked to say more at the moment.  “What…Who was it?” I finally asked.

“I don’t want to tell you who”, she spoke calmly,  “But it messed with me.  When I started having sex, I couldn’t at first take pleasure in it.  I thought I was fridged.  It took me a long time to learn how to enjoy it.”   Diane went on to describe how she’d overcome her initial inability to take pleasure in sex.  As she spoke, I became aware of the emphasis she was placing on her success at healing herself, and the almost casual way she now seemed to all but dismiss the early abuse of her.

“Diane…”  I paused, searching for the right words.  “A handful of women have told me about being abused as children, but I think you’re the only one I know who has gone so far in overcoming the problems it caused them.”  Diane thanked me for my understanding, and for the first time since she had begun her story, she smiled.  “It’s been quite a journey, Paul.”  Her smile, I realized, was one of victory.

Our evenings together lasted about two years.  During that time I came to regard Diane as my best friend in the city.  I wondered if she felt the same about me.  One night I decided to test her interest by suggesting we go to a movie that weekend.  She enthusiastically agreed.

When Saturday night came, however, she was late showing up at my apartment, where we’d arranged to meet.  A couple hours went by, and then another.  Finally, she called.  She was on her way, and would be there in 30 minutes.  Yet, by the time she arrived, it was too late to go to a movie, so we sat on opposite ends of my couch making small talk.

At some point during the evening, I decided on an impulse that it would be a wonderfully good idea to tongue her ear, so I casually crossed over to her end of the couch, and proceeded to do just that.  As it happened that was indeed a wonderfully good idea because her ears were among her erogenous zones, and she was quickly overcome with pleasure, which I thought was yet another wonderfully good idea.

We then spent the next six or so hours walloping each other with pleasure in every way we could imagine to do so.  Afterwards, she fell asleep in my arms for about an hour and a half until I had to wake her up, for she was pulling a double shift that day by working both the day and the night shifts.

Late in the evening of the day after our love-making, I drove over to her restaurant, parked my car, walked up to the door of the restaurant, and observed Diane behind the counter talking to a co-worker while grinning ear to ear and laughing uproariously.

It was the last time I would hear her laughter for several months.

The moment she caught sight of me, the happiness in her face popped out of existence almost as fast as it takes to snap your fingers. It was replaced by an expression of pure worry, and she placed her hand over her stomach as if something felt wrong with it.

I think I might have turned to look behind me to discover what had caused the change in her expression, because I couldn’t imagine it would be me, but I can’t entirely recall now whether or not I did.   At any rate, when we spoke to each other, she quickly asked me to go back to my car and wait for her.  I did.

It was a long wait.  Naturally, I had no clue what it all meant.  And I was pretty anxious when she at last came up to my car to kneel beside it and speak to me through the open window.

“I’m sorry I made you wait so long, but I was hoping you would leave so I wouldn’t need to speak to you.  Please, Paul, forgive me for being a coward.”

Leave?  Forgive? Coward?  I didn’t understand a word she said.

She went on, “All day today, I was happy.  I didn’t think about last night even once, but then I saw you and my stomach instantly dropped to my feet.  I’ve never felt it sink that fast and low before in my life.   That’s how I learned something was wrong, very wrong about what we did last night.”

I couldn’t believe what I was now hearing.  I stumbled out some question about whether last night’s sex had been that bad.

“No”, she said, “Honestly, Paul, that was some of the best sex of my life.”

I was now totally lost.  Some of the best sex of her life?  The worse sinking feeling she’d could remember having?  Nothing in what she said was aligning well enough to make sense, but it was just dawning on me that she was in the process of dumping me.

“You made me feel like a slut, Paul.”  She didn’t say it accusingly, but she said it with sad conviction.  “That was our first date and we should not have had sex.  We should have waited.  I can’t live with being reminded that I’m a slut, and you remind me of that.  That’s got to be the reason my stomach fell when I saw you.  It has to be.  I have never felt so guilty and ashamed in my life.”

Now to put all of the above in context, this was the first completely irrational thing I’d heard from Diane.  It wasn’t like her to run around with a tin foil hat on and a club for beating off alien abductors.  She was in my experience, always a reasonable person right up until that night.

I was so surprised I could think of nothing to say besides, “What do you want me to do?”

“Please leave. Please go home.  And please don’t come back unless I call you back. I think the best way I can get over it is alone.”

I drove off that night without having said a thing to change her mind.  I was so shocked I couldn’t think of anything that might persuade her she was being unreasonable, let alone persuade her to relent.

We didn’t see each other again for several months, but we eventually got together again a few times — albeit never sexually.  I was unsure of her now — too unsure to want sex with her.  But I wasn’t angry with her, and I bore no grudge against her.  Diane’s irrational behavior had been incomprehensible to me,  and — instead of resenting her dumping me — I came to feel a bit sorry for her.  Whatever had provoked her behavior was a mystery to me, but she was above all a friend — I was unwilling to condemn her for it.

I am still not entirely certain what her rejection was all about, but in the intervening decades I’ve come to know a great deal more about the likely long term effects of childhood sexual abuse.  Although I will never really know, it seems plausible to me now that the abuse of her lay behind her behavior towards me.  One thing I do know:  The victims of child abuse do not merely include the children themselves, but everyone who will ever love those children at any point in their lives — from childhood through old age — so long as any fallout from the abuse still remains.

It’s been decades since I last saw Diane, and I imagine, having known her, that she has worked out over time all or almost all of the problems the abuse of her caused.  She seems to have had a genius for that.  But I cannot imagine she’s paid anything but a heavy price, no matter how successful she’s been in the end.

Abuse, Aesthetics, Alienation, Alienation From Self, Authenticity, Beauty, Being True To Yourself, Competence, Consciousness, Culture, Emotional Abuse, Emotions, Ethics, Free Spirit, Friends, Guilt, Happiness, Health, Horniness, Human Nature, Learning, Life, Lovers, Mental and Emotional Health, Morality, Morals, Obligations to Society, Philosophy, Physical Abuse, Psychological Abuse, Psychology, Quality of Life, Regret, Relationships, Self, Self Identity, Self Image, Self-determination, Self-Integration, Sense of Relatedness, Sexual Abuse, Shame, Society, Spiritual Alienation, Spirituality, Talents and Skills, Truth, Values, Verbal Abuse

Be Yourself! A Guide From Why to How

(About a 30 minute read)

Once, the Hassidic rabbi Zusya came to his followers with tears in his eyes. They asked him:  “Zusya, what’s the matter?”

And he told them about his vision; “I learned the question that the angels will one day ask me about my life.”

The followers were puzzled. “Zusya, you are pious. You are scholarly and humble. You have helped so many of us. What question about your life could be so terrifying that you would be frightened to answer it?”

Zusya replied; “I have learned that the angels will not ask me, ‘Why weren’t you a Moses, leading your people out of slavery?’ and that the angels will not ask me, ‘Why weren’t you a Joshua, leading your people into the promised land?'”

Zusya sighed; “They will say to me, ‘Zusya, why weren’t you Zusya?'”

— Martin Buber, Tales of the Hasidim

If a wily pirate could hide his gold anywhere — even somewhere fanciful — he’d be wise to hide it beneath a cliché, because almost no one digs very deep beneath a cliché.  They are the nearly perfect mask for whatever truths they might express.  I believe it was Hegel who somewhere said, “Precisely because something is obvious, it is not at all well known”.

It is also easy to ridicule clichés.  I think that might be because, over time, they accumulate so many different interpretations of them that you’re sure to find a few that are ridiculous.  “Be true to yourself” is no exception.  “Hi! I’m Ronnie, the successful author and self-help guru who is here to help revolutionize your life!  If you’re like me, you have wondered at times:  Is the feeling I have of something moving deep down inside me calling me to a new life, or is it just intestinal gas, and is there a difference?  Well, you’re in luck!  Now you, too, can be true to yourself, discover your inner purpose in life, and improve your bowl movements, all for the low low price of $29.95!  Simply call…”.   Yet, the notion that one should be true to him- or herself is unlikely to go away.

For one thing, it seems even those who make the most fun of the notion feel just as much disappointment as nearly everyone else when they fail to be true to themselves.  Simply apply for a job you don’t want, but need: it’s only human to feel “this isn’t right for me”.  Marry the wrong person, same feeling multiplied.  Just sucking up to someone is likely to induce such feelings to some extent.  For many of us, something as slight as wearing the “wrong” clothing can trip our sense of self — and regardless of what we think of the cliché itself.

It runs deeper than that, though.  Infants are born incapable of self awareness, but then, generally between the ages of 18 and 24 months, they develop a sense of self.  For the rest of their childhood, they are defining and re-defining that sense of self.   “Mommie,  I’m not like that!”

During adolescence and young adulthood, the search for self intensifies.  The “13 to 30 group” is in some ways even more experimental than children in defining and re-defining their sense of self.  At times they seem to test everything — fashions, music, literature, hobbies, jobs, even friends and lovers — against the standard of “is it me or not me”.

Midlife seems to be a time when most of us deepen our commitments to things that match our self-images — or feel trapped in lives that seem not our own.  It is often during midlife that many people, perhaps for the first time, see with some clarity just how powerfully their upbringing influenced or determined their sense of self, and how much their sense of self has had to do with their choices in life.

During our elder years [Author’s note to loyal reader Teresums: I’m not there yet, Teresums.  So shuddup!], we tend to become increasingly reflective, and our reflections so often turn to whether we lived true to ourselves.  These reflections can become especially poignant as we lay dying.  Bronnie Ware is an Australian author who for many years worked as a caregiver with people who were dying.  Typically, she was with a patient for the last three to twelve weeks of their lives.

When she asked her patients whether they had any regrets about how they had lived their lives, she discovered the single most common regret dying people have is that they have not been true to themselves:

“I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”

This was the most common regret of all.  When people realize that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people have not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.

“Be true to yourself” is a cliché, but it seems to be one cliché that’s well worth digging into.

Why be true to oneself?

But why should one try to be true to oneself — apart from merely trying to avoid being disappointed in old age?  As it turns out, being true to oneself, or authenticity, correlates well with life satisfaction and a sense of well-being.  That’s not only psychological well-being, but physical well-being, too.

In addition, it fulfills the human desire to stand out a bit from others.  And it also correlates with greater realism, mindfulness, vitality, self-esteem, goal pursuits, and coping skills.  In contrast, those who score relatively low on psychological tests of authenticity “…are likely to be defensive, suspicious, confused, and easily overwhelmed.”

Beyond those points, authenticity seems to be an absolute requirement for a genuinely intimate relationship.  It is very difficult, perhaps impossible, to be loved for who you are when you are, in fact, hiding who you are.

Last, there is a subtle, but still observable beauty to authentic people.  I don’t know whether this is evident to everyone — aesthetic things tend not to be — but I myself at least have noticed that people who are mostly true to themselves tend not only to radiate a sort of beauty (and charisma), but they also tend to be inspiring, even at times liberating, to be around.  And these qualities do not seem to depend on their physical appearance per se.  I’ve noticed these things in conventionally plain or ordinary, and in conventionally pretty or handsome, people both.

Living as authentically as ethically possible can have it’s downsides — for instance, it might alienate us from folks who fail to approve of our real selves — but it certainly has its upsides too.

What are the obstacles to being true to oneself?

Most people are other people.  Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation. –Oscar Wilde

As it happens, there are more obstacles to being true to oneself than there are reasons to be so.  One of the biggest of those obstacles is the fact that so many of us have quite rigid and inflexible notions of ourselves.  Notions that at the very least hamper our understanding of who really are.  I have written extensively on that issue here.  A second, and I think, equally important obstacle can be broadly summed up as “society and/or culture”.

“Society and culture” cover quite a number of things.  Obviously, social pressure to conform is among those things.  Also among those things are the various ideas and expectations of who we should or should not be.

It seems human nature to want to live up to the expectations of others.  Apparently, most of us do it every day in ways both great and small.  A friend of mine — someone I very much admire — is a middle-aged woman who is now discovering that she has spent her life living for others. She was raised to put the wants and needs of everyone else before her own.  And that message was both reinforced and justified by her family’s fundamentalist religion.

For instance: The notion she was morally obligated to subvert herself in order to please others was so deeply instilled in her during her upbringing that she felt shock the first time someone stated to her that a woman is not required to have sex with her husband if she does not feel like it.

Today she is discovering — one step at a time — her own wants and needs. For the fact is, when you have been thoroughly taught to put the wants and needs of everyone else before your own, you most often suppress your own wants and needs to the point that you no longer clearly know what they are.  It is easy to tell such a person, “Be true to yourself”.  But that person might have a long ways to go before she knows her real wants and needs, let alone is confident of her right to them.

Yet, we do not need to be first abused — as she was — before we cast ourselves aside in order to live up the expectations of others. Abuse certainly helps us do that — the very essence of abuse is that it unnecessarily alienates us from our true selves — but abuse is not required for us to fail to be true to ourselves.  We are social animals.  Profoundly social animals.  Almost anyone of us, if he or she really thought about it, could list dozens of ways in which our noble species of poo-flinging apes manifests its social nature.

It is deeply ingrained in us to desire companionship, to want the acceptance of others, to value love and friendship.  When scientists ask us what it takes to make us happy, we quite often tell them the single most important factor in our happiness is the quality of our relationships with our friends and family. Most of us at one time or another bargain for friendship by trading who we are for what someone expects of us.

Yet, our social nature can be turned on us to alienate us from ourselves.  If nearly anyone of us could list dozens ways in which our species manifests its social nature, anyone of us could list hundreds of ways in which we are encouraged, cajoled, wheedled, browbeat, bullied, or forced to subvert ourselves in order to live up to someone’s expectations.

The most loving parents and relatives commit murder with smiles on their faces. They force us to destroy the person we really are: a subtle kind of murder.  ― Jim Morrison

Closely related to the sometimes alienating influence other people’s expectations can have on us is the fact that authenticity can bring on the judgement and condemnation of others.  I have found that the people most likely to object to someone behaving authentically are those nearest the person who, under certain circumstances, might perceive such behavior as a threat to their relationship with the person.  Suppose, for instance, that you had gone years without really being very true to yourself.  Then you start changing.  That can cause quite a bit of consternation among the people who have up until then relied on your false front.  In my experience, though, if you’ve always been down to earth with someone, they are more likely to be attracted to your authenticity than concerned by it.

Authenticity crucially depends on accurate self-knowledge.  Yet, self-knowledge is something many of us would prefer not to have too much of.  We like the “good parts”, the fact we can be kind, intelligent, industrious, creative, witty, honest, and so forth.  But we wish to ignore or deny the rest of it, the fact that we can also be cruel, petty, malicious, cunning, lying, cheating, and so forth.  If we are very good at denial, then we’ve never done any of those latter things at all!

Yet, authenticity not only requires us to be honest with ourselves, it also tends to eventually require of us to do something far more difficult than be honest.  There can come a day when it requires us to accept ourselves as we are, without condemnation or praise. For any kind of judgement, in the end, distorts what we see.  Ultimately, the surest knowledge of ourselves comes from seeing ourselves as dispassionately and non-judgmentally as we might look at the tree in our neighbor’s yard, with the eyes not of a moralist, but of a sage.  This, however, is extraordinarily difficult.

The ability to observe without evaluating is the highest form of intelligence. ― Jiddu Krishnamurti

There are other obstacles to being true to oneself, but those seem to me the most mentionable.  (Consequently, I have mentioned them.  You can trust me to do things like that.)   I think becoming aware of the obstacles is a step towards surmounting them.

What is the self?

It is one thing to say, “Be true to yourself”, but what is the self that one should be true to?   “Who am I?”, is perhaps the second oldest question on earth, next only to, “Why the hell did we elect that guy?”

Perhaps the most popular Western notion of the self — the notion most of us in the West would subscribe to today were we asked about it — is that we have some essential core, some single, stable core self, that makes us, us, and that is more or less constant through-out our lives.  In some profound sense, we are born, live, and die the same person.  In Western philosophy, for instance, that notion dates at least all the way back to Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, roughly 2,400 years ago.  The Christian and Muslim concepts of the soul reflect it.  It is not, however, an ubiquitous notion.

In Japan, for instance, there are many people who believe the self is like an onion.  You can delve deeper and deeper into it, layer after layer, until you reach — not a core, for an onion has no proper core — but nothingness.  The peoples of at least several Native American nations were accustomed to change their names more or less periodically through-out their lives to reflect the changes they had undergone in themselves (as were some Japanese).  And not even every ancient Greek believed in a permanent core self.  As Heraclitus famously said, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”

Near as I can see, Walt Whitman was getting at the truth when, in Song of Myself, he proclaimed, “Do I contradict myself?  Very well, then, I contradict myself; I am large — I contain multitudes”.  And I think Anaïs Nin must have been seeing much the same thing as Whitman when she said, “I take pleasure in my transformations. I look quiet and consistent, but few know how many women there are in me.”

The self,  simply observed, and without analyzing it further than to observe it, seems to resemble nothing so much as a mess: Layer upon layer of often conflicting memories, sensations, impressions, ideas, desires, fears, emotions, sentiments, and behaviors unified only by a constant current of horniness running though-out all of it.

But a messy self fails to satisfy most of us, who seem to think of ourselves in the old way when it comes to being true to ourselves.  Ask a person who he or she is, authentically is, and they do not usually respond, “a contradictory, incoherent  multitude”, unless of course, they’re either drunk or are for the first time in their lives asking someone out on a date.

Is it possible to discern in all that mess a core or true self?

I think so.  What is necessary is to look for factors — such as behaviors, emotions, etc. — that can be considered “traits” in the sense of being sustained across situations and at least somewhat over time.

A good example of a trait might be a talent or aptitude for something, such as music, athletics, mathematics, and so forth.  Generally, talents seem to endure through-out life.  The skills built on them can fade with disuse, but the talent itself — the predisposition or aptitude for something — seems to last.

Another example might be how consciousness basically works.  Here, I do not mean one’s fleeting awarenesses, which come, shift, and go moment to moment, but rather the fundamental workings of consciousness.  For instance, consciousness quite often ranks things according to some measure of superiority or inferiority.  It can be barely noticeable that it does this, but it does it rather frequently.  On my way to the store today, a homeless man introduced himself to me with the words, “You look like Arlo Guthrie!”

The first thing my consciousness did was pat itself on the back for being compared to such a distinguished gentleman, but some part of it also noted that the homeless man didn’t mention an even more distinguished gentleman than Mr. Guthrie.  What?  I don’t rank a Brad Pitt?  There are fundamental, predictable ways in which consciousness works.  Just as I consider consciousness itself a trait of my core self, I also consider its basic workings traits of my core self.

A third example of our core traits might be any reasonably enduring desires and fears we have, such as a desire for fame, health, money, or to be favorably compared to Brad Pitt.  Such desires need not last a lifetime for us to consider them part of our true selves during at least some phase of our lives.  They are, however, more likely to change over time than, say, our talents.

To say that our core or true selves are comprised of traits is to imply that more fleeting or limited behaviors, emotions, sensations, ideas, etc. are not actually our core or true selves.  That only seems to make sense to me.  We all have moments, days, and even longer periods when we are “not ourselves”, meaning we are feeling, thinking, or acting in ways that are uncharacteristic of us.  That are not traits of us.

What does it mean to be true to ourselves?

Do exactly what you would do if you felt most secure. — Meister Eckhart

When I recall the appearance of various people in my life,  I seem to remember some for their smiles, some for their laughter, others for their bodies, still others for the voices, and so on.   But Paul Mundschenk I remember for his shrug.

It was a shrug that I once described as “hinting of nature’s perfect indifference, but without any coldness”, and I still think that’s a pretty good description of it.  As I recall, Mundschenk, who was a professor of Comparative Religious Studies, was especially apt to shrug when anyone said something to him about himself.  “Thank you, Dr. Mundschenk, that was very kind of you!”  Shrug.  His words would say, “You’re welcome”, but his shrug would say, “I’m more or less indifferent to myself”.

Most of us, when we’re in our teens, can detect a fake from across a room.  We might not know how we ourselves can be authentic (largely, I think, because we don’t yet know ourselves well enough) but we can sure tell when someone is faking it.   As teens, we tend to have little sympathy for fakes.  Especially adult fakes.

We still think that, the older you get, the truer to yourself you are able to become, as if being true to yourself were as easy as growing into new privileges, such as staying up late, or getting to borrow Dad’s car.  It hasn’t occurred to us yet that most adults are under tremendous, sustained pressure to be false to themselves.  Nor has it usually occurred to us that we will soon enough feel those pressures too.

If that’s the case, then I think there might be a sense in which Paul Mundschenk never grew up.  That is, he just gave you the impression of a man who has never accepted the common wisdom that he must put on a front to get on in the world. He had an air of innocence about him, as if it had somehow simply escaped his notice that he ought to conform to the expectations of others, and that any of us who refuses to do so is asking for all sorts of trouble.

Now, to be as precise as a dentist when untangling the inexplicably tangled braces of a couple of kids the morning after prom night, Mundschenk did not seem a defiant man.  He was anything but confrontational.  Anything but contrary.

There are people who are naturally contrary, or naturally defiant, and they are often mistaken for being authentic, even exceptionally authentic.  But their “authenticity” is more of a reaction to others, an opposition to them.  True authenticity comes not in reaction to others, but comes from oneself, and comes irregardless of others.

Rather than being some sort of defiance, Mundschenk’s notably open and honest individualism seemed deeply rooted in a remarkable indifference to putting on any masks or airs.  He simply couldn’t be bothered to conform, if that wasn’t what he already wanted to do.

What then, was at the heart of Mundschenk’s authenticity?  For our purposes here, we may define being true to oneself,  or authenticity, as “the unobstructed operation of one’s true- or core-self in one’s daily enterprise”.

The definition is not my own, but comes from the work of Micheal Kernis and Brian Goldman, two of the most notable pioneers in the psychology of authenticity.    Kernis and Goldman believe that authenticity is comprised of four components:

  1. Awareness: Accurate and comprehensive self-knowledge along with a willingness to learn more.
  2. Unbiased processing:  Objectively evaluating any self-relevant information, be the source internal or external.
  3. Behavior: Acting on the basis of one’s internal values, needs, and preferences, and not as a consequence of any external goals.
  4. Relational Orientation: Revealing one’s true self in close relationships.

There can be no such thing as a step-by-step guide to how to become more authentic.  The process is too variable, too much dependent on the individual involved. Yet, I believe Kernis’ and Goldman’s “four components” offer a generalized point of departure for us.

First, authenticity is virtually impossible without we know ourselves. Unless we have accurate, up to date knowledge of who we are, very little else can be accomplished.

That’s not to say we will ever completely know ourselves.  I don’t think that’s even possible. But we can we can usually get a fair understanding of ourselves, an understanding sufficient to guide us in being true to ourselves.  A key thing is to keep it up to date, stay open to changing our self-image as we ourselves change.

Some people prefer to introspect in order to discover themselves, but I have found introspection to be unreliable.  For every genuine fact about myself that I’ve discovered through introspection, I’ve discovered a dozen things that merely had the misleading appearance of fact.  Better than introspection for me has been to as dispassionately as possible watch how my consciousness responds in relationship to the things in my environment, very much including the people.

If that is difficult for you to do, it can be made easier by keeping a daily journal for a month or so in which you write down your thoughts, feelings, and behavior towards the things in your environment whenever you have an opportunity to do so.  Be as comprehensive and as honest as you can be.  Then review the journal each evening.  You will soon enough see patterns emerge, insights you’ve never had before, and your understanding of yourself will most likely be multiplied (unless your attention is divided.  Division, as everyone knows, is the opposite of multiplication).

Second, as much as decency and your circumstances will permit, act according to your own needs, wants, desires, preferences, and values. Avoid, if possible, acting according to the expectations, preferences, etc of others. Again, this can require a great deal of self-knowledge to accomplish.

Last, if you do not already have friends with whom you can be yourself, find and cultivate such friendships.  This is more important than it might sound at first.  For one thing, it can be difficult getting to know yourself if you do not have in your life anyone you can be open and revealing with.  And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  I discuss some aspects of this matter more fully here.

If you are unfortunate enough to be in a “close” relationship with someone who you do not feel comfortable being yourself with, seriously consider distancing yourself, or even ending the relationship.  Do not be afraid of being lonely for awhile.  In my experience, there is no greater loneliness than that felt when in a relationship with someone who fundamentally rejects you.  You are most likely already feeling as lonely as you’ll ever feel being by yourself.

Self-knowledge, self-directed behavior, and appropriate relationships are all key to being true to ourselves.

  The Limits of Being True to Yourself and the Nature of Abuse

The ideal adult human in my view is an authentic, functional individual who is socially and environmentally responsible.  Social and environmental responsibility potentially place restraints or limits on his or her authenticity.  I see those limits as necessary, even though they might amount to alienations of oneself.  Otherwise, a serial killer, say, might justify their crimes as “being true to themselves”.  But I have  written more about that here.

Also in my alarming opinion, the very heart and core nature of all manner of abuse — physical abuse, mental abuse, verbal abuse, even sexual abuse — is to unnecessarily alienate us, or tend to unnecessarily alienate us, from our true selves.  I haven’t written much on that elsewhere, so I can’t link you to anything.  At least not yet.  You are so lucky!

Fancy Summary

Authenticity or being true to oneself is not for the faint hearted. It can be a taxing and difficult road to travel requiring sacrifices, the least of which might be estrangement from folks who disapprove of you, the real you.  However, I have found that such things are far easier to take and cope with when you are being true to yourself than when you are being false and they reject you anyway.

That seems to me to tie into something else I’ve noticed:  When we do our best — which varies from time to time — we regret failures so much less than when we fail while “slacking off”.  This seems true to me not only in accomplishing tasks, but in such things as far afield as romantic love.  And I suspect something of the same principle is at work with authenticity.  When we are being authentic, we are inevitably doing our best.

In this single blog post I have tried to offer up my ideas about the reasons why we try to be authentic, the major obstacles to our being authentic, the nature of our core self,  the meaning of authenticity, and a hint of the limits to being authentic.

Naturally, there is so much more to it — all of it — than can be covered in a mere blog post, even a long one.   Anyone interested in more of my own writings on the subject can find some of them linked to here.  I would suggest Danielle Goes to an Erotic Dance Club as a good place to start because it provides a relatively unique, out-of-the-box perspective on authenticity.

Thank you for reading!  Please feel warmly invited to comment on this post!  I would love to hear your own thoughts and feelings about authenticity!

Abuse, Emotional Abuse, Family, Internet, Oppression, Physical Abuse, Psychological Abuse, Quality of Life, Relationships, Self Image, Sexual Abuse, Verbal Abuse

Getting Around Abuse

What proportion of people are abusive?   One percent?  Five percent?  More?

I haven’t been able to confirm this, but I recently heard of a study that concluded abusers like to think — and say — there are many many more abusers out there than there actually are. This makes the abuser feel normal. It can also serve to demoralize their victims to the point where they will not fight back.

Another thing abusers  try to do is isolate their victims.  It’s a classic pattern.  If they are in a relationship with you, they will usually try to alienate you from your friends and family.  They might be hypercritical of anyone you get close to.  Or they might throw roadblocks in your way of seeing that person.  My second wife, who was abusive, used to oppose the efforts I made to keep in touch with my family.  She would do anything from feign illness to start a major fight the day we were to visit them.  The only friends we had as a couple were her friends.

Yet, I’ve been wondering whether the internet is making it more difficult for abusers to isolate their victims. I seem to have noticed that at least several people I’m acquainted with are using the internet as a means of finding the support and affirmation that’s missing from their homes.

It may not be a perfect solution, but it seems to give at least some folks a perspective on themselves that counters the abuser’s take on them.

So, what do you think?  Are people using the net to circumvent their abuser’s efforts to isolate them?  And if so, how effective is it?

___________

Suggested Reading:  “Eight Signs of Partner Abuse”.

Culture, Health, Political Issues, Professionals, Prostitution, Quality of Life, Sexual Abuse, Sexuality, Society, Work

Should Prostitution be both Legalized and Professionalized?

 

I cannot think of a safer nor more benign use of our politician’s time than to have them occupied with drafting legislation to turn prostitution into a profession.

It seems quite reasonable to require prostitutes know all sorts of things, from advanced sexual techniques to first aide, hygiene and disease prevention.   From a bit of psychology to a bit of financial management.  I envision requiring the equivalent of an associate’s degree to work as a prostitute.

Of course, my reforms would not stop there.  I’d not only require that a prostitute have a degree (or at least a certificate), but that he or she belong to a professional association, in the manner of the Bar Associations.  And then layer onto all that the regulation and monitoring of working prostitutes.

Naturally, the only thing that prevents my suggestion from being the most ridiculous thing that I have ever heard of is the plain fact that the current system — the one actually being used — is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard of.

So, what do you think?  Would my scheme be an improvement?  And how would you deal with the problem of prostitution?

Abuse, Emotional Abuse, Physical Abuse, Psychological Abuse, Sexual Abuse, Verbal Abuse

Eight Signs of Partner Abuse

I’ve posted these eight signs of partner abuse before, but I think they are important enough to post again from time to time. So, here are eight signs of partner abuse. Please answer “yes” or “no” to each statement.

I am afraid of my partner.

I cannot express my opinions or my feelings without being afraid of my partner’s reaction.

I always ask my partner for permission to see my family or friends, to spend money, or to buy something for myself.

I constantly manipulate myself, my children and my environment in order to make things “just so” for my partner.

I try and try to please my partner only to be criticized again.

I sometimes feel like I am living with two people, a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde.

I am confused about the difference in the way my partner views our relationship and the way I see it.

I am beginning to believe all the terrible things my partner says about me and accuses me of. Sometimes I’m not sure what is real anymore. Maybe I’m going crazy.

If you answered “yes” to four or more of these eight signs of partner abuse, you are being abused. Please talk to a doctor, therapist, counselor,  or other professional about it as soon as possible. If you do not have the option of talking with a professional about it, talk with a friend or someone you respect.

Abuse, Emotional Abuse, Love, Mature Love, Physical Abuse, Psychological Abuse, Quality of Life, Racism, Relationships, Romantic Love, Sexual Abuse, Sexuality, Verbal Abuse

Why Women Sometimes Become Addicted to Abusive Partners

Have you ever wondered why anyone might become addicted to an abusive partner and simply cannot leave them for long?

As most adults know, a lot of women seem to have a great deal of emotional difficulty leaving an abusive spouse. In fact, some women will stay forever with such a spouse, though he (or she) destroys their mental and emotional well-being, crushes their self-esteem, and — perhaps — even threatens their lives or the lives of their children. And, sometimes, abused men have much the same problem leaving an abusive spouse as abused women do.

However, it now appears that science is in the process of revealing the underlying reasons why (1) women seem to have such difficulty leaving an abusive spouse, and why (2) women seem to have much greater difficulty than men leaving an abusive spouse. But to understand what science has to say about it, we must begin by discussing popular notions of love.

If you ask most people who are in lasting relationships — including marriage — to describe love to you, they will most often describe the warm and fuzzy feelings that oxytocin produces in us of trust, love, and so forth. Oxytocin is a neurochemical that creates in us the emotions we usually associate with our most important emotional bonds to other people. Such as our warm and fuzzy emotional bonds to our kids, to our parents, to our siblings, and to our spouses. When people talk about their feelings of love for someone, they quite often describe the emotions produced by oxytocin.

Oxytocin is highly addictive. Some scientists even describe oxytocin as being more addictive than heroin. And — although it doesn’t have all that much to do with newly minted romantic love, oxytocin seems to very frequently dominate the feelings we have in long-term, lasting relationships. It’s addictive qualities are cumulative. That is, the longer you are physically with someone, the more oxytocin will bond you to them.

Like many addictive chemicals, oxytocin does not immediately produce withdrawal symptoms. Usually, there’s about a three (3) day wait between your last oxytocin fix and the onset of withdrawal symptoms. So, if you are like most of us, then you can expect to go from two to four days before you start missing — painfully missing — someone to whom you are heavily bonded.

To put all of the above in context, a woman leaving an abusive relationship has roughly three days before the onset of oxytocin withdrawal symptoms, when she will discover that she is painfully missing her ex. And, according to some scientists, those withdrawal symptoms, when they hit her, can even at times be more severe than if she were withdrawing from an heroine addiction.

But the above is further compounded by the fact the poor woman — the woman leaving an abusive relationship — has been taught her entire life to call the feelings produced by oxytocin — to call those feelings, “love”.
So, three days after she leaves the person who is beating her, and/or in some other ways abusing her, she starts to crave him. She starts to miss him painfully. And she thinks — she believes — that her painful feelings of oxytocin withdrawal mean she is still in love with him.

Both her feelings and her beliefs about her feelings encourage her to return to her abuser.

Up to a point, abused men go through the same process as women. But there is one major difference between men and women here. It seems that the effects of oxytocin on us are significantly stronger in women than in men. Studies have now shown that estrogen, the so-called “female hormone”, multiplies the effects on us of oxytocin by — at the very least — a factor of 10. Hence, women usually find it far, far more emotionally difficult to permanently leave an abusive partner than men do.

At any rate, that seems to be the most recent, up to date, explanation that science currently offers as to why anyone might become addicted to an abusive partner, and why women tend to become more addicted to abusive partners than men. Do you think the science on this matter sheds any light at all on any relationships you have known about? Why or why not?

Abuse, Emotional Abuse, Oppression, Physical Abuse, Psychological Abuse, Quality of Life, Racism, Self, Sexual Abuse, Verbal Abuse

What is Oppression?

Suppose, for a moment, the world were to agree that a person is oppressed if and when something (such as another person, a government, or a society) causes them to become alienated from themselves.  That is, prevents them from being true to themselves.  If the world understood that to be oppression, then what might be the consequences?

In practice, I think there might be quite a few problems with defining oppression in those terms unless we were to also distinguish between necessary and unnecessary oppression.  Thus, necessary oppression could be defined as oppression that is necessary to prevent one person from unjustly harming another, while unnecessary oppression could be defined as oppression that serves no such purpose.

For instance:  Let’s say that, in stealing from others,  I am in some significant sense being true to myself.  Any person, government, or society that tried to prevent me from stealing would, by our definition of oppression, be oppressing me.  So, if oppression is morally wrong, then I could argue no person, no government, nor any society had a moral right to prevent me from stealing.

On the other hand, if oppression is morally right whenever it is done to prevent one person from unjustly harming another, then in so far as stealing from someone harms them, it is moral for others to prevent me from stealing even though doing so also prevents me from being true to myself.

All of the above seems simple enough, but does it work?  Is it an adequate definition of oppression? If not, then what is oppression?