Sunday, August 29, 2010

The prison of humiliation. It was only this week that I started to think about how all the strategies I have for avoiding public humiliation are not makeshift, improvised coping techniques for particular problems, but form part of an overarching structure in which I feel trapped.

It is pretty hard to convey how comprehensively humiliated I feel pretty much all the time, and how my life is a constant struggle to anticipate and head off other people's disgust or ridicule. I am unable to forget even the most superficial embarrassment, and I constantly torment myself with the memories of past humiliations.

Here is just one example. Today I was on a panel at the Writers' Festival and the moderator put me on the spot to suggest a new cult TV show. I managed to remember Spartacus: Blood and Sand, but I mistakenly called it Hercules: Blood and Sand. I have been beating myself up about this all day, thinking wretchedly about how I have completely ruined my professional credibility, and how everyone must have laughed at my mistake behind my back.

Then later tonight I came across this article from the New York Times Magazine about pre-schoolers with depression. The story that really resonated with me was the cruel experiment they played on an anxious little kid – the therapist told the kid a particular teacup was her favourite and encouraged him to take it, but it was rigged so its handle would fall off. Then the therapist acted all upset that the kid had broken her cup.
“I feel like I’m going to go into the trash can,” he said.

“Who would put you in the trash can?” his mother asked.

“You would,” he replied in an accusatory voice.

“I would never do that,” she said. “I love you. Accidents happen.” The boy seemed to recover, and they chatted about her earrings, which he flicked playfully with a forefinger. Then his face drooped again.

“Are you mad at me?” he asked, and then added, almost angrily, “I never want to do this activity again.”

“You’re not a bad boy,” she consoled him. Often, parents don’t realize that their children experience guilt or shame, Luby says. “In response to transgression, they tend to punish rather than reassure.

“I am a bad boy,” the boy said, ducking under the table. “I don’t think you love me now.” He started to moan from the floor, whimpering: “I’m so sad. I’m so sad.”

What fucking bastards. I know just how that kid feels, because I feel like that all the time. And they call it therapy.

Just a note to those people who have commented so far – thanks for your thoughts, which I've read, but it's been my policy for the last month or so not to approve anonymous comments. I put my name to my writing and so should you.
I do much the same and am now trying very hard not to think too deeply about it.

People do such bizarre things to children, don't they? And all without expecting repercussions or for them to react like human beings.
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