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Thursday, September 16, 2010

Do Some People Simply Enjoy Being Negative? The Shame and Guilt Cycle

A lot of us have met negative people or in some cases- are negative people. Often, we rush to judge these folks thinking that we are somehow more knowledgeable or capable than others and so we judge them quickly.

Sometimes we "assume" that there are people who enjoy being negative. They seem superficially, to actually thrive in negativity. The question then is, "do some people enjoy negativity?"

While often it may appear so, I think that making that assumption is incorrect. Let me explain.

When I started this blog I wrote a piece about Plato's, "Allegory of the Cave." A place where inhabitants of the cave, bound and fixed, viewed shadows on the cave wall. Thus the cave inhabitants believed those shapes were true representations of creatures in the cave. They assumed various projections and shadows were true only to find out upon their release- that in fact their captors were projecting shapes and images onto the cave wall.

Those projections could have been true. But in this metaphor they were not.

When you meet one of these people, someone you believe to be negative, what you are really viewing is a superficial snapshot or a shadow- that they cast. And while that shadow may appear negative initially, we simply can't assume or reach a conclusion about who they are. We have no conclusive information even though we may think we do.

I have a friend who I have repeated contact with. He absolutely lights up whenever he is involved in a conversation wherein somebody else is under attack. He is the first one to wade in and criticize another person's behavior. Gossip. He seems to enjoy this. Why?

Initially, I didn't know why. I was viewing that shadow that he cast. It might have been easy to just label him as negative and avoid him, but I did not. For over a year, I have had the opportunity to listen to him many times. I have queried him a few more. The pieces began to fall into place. Instead of seeing that shadow that he casts, I began to gain true understanding about who he is and why he is. This guy is no spring chicken either- he has been walking on rare earth for nearly 8 decades. In fact, I may understand pieces of him better than he understands himself.

I'd like to introduce the guilt, shame, and criticism cycle here.

As a child, this man was subjected to a lot of guilt, shame, and criticism. This was the path that his parents chose in their misguided belief that this was how you raise children. So it was that this boy was called lazy, stubborn, stupid. He was beat on a few times, kicked out of the house. He acquired a belief system that this is how people behave. Not knowing how to cope with all the shame and guilt he felt, he turned to booze. Alcohol was his solution- his coping mechanism. He got married- had children of his own and what do you suppose happened?

He did the very same thing to his wife and children. He treated them the only way he knew how. He criticized them, shamed them, injected the same damage that he had learned as a child. His wife divorced him (he never remarried, interestingly) and his kids hate him. Most of the people I know don't like him either. He did manage to quit drinking many years ago.

This man is still unconscious to the extent that he continues to judge others. He loves to criticize others- it makes him feel better about himself. He has never uncovered that belief system or examined it- even though it is clearly damaging and useless.

I don't think he actually enjoys this- even though it appears that he does. I think that he simply doesn't know how to live any other way. And because he projects this criticism on others- he isolates himself. People refuse to speak with him. They don't want a dose of black medicine from him. Being isolated and lonely cannot be enjoyable. At the very worst my friend is just unconscious. He doesn't understand and probably can't understand why others are more sociable, have more friends.

So I cut this guy a lot of slack. I understand the shame and guilt piece. I understand unconsciousness. And because I do, I get along well with this guy. He's still unconscious and he still takes cheap shots at me once in awhile- I just don't defend myself. I don't need to. I refuse to swallow that poison or utter any retaliatory or diminishing remarks. I must bore him to death. Sometimes he looks at me like I am deaf or perhaps he thinks I am just dense or stupid- which is fine.

I am giggling as I write this. I will see him tomorrow. He doesn't mess with me too much anymore- very often I will watch as he criticizes others. They tend to swallow his poison and thus set off one of those insane "one up and diminishing" word wars. In the end it is he who suffers and truthfully, I don't believe anyone could enjoy that too much.

Just a shadow. A little reminder of what it was like. Thanks, Plato.