Thursday, September 24, 2009
Neither getting nor keeping the desired
As well as enduring the disliked is universal…
This part of the prayer “Thoughts that Turn the Mind to the Teachings” was very much on my mind this morning. Not for myself, because I am content despite the fact there’s too much month at the end of the money, but rather, my feelings toward this topic falls toward others, several others, in fact, who would love nothing better than to use me as their personal emotional doormat. And that's not gonna happen.
I was reminded this morning of an incident that occurred in my undergrad psych class oh so many years ago. The prof wanted us to cathart about something that traumatized us in the past and we as a class were supposed to analyze the person in the hot seat.
I felt this was a really disgusting experiment. I had no desire to hear about another person’s suffering, much less dissect it, and didn’t want to participate. But we were all required to do so. I saw how this whole thing could turn into a Jerry Springer episode real fast, and I had no desire to be in the room when chairs started flying.
I had no want or desire to be a part of such an assignment, and told my prof so. He told me if I didn’t, he had no choice but give me a failing grade for that unit. So I grudgingly agreed to come up with something. Oh sure, I could dredge up something dark and nasty but I really didn’t wanna. As my dad used to say, “it’s best to leave the dead past buried,” and I was happy enough to do that.
Instead I conducted an experiment of my own. Call it my budding journalistic curiosity, or whatever, but I made sure I was going to be the last person to go because I wanted to see how people responded to this exercise in human misery. So, I sat in the back of the classroom and watched as my fellow students, excited about the prospect of using the classroom as their personal vomitorium prepare for the assignment. I watched the prof who kept a damned good poker face during the entire transaction, and wondered as I observed him and my fellow cohorts, what kind of sadistic glee he got from listening to other people’s suffering.
The first person to go and sit on the ‘hot seat’ was just chomping at the bit to do so. She’d already told us what had happened to her in the past, and was aching to tell it again, and in living color. And she did, in lurid graphic detail that I was expecting but still felt woefully unprepared for. She left out nothing. And while she was describing this horrific event in her life, she had this strange half smile on her face. What on earth could she be smiling about? What would cause someone to not only tell something that, if it had happened to me would have been carried to my grave, to acquaintances but to seem to get such pleasure from the catharsis?
I don’t know what the outcome was. I don’t know how many other people got off on what she was telling them, or how the prof praised her for having the courage to speak up. Nor did it matter. I was done.
I got up and walked out of class, went out to my car, sat and wept. I wept for her, I wept for the students who had to sit and listen to it, and I wept for myself because I just couldn’t bear to hear such suffering.
Afterwards, I went to the registrar’s office, dropped the class and opted for an Individualized psych class where all I had to do was read the textbook and take the exam.
I made an A in the class and was able to progress to entry level nursing classes, which is all I wanted out of Allied Psych anyway.
Oh what an ogress I was. I didn’t want to sit and watch someone emotionally vomit. And after spending a couple of years in Over Eater’s anonymous, where I sat watching the chat room and listening to why someone felt she had to eat a gallon of ice cream because her son missed the bus, I came to realize that once again, I was sitting in that classroom listening to someone cathart. And once again, I let it go.
Now over the years people come up to me and try to tell me about all the awful happenstances in their lives. How friend a got a divorce and her husband was…well never mind…or how cousin c had a terrible fight with sister d and wanted to lay it all out in gruesome bloody detail how badly her life has been since such and such has happened.
Before I met Lama Jigme I let people wipe their emotional feet on me, by telling me things in graphic gut wrenching detail, leaving me feeling weak and shaken (and desiring to drown all this suffering in a tub of Baskin Robbins chocolate)
And the sad irony is that these people after saying their say sigh contentedly and then tell me oh what a good listener you are. I feel so much better!
Yeah, sure of course you do. I’m happy for you…Now pardon me while I go slit my carotid artery….
So by the time I came to study with Lama Jigme, I had pretty much figured out that catharsis is a joke and a cruel one at that. But he did point it out to me, quite explicitly in his first class which came in the form of an essay called “Catharsis and the Sponge.”
He also told me, and still gently reminds me that “being spiritual doesn’t make you a doormat.”
And since I already acutely feel other’s suffering (you have no idea) I have finally found the courage to raise my hand, stop the person and tell them I cannot hear their story. They look at me like I’m an ogre and walk away. Some people never speak to me again.
Yes, catharsis is bad, no matter what pop psychology tells you. It’s not only bad, it’s cruel too. It’s cruel to the person who has to open old wounds, crueler still to the people who have to endure the person’s suffering, and perhaps the worst part is that with catharsis, the emotional vomiting never stops, which in and of itself is very harmful.
Who on earth wants to spend the rest of their lives with perpetual, emotional heartburn?
Oh but you don't understand...you've never suffered like I did...oh woe!
Sure, getting it off your chest makes you feel better, just like getting a big rock off your chest will initially make you feel better. But it doesn’t do much for the crushed bones and damaged organs and the bloody leakage coming from every orifice.
It’s much better to not only get the rock off your chest with the least amount of internal damage, and heal what has been hurt.
There are a number of ways to do this, and if you stick around, I’ll tell ya tomorrow. Maybe by then I can figure out how to post a proper link, because there’s something I really want to show ya.
But don’t expect me to cathart over it if it doesn’t work out. :D
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