Friday, March 19, 2010


"As a younger woman, I didn't hesitate to bare my body. As an older woman, I just as freely bare my soul." -- Anonymous

My fourtieth high school reunion is this year, and many of us are starting to hook up via Facebook and email lists. The excitement about getting together is building and it seems more fervent this time around.

I've been corresponding with some of my old friends lately. I met a few girlfriends in Charleston a couple of weeks ago, and I've exchanged emails with one of the first guys I ever kissed. I'm finding that we have no trouble telling the most intimate and soul-baring details of our lives now that we're in our fifties. Right away we find ourselves discussing our drug and alcohol abuse, our secret childhood pain. And in these settings, I haven't felt any of the old insecurities I felt about being honest with myself and friends when I was in junior high and high school.

I've recognized a pattern in my life from these conversations, though, a habit of doing things that made me afraid. This is how I feel about the exhibit (I've decided to call it that, because it's not an opening in the true sense of the word). I'm afraid I'm in over my head. I'm afraid of what people will think of my photographs. I'm afraid no one will show up; I'm afraid that a lot of people will show up.

Is there anyone alive who is healthily immune to the opinions of others? Is this even possible? And if we have to live with this fear of judgment, how do we do it in a way that contributes to our growth and not our aversion to taking on new challenges?

Each little successful undertaking of something frightening gives me courage to try something else. But some days, I wonder if the need to feel fear motiviates me more than the need to feel challenged.


Virginia S. Wood, PsyD said...

Oh, wow. What a wonderful, wonderful set of questions you ask! I'm afraid this comment is gonna amount to a whole new post. So feel free to tell me to take it back to my own blog, OK?

"Is there anyone alive who is healthily immune to the opinions of others? Is this even possible?"

It's possible to be immune, but it's not healthy. We call those folk who are "sociopaths"! You wouldn't want to be one.

It is a foolish conceit in Western society that individuation and self-sufficiency should be the norm, the goal of healthy development. (Unfortunately, psychology perpetuated that crap for nearly 100 years.)

Fact is, humankind is hard-wired to need--nay, require--feedback from other humans. When we don't get it, things (like emotions, conscience, blood pressure) all go haywire. Indeed, this attachment to other humans "is not just a good idea, it's the law", according to the authors of A General Theory of Love.

"And if we have to live with this fear of judgment. . ."

The problem is here is not our lack of immunity, but our fear. If we grow up with healthy (safe, solid, loving) relationships with parents who are capable of seeing us for who we are and appreciating us as we are, we don't fear people's feedback. It doesn't feel like "judgment". A good bit of it should have been positive, anyway, so as adults we expect to hear good along with the bad, and what's to fear about that?

. . . how do we do it in a way that contributes to our growth and not our aversion to taking on new challenges?

And here's the cool part: You already have the answer! To wit,"Each little successful undertaking of something frightening gives me courage to try something else."

What we have to do is re-learn how to have healthy relationships--with whom I mean everyone from our life partners to the kid behind the grocery-store cash register. And we do it just like we learn anything else--by trying it over and over,observing the results each time, and adjusting our efforts accordingly.

"But some days, I wonder if the need to feel fear motiviates me more than the need to feel challenged."

Could be. For some of us, our early relationships were so toxic that our literal, physical brain development was derailed, delayed, stunted. The kinds of neurochemicals that would have been stimulated by love, by affection, by connection then have to be stimulated by chemicals, obsessive-compulsive behaviors, risk-taking, or some combination of the above. In the process of which we do still more damage, and become still less able to relate.

When we give up our addictions, we have to relearn how to relate. Which is exactly what you are doing now.

I so wish I could be there for your exhibit. Which, btw, I thought was an opening. Are you not getting your own gallery?

Anonymous said...

What I remember from Jr/Sr High is that (a) at my house, at least, my sister and I were inculcated from birth with the admonishment never to "air our dirty laundry in public". And (b)all us kids had absorbed our parents' negative attitudes about a lot of things. We weren't safe to talk to!

I had one girlfriend who know about my alcoholic mother, and I about her alcoholic father. Out of a graduating class of how many? Only we two spoke to each other about it, in whispers in each others' bedrooms, and really, probably, no more than once or twice in all the years we knew each other. Why? Because there was such intense shame around having a "drunk" in the family.

A neighbor, also a classmate of ours, was being physically abused, and not just slapped around. Her mother had, in a drunken rage, actually tried to kill her. When I asked her about the obvious evidence, she lied. When I told my mother, she said the family was "white trash" and discouraged me from hanging out with her. Somebody finally reported them to DSS, but even that became fodder for gossip and more shame and lying.

My mother hit me all the time. I did not want to be "white trash" in someone else's eyes, so although I wished DSS would come for us, I kept my mouth shut.

We all teased each other cruelly. We were could never have been resources to each other. There was a girl who got pregnant while we were still at Aycock, and it was widely rumored on the girls'-washroom grapevine that "she was having sex with her father". Ugly things were said about that poor girl, and not always behind her back. Nobody in our crowd who was being sexually abused, having heard that, would ever say one word to anybody at school about it, ever.

All I can say is, thank God we grew up and will talk now. And that we can listen.

mamie said...

Wow, Virginia and Anon, you have given me a great deal to think about. Thank you for taking the time to write such a full comment.

Virginia, the gallery is in my church, and it isn't a working gallery. So no, I'm not getting my own gallery, just using the space to show the result of my photographic journey through the neighborhood surrounding the park. I have thought about how we could more fully use the space as a gallery, and I may have photographs there again, but for now, this is a one-shot wonder. I hope it's a wonder, at least! :)

mamie said...

In re-reading both your comments, I have to add something. It is gratifying to know that there has been help available to us as adults that has effected healing. Openness is something I'm very thankful for too. Thanks for talking about it here.

Anonymous said...

I hope that one day doctors will find a way to alter the deep chasms of the human brain, and eliminate the section that is uber-sensitive and over analytical. Until that day comes, I will continue to consume cupcakes and Strawberry Quik to sooth my mental calamity.

mamie said...

Goddess, I hope science never figures out how to eliminate the part of your brain that creates comments that make me laugh. Thanks for starting my day with a chuckle.