23 September 2009

Thyraphobia, or Purity of Heart is to Fear One Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Not Do Again (Pt. 9)

(cont'd from previous post)

Let me elaborate on that last statement a bit. I ended the last post by saying: "And as bad a feeling as terror is, shame is even worse." Why is that?

Fear, generally, is an emotional response to something external—often something in nature. When proportional to the stimulus, or cautionary, it is understandable. It is situational. Concrete. It can be explained evolutionarily, instinctually. It is part of our animal nature as human beings.

My own experience was more profound, even neurotic. What I experienced was more powerful than my conscious, rational mind. It overcame, overwhelmed me. It paralyzed me. I had no control over it. I couldn't conquer it. It was such a bad feeling I knew I never wanted to experience it again. Yet, paradoxically, this did not provide me sufficient motivation to overcome it and simply push through the door.

There's nothing controversial there. Warriors know this and seek to induce terror in their enemies: if you cause your adversary to panic and flee the field of battle, you prevail.

But, again, however exaggerated, my own feeling of terror was a fear of something: I was terrified of falling from a great height—parachute and parachute-buddy or no.

The subsequent embarrassment I felt is a different story altogether. Where fear is outward directed, shame is self-directed. Shame is a more general emotion. Its dynamic includes such feelings as self-loathing, image-consciousness, disgust at one's vulnerabilities, perhaps even grief over one's limitations.

In my case, though set off situationally—namely by my own cowardice—it was much more existential. It was a negative emotional response to the negative emotional reaction of fear. (And in this case, two negatives don't make a positive; they double down.) I was ashamed of being afraid; and since it was I who had experienced terror, it was I of whom I was ashamed.

The situational fear would soon be allayed: the stimulus would be removed: the airplane door would be closed, and I would be once again on solid ground. I, however, the person who had experienced this profound sense of terror and could not conquer it, could not so easily be removed; I had to live with myself. And my shame.

[Without getting too analytic here, it bears remarking that perhaps I couldn't overcome my own panic simply because I didn't want to; I liked the let's call it 'ecstatic' feeling of being out of control; I failed to conquer my fear because I like the feeling of failure; I succumbed to the terror because I wanted to wallow in my own shame. Any or all of the above may or may not be the case, but that's a discussion between me and my analyst—or at least something to work out dramatically through the characters in my fiction—which, by the way, is pretty much the psychoanalytic crux of the protagonist's situation in my still-unagented and, thus, still-unpublished novel, EULOGY. Sorry for the "shameless" plug. That being said, as the subtitle to this series of posts indicates, I'll never not parachute again: I will either go up and jump no matter what, or I'll not go up.]

So, what is the learning here? What the wisdom? The take away, as they say? With regard to fear, once you remove the stimulus, you extinguish the emotion. Not so much with respect to shame; it is deeper-rooted, self-referential: to extinguish it, you must first somehow remove yourself.

And that is what I meant. Shame is a worse—more lingering, more dreadful—emotion even than terror.

(to be continued)

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