Monday, 10 July 2017

Not accepting the blame and the shame

I've just turned sixty-five. I suppose that entitles me to claim a wide and lofty perspective. You can imagine me wanting to say, 'You know, I've lived a long time; I've seen a lot, experienced a lot, and I have decades of garnered wisdom in my head.'

I only wish that were true. I won't completely devalue the effect of surviving into my sixties. If you keep your eyes and ears open, you are bound to pick up a few things worth knowing in all that time. And certainly, my powers of discrimination and good judgement are much greater than they were forty, or even twenty years ago. How could it be otherwise? So much has happened to me, some of good, some of it bad, and some of it very unusual by ordinary standards.

What I can't claim, and won't, is immunity from getting fooled. I am as vulnerable to a clever confidence trickster as anybody else. And although experience makes you wary, it doesn't make you any more intelligent: I'm strictly middle-of-the-road in that respect. This said, I do expect to keep out of trouble for a long while yet. It helps that nobody can fleece me of my life savings: those were invested - disastrously - in the Cottage, and vanished - irretrievably - when the Cottage was sold in 2011. After that episode, there will be no more 'investments' for me. My fingers have been burnt to cinders.

I mentioned things happening to me. Life-changing things. I've pondered the question, more than once, whether becoming a different person might furnish a reason to say that the mistakes and wrong things done in the distant past were not done by me, but by somebody else. And that the blame (and shame) stops with them, and does not pass to myself, even though we are, obviously, one physical entity. It's worth discussion.

So, to explain further, I am picturing the past self - a compliant and obliging creature who conformed to her parents', teachers' and workplace expectations, and occasionally made errors because she was unknowingly trapped in an unnatural role. Those errors included the way in which I socialised, and the attitudes I adopted, and how I approached 'settling down' as I got a little older.

The present me would have done things very differently. Indeed yes. But I conformed to the role given to me at the time, with seriously awful long-term results that have caused other people unhappiness. I have been made to feel shame and embarrassment along the way for each thing that did not work out as it ought to have done. To some extent, I did feel unfitted or inadequate back then, but lacked the hindsight I now enjoy, and had no better way - at the time - of tackling the relationship and other situations I found myself in. I dismissed the feelings of inadequacy because I was expected to; the problem was simply a lack of perception and experience, both of which would come with time. I was just a slow learner, but I'd get there.

That was of course self-deception, reinforced by family and workplace pressure. Those large in my life wanted me to be one thing, when really I was another.

I wish now that I had been capable of deep self-analysis. But I decided that I wasn't. I think now that I should have made the effort. But it was easier to live up to what others wanted me to be, and just accept the odd false step now and then.

Why I put up with such a life for so long - including my entire working life - beats me. Had I ever had my inner consciousness properly examined, it might have been pointed out to me that I had become a fake person, and was frankly living a lie. That would have set up a host of new problems, not least: Who was I then? And what to do about it? But my eyes would at least have been opened.

But we now come to it. If a person (who is unconsciously struggling with a fake role) messes up, is the dire result all their fault?

And if they had somehow known themselves more truly, and would have behaved differently and done the right thing instead, then are they in any way culpable?

I haven't got the intellect to develop this into a final answer, but my gut feeling is that if someone - specifically me in this case, but really anyone at all - is by upbringing and other influences given a false notion of themselves, and in consequence tries to be someone they are not, and ends up doing stupid and embarrassing things, then it is surely wrong to heap odium on them for those idiocies. And right to forgive them - especially if the person concerned eventually arrives at their true self, and the fact gets generally recognised.

This of course assumes that the 'true self' is a sensible, capable and caring person: self-revelation must bring forth a much better human being!

In my own case, I'd like to think that's true, although I have no direct means of knowing. But if it is true, then I feel very much inclined to refuse the burden of blame and shame that the 'past me' used to carry. In fact I assert that I would never have blundered in the past if I'd understood who I really was, and hadn't jumped through hoops to please the other people in my life. Therefore I shouldn't be held to account.

I have of course already indicated where I am to blame: I should have got myself analysed by a professional at an early stage, and then some later unhappinesses could have been avoided.

And somehow I don't think what I have written above will cut any ice at all with those who got hurt by the things I did wrong. If you are hurt, and in pain, and crying, the pain isn't suddenly less when you are told the real reason why.

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Lucy Melford