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Category Archives: psychology

Hell is Other People

     Hell:  A netherworld where the dead continue to exist, where the damned suffer everlasting punishment, torment or destruction.  In Jean-Paul Sartre’s one act play, No Exit, the three characters discover that hell is a hotel room.  Garcin, the first to arrive – therefore the only occupant to experience solitude – later decided that “Hell is other people”.  If this statement is true, it is only because they have been given that power.  Other people are external forces and, as such, a distance or separation exists with them.  Whatever thoughts or opinions imparted from them are subject to interpretation.  In contrast, our own thoughts are internal, subject to self-deception and denial – both which collapse without reinforcement from external influence.  Hell becomes the search for self with no opportunity to experience self.

     In ‘Being for Others’, Sartre states “The Other looks at me and as such he holds the secret of my being, he knows what I am”.  The ‘Other’ has an impression of what ‘he’ sees, but how much influence can ‘he’ hold as an external force?  How can ‘he’, as an external force, hold a ‘secret’ that ‘I’ as an internal force, have not given him.  Sartre uses the word ‘what’ in reference to his ‘I’; this indicates that he is objectifying himself.  The objectification is not a reflection of what the other person sees of him, but rather what he perceives the other person sees.  This is indicative of how he sees himself in the others eyes.

     Sartre wishes to recognize the ‘freeze-frame’ that accompanies first impressions.  Sartre claims that Bad Faith is “…a certain art of forming contradictory concepts which unite in themselves both an idea and the negation of that idea … a facticity and a transcendence … two aspects of human reality that are and ought to be capable of a valid coordination.”  The idea of first impressions is an example these contradictory concepts and the possible breakdown in coordination.  First impressions are subject to circumstance, context or physical attributes such as gender or race, wherein the impression is a reflection of the other person’s biases or experience.  This first impression has little to do with the ‘I’ being observed, and more to do with the ‘other’ observing.  The breakdown in coordination occurs when the perceived opinion of another holds more weight than that which we have of ourselves.  To allow a strangers impression to influence one’s sense of self-image is a reflection on one’s own self-image.  If no interaction has occurred, then the impression perceived may or may not be accurate or well-informed.  We see ourselves in another’s eyes, but it is a reflection of what we present to them.

     In No Exit, Garcin initially wishes to continue in solitude, wishing the opportunity for self-reflection.  To the two women who have joined him in the suite he states “we’ll work out our salvation, looking into ourselves”.  He is not afforded his solitude.  He later reveals doubts regarding the actions that led to his demise.  He questions whether he was standing by his belief’s or whether he was a coward running from responsibility.  The only salvation that he can conceive is the affirmation of the former from another person.  Without that other person, or external influence, he would be trapped in this question alone, coward or martyr.  This is hell.  If one is in Hell for all time, then there is little to distract from the internal debate.  Every moment and every decision that one makes in one’s life would be measured to determine the validity of ones existence.

     Sartre states “…I choose myself from day to day, and I make it mine by making myself.” The day to day decisions we make shape our personality, our acceptance or denial of consequences shape our character. If Garcin saw himself as a coward, he masked it by hiding behind principles.  His evasion may be successful to onlookers, but never to himself.  A mask means nothing when no one is there to see it.  If a first impression becomes a lasting impression, it is because we do nothing to expand or inform that impression.  If we allow others to dictate who we are, then we are condemned to accept the role in which we have been cast.  If Hell is eternal, it is these decisions that we must reconcile or, at the very least, recognize.  Each of the characters in No Exit required affirmation of some sort from the other. They relinquished control of their self-image and consequently their self-worth.  They cannot find salvation from within because they do not recognize themselves from within; they only recognize how they are seen from another’s point of view.

     Hell as other people comes not in the condemnation of others, but rather in the affirmation of others.  As long as one can deceive an onlooker they can deceive themselves.  When the only company that remains is ourselves, it is ourselves that we must come to appreciate.  When we learn to appreciate ourselves we are no longer condemned to everlasting suffering, we are no longer in Hell.

 
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Posted by on May 23, 2013 in Confessions, philosophy, psychology

 

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Retrospection

            My decision to blog again has much to do with the tenth anniversary of 9/11.  I didn’t go into detail about how that day influenced my life in my early posts, truthfully, I skipped the experience entirely.  Everybody has their own version of that day, and each one carries a unique burden in that experience.  Those experiences should not be trivialized or diminished as so often happens when comparisons are made.  I have held my memory of that day close to my heart, protecting it from cynicism and recrimination.

            I avoided all media exposure on the anniversary.  Instead, I sat outside in the sunshine and read a romance novel, avoidance in a truly self-indulgent fashion.  When I had read the last page and the sun had dropped below the horizon I felt ashamed.  Without my distractions I began to feel that I had desecrated the sanctity of that day, that I had disrespected the memory of the lives that were lost.  Some days later I read a memorial blog that changed my perspective.

           From ‘Ephemera and Pseudo-Events’ by J.N. Nielsen:

                        “An anniversary is an arbitrary thing – the length of a year is utterly arbitrary – but it is natural to want to commemorate a loss, as it is natural to want to celebrate some joyous occasion. … To memorialize an event is to prevent its repetition, the render it singular, although we must relive the trauma in each memorialization.  Failure to memorialize an event means that it will be visited upon us time and again, though we will be spared the retraumatization of the continual consciousness of the event.”

             My experiences of that day have shaped every aspect of my life, but not in a negative way.  I honor the memory of that day by living each subsequent day with deep appreciation in my heart.  When I remember that day I don’t linger on images of destruction or fear, I am overcome by the humility and compassion I felt all around me.  I tremble not with grief, but with awe.  Remembering now feels like a renewal of hope, and hope and shame cannot coexist.

 
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Posted by on September 20, 2011 in Coffee Shop Whore?, Confessions, philosophy, psychology

 

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Letter – a work of fiction

Dear Julie,

     I couldn’t help but notice how nice your hair smelled today.  It was so beautiful in the sunshine, it took all of my self-control to not run my fingers through it.  I also couldn’t help but notice that you had lunch with that man again, I thought that my previous letters would have alerted you to how disastrous a relationship with this person might be, surely he could not love you as much as I do, but that is beside the point, I am sure you will realize that I am right on this point.  Have you told him about me?  Silly me, asking such questions, he would know better than to intrude on our relationship.

     I have been trying to decide what I would get you for your birthday this year.  I never see you wearing the earings that I bought you last year.  I have been trying to think of something more personal, something that you can cherish, something to remind you of my love.

     The first time we met my life changed.  You were so young and beautiful.  You were wearing that little pink sweater.  I remember how pretty your hair was in that ponytail,  I thought it a shame that you cut it all off.  I know you didn’t mean it to be hurtful to me, after all, I did say how much I liked it.  I am glad that you are growing it out again.  It’s much better looking when it is long.  It would have looked so beautiful streaming down your back at graduation.  But that was a long time ago, I barely knew you then, not like now.

     I hate to keep harping on about it, but that man you had lunch with… he is so much like that boy you were dating back then.  Richard something or other.  I tried to warn you about him.  You wouldn’t listen then either, I don’t know if you know, but I finally had to talk to him, I mean, really, even then you knew that we were destined to be together.  I know you had to have your fun, but he was getting a little too serious, he thought he could steal you from me.  I hope this one doesn’t make the same mistake.  Richard whatshisface just wouldn’t believe me when I told him you were mine.  Even after you moved away, I knew you were getting away from him, you knew that I would find you, no matter where you went.  The connection between us is too strong to ever be broken by miles.  Richard didn’t have that connection with you.

     Anyway, that’s all in the past.  We are the future.  I should go now, I will see you soon anyway, but I wanted to tell you that I love you and think of you always.

                                                                                                                                     Love and Devotion,

                                                                                                                                     Your Secret Admirer

 

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The Truth About Social Self-Concept

This is not an easy post for me.  My last little post was optimistic, but it was not really how I was feeling.  Yes, I have been having an interesting week, and yes I have  had many great ideas, however, I have not been able to act on many of those ideas.

The truth is, I have not been liking myself this past week.

I am in a new place where I don’t know anybody.  I have never really had that  many ‘friends’ per se, but I usually have people who know me and who accept my eccentricity, despite the nature of eccentricity, mine is rather consistent.  That is no longer the case.  I find myself having to explain myself once again.  There is nothing quite as disheartening as justifying why I am the way that I am.  And, no, I can’t just ‘be normal’, it is far too late for that.

For all that I have learned so far in my life, I am still frozen in fear when faced with a job application.  Somehow I find it difficult to fill those darn things out.  How do you explain gaps in employment in three lines of ‘additional information’?  How do you explain that you haven’t known someone for two years but that  you know more about them after two hours of real conversation.  How do you ask that person to be a reference?

How do you explain that you have a phone number from one state, a mailing address in another and a driver’s licence from yet another.  These have been the circumstances of my life for as long as I can remember.  In fact, I  have never lived at the address on my driver’s licence, but I needed a stable street address, I had to give the DMV my mother’s address.  Why can’t I stop moving?

I have no reason to stay other than to stay.

The jobs that I have had in the past – well, since the Navy – have been dissatisfying.  When I am hired, I am told the guiding mission statement for a company – and I believe it.  It all seems to make sense, yet as the month’s go by, a corner is cut, a shortcut is taken, the bottom line comes to light.  I find that I no longer respect the company I am working for… I move on.

Does that make me a runner?  I guess so.  Perhaps I have held on to the dream of purpose and of pride in accomplishment.  I like to think that it is more important to lose a sale and keep the customer than the other way around.  I like to think that people are more important than  profit margins…. this does not make me a team  player.

I have hidden in academics, a way to avoid disappointment in the working world, but more and  more, the lines are blurring.  Textbook costs are through the roof, teachers are disenfranchised by limitations on what they can teach, they are stressed about how to stretch their  paycheck a little further because number crunchers say that it is more important to buy the new computer thn it is to invest in creative minds.  Frustration rolls down hill and students seek a piece of paper rather than information and education.  Conversation and curiosity dies.

I fill out applications for jobs that minimize my exposure to hu,man beings, not because I don’t like people, but because I don’t want to have to explain why I am the way that I am.  I don’t want to be asked why, if I am so smart, why am I doing this job or that job when the answer is very simple.  I need to eat.

I think about applications, and then job interviews and I wonder where I missed the lesson on the ‘right answer’.  Is there such a thing.  What do  they want to hear?  What do you want to hear?  What do I want to hear?  It all gets so complicated… I want to hear silence.

I have tried to stop apologizing for myself, but in this case I am sorry to be so morose.  Normally I am pretty good with me, but on paper it is difficult to see much that is redeeming.  I guess that is what happens when you only look at the bottom line.

 

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