Becoming the Living Poet

Hugs, Transparency, Guiltassion, Hedonism, & Boundaries

Posted on: May 30, 2009

On Wednesday I ran into this article about New York schools instituting hugging bans and was borderline traumatized. It wasn’t just the ban, it was the language parents and administrators used to describe the practice of hugging:

“And there doesn’t seem to be any other overt way in which they acknowledge knowing each other,” she continued, describing the scene at her older son’s school in Manhattan. “No hi, no smile, no wave, no high-five — just the hug. Witnessing this interaction always makes me feel like I am a tourist in a country where I do not know the customs and cannot speak the language.”

While I am far too jumpy a person to ever truly appreciate the virtue of the surprise hug and the hug from behind, I am a huge fan of consensual hugging.

In fact, to put it bluntly, it seems to me that consensual hugging is one of the few joys this cold, unfeeling planet delivers with any measure of consistency.

The idea of living in a world without hugs makes me want to cry. The idea of being a teenager, a real existential low point anyway, and being cut off from hugs, makes me want to cry harder.

Maybe that’s why this post is like a great big therapy appointment without an office. Or maybe it’s because I had my last therapy appointment Wednesday night with the only therapist whom I’ve ever actually been semi-fond of and am trying to pump myself up for three months sans head-shrinking after three months of weekly sessions of psychological guidance.

Whatever, I’m at where I’m at, and as Havi pointed out this week, sometimes a little cheese is appropriate.

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been discovering and bookmarking lots of really good destuckification posts on various blogs and I’ve decided to be honest with myself about the fact that I don’t have the … patience, discipline, focus, all of the above… to write one blog post per link.

Here are my four favorite articles, with excerpts, plus some peanut gallery commentary.

1. To Hell with Transparency

No shoulds.

Transparency, vulnerability and authenticity are only useful when they aren’t forced and when they come from the heart….practicing something that challenges you is different than forcing yourself to reveal pain because you think you’re supposed to. You definitely don’t have to do that.

The theme of authenticity: what it means and whether it should have limits has been a big one for me lately.

As you might have guessed if you read my post about What I Learned From My First Month On Facebook, this whole being vulnerable with people and admitting my weaknesses thing, the thing I do on this blog every single post as much as I can stand, can be crazy difficult for me. I have nevertheless embraced the value of authenticity because when I hide who I am, it leaves me with the feeling that I have something to be ashamed of. Furthermore, when I hide, I hide so well that it creates a monopoly of perspective where there is nothing to counter my deep-seated ambivalence about acknowledging that I have worth independent of how useful I am to other people. In comparison to listening to a well-established broken record of invalidating thoughts and imagined judgments, actual rejection and abandonment, of which I’ve experienced considerably less as a result of my current emotional honesty experiment than I would have anticipated, isn’t half bad.

This is a very straightforward, simple analysis of how transparency is a solid, healing, trusting practice. At the same time it fails to take into account the following factors:

1. There are benefits to having a private life, such as not having to constantly explain and justify your decisions to the confused masses.

2. Some of the events in my past have been incredibly painful and traumatic and sharing those events is sometimes more agonizing than healing.

3. Not everyone is trustworthy and transparency necessarily involves vulnerability. There is a danger of getting hurt. Openness does need to be approached mindfully as a calculated risk. This has been less an issue since I drove most of the overtly manipulative and exploitative people out of my life a couple of years back, but even well-meaning people can make efficient use of the internal ammunition you provide them with out of simple carelessness.

I liked reading Havi’s post about how transparency is over-rated because on days when being open with people feels like the tallest of tall orders and I don’t feel like telling people the sky is blue when they ask me, it’s nice to know that I can stay in my comfort zone and not judge myself for it.

2. Do You Feel Obligated To Be Generous and Compassionate?

If you act “compassionately” because you’d feel guilty and feel like a bad person if you didn’t? That’s not compassion. That’s guiltassion! Look, it even has “ass” in it, because it’s an asinine thing to do. It also has “ion” in it, because it’s unbalanced. Electrically. Or something. Moving on.

This is a brilliant and incredibly witty post. Go read it! Now please!

For me this issue comes back to self-trust, an issue I vaguely touched upon when I wrote about the concept of self-forgiveness last week. I don’t trust that I will be compassionate and generous naturally, so I start “should”ing myself to death over being more giving, less selfish, more understanding, etc., etc.

But this fear that I can’t be nice when I’m not forcing myself to be is silly because I know from experience that the second I stop thinking like I have to be as nice as possible every moment, it gets easier to empathize with people, and to be giving without feeling resentful or threatened. It feels good helping other people. “Should” really needn’t enter into it.

3. When In Doubt, Have Fun with It

I’m not advocating that you only do what is fun or that you avoid anything that is not fun. I am also not advocating that you use fun as the only criterion when making a decision. After you have gone through your usual decision-making process; if you are stuck, paralyzed, confused or in doubt – give yourself permission to “just have fun with it” (and then do so).

I read this article and used this advice earlier this week, and guess what? Nothing exploded. That in and of itself was quite a revelation. I usually make my decisions based on a cost/benefit analysis, and when there doesn’t seem to be a clear winner I tend to agonize and delay. When the pros and cons are about equal, hedonism seems like a perfectly valid tie breaker to me.

4. Boundaries – and Communicating Them

You must communicate your needs, wishes, desires if you actually want someone else to know what they are. More importantly, you must communicate them in a clear fashion that can get through the muck of interference between you and the other person as well as that other person’s own personal muck.

If you don’t communicate your boundaries (and then live into them and – within reason – stick by them) you will be taken advantage of. And then you’ll feel bad and angry and have a tummy ache and need to take a walk. Although taking walks is good, it’s better if you’re taking a walk because it feels good; not because you’re trying to lose a stress-induced tummy ache.

Ah boundaries, the metaphysical space between persons. Lately I’ve been much better about keeping my own boundaries intact (admittedly we’re grading on a curve, but credit where credit is do). Now that I have some vague idea of where my boundaries are, I spend a lot of time worrying about other people’s boundaries. I tend to say things like “Are you sure you’re comfortable with that? I feel like I might be taking advantage of you.” Sometimes I over-compensate and then end up right back in the ‘my own boundaries just got violated’ scenario, but at least I’m starting to see with greater clarity where I end and other people begin and vice versa.

I finally realized that respect and consideration mean different things to different people. The process of telling people what I need from them in order to feel respected and asking what they need from me in return no longer seems optional. I get the sensation that pretty soon it won’t even feel awkward and inconvenient.


2 Responses to "Hugs, Transparency, Guiltassion, Hedonism, & Boundaries"

Glad you liked the guiltassion post! (:

Boundaries and obligations… lots of good stuff here.

Wow, banning hugs… It’s a cold, cold world, indeed. But hopefully kids will just end up finding another way of consensually showing affection, like kissing each other on the cheeks or something.

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