General and Psychology and Relationships and Therapy05 Aug 2019 08:51 am

The following is an essay I wrote for the staff at a transitional living facility for which I consult.

In general one is able to avoid shaming another person by using descriptive strength based language. Vague terms even when not highly critical of another can be shaming if they have a person feel labeled, pigeonholed or judged. Since our initial and primary goal is to have our students feel better about themselves, shaming is best to be avoided whenever possible.

Embarrassment, on the other hand, can be an acceptable and sometimes valuable therapeutic experience/tool.  Psychology has long recognized that embarrassment, while often not a comfortable experience, contains elements of pleasure and validation.

In our meeting yesterday both Abe and Cal gave examples of the possible positive aspects of embarrassment with the students. Abe gave a marvelous impersonation of Russ responding to one of Abe’s insightful observations/teachings in a therapeutically beneficial fashion. One of the skills we are working with Russ is to have him identify his being able to use his chess master prowess in other areas of his life, both in finding ways to use his chess acumen in other areas of his life and social interaction, and to find additional hobbies and interests that use a similar skill set.

Abe, while standing next to Russ noticed/sensed that Russ was using his chess mind while observing/socially integrating with the other guys. He leaned over and said to Russ, “so you’re doing that chess thing with the other guys right now aren’t you”. Abe physically modeled for us Russ’s response which we have all seen before. It was a perfect exhibition of pleasurable embarrassment, in which Russ showed a bit of discomfort with being found out, with the joy and pleasure of feeling seen and understood by Abe.

The “hidden pleasure” and therapeutic element of embarrassment often centers around this basic primal need for children/people to be seen, found, understood and appreciated. One of the first games children learn to play is peek a boo. In this game they get a jolt of endorphins and oxytocin rush almost each time mom reappears after being temporarily out of view/lost. 

This seen/not seen scenario gets played out primarily in games such as hide and seek, red light, Simon says, mother may I, etc. and secondarily in game such as tag, duck-duck-goose, 7 ups and red rover. The thrill of being seen is maybe even surpassed by the thrill of mom or dad chasing and catching you, or capturing you when you were an infant in the cradle and making noises that they were “eating you up” of snuggling and making noises into your stomach. 

There is a local middle aged Asperger man in Asheville who makes some very poignant observations of life on the spectrum and, therefore, human life in general. He likes to talk of the fact that he “never got” the true meaning of tag during his early of even teen years. He always felt that he was great at tag because he was never it. He ended each game feeling like he was the winner and was baffled at how often other kids were “it”. It was only in his late 20’s and 30’s that he realized that the whole purpose of the game was to be chased and caught by someone who wanted to chase and touch you and make you be it. Being “it”, was, as he discovered, a sign of being “caught” in friendship the same way that a child is chased and caught in mom or dad’s loving arms.

So, tag is the joy of being sought after and chased. Being “it” shows that you are desired and your friendship bond is appreciated. In peek a boo you are the treasured object to be cradled in the gaze of your parents and loved ones. 

Often times in psychology the emphasis of peek a boo is on an infants development of object permanence. In early perceptual stages infants do not understand that objects hidden or currently out of view continue to exist. So, in peek a boo, the child sees mom disappear and miraculously reappear every time she hides and shows her face.

Yet, the relationship aspect of peek a boo is often ignored or minimized in the analysis of the significance of peek a boo. As mentioned above the infants squeals of delight and writhes of joy are due not to only seeing mom, but by her seeing him. Even before a child understands the words, they definitely gleefully feel the meaning of “Peek a boo, I see you”.

No matter how old a person gets it is important for them to feel seen and understood in a supportive loving fashion. Many of our young adult’s joy of being seen has been injured by trauma, predatory behavior of peers, or by receiving a disproportionate amount of angry criticism  over praise and recognition.

This is why many of our kids are initially skeptical or resistive to our observations and teaching. Wariness can quickly escalate to power struggles when we replicate their experience of receiving an ample amount of criticism and frustration over a lack of functional proficiency. 

Strength based teaching where we focus our attention on Catching Them Being Good begins to reestablish their innate joy in the fulfilling of their basic need to be seen, understood and validated. The more therapeutically sensitive the skills and central messages are, the more powerful the impact on raising their self-esteem and sense of connection. Skill work that is observational and fun is in the best possible tradition of peek a boo, hide and seek, and tag. 

The better we are at noticing and valuing their well intentioned, respectful and compassionate behavior the more lasting will be their improvements in positive self-regard. Similarly, the more frequent the repetition the easier it is for the student to incorporate (inculcate)   these new habits, attitudes and activities (hobbies and interests) into their daily life.

Our basic needs of belonging and being recognized as a unique and special human being are tended to in the games of childhood listed above. Those basic needs never go away, and our skills teaching becomes an excellent means to restore the joy and validation of being seen and valued. 

Yet, one’s ability to enjoy being seen, to overcome the risk and vulnerability “of becoming naked to others”, involves many factors such as trust, comfort and safety. One always must respect a person’s need for privacy and personal boundaries. Therefore, we should always move cautiously and with our observational eyes wide open and not try to push through resistances with an iron will. 

The more we create positive experiences for our students in the areas of mutual respect, positive self-regard and competency the increased likelihood they will be open to our invitations and guidance to replace old self-sabotaging habits with newer more efficient and life affirming ones. The hidden pleasure of embarrassment is only present when they want to be seen and found, and they take joy and solace in being known and appreciated by us.

Trackback this Post | Feed on comments to this Post

Leave a Reply