Denial of Death

All posts tagged Denial of Death

More Thoughts on Shame and Guilt

Published January 14, 2019 by Nan Mykel

(I punched the wrong button somewhere along the line and can’t post images any more. My screen says: (Technological message doesn’t print on blog, just Dashboard). If anyone knows what to do please advise. Back to this post: [Well, there you go. I don’t know what I’m doing in this technological world]. Welcome, image.

I committed the cardinal sin of using words without defining. In my earlier post on Shame and Guilt I referred to “narcissism” without defining it as “healthy narcissism,” or “self esteem.” Obviously (to me) that definition is permissible because if my primitive ancestors hadn’t cared about themselves above all else I won’t exist. We’re all the product of organisms who won over their neighbors. Pledging one’s life to helping others, unfortunately, can also function as a way to improve one’s self esteem or “puffing oneself up,” as I said in my original post.
The closest I’ve come to sniffing out unequivocable altruism (maybe) are the postings showing one kind of animal protecting another kind, or a seeing dog helping a blind one.
Ernest Becker is somewhat extreme in his attempt to tear down defenses which help us avoid seeing life as it really may be, with everything doomed to die.

Man does not seem able to “help” his selfishness; it seems to come from his animal nature…In man a working level of narcissism is inseparable from self-esteem, from a basic sense of self-worth….When you combine natural narcissism with the basic need for self esteem you create a creature who has to feel himself an object of primary value…The basic motivation for human behavior is our biological need to control our basic anxiety…To have emerged from nothing, to have a name, consciousness of self, deep inner feelings, an excruciating inner yearning for life and self-expression–and with all this yet to die…We need to assure ourselves that we have achieved something of lasting worth…It doesn’t matter whether the cultural hero-system is frankly magical, religious and primitive or secular, scientific and civilized. It is still a mythical hero-system in which people serve in order to earn a feeling of primary value, of cosmic specialness, of ultimate usefulness to creation, of unshakable meaning…To become conscious, aware of what he is doing to earn his feelings of heroism is the main self-analytic problem of life.

“A person spends years coming into his own, developing his talent, his unique gifts, perfecting his discriminations about the world, broadening and sharpening his appetite, learning to bear the disappointments of life, becoming mature, seasoned–finally a unique creature in nature, standing with some dignity and nobility and transcending the animal condition; no longer driven, no longer a complete reflex, not stamped out of any mold. And as Andre Malraux wrote, the real tragedy is that that it takes sixty years of incredible suffering and effort to make such an individual, and then he is only good for dying”…He has to go the way of the grasshopper, even though it takes longer…. Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death, Simon and Schuster, Free Press Paperbacks, New York).

Now what does all that have to do with me? Let’s avoid the religious question if we may. I’ve said my head is atheistic and my heart is hopeful.

I’m becoming more and more convinced that my apologies and suffering over transgressions against others is a way to protect my self esteem. I’m working on abandoning that part of me and focussing on my “heroic journey,” of which I am aware. I seek to be a hero by creativity, my blogging, empathizing with others including my children, absorbing beauty and nature, feeding my hungry curiosity and giving free reign to my imagination.

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