I’m bringing in the March Resolution Write Up just under the wire. But, I’ve been spending a great deal of time thinking about what it is I actually want to express here and how best to convey it.
All month long it seems I have been a party to conversations and situations revolving in some way around craziness. One friend has a batty ex-spouse. Another friend has an insane work situation. A loved one is ‘going crazy’ sinking into an unwanted depression. A colleague is behaving in the most ridiculous ways making the rest of us wonder how many times she’s been hit with the crazy stick. Which, of course, is making us crazy. And so on and so forth it goes in a maelstrom of emotion. It’s become such an unusually prevalent topic in my day-to-day world of late that I felt it might warrant some contemplation. Then I thought of the idiom – mad as a March hare – and I decided it was an appropriate discussion for the March blog entry.
I’m no stranger to crazy. In fact, I don’t think I really know anyone who is completely devoid of a little madness. (Frankly, I don’t think I want to … a little mild madness can be great fun!) But what is it that lies at the root of madness? That is something to ponder.
Science might explain that our brain’s chemical processes sometimes go awry causing us to lose “normal” thought and emotional functioning. Religion might blame madness on gods, devils or demons hijacking our free will and ability to make good decisions. I am not here to refute or support either of those options. After meditating on the subject, I have come to the conclusion that vulnerability lies at the root of madness. (And if you really want to debate: A religious person might admit that only the spiritually vulnerable are open to demonic attack; and a chemical imbalance could be argued as vulnerability in the structure and/or function of the brain. But, that’s only if you really wanted to debate.)
Vulnerability is defined as susceptibility to being wounded or hurt; openness to moral attack, criticism or temptation; or an openness to assault. I can’t think of any experience of crazy that didn’t germinate from some kind of wound or attack, real or perceived. And, before you make a fuss, I am not saying that vulnerability always leads to madness, but, rather, that madness cannot exist without vulnerability.
I also have come to the conclusion that how we respond to and deal with our feelings of vulnerability ultimately determines our flavor of madness. This leads me to TEDtalker Brene Brown’s research on Guilt Vs. Shame. Click here and here to hear her talks. (Trust me. It’s good stuff.) Ms. Brown tells us that Guilt and Shame – often used interchangeably in our social lexicon – are two very different things. Guilt, she says, is a response to behavior, and Shame is a response to Self. Guilt teaches us whether or not we are behaving according to our own principles and values. Therefore, it is a good and necessary emotion. It can provide us with awareness and motivation and, ultimately, healing. With Shame, however, we are not feeling badly about our thoughts, words or actions. When we feel Shame we feel badly about ourselves. It’s not “I feel badly for something I did.” Shame is “I am bad.”
These newly hatched ideas and beliefs about madness and vulnerability; Guilt and Shame, make my mind naturally bend to the understanding that vulnerability gets expressed in similar ways to Guilt and Shame. When we take the more Self-assured response to vulnerability, we can usually manage what threats present by trusting that we are worthy and capable individuals even if external circumstances have us feeling a little weakened at the moment. We recognize that we may have made some choices that lead to undesirable results, and, therefore, we can learn to make different choices next time. This is how we grow. Things tend to get hairy when we begin to see vulnerability as a Self defect. Then the Self becomes the problem and the external factors are just reacting negatively to the unworthy Self. Then we tend to give up our power to be active participants in our lives. We become victims, and either become angry or depressed or both. We get into a Self-centered Shame spiral and eventually our behaviors start becoming more and more erratic, unpredictable, and, yup, crazy.
So, that’s my theory: Crazy is really just a Self- and Shame-centered response to vulnerability.
What do I do with this theory? Well, I am using it to remind myself that I am only as crazy as I allow myself to be. I remind myself that I am worthy and strong and capable of taking care of myself. And when my choices create a situation in which external challenges start piling up on my plate, I can allow myself a little weakness. Then I can look those challenges in the eye, and tackle one issue at a time until I am back in control again. (Well, as in control as we ever are, but that’s a blog post for another day …)
Happy March madness to you!