I am writing to extend the gift of an apology regarding the response I gave in the posting of Visible Man (9.23.13), “Letting go of Negativity and Moving On With Life.” As you may recall, the viewer stated, “I am embarrassed to say that I have only a few black female friends.” In my response I replied, “I would encourage you not to be embarrassed regarding having only a few black female friends. Instead I would suggest that you explore the quality and meaning you are seeking in these relationships.”
My response was partially incorrect. Although I stand by my suggestion to “explore the quality and meaning you are seeking in these relationships,” there may be a perception that I am either ignoring or minimizing the viewer’s feelings of embarrassment. It is my error that as I am focusing on answering one part of question, I am unintentionally ignoring the feelings of embarrassment that are being acknowledged and “owned” by the writer.
So let’s examine the concern regarding embarrassment. In reviewing the numerous definitions of the word embarrass, these following terms arise:
· To cause to feel self-conscious or ill at ease; disconcert
· To feel or cause to feel confusion or fluster
· To make someone feel nervous, ashamed, or stupid in a social situation.
Looking at these definitions and applying them to what is being sought by the writer (i.e. “I am embarrassed to say that I have only a few black female friends.”), two concepts—acceptance and validation—immediately come into focus. Without additional information from the writer, there is the appearance that the individual may have concerns about the following:
· What does it say about me that I only have a few black friends?
· How do I feel about myself in only having a few black friends?
· What will others say, feel or think about me when they realized that I have only a few black friends?
It would be “normal” to laugh or be dismissive of this person’s feelings of embarrassment. However, to do so would show one’s ignorance (lack of knowledge) that this person is simply following the “script” in which of being taught by the larger group (or family, community, or society) to place extreme weight on the perceptions of others. This “pressure” is one of the major ways in which the larger group utilizes to control the behavior, social mores and activities of its members.
An example of this is the following: the larger group sends repeated messages that this individual is “less than” when she associates with others outside her group. These messages act as “externalized pressure” (assaults from outside) that become validated by the individual. As a result of the pressure by the larger group, the individual accepts the larger group’s opinion and thus, the individual is now responding to “internalized pressure” (assaults from within). The larger group’s goal has been achieved in that the physical presence of the larger group is now not warranted or required. The work of controlling the individual is now being maintained from within through repetitive questions of self-doubt, self-validation and questioning of the individual’s decisions and choices.
It is up to the individual to question the pressure being exerted externally as well as internally. Questions that the individual in this situation can reflect on in this regard include:
· Regardless of the number of black friends, how do I feel about me?
· Do I want to judge my relationships on the color of their skin or the content of their character?
· Regardless of what others say or think about me, what do I feel and think about me? How do I want to live my life? Who will choose the relationships in my life?
It is essential for the individual to understand that the focus of the larger group i.e. family, community, and society does not extend to the wellness of the individual. Its focus remains on the larger group. Therefore it is in the act of “self care” that the individual must question, taking ownership and responsibility for “one’s feelings.”
Following the script? We all do it so well. As children and adolescents, we are bombarded with messages from the larger group, whether it comes from parents, peers, teachers, clergy etc. Once the individual enters “adulthood,” the lessons have been internalized. A consequence of some these lessons are damage to the psychological foundation that appear in the form of uncertainty and doubtfulness along the journey of life.
We do have choices. We can follow the script that has been laid now for us by the larger group. Or, the individual can choose to question the lessons that have been internalized. In doing so, the individual works towards seeking to achieve acceptance and validation from within the psychological self.
It is in adulthood that the individual can challenge the lessons learned, accept responsibility for reformatting one’s psychological foundation and add to validation to the psychological self. The willingness to do so may depend on one’s want or desire to walk the unknown path where uncertainty and lack of comfort lies ahead or stay to the “well designed road” that created by the larger group with minimal expectations.
In closing, I am grateful to have the opportunity to provide a more responsive discussion regarding the person’s feelings of embarrassment regarding having only a few black friends. I have come to understand that there are questions that arise from owning one’s feelings:
· Do I choose my path in deciding my relationships or do I continue to submit to the pressure being exerted by others?
· Do I have the resolve or resources to process the pressures that come internally or externally?
· Am I willing to stay to the course now chosen and experience the journey of life which lies ahead?
The question of embarrassment is one that allows the individual to touch the self, and in doing so start the beginning of a new journey.
The end of one journey is the beginning of another.
The choice is ours. We can continue the same old thing, traveling the same road…… and reaching the same outcomes.
Or we can do something new , something different.
We can seek a new path… and in doing so,
Achieve growth, development & empowerment.
The Visible Man