Making friends with the hysterias of confusion, grief, shame, & blame

In the course of human events, people may notice preferences and even expectations. One of the most common ways to notice the presence of an expectation is when something else happens other than what was expected.

In contrast, when nothing is expected and something unfamiliar happens, there may be surprise and curiosity and, if there is much interest, learning. But when something is expected and does not happen, that can be quite different.

Instead of ignorance simply being replaced with the new stimulus or perception, when there is already an expectation, that is quite distinct from ignorance. The expectation implies that there is already interest. (If someone is not interested in something, then why form an expectation about it?)

Whenever an expectation is violated (which is inevitable), then there can be confusion. Note that confusion cannot arise without a pre-existing expectation that is erroneous. Total ignorance can lead to surprise, but not to confusion. (Surprises can be scary or fun or many other things.)

Only expectation can lead to confusion: “something is not how I expected it and I do not know why.” When there is an expectation plus an awareness of the violation of some expectation but no further clarity yet, that is called confusion. Someone may not even know which expectation has been violated.

That confusion can lead to seeking clarification and the refining of the expectations. However, that confusion can also lead in to a very distinct pathway, which we will briefly explore now.

I expect something. Something else happens. I am confused. (In other words, I notice that I was already confused about what would happen and then later I suddenly recognized my own prior confusion / erroneous expectation.)

But what next? How do I relate to my own confusion (my error / inaccuracy)? Is it okay to experience occasional confusion? Is it “to be expected?”

Is it ever overwhelming? Is it ever terrifying? Is it ever embarrassing?

Sometimes, an experience of confusion (from an unfulfilled expectation or violated expectation) may lead to embarrassment. Embarrassment is related to shame. That means that I experience fear about one or more other people’s perceptions of me and their behavioral reactions to me (such as violent attack, social shunning, or other punishments).

What next then? Do I withdraw (flee)? What if that simple response to stress is not available? How else could I promote safety?

Do I fight (to promote safety)? Do I freeze (to promote safety)? Do I fake (to promote safety)?

A common reflex for someone who is confused (and then embarrassed about it) is to cast blame. Blame can have an element of antagonism (as in a fight response to the fear / shame).

Blame is a type of complaint: “the only reason that ___ is because the weather is so unusually ______!”

That is basically a request for attention and sympathy. So is this: “the only reason that ______ is because of whoever I blame for this confusing and embarrassing development… and who I blame is ___!”

That is a totally understandable reaction. “I am so confused by the results of my actions that I am embarrassed and so in an effort to attract attention and sympathy and perhaps even assistance, I am blaming ________!”

“Other people should be more _____!”

“I should not have to ______!”

“Do you want to know what I think of that person? ______ is just such a ______!”

Now that I have presented some common patterns in language, you may notice that your behavior may have included some of these statements. (If so, then you are probably over the age of 2.) In fact, you may have noticed quite a few other people who are also over the age of 2, right?

To review, people (by the age of 2) will form expectations and then inevitably some of those get violated and so then people occasionally get confused (and perhaps ashamed about being socially witnessed as confused). That shame can lead to them casting blame.

Blame is a classic coping mechanism in the stages of grieving / learning. Blame can be a form of denial (as in a distraction from the underlying embarrassment or the underlying expectation that was not fulfilled).

Further, blame can lead to resentment, antagonigm, contempt, and lots of arguing: “I think that who is really to blame is not ____, but instead is __________. How can you even be so hysterical to suggest that _______ or that ________? You might as well be saying that _____?!?!?”

All of that is called hysteria. It is still a type of fear and a subset of shame. It is a defense mechanism in the realm of “I do not yet want to simply admit that I expected ________ and instead what actually happened was ______.”

So, how do people relate to the reality that expectations exist and can be violated? What about that confusion can arise, then embarrassment? What about that hysterical blame can arise and then hysterical defenses of the hysterical blame?

What about that sometime around the age of 2, most people develop the capacity to engage in arguments that may appear silly to outsiders? What about that some people continue those arguments for decades, even frequently triggering resentment and contempt so as to justify withdrawal from at least one person who is so unpredictable “because I refuse to update my own expectations in accord with their actual behaviors? I mean… why should I have to!?!?”

Or, maybe someone just seems too erratic for me at a particular time. Maybe my interest in them is not great enough to continue interacting with them because I am not ready to learn that fast. Maybe interacting with them is so challenging to my pre-existing expectations that I can only tolerate them in small doses. “That pesky pest is so annoying!”

If was simply bored, I would not be interested enough to argue, would I? People only argue for decades about things that interest them in some way. Further, people only argue with someone for decades if that other person interests them in some way.

How do I relate to people (such as 2 year-olds) who may on occassion experience confusion, shame, blame, and so on? Do I withdraw from them because they are manifesting a behavioral pattern that I have been repressing? Do I push them away with criticisms and condescension?

If I have been repressing shame, then wouldn’t I flee from any display of shame that scares me? Wouldn’t I flee from anything that scares me? If what scares me is the display of shame, would I flee from whatever scares me?

Further, if for someone reason I was not successful in fleeing, then wouldn’t I attempt to push away the perceived source of stress? Wouldn’t I increase my own stress hormones and go from flight mode to fight mode?

The point is that hysteria is a natural part of life. Some of them last only briefly and some can last decades or even centuries.

Hysteria is a type of fear and the sub-types of hysteria can include grief (a fear about how someone will adapt to some loss or absence) as well as shame (a fear of imagined future punishments) and blame. Blame, when expressed, can lead to compensation and apology and so on. Or blame can lead to other outcomes.

Consider the idea that “____ simply should not exist.” That may already be a form of distressed hysteria, right?

What is so frightening about the possible existence of something to someone that they should say it should not exist? What shames are they attempting to hide, if any?

“Hysteria should not exist! How can all these people still act like 2 year-olds? I mean, seriously, how come they don’t have totally accurate expectations about reality like I do? This is the most frustrating thing ever!”

“I really just don’t understand how all of these people don’t have totally accurate expectations like I do? It’s like they are just freaking out over unfulfilled expectations and that is not what I expected and it is totally freaking me out!?!?!”

“Yeah, that was totally weird, isn’t it? Hey, come jump on this bed with me!”


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