I was going to title this post, “My Aunt Was a Go-Go Dancer and That Screwed Me Up For a Long Time”, but I am pretty sure that sends the wrong message. I think it’s awesome that she was a go-go dancer.
Let me backtrack here. Developmental psychologists say that we imprint behaviors at certain critical stages of our development, as well as in response to crisis situations. In other words, we latch on to behaviors that seem to work to ensure our survival, and if those stop working, we switch it up. Sometimes when the crisis comes in the form of negative response from our authority figures, we transfer the guilt we feel outwards as a way of avoiding feeling it ourselves. We project out onto the world the bad feelings we felt at the time.
These crisis moments can seem fairly trivial in retrospect, but they can have a debilitating effect on our socialization. Blaming others for your guilt is not a winning tactic over time. I’ve been doing that around a specific issue, and today I figured out that I was doing it, and why.
You see, one of the ways I have learned to get at these little sticking points is to hunt down the inciting event. When you look with grown up eyes at a behavior learned in childhood, the story of that moment can be undone. You can stop transferring your guilt, and figure out a way to forgive yourself. This is especially true if the event is something you realize you really shouldn’t have guilt about.
So, what does this all have to do with go-go dancing aunts? A few days ago my cousin posted something to Facebook. The post included reference to Madonna, Lady Gaga, Miley Cirus, and their styles of performing. (The post was not positive, but that’s beside the point here.) It got me thinking about my aunt and a specific incident from my childhood.
I have this bad habit. When someone questions my qualifications for something, when they have no way of knowing about my qualifications, I get upset. For example, if someone starts telling me all about how Tai Chi works, I feel affronted since I’ve been practicing Tai Chi for 26 years now. Of course, the unfair part is that the person in question may have no way of knowing that. Somehow I think they should.
When thinking about my aunt, I recalled a moment that had a big impact on me. For a few years, my aunt and her family lived with us. Music was a big part of my mom’s life. She often had the radio or record player going. There was a pop-rock tune playing on the stereo on this particular day. I wandered into the kitchen to grab a soda and found my mom and aunt dancing to the music. My aunt was bumping and grinding as well as any professional dancer I had seen.
I made the comment, “Yeah, aunt Alona, you’re getting it!”
She laughed, stopped dancing, dropped her arms and said, “Oh, shit.”
I didn’t get the joke at first. Then my mom said that my aunt had been a professional go-go dancer in her earlier life. Apparently, she was a highly sought after dancer. I was embarrassed and tried to play it off, but that didn’t work and the guilt set in. I had questioned my aunt, an important person to me, on something she was an expert on. That was the moment I acquired guilt about not knowing what someone was good at. To prevent myself from feeling guilty about feeling guilty about my faux pas I started projecting that guilt outwards. When someone innocently told me something I already knew or somehow implied I might not have some expertise that I do, it would bring up my guilty feelings from the childhood moment, and I would transform that into anger towards the person.
All of this came together for me today in a flash. Hopefully, I can drop this pattern which has caused me to come across as a bit of an ass hat in my dealing with people. Time will tell. Either way, if and when I do it again, at least I will now know why.
Thanks, aunt Alona! You are still teaching me valuable life lessons!