Childhood Collusion And Adult Shame and Guilt

A return to shadow work on one of the last "warm" days of the season.

A return to shadow work on one of the last “warm” days of the season.

I have now returned from our last camping trip and the camper is unpacked and soon to be put into its winter resting place nearby. Since it is a warm day (30C) and sunny, it didn’t take me long to find a spot in my back yard where I could be skyclad and do some reading. It has been a while since I have looked at James Hollis’ book, Why Good People Do Bad Things, so it just felt right to bring the book out from the shelf where it has lain idle.

Why? Well perhaps it has to do with the fact that being nude, even in one’s own yard, is doing something bad. If this wasn’t the case, I wouldn’t be hiding in the back yard or staying clothed when in other nature settings where people are present. Of course I am using the word “people” here to refer to others in general terms for other naturists/nudists wouldn’t view my nudity as me doing something bad – maybe a bit controversial or risky given the environmental and societal conditions surrounding my nudity.

As it happens, I found something in the book that bears repeating here, a quotation that fits what I am talking about.

As children, we learn to “read” the world around us to find what is acceptable, what is dangerous. Many learned that matters of sexual character were not permissible in their family or religion, and so associated their own natural impulses and desires as something evil, or at best furtive and contaminated. [p. 205]

Nudity, in spite of all the noise made by naturists and nudists to the contrary, is sexual. Sexual does not mean that being nude means that one is on the verge of copulating with another person (willingly or unwillingly on their part). Sexual does mean that one’s sexuality is not disguised or denied as though that sexuality – bare skin, exposed genitals (overt or implied) – was indeed something to be ashamed of. Toddlers exhibit a “natural” way of being when they lose their clothing to run freely in their “birthday suits.” We teach these toddlers that it is unacceptable to be natural in this manner, basing our beliefs on religion, societal prejudices, law, and even under the guise of simply it being infantile and unseemly as one grows older. I notice that just by my finding a quiet and secluded space in my yard, I demonstrate just how powerful those childhood injunctions are on the psyche. Hollis goes on to explain further.

The by-product of our necessary collusion with the realpolitik of childhood vulnerability is guilt, shame,inhibition, and most of all, self-alienation. We all, still today, reenact these collusions, suffer this shame, and retreat from our wholeness. [ibid]

The shoe fits, doesn’t it? It’s time to go back to some more reading. I will be back. Until then, ask yourself a few hard questions and see just how much you want to avoid admitting that this also speaks about you and your experience.

5 thoughts on “Childhood Collusion And Adult Shame and Guilt

  1. I must disagree. Being nude is not doing something bad. Unless being human is being bad (which by a lot of evidence from what “we” do to nature these days makes one wonder). Just because someone made laws or societal etiquette that frowns upon it doesn’t make it bad. Is showing an ankle, knee, or thigh bad? Is a woman showing her hair or face bad? Is it bad to show affection for someone of your same gender? Is it bad if a child stands up to an adult? Is it bad to whip the children and females in the household? Rules, laws and norms change, but what is good or bad does not.
    I am not bad when I choose not to hide my human body. I am quite the opposite. I am denying the bad rules or norms that act as control of the masses, and I am uniting with the Natural World as I was created.
    I don’t know how the law reads in Canada, but so far here in Montana it is not illegal to be human yet. There is only an indecency/obscenity law on the books which requires one to be doing something lewd, sexual, meant to cause alarm or harm, to be breaking the law. Of course explaining that to your average cop would probably be a challenge. I imagine you could always still get disturbing the peace or something.

    By repolitik does he mean realpolitik? as that was the only word I could find a definition for. We need to get over this “what about the children” mentality. It was created by fearful religious types who can’t think for themselves and definitely can’t remember what it was like to be a child. If you want to scream “what about the children”, then scream it about filling their heads with fears and beating down their very humanity and creativity.


    • Bill, thanks for the response. First, I’ve corrected the “repolitik” typo that you noted. Now, a clarification, I didn’t say that being nude was being bad. What I did say that the human adult has an unconscious response to nudity as being something bad because of the experiences of growing up. Religion, parental injunctions, and all other overt and covert messaging teaches this badness. In spite of it being learned as bad, nudity isn’t in itself bad as you rightly point out. And no, we don’t need to get over what happens to children, we need to be aware of just exactly is going on, what we are teaching them, consciously by what we say, and unconsciously by what we do. That said, we won’t ever get it right for there is more within every single human that is unconscious and will remain unconscious than what we bring into our awareness as consciousness. 🙂


      • Hey Skyclad,
        I too must clarify, I didn’t say we need to get over what happens to the children, quite the opposite. I said we need to get over the “what about the children” mentality, referring to the claim that children would somehow be damaged by the site of a nude person. Children are natural born Naturists and are intrigued more than anything, until some adult has instilled enough fear into their psych to cause them to act “un-naturally”. So we agree that we need to be aware of what happens to children by what we say and do which “fills their heads with fears and beats down their very humanity and creativity.

        That’s a fine hair you’re splitting with the difference between “doing something bad” and “being bad”. Again I would say that I am not doing something bad or being bad just because someone else wants to think so. I have dealt with the demons(read: Religion, parental injunctions, and all other overt and covert messaging) of my past and won’t let them hold sway over me. I tend to think for myself as we all must if we want to experience some semblance of freedom. The challenge of course is how to live as a free and healthy individual within a sick society.


  2. As I learn and experience more about naturism, I learn more about myself and my conditioned responses. So many of the responses that we think are “natural” and “reflexive” are in fact conditioned into us at a very young age. Example: Years ago at a naturist swim in Denver, as the event was wrapping up (literally!), I walked into the locker room and saw a woman and her daughter getting dressed, in the “underwear” stage. Despite my many experiences and having interacted with them in the nude all evening, I actually turned around to walk out of the room before I caught myself. We all had a good laugh when I confessed my reaction. Yet this incident shows how deeply this early conditioning affects all of us.


  3. This is one of my primary problems around nudism. I can intellectually handle everything around it, but I can’t help feeling a sense of shame and ridiculousness about being a nudist. It leads me to limit my participation in nudist events, which is a shame because I enjoy them once I’m there.

    And I’m quite certain it stems from being brought up in an uptight household. I doubt my parents would care that I’m a nudist now, but it’s unlikely I’ll ever voluntarily admit it to them. I can *know* there’s nothing wrong with nudity, but I have not been able to prevent myself from *feeling* it’s wrong.


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