I've been working for the past five months on solving my emotional problems.
Things I've tried:
- Focusing (alone and guided)
- Therapy (with my therapist)
- Internal Family Systems (with Divia)
- Belief Reporting (with Steph)
- Squiggling/Circling (run by Elizabeth)
- Focusing while on MDMA (with Dima)
- Grieving (with help from Ham)
- Immunity to Change (by Kegan)
I can't speak with any depth on these techniques, as I've mostly been dabbling. But I have seen significant progress since five months ago. I'mma share the end results with ya'll so you can see what's been happening with my brainmeats lately.
Inspired by Ben Hoffman's blog post here.
The Attachment Theory Narrative
I'm learning to appreciate going into these kinds of problems with a narrative scaffold. Attachment theory is one I've been using to good effect lately. It's been helping me form a basis for fitting in old and new information. I use it as a framework to organize my past experiences and my current insights, a way to make sense of an otherwise chaotic collection of thoughts and feelings.
Here's the story I've constructed so far:
- I have an avoidant attachment type.
- A lot of this derives from the way my parents raised me and my early experiences around other children.
- I have twin aliefs that can trigger avoidance: a) No one can or cares enough to understand me. b) I am not worth caring about or understanding.
Interesting aside: Ben Hoffman theorizes in a post about Steve Jobs that Jobs might have had an underlying belief that his parents were inadequate to care for him in the way he needed, possibly because at some early moment he realized he was smarter than they were.
I don't recall believing I was smarter than my parents. Instead what happened was I internalized being too complicated to be understood. I remember having a hard time trying to describe my feelings to people when I was young, maybe because I couldn't connect the right words to my emotions. It seems plausible that this somehow translated into "the feelings I'm having are too complicated to describe."
There was one pivotal experience in my childhood that stands out.
When I was five years old, my parents took me out of kindergarten and put me into first grade in the middle of the year. For a while after this transition, I'd do nothing but cry during recess.
Other kids made fun of me. The teacher tried to comfort me. They asked me again and again, "Why are you crying?" But I found myself unable to answer, or even determine whether it was due to external or internal causes.
I didn't have the words or the requisite insight. It was just ... complicated.
Each time I realized my teacher didn't understand my emotions, I interpreted this as a lack of caring. Feeling this was incredibly painful. I took each instance as evidence towards something being wrong with me—which was itself a way for me to rationalize or cope with that pain.
I formed a narrative to try to explain what happened—why my teacher didn't understand and why I had a difficult time explaining myself to her. What I came up with was that I was too complicated to be understood.
I want to note important features of how I perceive this narrative today, as Current Me.
- Things happened to me, but ultimately I constructed the resulting narratives, aliefs, and coping mechanisms.
- Even though much of this construction happened without my conscious awareness, I still attribute it to myself—to that part of me that did the work. I do not think of it as something that happened to me.
- I feel impressed by what I did, what I was able to do when I was five. And I even feel I benefited from these aliefs. I wouldn't be who I am today without them.
- That said, I've outgrown them, and they don't accurately describe me or reality. I'm ready for a software update, a version 2.0 if you will.
What I Internalized
So I see how I formed the "too complicated" alief (and hopefully you have a better understanding of this now too). But I'm not sure where the others come from yet. I found out about them through my introspective investigations, but I've yet to dig deep enough.
Here is what I've discovered:
I internalized that I was "too complicated" to be understood. This causes me to subconsciously accumulate more internal complexity and weirdness over time. I make myself harder to understand.
I internalized low self-esteem and inferiority. This causes me to assume a low-status / submissive role or position when interacting with people. As a kid, I remember valuing Humility as a Virtue (I stole the idea from Jesus). I remember trying to make myself small and unnoticed. I remember negatively viewing people who didn't exhibit Humility (whatever that means, I don't actually know).
I internalized the notion that I could never truly belong among people. I call this having the Alien nature. I've also heard it called Hermitdom. This causes me to maintain a certain amount of distance between me and others. From the inside, the distance feels like a great chasm without a bridge—an immovable structure of the landscape. (In truth, I created it.) Even as I join communities or form relationships, I do not get the sense of belonging in them. I feel like a visitor or a curious observer. "What interesting rituals this tribe has!" "What happens if I poke this human's brain like this?"
All of this shows up in my aesthetic taste. I'm drawn to bizarre sea creatures; contradiction, paradox, dichotomy, irony, and concepts that induce confusion or a feeling of wrongness; couchsurfing / the life of a nomad; high-contrast patterns and images; the color gray. I romanticize being alone, in all the senses of it—feeling alone on a crowded dance floor, being alone while looking at a vast and foreboding landscape, leaving behind friends and family to progress on an epic journey, climbing to the topmost position of power and feeling both empty and satisfied while looking out of a skyscraper window.
There was an interesting exception to the "no one cares or understands me" rule, and that was God. While I've been an atheist for 10 years or so, I found out a year ago that the words "God doesn't exist" sometimes translates to me as "unconditional love doesn't exist," and this makes me hella sad.
I was taught that God loves unconditionally (I went to a Christian elementary school), which is why those concepts got associated.
These days, I'm coming to see that 'unconditional love' is probably not the thing I seek. The thing I want is more like 'parental love'—a love that understands me better than I understand myself. Unfortunately that hasn't been that easy to find either.
From Ben's post on Steve Jobs:
I wished there were someone around whose judgment I trusted, who knew me well, who could tell me that I was being brave, that I was doing the right thing, that it was hard now but it would be worth it. A few weeks later, I thought to ask – why can’t I just tell myself those things?
I have to ask myself a similar thing—why can't I just give myself the love I seek?