How to Ignore Your Emotions (while also thinking you're awesome at emotions)

(cross posted from my personal blog)

Since middle school I've generally thought that I'm pretty good at dealing with my emotions, and a handful of close friends and family have made similar comments. Now I can see that though I was particularly good at never flipping out, I was decidedly not good "healthy emotional processing". I'll explain later what I think "healthy emotional processing" is, right now I'm using quotes to indicate "the thing that's good to do with emotions". Here it goes...

Relevant context

When I was a kid I adopted a strong, "Fix it or stop complaining about it" mentality. This applied to stress and worry as well. "Either address the problem you're worried about or quit worrying about it!" Also being a kid, I had a limited capacity to actually fix anything, and as such I was often exercising the "stop worrying about it" option.

Another thing about me, I was a massive book worm and loved to collect "obvious mistakes" that heroes and villains would make. My theory was, "Know all the traps, and then just don't fall for them". That plus the sort of books I read meant that I "knew" it was a big no-no to ignore or repress your emotions. Luckily, since I knew you shouldn't repress your emotions, I "just didn't" and have lived happily ever after



yeah nopes.

Wiggling ears

It can be really hard to teach someone to move in a way that is completely new to them. I teach parkour, and sometimes I want to say,

Me: "Do the shock absorbing thing with your legs!" Student: "What's the shock absorbing thing?" Me: "... uh, you know... the thing were your legs... absorb shock?"

It's hard to know how to give cues that will lead to someone making the right mental/muscle connection. Learning new motor movements is somewhat of a process of flailing around in the dark, until some feedback mechanism tells you you did it right (a coach, it's visually obvious, the jump doesn't hurt anymore, etc). Wiggling your ears is a nice concrete version of a) movement most people's bodies are capable of and b) one that most people feel like is impossible.

Claim: learning mental and emotional skills has a similar "flailing around in the dark" aspect. There are the mental and emotional controls you've practiced, and those just feel like moving your arm. Natural, effortless, atomic. But there are other moves, which you are totally capable of which seem impossible because you don't know how your "control panel" connects to that output. This feels like trying to wiggle your ears.

Why "ignore" and "deal with" looked the same

So young me is upset that the grub master for our camping trip forgot half the food on the menu, and all we have for breakfast is milk. I couldn't "fix it" given that we were in the woods, so my next option was "stop feeling upset about it." So I reached around in the dark of my mind, and Oops, the "healthily process feelings" lever is right next to the "stop listening to my emotions" lever.

The end result? "Wow, I decided to stop feeling upset, and then I stopped feeling upset. I'm so fucking good at emotional regulation!!!!!"

My model now is that I substituted "is there a monologue of upsetness in my conscious mental loop?" for "am I feeling upset?". So from my perspective, it just felt like I was very in control of my feelings. Whenever I wanted to stop feeling something, I could. When I thought of ignoring/repressing emotions, I imagined trying to cover up something that was there, maybe with a story. Or I thought if you poked around ignored emotions there would be a response of anger or annoyance. I at least expected that if I was ignoring my emotions, that if I got very calm and then asked myself, "Is there anything that you're feeling?" I would get an answer.

Again, the assumption was, "If it's in my mind, I should be able to notice if I look." This ignored what was actually happening, which was that I was cutting the phone lines so my emotions couldn't talk to me in the first place. Actually, the phone lines metaphor is a bit off, here's a better one.

Parent-child model

My self-concept and conscious mind are the parent. Emotions are young children that run up to the parent to tell them something. Sometimes the child runs up to complain, "Heeeeeeeeeey I'm huuuuuuungry!" My emotional management was akin to the parenting style of slapping the child and saying, "Being hungry would suck, so you aren't hungry."


I know full well that you can't slap someone into having a full stomach, but you can slap someone into not bringing their complaints to you.

I've experienced this directly extend to my internal world. My emotions / sub-agents aren't stupid. They learned that telling me, "Hey, you're concerned about your relationship with your friend!", "Hey, we really don't like getting laughed at", "Hey, we're concerned that this bad thing is going to happen indefinitely" would result in getting slapped. So they learned to stay quiet.

This got to the point where I'd feel awesome and great during my busy week, and then "mysteriously" and "for no reason" feel an amorphous blob of gray badness on the weekends. I had various social and emotional needs that weren't being met, but I didn't realize that. I quite intensely tried to introspect to see if this gray blob was "about anything", but only heard quiet static. This was me being the angry parent with their kids having a dinner of half a slice of bread each, shouting, "Is anyone hungry?! Huh??! No? GREAT."


... and now?

When I was a kid, my desire to "not worry if it was useless" was mostly one of "people who worry seem to be in pain, I'd prefer to not be in pain." Overtime, it turned into a judgmental world view. How wasteful and useless to be embarrassed/worried/scared/etc. This was the transition from a naive parent telling their kid, "Hmmmm, have you tried not being hungry?" to the angry parent shouting, "You won't be hungry in my house!!" (one might wonder how exactly that transition from naive to judgmental happened. That's a whole other story for a different post)

Over the past year I've haphazardly free styled towards opening up emotional communication with myself, and I've made progress. I'm still not sure what "healthy emotional processing" looks like, but I've gotten HUGE gains from just being able to sit with the fact that I'm feeling something, and hug the child that brought that emotion instead of slapping them.

I guess the biggest thing I wanted to impart with this piece was 1. the parent child model, but also 2. that ignoring your emotions can start as a simple innocent mistake.

Related. A sentiment in a LW thread I heard in the past few months was that the biggest barrier to rational discourse is creating environments where everyone feels safe thinking (not the same thing as a safe space). Extend that to the mind. The biggest barrier to rational thinking is organizing your mind such that it's safe to think. I still promote and admire "look towards the truth, even if it hurts", but I know see that if you don't spend enough resources on addressing that hurt, the hurt parts of yourself can and will take measures to protect themselves. Treat yourself well.

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The biggest barrier to rational thinking is organizing your mind such that it's safe to think

Related: besides being slapped down, another thing which may discourage subagents from speaking up is if one is too willing to share their reports with other people:

For many years, I thought privacy was a fake virtue and only valuable for self-defense. I understood that some people would be unfairly persecuted for their minority sexuality, say, or stigmatized disease status, but I always saw that more as a flaw in society and not a point in favor of privacy. I thought privacy was an important right, but that the ideal was not to need it.
I’m coming back around to privacy for a few reasons, first of which was my several year experiment with radical transparency. For a lot of that time, it seemed to be working. Secrets didn’t pile up and incubate shame, and white lies were no longer at my fingertips. I felt less embarrassed and ashamed over the kind of things everyone has but no one talks about. Not all of it was unhealthy sharing, but I knew I frequently met the definition of oversharing– I just didn’t understand what was wrong with that.
I noticed after several years of this behavior
... (read more)

I really agree with this. I have been thinking that we should "default to privacy", because if we think we have to share it, we will change our thoughts because of the social anxieties/pressures. (It's similar to that experiment that demonstrated people make better decisions if they didn't have to come to a solution first (I just remember this from reading HP:MOR).) Only after we reach the answer, (socially) unbiased, then we can decide to share it.

I don't think privacy means dishonesty. I personally really dislike lying, and I think it's because acting with false information sort of takes away their free will, and more practically, this creates a lot of uncertainty. But I think you can be honest about how you withhold information, to an extent: instead of lying, you can just say, "I won't tell you" or something like that. (I'm not sure how much that is based on the practicality of it and how much is it is a like a terminal value.)

I'm sort of confused by radical honesty. Is it really, truly, "radical"? Literally everyone has intrusive thoughts, and I personally sometimes have intrusive thoughts about raping or killing or saying racial slurs. I guess that's just a nitpick, because I can easily see how to be "maximally" honest (compared to normal communication).

What would you recommend to people who are doing this (or to people who aren't sure if they're doing it or not?)

One reason I'm finding it hard to give advice is because though it does feel like there's a generalizable "shape" of this problem, it's got a lot of degrees of freedom and I have seen the detailed way in which my own history has filled those in.

That aside, two guess on "if you have it". If you have strong feelings/beliefs about what sort of emotional reactions you should have to things, that feels relevant. Depending on the person, this might not even feel like a guilty should. I have held that I'm "not an angry person." Digging into that you'd find that I hate when people are overtly angry, it can make my blood boil, and "I'm not an angry person" is some top down, "people who get angry are sub-human, obviously I'm better than that." This seems relevant because this has been the fuel/motivation for me to ignore my emotions.

Also, if you ever explicitly go, "I'm just not going to feel this way anymore" that might be relevant. As mentioned, mine was not a secret under the radar ignoring emotions. I was aware of doing "something", I just thought that something was "being ... (read more)

Things like Focusing and goal factoring are a good first pass.

I relate to this a lot. Gonna skip over the young childhood stuff that started me on this path, but this really became an issue starting in high school. I was really stressed out trying to manage my girlfriend's fragile mental state. Developed acid reflux and thought I was having a heart attack because I ate through the inner lining of my esophagus and breathing was extremely painful. So I picked up meditation. And without a teacher I only focused on quieting my "monologue of upsetness". I had some symptoms of depersonalization before, but this is when it really developed into a full on disorder. And honestly until I realized it was a disorder I was quite proud of it. I'd leave my body and then I wouldn't feel any pain, I'd just observe "notme" handling it. A downright superpower if you ignore all the horrible side effects.

Some thoughts on the "..and now?" I've been wrestling with

1) Much like how I went "idk, I'll just learn to stop feeling bad and then I can keep dating her" I'm now going "idk, I'll just learn to stop worrying about the things that trigger me to feel nothing" which s... (read more)

I feel you so much on depersonalization seeming super awesome until you realize you’re cut off from life itself in many ways. I’m still mad how much the outside world seems to appreciate when you’re half-dead inside...

I’m still mad how much the outside world seems to appreciate when you’re half-dead inside...

Oof, I haven't thought directly about that before, but man that can sting.

Part of that seems to be the a basic part of "you're the only one in your own head." Other people have limited ability to know what I feel like, but can visibly tell whether or not I rage at other people. I get congratulated for not raging at people in tense situations, and it feels like I'm getting praised for the internal thing (ignoring my emotions).

Something I'd be interested in from this comment and maybe the OP is more clearly spelling out the bad thing that happened, as a result on "turning off emotions."

I happen to agree with the frame you and Hazard have here, but if I imagine a person who's currently thinking "yeah I can turn off my emotions it's great!", this post and comment doesn't quite articulate what they're missing or sacrificing. (To be clear, articulating this seems quite hard, just noting that it'd be useful if you could manage it)

Sometimes you scrape your knee really badly and don't notice. It's nice to not feel the pain, but also you just bled all over the carpet and now your mom is mad at you because she has to scrub the carpet for 20 minutes to get the dried blood off it.

If you could notice you scraped your knee immediately, make a fair assessment as to what care the scraped knee needs, and then turn the feeling off that is a super power. Sometimes I do that and it's awesome. But I don't have the power to turn them back on. They turn back on when they want, not when I want. Now I'm stuck in a bad state until something shocks me out of it. Plus sometimes they turn off completely involuntarily like the worst habit one could ever have.

My symptoms might be slightly different than Hazard's because I specifically relate to depersonalization symptoms but here are some negative things I deal with when I have involuntary disconnect.

1) Sometimes I try and move my body and nothing happens. I feel the sensations of movement, but my body doesn't move. When my feelings turned off, so did everything else.

2) Sometimes I can't empathize. I can logically say what someone is... (read more)

Thanks, appreciate this writeup a bunch!

As someone who fatefully discovered dissociation/depersonalization/derealization ( around 10 only to have shit hit the fan in my 20s, I think I can articulate what’s lost when you lose touch with emotions. At first it feels great to ride above the pain, for me social pain in particular, and only come back down when it’s safe, like at home with my family. But eventually you can’t come back down to experience even essential things like interest, excitement, most of all love and connection. I feel that I was slowly bleeding out the entire time I was away from my body, never fully replenishing what was lost, and after years I was just empty and shriveled. I had my first real depression at the end of college and I felt mostly numb but also miserable and heavy. There was a deep sense of loss for I didn’t know what. Now I know what I was craving was a sense of being embodied, of feeling real and being connected to the world.

Healing sucks immensely because years of dissociating from emotion makes them very intense and when you come back and your coping skills extremely weak. But coming back to your body and your feelings is re

... (read more)

Good point. I'll try to add details.

Big picture (from the subagent model): The children (emotions) will go behind your back and talk coordinate with other sub agents if going to the parent is not safe. Children often aren't that smart, and will probs pick a spaghetti tower solution. You will end up with behaviors you don't understand that will be hard to change, and you will won't be able to improve at meeting the needs of those children (because you don't know those needs exist).

Some specific examples:

Me being "inexplicably" depressed on the weekends. Because I'd ignored my emotions, I could see no explanation besides "The brain will randomly decide to feel aweful, there is nothing that can be done about this except go to sleep and now I'll probably feel fine come monday". So there was a decent amount of pain and suffering that has since been dealt with, but when I was ignoring my emotions I felt like I was stuck with it forever.

Ignoring my emotions has a powerful narrowing effect on the options I have for building skills and getting more competent. When I saw a challenge, possible goal/dream/desire, if I didn't immediate... (read more)

If you haven't I'd read it I'd totally recommend Kaj's Multi-Agent Models sequence. I used to have a mind model of "There is me, the smart goal oriented s2, and then s1, the fast and primitive lizard brain. Of course I shouldn't have disdain for s1, but really the game is about getting my s1 to do what I (s2) want" Now my model is different. I think of s2/consciousness as a type of information processing my brain can do, and I think I is my self-concept (which is stored and maintained in very distributed ways), and S1 is just "all other types of information processing" and in my mind there's room for lots of sub-agent like entities.
I haven't read it yet but I've saved all the links for this weekend. I'm still not sure how "real" the dichotomy is for me. I think I understand and agree with what you're saying about s1 and s2 just being different types of processing. But sometimes while control is transferring between me and notme it really feels like there are two people in my head. It's not like how I can make two imaginary people to represent two subagents I know I have, it's like a person who is already there and doesn't need to be created. It's my understanding that that's not a super rare symptom, but that it's also not normal. I'm not sure "meVSnotme" and "s2VSs1" are the same thing, but I map pretty well onto s2 and notme maps pretty well onto s1. I'm not sure how much this paragraph makes sense but I'm still figuring things out. Thanks for the post btw, the post/comments from you/kaj have helped and given me a lot to think about. This is all kinda a new realization after a year where I handled this all really poorly so I'm happy to get opportunities to explore it like this.
FYI I have had a very similar experience to what you're describing. You're not alone. I too found that being kind to notme instead of shouting at them is helpful. And, I've found one of the things that helps most is feeling really seen/heard by others, so hopefully this helps!
Seems to connected to this sort of belief network I had issues where it would be very painful and akward to explain my odd seeming behaviour. If I would describe a psychological quirck I had that was connected with psychological damage I would aplogise for being that way and the excesive restrictions what I was allowed to be started to be problematic. I eventually worked up to a position where it is seen very valuable that if you have trauma/damage quirks that you acknowledge and treat them and trying to pass as "normal" to not trigger the "offence" of being "mad" was seen as super-antigood. In the exreme the position that I previously thought was a good but came to think of as antigood (or bad) that people have a duty to not be brkoen/ get driven mad by pressures of life. In the area it has become more important for me to highlight the analogy between physical and mental injuries. If your stomach is open and you are bleeding profusely people have the instinct to block the flow of blood to outside the body. People do not start blaming you why you have gotten your stomach open, if they ask questions it's to clarify what interventions are effective in treating the damage. Even in the case when the injury is self-inflicted peoples pirmary message is not "you should not have done that". I guess one of the more plausible challneges to this characterization would be a emergency services medical profession accepting a gunshot wound victim in a city infested with gangs. The position of "This guy got himself shot doing stupid gangbanging". But I think even in cases like these it would not be professionally or ethically proper for the treater to be the one opining "you should stop gangbanging" althought education about the adverse efffects of bullets in stomachs would be within task scope. And even if physical intentonal huritng is criminal in some cases, that is not a totally blanket rule. Assault exists sure. But surgery is just medical violence and that is allowed. And i
Thanks for sharing your experience! Though I haven't written up a set of norms, I really like when someone engages with my posts by sharing the experiences they've had that relate to the ideas I'm talking about.
What happens if, instead of trying to prove to notme that it won't happen, you ask notme to show you (in a way which won't overwhelm you, in case the belief emerges from some particularly nasty memory) why it thinks it will happen?
Well, notme has REALLY great examples for everyone being fragile. He can't really come up with good reasons why hurting them is worth negative infinity points to me other than "Can you blame me?". Which, no, no I can't. He did the best one could expect of someone that age. If I talk with notme about how not everyone is fragile, the only thing I have to offer is a hope that I'm just in a filter bubble and there's some way to get out where people aren't like this. He only gives a vague admission that's a possibility. He feels very suspicious with the way I'm throwing around hope and hypotheticals. He also loses some confidence in me. Says I'm abandoning things and running away. The conversation ends here. I know that evidence points towards it being just a filter bubble, but notme really isn't willing to have this discussion. If I talk with notme about how it's not his responsibility to make sure they stay undamaged... huh, he's a little bit open to the idea that I could assign a very high but not negative infinity weight to the thought of hurting someone. Still suspicious, he's asking for a concession in return, and he's asking me to come up with what that concession is... but he's slightly more open to lowering the weight when I acknowledge his venting a bit more first.
he's slightly more open to lowering the weight when I acknowledge his venting a bit more first.

My suggestion is to continue with this route. Receive his venting, seek to genuinely empathize with it, try to understand and acknowledge his position as well as you can. Remember that understanding his position doesn't mean that you would need to act according to all of his wishes: you can validate his experience and perspective without making a commitment to go along to everything. Just seek to understand as well as possible, without trying to argue with him.

(If you ever find it difficult not to argue or empathize, try treating that desire to argue or empathize as another part of your psyche, one which can be asked if it would be willing to move aside in order to let you help notme better.)

That said, he might not be willing to tell you everything until he trusts you enough. And if he is willing to negotiate with you in exchange for a concession, that can be a useful way to build mutual trust as well.

In all likelihood, you are talking with a traumatized part of your psyche [1, 2, 3]. He has witnessed experiences which make him have extreme beliefs, so that normal IDC is a poor... (read more)

I've saved all the links for this weekend. Thanks for the post btw, the post/comments from you/Hazard have helped and given me a lot to think about. This is all kinda a new realization after a year where I handled this all really poorly so I'm happy to get opportunities to explore it like this.
Suggestion about how behavior is due to repressed memories can something be problematic. In psychological history, plenty of false memories have been created by pressuring people to remember events that lead to present problems. I don't oppose going down that road in principle, but it's good to be careful and ideally do it with a skilled person who directs the process.
I agree that some nasty stuff has happened under the context of "revealing repressed memories". From what I've read on that, my understanding is that the mechanism there is similar to what happens with police lineups. There is a pressure for you to recall, the authority figure is intentional or unintentionally wanting you to remember a particular thing, you pick up on those signals and pull together a fake memory of "seeing them commit the crime." I'm guessing that Kaj is talking about something very different from the frame of "find repressed memories." Now I don't have experience with IFS, but I'll explain something that I've done which feels like what Kaj is talking about, and feels very different from "find repressed memories". I notice I'm feeling an intense feeling about an abstract thing ("I can't fucking stand doing anything that looks like begging!"). Then I investigate why I feel that way. I think of different movies, books, memories, songs, that feel connected to this feeling. Some memories jump out (the lunch room in middle school, one kid having to tell his joke three times before the group decided to listen to him). Then I go, "Cool, this big cluster of memories of experiences is roughly the grounding for my attitude." Now that I've got a sense of what the attitude grounds in, I can consider what might I might need to do to reshape it. When I do this, I there's not much of a sense of "I buried this memory for years!". I can recall other points in my life when these memories have popped up, and don't expect anything besides "standard memory drift" to be happening. I'm less "unearthing hidden memories" and more "connecting seemingly disjoint memories to an attitude."
The issue isn't what Kaj intends to talk about but the space of possible ways of readers, reading Kaj's post. It's possible that someone would read the post and take the lesson that they should seek for the repressed memories from it.
Oh, I see your point. You made me realize that I almost never think in terms of "How might a given person take this post/writing?" I'm now wondering when that has and hasn't been helpful for me.
I don't think it's a problem to just gently ask and then be open to the possibility of something coming up. That's different from the kinds of leading questions that typically create false memories. Especially since Focusing/IFS/etc. style techniques seem to cause memories to come up spontaneously in any case, it's just slightly nudging the process forward. It also doesn't necessarily matter whether the memories are true or not, as long as it helps the healing process along. We all have plenty of false or misleading memories in our heads anyway.
When leading techniques like Focusing or IFS you don't normally tell the person you are leading things like "The part is only going to relax once you've witnessed the original memories which make him take on that extreme role". The sentence can be understood as a suggestion to seek for traumatic memories that might be the cause. It also contains a limiting belief in that it implies that the only way to deal with the issue is to go consciously through memories. Writing communication has the problem that the space of possible interpretation from readers is often much larger then in 1-on-1 communication. There the risk of someone doing the wrong thing after reading the post and not just doing a lot of Focusing/IDC.
Right, I agree that having an explicit intention to go looking for traumatic memories is likely to be counterproductive.
False memories can have negative consequences unrelated to the healing process. You might falsely remember something that causes you to think badly of someone, for example. But even ignoring those, I feel like "I'm going to remember false things for instrumental gain" is the kind of thinking that gets people into this kind of mess.
Kaj can correct me if I'm misinterpreting them, but my understanding of: Would be something like this: let's say I'm trying to figure out why I'm scared of people, and a memory pops up of a kid in in elementary school sticking their tongue out at my and everyone laughing. It could be that no one was making fun of me, the kid was just playing around with their tongue (as 8 year olds do), and I later edited in the laughter of the other kids, and added more negative emotional valence to it. I think Kaj is saying that it is useful to trace "Oh, I've got this thing in my head that has motivated me to act like ABC". Whether or not my memory is an accurate representation of what happened, this memory has been affecting you, and you could do with examining it.
I wouldn't interpret Kaj as saying "Go ahead and remember false things for instrumental gain. What could possibly go wrong with that!?". Truth is obviously important, and allowing oneself to pretend "this looks instrumentally useful to believe, so I can ignore the fact that it's clearly false" is definitely a recipe for disaster. What Kaj is saying, I think, is that the possibility of being wrong is not justification for closing ones eyes and not looking. If we attempt to have any beliefs at all, we're going to be wrong now and then, and the best way to deal with this is to keep this in mind, stay calibrated, and generally look at more rather than less. It's not that "recovering memories" is especially error prone, it's that everything is error prone and people often fail to appreciate how unreliable memory can be because they don't actually get how it works. If you try to mislead someone and convince them that a certain thing is happened, they might remember "oh, but I could have been mislead" where as if you do the exact same thing but instead you mislead them to think "you remember this happening", then they now get this false stamp of certainty saying "but I remember it!".
I endorse this summary.
I'm pondering this again. I expect, though I have not double checked, that the studied cases of pressure to find repressed memories leading to fake memories are mostly ones that involve, well, another person pressuring you. How often does this happen if you sit alone in your room and try it? Skilled assistant would almost certainly be better than an unskilled assistant, though I don't know how it compares to DIY, if you add the complication of "can you tell if someone is skilled or not?" Would be interested if anyone's got info about DIY investigations. 

The parent-child model is my cornerstone of healthy emotional processing. I'd like to add that a child often doesn't need much more than your attention. This is one analogy of why meditation works: you just sit down for a while and you just listen

The monks in my local monastery often quip about "sitting in a cave for 30 years", which is their suggested treatment for someone who is particularly deluded. This implies a model of emotional processing which I cannot stress enough: you can only get in the way. Take all distractions away from someone and they will asymptotically move towards healing. When they temporarily don't, it's only because they're trying to do something, thereby moving away from just listening. They'll get better if they give up.

Another supporting quote from my local Roshi: "we try to make this place as boring as possible". When you get bored, the only interesting stuff left to do is to move your attention inward. As long as there is no external stimulus, you cannot keep your thoughts going forever. By sheer ennui you'll finally start listening to those kids, which is all you need to do.

Strongest upvote. My life story is very similar— what I thought was just discipline totally handling my emotional and personality issues was actually an internally (and sometimes outwardly) abusive system that imploded after enough major life stressors.

I’ve written about the self-righteousness and judgment that came ultimately from not respecting my own vulnerabilities and needs here:

My model there is that I had a strong internal critic that I thought was protecting me from sucking and being unlovable. I liked to turn that critic on others (self-righteousness) because it gave me a break and made me feel safe, like at least I was better than them. But the real problem was how overpowered the critic was and that it had access to my feelings of self-love and self-acceptance at all.

Thanks for sharing! I really like your point on self-righteousness. Especially the one about engaging in self righteousness secretly strengthens your critic, which can turn on you, and not just others.

This is an excellent post, with a valuable and well-presented message. This review is going to push back a bit, talk about some ways that the post falls short, with the understanding that it's still a great post.

There's this video of a toddler throwing a tantrum. Whenever the mother (holding the camera) is visible, the child rolls on the floor and loudly cries. But when the mother walks out of sight, the toddler soon stops crying, gets up, and goes in search of the mother. Once the toddler sees the mother again, it's back to rolling on the floor crying.

A key piece of my model here is that the child's emotions aren't faked. I think this child really does feel overcome, when he's rolling on the floor crying. (My evidence for this is mostly based on discussing analogous experiences with adults - I know at least one person who has noticed some tantrum-like emotions just go away when there's nobody around to see them, and then come back once someone else is present.)

More generally, a lot of human emotions are performative. They're emotions which some subconscious process puts on for an audience. When the audience goes away, or even just expresses sufficient disinterest, the subconscious... (read more)

Post is very informal. It reads like, well, a personal blog post. A little in the direction of raw freewriting. It's fluid. Easy to read and relate to.

That matters, when you're trying to convey nuanced information about how minds work. Relatable means the reader is making connections with their personal experiences; one of the most powerful ways to check comprehension and increase retention. This post shows a subtle error as it appears from the inside. It doesn't surprise me that this post sparked some rich discussion in the comments.

To be frank, I'd be very wary of trying to suggest edits. I don't want this post to lose that feeling of unfiltered thought-to-page, when it's a crucial element of its magic. Maybe I'd add some doodley illustrations to vividly supplement the textual imagery. I imagine it *could* get clearer benefit from light restructuring and expansions. The most authentic-*feeling* writing does not perfectly align with with the most *authentic* writing, after all.

(Maybe edit the bit at the end of "Relevant context" so the ironic 'stands out' better... It was perfectly clear from context that this was ironic, but it could have been clearer from ?structure?wording?. id... (read more)

It seems like there's something missing here and I don't know how to add it. You make your childhood behavior of not being upset over things sound bad through framing, but you don't offer many (or maybe any) examples of it being ineffective. You mention that more recently you've been experiencing a sense of general malaise on the weekends, but the extent of that problem isn't clear nor is it obviously linked to the fix it mentality. Many people have malaise on the weekends and sometimes that's just because they're tired from the week and need to recuperate. I don't think moving away from a major life strategy is a good response to experiencing weekend malaise unless you have a very good reason to believe they're connected.

I only make this comment because I too practice the "fix it or stop complaining about it" method and don't find many problems with it. I don't think the angry parent slapping their kids framing is accurate. Stop complaining doesn't mean mentally slap yourself every time a negative emotion comes up. It means OODA loop a bit, and if you realize fixing the problem is going to be worse overall than not fixing the problem and suffering the consequences, suffer the cons... (read more)

Agreed that there's something missing. I didn't provide much of a model about what emotions are, mostly because I didn't have much of one when I wrote this. It was also the case that for some time I used my lack of a mechanistic model of emotions as an excuse to ignore the ways I was obviously hurting. In response to Raemon's comment here, I and a few others gave some more concrete thoughts on what negative repercussions are. I intend to write some follow up posts with what I've learned in the intervening years. One thing I need to expand on is what I actually did with "fix it or stop complaining", because if I take your comment at face value, we were clearly not doing the same thing, yet we both felt it sensical to call what we did "fix it or stop complaining". Another thought, these days I'm thinking a bit more in terms of "disavowed desires" instead of "repressed emotions". Desires (or subagents) feel like the mental things that generate loops across time, that make things come up again and again. Emotions are the transient expressions of these desires. Emotions actually can "just go away" if you ignore them, but I haven't found that to be the case for desires (I'm thinking less "I desire to have some lunch" and more "I desire to be accepted by others". Well, it's less "can I get this to go away rn?" (which you can almost always do with [drugs/video games/media/activity/etc]) and more "will this pop back up?"). This post of mine includes the exposition of one disavowed desire I've struggled with which generated a lot of emotions over the years which I ignored. The header "A Serious Pardox" describes the disavowed desire. Knots by R.D Laing describes in poetic language a lot of these emotional paradoxes. All that being said, I've spent the last yearish more in a mode of understanding and building agency. This has felt possible because I feel I've unraveled enough emotional paradoxes that I'll know if/when I'm doing something that hurts me (agency isn't safe w

Promoted to curated: I think this post is describing a real error mode that I think many people benefit from identifying. I also particularly appreciate that this post tries to provide concrete evidence in the form of personal experience (though obviously externally verifiable evidence is even better, but also even harder to come by). I think a frequent error mode for posts on LW is to not be grounded sufficiently in even personal experience.

I'm the author, writing a review/reflection.

I wrote this post mainly to express myself and make more real my understanding of my own situation. The summer of 2019 I was doing a lot of exploration on how I felt and experience the world, and also I was doing lots of detective work trying to understand "how I got to now."

The most valuable thing it adds is a detailed example of what it feels like to mishandle advice about emotions from the inside. This was prompted by the fact that younger me "already knew" about dealing with his emotions, and I wanted to writ... (read more)

I thoroughly enjoyed that :) Still want to see the full Book of Mormon at some point.
There are bootleg videos on YouTube, and if you happen to be in New York, the public library system there records all major Broadway shows and lets people watch them for free.


the thing were you're legs... absorb shock?"
It's hard to know how to give queues that will lead to someone making the right mental/muscle connection.

Where your


While I think the information provided by comments like this are very valuable to improve the text, I feel it's more effective to send a message then to leave a comment for this. People apart from the author likely don't profit much from reading it.
General note that I appreciate your errata comments.

Just commenting since this is on the front page again, but this was and continues to be one of the most important concepts to share with people who are dealing with burnout, akrasia, and emotional issues I have ever come across. I link it to people all the time, so thank you again for writing this it extremely impactful for me and for others who I've helped with similar issues over the years.

I'm trying to decide to what extent this applies to my lived experience, but finding it difficult to distinguish between maintaining a healthy tranquility and cultivating habitual impassivity. My intuition is that I've had both experiences, but the internal feedback for either is very similar. Both seem to involve putting a functional amount of distance between yourself and your emotional response, and - in my experience - the healthy habit does reinforce itself, just like the negative version. But then, sometimes, I find myself noticing the lack of an emo... (read more)

Oooooh man, I relate to this too hard.

While your specific examples of things you were ignoring are different from mine, and I never developed the judgemental worldview you mentioned in "…and now?", I realized a while ago that this was something I was/am doing, and that it'd been causing me to ignore important things.

I think it might be more common with AMABs, due to the way they're generally socialized. Toxic masculinity's a bitch, y'all.

Also, I specify "AMABs" instead of "guys" because apparently one of the things I was ignoring is that I'm trans; yay me for managing to intentionally miss THAT for 22 years.

I'd like to give this post a second nomination. I'm also trying various experiments in tracking down and listening to hidden/ignored emotions and find other peoples' accounts of this very helpful - it was well worth a reread. I also like the vivid real-life examples.

It seems to me that one of the trickier parts of this issue is that you don't know what you don't know. You've got the places in your emotional landscape that you're used to visiting, and that's where your attention naturally goes when you try to do a self-assessment. Reminds me a bit of something I learned in adolescence that when you're playing hide and seek, people are really bad at remembering to look up; I've even had a friend that eluded police chasing him in the park by simply getting out of immediate few and then climbing up into the foliage of a t

... (read more)
Wiggling your ears is a nice concrete version of a) movement most people's bodies are capable of and b) one that most people feel like is impossible.

Do you have a source for that claim that most people's bodies are capable of it? If so, is their any good way to learn it?

The assurances/anecdotes of someone who can: "You are already able to move your ears. The trick is learning how to move just your ears, and not everything else with them. Practice with a mirror." (Paraphrased from memory.)
Related strange fact: I can voluntarily twitch/flex/wriggle my right pectoral muscle but not my left one. I just can't seem to get it to happen despite the other being easy. Also, I'm left-handed. I would be surprised if my body was only capable of twitching one side but the not the other, so I'd guess it is some kind of trained neural control, but not that I know how to train it.
This article mentions an old 1949 study that claimed ear wiggling is heritable. I don't think that looked at learning at all though. From this article I gather that all humans have two small muscles that are attached to the ear for movement. Also: The last two claims make me think that maybe the genetically determined size of this region of the brain determines how "easy/natural" it is to wiggle them. There's lots of anecdotal data points of people learning to wiggle their ears (Quora, and this guy)
Great information. You convinced my that it's likely possible to learn it for many people.

This is a pretty simple and important point, told memorably through a real story of Hazard's life, with a simple internal-parts monologue. I think it communicates some important points well.

The psychologist Lisa Feldman Barrett makes a compelling case that emotions are actually stories that our minds construct to explain the bodily sensations that we experience in different situations. She says that there are no "emotion circuits" in the brain and that you can train yourself to associate the same bodily sensations and situations with more positive emotions. I find this idea liberating and I want it to be true, but I worry that if it's not true, or if I'm applying the idea incorrectly, I will be doing something like ignorin... (read more)

Large parts of BDSM are about experiencing emotions that are commonly seen in a negative way in a positive way by setting a specific context. At the same time BDSM is not about repressing emotions at all. There are plenty of different ways to interact with emotions and changing the context of how you relate to them. If you try it, don't know what you are doing and do it wrong, there's a lot of potential to mess things up. I like focusing/IDC/belief reporting because they are techniques for dealing with emotions in a way where the risk of messing up important self-regulation processes is lower then with certain other techniques. If you want control over emotions that's comparable to your control about breathing, the Grinberg method has guided ways to learn it. At the same time there are reasons against going into that community. One problem that they have as a community is for example that they aren't good at respecting personal boundaries.
I see the apparent tension you mention. My only interaction with Lisa Feldman's model is a summary of her book here, so I'll try and speak from that, but let me know if you feel like I'm misrepresenting her ideas. Here theory is framed in terms that on first glance make me suspect she's talking about something that feels entirely at odds with how I think about my own emotions, but looking more carefully, I don't think there's any contradiction. My one paragraph summary of her idea is "stuff happens in the world, your brain makes predictions, this results in the body doing certain things, and what we call 'emotions' are the experience of the brain interpreting what those bodily sensations mean." At the key point (in regards to my/your take-away) is the "re-trainability". The summary says "Of course you can't snap your fingers and instantly change what you're feeling, but you have more control over your emotions than you think." Which I'm cool with. To me, this was always a discussion about exactly how much and in what ways you can "re-train" yourself. My current model is that "re-training" looks like deeply understanding how an emotional response came to be, getting a feel for what predictions it's based on, and then "actually convincing" yourself/the sub-agent of a another reality. I bolded "actually convincing" because that's were all the difficulty lies. Let me set up an example: The topic of social justice comes up (mentioned because this is personally a bit triggering for me), my brain predicts danger of getting yelled at my someone, this results in bodily tension, my brain interprets that as "You are scared". I used to "re-train" my emotions by saying "Being scared doesn't fit our self-concept, so... you just aren't scared." It really helps to imagine a literally sub-agent with a face looking at me, completely unimpressed my such incredibly unconvincing reasoning. Now I go, "Okay, what would actually deeply convince me that I'm not going to get yelled at?"
Thanks. Thinking about it in terms of convincing a sub-agent does help. Breathing happens automatically, but you can manually control it as soon as you notice it. I think that sometimes I've expected changing my internal state to be more like breathing than it realistically can be.
Buddhism resolves this in the direction of "Internalize that your emotions are ultimately just a bunch of sensations. They can't 'run out of control', aren't positive or negative, until you construct a running narrative attaching those values to them."

Wow. I relate seriously to the first half of your story - the "read lots of books, learn about traps, don't fall in" part. 
But instead of completely ignoring emotions, I had decided to find the source and fix it. But just like you said - a kid doesn't have much power to fix things outside of themselves. But I had another piece of advice from family - it's not the outside that affects your emotions, you affect your emotions. If you're bored, just make yourself feel less bored by doing something (singing, drawing, thinking about what you're going to eat... (read more)

I agree completely with the sentiment "The biggest barrier to rational thinking is organizing your mind such that it's safe to think".

What works really well for me is to treat my emotions as well-meaning but misguided entities and having a conversation with them: "Anger, I get that you want to help me by making me explode at and punch this person. That would have been really useful in the ancestral environment. Unfortunately, the police exists. So how about you calm down for now and preserve your energy, so that you can better help me when it's more approp... (read more)

Can anyone relate to the fact of having 100% confidence but like 0% social skills?

Since I am the complete opposite and am more like, if you want to continue that metaphor, „Ok child, are you sure it‘s hunger? Where does it come from? Will simply eating solve your needs?“ I am more the kind of person, that hugs its inner child all the time but sometimes forgets its is only a child (if we continue that example). I am highly sensitive and it feels really unnatural and weird not to completely analyze every little feeling. My brain basically is overthinking because of that all the time.

So long story short, now I know what not to do, but what should I do instead? If anybody has some literature about that, I would be grateful!

Mayhaps less helpful then pointing to literature on the topic, but you reminded me of the extent to which I try to apply the frame of sub-agents/children. In that frame, what you describe sorta sounds like "helicopter parenting", and in counter my mind goes to "What are all of the intuitions I have about what is involved in letting someone else grow on their own terms and letting them get into trouble to learn from it?" I don't feel confident suggesting that as a recommendation, but it might be a useful direction to look.
This made me think of something I tried, and I think succeeded at, a few years ago. There was a part of me (call it Subagent A) that was pretty convinced that I was somehow inherently bad at the domain of study I had chosen for myself, and was pointing at my bad grades in that domain as evidence. The rest of my mind thought I was bad at a large number of things for other reasons and pointed to the fact that my grades were bad in nearly all domains that required any significant amount of effort. The rest of my mind was unable to talk Subagent A into changing its belief, so I thought that if I fed myself some new experiences where I was doing really well in this domain, I could shift that belief. (I know my phrasing makes it sound like this strategy was simple to arrive at, but I actually spent a long time trying other things before I tried this.) To this end, I spent a few semesters taking a very small number of genuinely demanding courses in my chosen domain, got very good grades (and positive recognition from the people around me), and became much less concerned that I was inherently inept in this domain. (It was lot of time to invest though.)

Great post. It also looks amazing on your blog - that picture goes with it well.

Is this related to risk aversion?

Thanks! This isn't connected to risk aversion in my mind. If I was to make up a connection, it would be "I have parts of me that just don't want to be hurt, and they will scheme to not be hurt, one way or another. The only way to not be 'risk averse' in this way is to protect against the game-endingly bad things my parts are worried about, so they will let do things that look like risky loss, but no longer hurt."
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