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

by Hazard4 min read31st Jul 201966 comments


EmotionsGrowth StoriesRationality
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(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 that I wasn’t as in touch with my true feelings. At first I thought my total honesty policy had purged me of a lot of the messy and conflicted feelings I used to have. But there was something suspiciously shallow about these more presentable feelings. I now believe that, because I scrupulously reported almost anything to anyone who asked (or didn’t ask), I conveniently stopped being aware of a lot of my most personal and tender feelings. [...]
I now think privacy is important for maximizing self-awareness and self-transparency. The primary function of privacy is not to hide things society finds unacceptable, but to create an environment in which your own mind feels safe to tell you things. If you’re not allowing these unshareworthy thoughts and feelings a space to come out, they still affect your feelings and behavior– you just don’t know how or why. And all the while your conscious self-image is growing more alienated from the processes that actually drive you. Privacy creates the necessary conditions for self-honesty, which is a necessary prerequisite to honesty with anyone else. When you only know a cleaned-up version of yourself, you’ll only be giving others a version of your truth.
Here’s an image that’s been occurring to me. Privacy creates a space in which unexpected or unsightly things can be expressed. It’s like a cocoon for thoughts and feelings. A lot of ugly transformational work can take place there that simply couldn’t occur in an open environment (the bug literally dissolves!). The gnarly thoughts and feelings need to do their work undisturbed by any self-consciousness or fear of judgment, just like caterpillars need a tight encasement where the wind won’t scatter their components as they reassemble into butterflies.

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 in control and shifting my mood."

The thing that originally set me off on the noticing path that lead to now, was realizing that I'd shut off a lot of my ability to organically want. This became apparent from times when I'd go, "cool, I really don't have to do anything this weekend, what do I want to do?" *crickets*

On the most abstract level of "what to do", I'd say try and make your mind a safe place. Do things in the self compassion space. When I went to CFAR, someone gave a lightning talk where they demoed going through some compassionate self talk in front of us, and that had a strong impact on me.

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 seems like it might just be a bandaid

2) Metta meditation seems to help a little. Focusing on having feelings instead of stopping them. It ended up having me come to my own parent-child model and when I offered notme to be his father that led to him calming down a lot. (notme ~= my system 1? I know there's not actually another me, this is just how it ~feels~)

3) I've found a core belief of "People are fragile, I must be resilient or I'll damage people" that is at the base of it all, but it's not so easy to just knock out the belief at the base of yourself. notme still doesn't believe that everything isn't about to come crashing down because of someone else's fragility. My internal double crux always gets down to this point and then notme says prove it and I don't know how which leads me to...

4) Progressive overload is normally my answer to everything, but how? I can't just sort people I know by how triggering they are to me and ask them to trigger me. It's not the same in that context, and that's not the most compassionate thing to ask someone to do. I'd have to find some way to naturally be in an environment I find triggering without feeling like I was using the people there. I'm probably not just being creative enough; or maybe I'm losing sight of the end goal by focusing on this and not trying to find other ways to convince notme everything is fine

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 feeling, but I don't feel any true empathy for them when I'm in that state. I can't turn just my feelings off, my ability to feel other people's emotions turns off too. It leads to me treating people like they are disposable. It leads to me not enjoying talking about other people, as feeling their feels is what makes that fun.

3) My memory is extremely bad. I don't remember what I say when I'm depersonalized. If someone wants me to repeat something they liked, oh boy is that stressful because I have no clue what I said or if I could say something similar. I was completely unaware of how I treated people when depersonalized because I remember so little of it. I don't really remember much from last August to this June to be honest.

4) Sometimes I feel inhuman. If I spend a long period of time not feeling anything, then I've kinda opted out of the human experience and it's like why am I even bothering to be alive? I'm not suicidal, just kinda meh.

5) Sometimes I make a bad call when to turn it off on purpose. Someone will be upset, I'll turn my feelings off so it doesn't bother me, and then the problem comes back later when honestly if I had faced the feelings I would have come up with a solution to the issue.

6) I have a weird relationship with akrasia. Sometimes I am the master of akrasia, just turning off my feelings and doing it anyways! But then I stop caring enough to even do that. Until my system 1 turns back on my system 2 won't even care enough to input a new command.

7) "Turn off feelings" for me is a bit of a simplification. It's just like, the feelings were in notme (my system 1?) so when I separate from notme I don't feel it but it's still there in notme. And then when I reconnect with notme they're calm enough that I don't really notice them but they are still lurking around in very faint ways.

8) I stay in situations I shouldn't. My natural reaction to a bad romantic experience is just to turn off my bad feelings and continue the relationship. Without the negative reaction there isn't really anything pushing me to call things off. So I spend a lot of time sticking in things I shouldn't.

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 really the only way to come back to life. Being estranged from them is actively rejecting the reality of your experience and dividing yourself. It’s the autoimmune disease of the soul. Someone who’s checked out of a major part of their experience is not only missing the experience, but engaged in a civil war to keep it that way. You may be safe from barbed emotions when you’re dissociated, but eventually you’re not able to rest even in your own experience. It’s a torture that’s difficult to describe to someone who hasn’t experienced it to understand but I hope I’ve given some insight.

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 immediately know how to get it, I would ignore my wants and tell myself I didn't want it. There's a way in which I was only able to make local optimizations. There have been plenty of times in which I've "just been doing something for the hell of it" and then realized I was skilled enough to enact an old desire. This is a pretty random/happenstance process. Now that I'm better at listening to my emotions, I'm able to Scheme towards things that I want that don't yet feel possible.

Ignoring my emotions contributed to a behaviors were I'd be very quick to

Another Big Picture: Thinking ignoring my emotions is great feels like mistaking wire-heading for leprosy. Wire heading as "self modify to feel good about whatever my circumstances are" and leprosy as "I'm still being torn apart and damaged by things, I just don't feel it anymore."

(notme ~= my system 1? I know there's not actually another me, this is just how it ~feels~)

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!

I've found a core belief of "People are fragile, I must be resilient or I'll damage people"

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 if a incident involves bigger injuries it probably means the quilt of the offending party is greater. But damage doesn't imply quilt. You can do sports and be in physical causal realtion to their injuries and you would not neccesarily be in the wrong with your actions.

Elderly people have the property that they can get bruises easily. And part of organising such a persons life might mean that things are done safely without significant risk of physical striking. Part of that might be giving advice how ot move about. Some familiy of an old person might scold the elder for being covered in bruises for "not following instructions to move safely". But this kind of scolding would be by an large to be in the wrong and very insensitive. And if a elder is found with bruises it doesn't mean that somebody has done something wrong (althought statistical high amounts would be reaon to suspect that adherence to safety propocols is not up to notch). Elder people are physically fragile and that is okay and they do not have a duty to be sturdy.

The interesting case could be that if a young person throught throught neglience for daily sports (althought you would almost need to never get out of bed) got himself to the same fragile state that elderly people are in. Some mean person might accuse that the lazy person is quility of being a "weakling" that they "have themselfs caused their pitiful state" But I would find this kind of reasonning to atleast miss the point and almost safely say taht such reasonign would be in the morally wrong.

Yet in the mental health aspect if you show sign of damage it's not uncommon for that to be treated as you having comimtted a wrong. Elder people do not have a duty to physically sturdy but adult people have a duty to be mentally sturdy. Note that we do not have the same kind of duty to be unwounded. Note that you might face discrimination if you become physically disabled but there is no perception of people being wrong for being disabled (and I guess some forms of discrimination can be traced to a theory where they are blamed for their disability).

Mental damage sucks and intentionally inflicted mental damage is not nice but I think there should be room for people to be mentally fragile. It's far more important that people breaking down happens well rather than it never happenning. It's not a taboo state. We would rather never get wounded but forbidding to be wounded seems like a bad way to arrive at never being wounded. So being wounded well doesn't mean promoting woundedness.

Taking maximising ability to be mentally fragile would mean that all adults should enjoy all the mental provisions afforded to children (or there being danger of that). Sometimes we solve some things by demanding something of someone and some problems we currently solve by demanding mental sturdiness. But it's possible to be too demanding. Or like profession s that need to be strong can still have sickdays ie days when they are not required to be strong.

I realise that there is a potential conflict with (some conceptions of) the "I want to be stronger" ethos. Inverted it means there is less of that weak/fragile you there. For example in the "strong guy" professional trying to be "stronger" by avoiding sickdays or not granting them sickdays would be a questionable strategy. And there is a big difference between wanting to have 1 sickday in a 1year, 1 sickday in decade and 1 sickday in a century. Refusing to take a sickday when you are coughing constantly is problay not conductive for total amoutn of calories burned for lifting things in a lifetime (or whatever the strength use is). I guess part of the maybe underephasised flipsides is that "when you want ot be stronger" you acknowledge your weakness more and actually address it ie "realising that you are weak" is strength and "ignorance of weakness" is antistrength.

Also what i have covered here implies a edgecase where you use mental damaghe in the same way that one uses physical damage to heal, some sort of mental surgery. When doing this sort of activity it could easily be imagined that the damage is close and certain and the benefits are uncertain and far away like doing random surgery motions is more likely to be damaging rather than constructive. But there is the possiblity that when you see that your action does mental damage the fact that keeps it from bring automatically morally wrong (or one of them) is that maybe the demeage done is exactly what the person needs for healing at the time. Maybe letting your kid fall a couple of times from a tree in your yard makes it so they don't get crushed under a wrecking ball when being nearby construction sites or be mortally afraid when exposed to justified danger. Maybe starting a needless fight that hurts the participants feelings but gets a particuaar drama sorted out and/or means that people present less derailing arguments when doing important society policy discussions.

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.

My internal double crux always gets down to this point and then notme says prove it and I don't know how which leads me to...

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 fit and is likely to stall, the way you've seen it stall. The part is only going to relax once you've witnessed the original memories which make him take on that extreme role, understood why he feels that way, and been able to give him the comfort and adult support that he would originally have needed in that situation.

Just keep listening and building trust, until he's ready to show you those original memories. Questions like "what are you afraid would happen if I didn't do what you wanted" or "what would be bad about that" may be useful, as is actively validating whatever he says and offering him comfort. So might "Do you feel like I fully understand you now". "How old are you" and "how old do you think I am" may also provide interesting results.

Like you said, he did the best one could expect of someone that age. But he's probably still partially stuck in those experiences. It's time to help him heal, and to help him see that you've got the resources to handle things on your own now. Once that happens, he's free to take a new role inside your psyche, one which is likely to feel much easier for him.

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."

He has witnessed experiences which make him have extreme beliefs, so that normal IDC is a poor fit and is likely to stall, the way you've seen it stall. The part is only going to relax once you've witnessed the original memories which make him take on that extreme role, understood why he feels that way, and been able to give him the comfort and adult support that he would originally have needed in that situation.

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."

I'm guessing that Kaj is talking about something very different from the frame of "find repressed memories."

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.

It also doesn’t necessarily matter whether the memories are true or not, as long as it helps the healing process along.

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:

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.

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!".

What Kaj is saying, I think, is that the possibility of being wrong is not justification for closing ones eyes and not looking. [...] 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.

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. 

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.

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.

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?. idk "yeah nopes" felt kind of weak as the turning point.)

What I would like to see: It's a year later now. Write a postscript with updated thoughts since then. How has your model, and your use of it, evolved since you wrote this post? Does the basic practice of "sit with the fact that I'm feeling something, and hug the child that brought that emotion instead of slapping them" produce the same results for you it did at the start?

Also expand on the 'related'. See if you can find specific posts and quotes to support the sentiment of safety as the biggest barrer to rational thinking/discourse. If you can collect and quotes some small anecdotes of other people's experiences with needing or finding emotional safety to improve their thinking, I believe that would make it feel more... ?connected?. Increase safety not just by providing a skill but also generating a sense that 'i am not alone in this'.

I have one niggling question: Is it actually true that most people have all the machinery to move their ears? I thought there was a piece missing or something in the median person....

Looking up the facts, it looks as though that whether conscious control can be taught is under contention but the function is all there.

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.

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 stops expressing that emotion.

In other words: ignoring these emotions is actually a pretty good way to deal with them. "Ignore the emotion" is decent first-pass advice for grown-up analogues of that toddler. In many such cases, the negative emotion will actually just go away if ignored.

Now, obviously a lot of emotions don't fall into this category. The post is talking about over-applying the "ignore your emotions" heuristic, and the hazards of applying in places where it doesn't work. But what we really want is not an argument that applying the heuristic more/less often is better, but rather a useful criterion for when the "ignore your emotions" heuristic is useful. I suggest something like: will this emotion actually go away if ignored?

The post is mainly talking about dealing with your own emotions, but this criterion is especially useful for dealing with others' emotions. When you are audience, it's relatively easy to remove the audience. Sometimes, another person's negative emotion will just die down if you walk away, but will sustain itself if you hang around trying to "help". The key thing to ask is "will this emotion just go away if it doesn't have an audience?".

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.

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 write a post the plausibly would have helped him. 

I think this sort of data is incredibly important. Understanding the actual details of your mind that prevented you from taking advantage of "good advice". I want more of people sharing "here's the particular way I got this wrong for a long time" more so than "something other people get wrong is blah". This feels like the difference between "What? I guess you weren't paying attention when you read the sequences" and "Ah, your mind is in a way where you will reliably get this one important aspect of the sequences wrong, let's explore this."

I still reference this post a lot, to friends and in my own thinking. It's no longer the focal point of any of my self work, but it's a foundational piece of self-knowledge.

"Does this post make accurate claims" is the fun part :) I tried my hardest to make this 100% "here's a thing that happened to me" because I'm an expert on my own history. But real quick I'll try to pull out the external claims and give them a spot check:

  • Everyone could learn to wiggle their ears
    • Not exactly a booming field of research, but this had the little research I could find. I think I'd put 80% or something on this being true.
  • Certain mental/emotional skills that you haven't practiced you're whole life have the same "flailing around in the dark" aspect as learning to wiggle your ears
    • "Flailing around in the dark" is defs a possible human experience. Maybe a better example would be bling people seeing through sensors on their tongue. It takes time to learn how to use such a device.
    • I'd expect most people to agree with me that as a developing infant, learning to actuate your body and mind involved a lot of time "flailing around in the dark". Though I imagine one could also say "yeah, but after you grow up that's not a problem any more. There aren't parts of my body that I'm mysteriously unable to move but have the potential to." Wiggling ears was supposed to be an example of such a part, but I still want to address this. Why wouldn't you have learned how to actuate all the parts of your mind? My answer is longer and I'm going to punt it to another comment.
  • The parent child model, and parts-work in general
    • Kaj's amazing sequence is where you should look for exploring the literal truth of these sorts of models.
    • pjeby and kaj had a great comment discussion about when and where parts models help or get in the way of self-work. The central paradox of parts work is that even if you sensibly identify conflicting parts of yourself, it's still all you. It always has been. Mostly in accord with what pjeby says, I did in fact find the parent child model very useful specifically because the level of self-judgment I had made it really hard to not attack myself for having these wants and needs, but when I frame things has a group I can tap into all the intuitions I've built over the years about how of course you need to listen to people and not beat them into silence.
      • In summary, parts models can have the effect of putting distance between you and desires and needs that you have. It is possible that you are currently self-judgemental enough that you won't be able to make much progress unless you find a way to distance these desires, at least long enough for your judgement to shut up, and possibly allow you to figure out how to deal with the judgement.

Right, onto follow up.

In a comment, raemon said he'd appreciate an exploration of "what bad stuff actually happens if you ignore your emotions in this or a similar way?" There are 3 great response sharing snippets of diff people's experience. I think the most compelling extension I could add would be exploring more how "ignoring emotions" and "ignoring my ability to want" blend together, and how these processes combined to, for a long time, make it really hard for me to tell if something actually felt good, if I liked it or was interested in it, and as a corollary this made it easier for me to chase after substitutes (I can't tell if I like this, but it's impressive and everyone will reward me for it, but I also am not aware that I can't tell if I like it, so I now do this thing and think I like it, even though my motivation/energy for it will not survive outside the realm of social reinforcement). I'm currently writing a post that explores some of those dynamics! I could certainly add a paragraph or two to this post.

In some comment Lisa Feldman's work on emotions was mentioned. This also highlights how I don't really look at what emotions are in this post. I've since built a waaaay more detailed model of emotions, how to think about mind-body connection, how this relates to trauma, and how it all connects to clear thinking / not being miserable. Again, this would be a whole other post, possibly many.

Another follow up on how I relate to parts models. I think in parts way less often these days. Pretty sure this is a direct result of having defused a decent amount of judgement. But I can also see a lot of that judgement flare up again when I'm in social situations. So I'm generally able to, when by myself (which is often), feel safe accepting all of me, but I generally don't feel safe doing that around other people.

A few people have told me that they really wanted a section on "and here's what healthy emotional processing looks like", but I don't think I'm going to add one, because I can't. I think the most valuable stuff I can write is "here's a really detailed example of how it happened to me... that's all." And while I have grown better at processing and listening to emotions, I've yet to gain the distance to figure what I've been doing is was most essential for me, and what the overall arc/shape of my progress looks like. Plus, this would be a whole nother giant post, not an addition. 

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 tree. He saw the police walk right underneath him.

How do you break outside of the familiar? I think there are several, at least.

  1. Don't hold yourself back from floundering around. Babies engage in Fairly random motions in order to learn how their body works. It's a kind of search routine even if it does seem haphazard and pointless. A true random walk may not be optimal but it does tend to cover unfamiliar ground eventually.

  2. Put yourself into situations that are unfamiliar and don't shut yourself off from them. You don't necessarily have to pick the most unpleasant or aversive things that you've never done. But there should be good and bad novelty, and probably a whole lot of just weird. Give yourself a little bit of time in the new place so that you know What feelings emerge after your initial wariness to new situations.

  3. Spend quiet time with yourself, meditation or other reflective times and simply concentrate on feelings. Abstract emotions and just feelings in your body and look for the small things oh, the things that you would normally ignore and let them emerge. They may be the tip of an iceberg.

  4. Look to those times in your life that you seemed to have a diminished range of emotions compared to what people are supposed to have in those situations. If you don't know what people are supposed to have in those situations oh, you probably should read more classic fiction from a variety of authors. I suggest both male and female authors because for whatever reasons it seems that there are different parts of the emotional spectrum that get covered. A lot of the Nobel prize-winning authors are quite good explorers of The Human Condition. For me, I've enjoyed Hermann Hesse and Doris Lessing oh, a lot of people like William Faulkner and James Joyce.


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


General note that I appreciate your errata comments.

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.

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 ignoring my emotions in a bad way. I'm not sure how to resolve the tension between "don't repress your emotions" and "don't let a constructed narrative about your negative emotions run out of control and make you suffer."

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?" This probably involves understanding why I had that fear. This might involve some exposure therapy. It's also important to note that it might turn out that, yes, I will get yelled at 50% of the time in a conversation on social justice.

This is getting a bit long/ranty, so I'll tie it up. I map "repressing your emotions" onto "trying to re-train emotions via unconvincing arguments" and "re-training your emotions" to getting your mind to update certain predictions by speaking its language and giving it actually compelling evidence.

Let me know if any of that landed.

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."

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?

Do you have a source for that claim that most people's bodies are capable of it?

The assurances/anecdotes of someone who can:

If so, is their any good way to learn it?

"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:

Unlike other facial muscles, ear muscles have their own accessory nucleus, a control area for muscle function, in the brainstem, says ter Meulen, a researcher at Erasmus MC, a university medical centre in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.
"Compared to animals, especially bats and cats, this nucleus is rather small in humans," he says.

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.

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.

"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?"

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.)

Ignoring emotions doesn't make them go away, in fact it makes it worse. It's easy to ignore emotions if you just keep telling yourself that you don't care, at one point you'll start believing whatever you have programmed your brain to believe. It's better to just deal with your emotions instead of battling with them.


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."