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Borrowing a “Parent”

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Back when I was writing my old blog, and talking about how I didn’t need to be chastised, have fingers wagged at me, or barked at like a drill sergeant in order to lose weight, I said this was so because I am an “adult”. This meant that I could analyze my own behavior, motivation, and choices and act in my own best interest. I didn’t need someone else to tell me that I was “good” or “bad” or guide me through.

I have also written on this blog about the way in which the psyche is divided into three parts in the theories underlying transactional analysis. Those three parts are parent, child and adult. The child is our emotional self, the part that acts and reacts emotionally, sometimes to our detriment. The parent is the sum of all of the doctrines, platitudes, and rules that we have encountered. It is the voice of authority directing us without explanation. It is the voice that says, ” just do what I say and shut up about it.” The “adult” is the voice of reason which analyzes all available information and acts in what is our best interest rationally. It’s the one that tells us that we should ask for a raise if we feel we deserve one rather than act on our fear of having such a conversation with the boss (which is the voice of the child).

Many people think they are “adults” simply because they have assumed that status in society by reaching a certain age, getting a job, paying taxes, etc. On an emotional level, however, many of us are not truly adults until we stop acting on our need to be children or on our childish impulses. As of late, I have finally come to understand why some people are attracted to being “bullied” by various gurus, experts, etc. in order to achieve their goals. These people are, in essence, looking for a “parent” to push them to do what they cannot manage to do themselves.

Since parents are the ones judging, cajoling, and ordering, it would make sense that a person who is too mired in his own sense that he or she is a child with a problem that is too big to handle on his or her own would look outward for a parent to both bark orders and pat one on the head. The orders that come along are potent motivators outside of oneself as people often yield to authority better than to their own sense of reason. The reward of being told one is a “good” girl or boy is also potent since it provides a tangible external seal of approval. However, it does betray an inability to find intrinsic value in ones own achievements. Essentially, it’s like doing well on a test not because you acquire knowledge which will enrich you as a person, but simply because you really want that gold star from the teacher.

People who will accept abuse or harshness in order to assist them with their goals believe they need to beat themselves up or be beaten up to succeed, but what they really need is to look outside of their need for a “big daddy or mommy” to get them motivated. They have to stop looking for external validation or motivation and develop their own adult processes so that they can feel good about themselves because they accomplish things of value for themselves, not because someone else tells them to.

As for the people who relish in playing the “parent” figures, I imagine that for them, it’s about power. There’s no person more powerful than a parent who can direct and control their child’s lives. There’s also the fact that, much as parents take credit for their children’s successes, a guru, guide, etc. will take credit for the success of his or her followers. One of the reasons they become angry when “disobeyed” and highly blameful when their acolytes fail is that they have assumed the parental role and disobedience both undermines the sense of power and failure takes away their capacity to reflect in the glory of their followers.

Understanding this dynamic is of value to me mainly in knowing why some people would subject themselves to what appear to be obviously abusive and bizarre relationships with people who are, quite frankly, horrible human beings who seem to exercise extreme myopia in the name of “helping others”. I know now that the people who seek the help are looking for the “parent” they have long-since outgrown in chronological terms to come in and solve their problems, much like the one that did so for them when they were children.

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Written by yesithinktoomuch

January 22, 2011 at 7:42 am

Posted in psychology

Doing What You’re Good At

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Since getting the food and exercise thing largely in hand, I’ve been pushing ahead on other goals using a similar method to try to accomplish other goals. This may sound like a doddle, but it’s actually quite difficult for a variety of reasons, and I think it is related to why many people who have mastered their weight loss processes continue to focus solely on them rather than move on to developing a more balanced life.

The primary issue, as most people are aware, is that losing weight or maintaining losses takes extra effort. For me, the time I spend shopping and preparing food has greatly increased, but there is also the time spent on exercise. I’m no gym bunny, and tend to only walk and do weight lifting and various stretching and calisthenics at home. It’s very modest by most people’s standards, and I tend to space out these activities and do a few repetitions of one activity here and there. However, the aggregate time that these things eats up in the day is not insubstantial especially when necessary activities (work, house cleaning, personal hygiene, etc.) are added into the mix.

That being said, while time is certainly factor, there is also the fact that I find myself burned out mentally and in the evenings I just want to stare at the computer screen. While I have developed a habit of getting up and doing a little exercise between sessions on the computer, I haven’t carved out a habit of doing other things, especially mentally engaging activities like reading the non-fiction books I’ve bought, writing, studying languages, etc. And, incidentally, I exercise here and there not because I’m obsessive about it, but becuse studies show that sitting for long periods of time is quite bad for you. I also tend to feel sleepy if I stare at the computer for too long without a break.

While I think there is absolutely nothing wrong with allowing my mind to “rest” by watching DVDs, reading unimportant things on the computer, there are things I want to do and am not doing. In general, I think that people tend to be far too hard on themselves when it comes to how they spend their free time and tend to think they should be productive and efficient every minute. They view time spent doing things like watching T.V. as “wasted” and think they should be doing something else. I think humans were not meant to be occupied in highly productive work frequently. Our minds are meant to wander. Our jaws are meant to be slack for certain periods of time.

Getting back to my initial point though about how this situation causes people to focus on diet ad weight control exclusively. One of the things I have noticed about many people including myself is that becoming good at something breeds a desire to focus more on that thing. Some time back, I studied professional graphics software including Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign. I became quite proficient in all of them and their intricacies. Many people dabble with these applications, but only work with them superficially. I learned the deeper workings and how to take advantage of the power they have to work more efficiently. In fact, I became a certified expert in Photoshop.

Once I became so good at these programs, I became rather stuck on and in them. I would use them even for things which they weren’t really intended for, like word processing or web page content. I did this because I was already good at them and would prefer to work with what I knew well than learn other types of software. I not only identified myself as a power user of these applications, but I felt like a “fan”. The truth was that I was staying within the bounds of where I had become successful. I was good at these things so using them made me feel good about my abilities. Stepping outside and doing something else was not only more difficult and time-consuming, but less rewarding. That meant I rapidly became frustrated with feeling like a beginner who wasn’t accomplishing much of anything.

In regards to weight loss, once you “master” the process to a certain extent, and you have spent time immersed in the diet culture, you may feel you are “good at” it. Being comfortable talking about it, practicing it, and deriving a sense of satisfaction and esteem from it is natural, much as my sticking to my Adobe apps was comfortable. There were far easier applications that I didn’t learn how to do basic tasks in (like Microsoft Word) because I’d rather stick with what I knew. There may indeed be easier things than diet and weight control that people could put time and effort into, but they will choose to remain deeply immersed in the area in which they feel they have mastery.

Mastery is a sort of trap in this way and I think it factors just as much into people not expanding their identity or spending their time on other aspects of their lives as the oft-stated “time” issue. Yes, dealing with weight control takes time, but the truth is that people make it take more time because they’re already good at it and expanding their interests will be much less rewarding than playing in the weight loss sandbox. While I knew that I never wanted to end up as one of those people who lost weight and then made it the center of her existence because I didn’t want my body and the related issues to become my identity, I hadn’t considered this particular aspect before. In essence, we don’t do it to become good at it, but rather are good at it so we do it.

Regarding my goals, I used to be good at certain things but they have fallen by the wayside in the past decade or so. I used to be great at studying things, but am so out of the habit that my skills have rusted. I also used to read a lot of books, but have become so bound up in briefer articles that it has become nearly impossible for me to finish a book even if I am interested in it. These are important things for which I will need to refresh my old capabilities, but I’m finding it difficult to get rolling. I decided that I’m going to take the same “small steps” approach to these as I did to my changes in lifestyle (both mentally and physically). I don’t have to sit down and read a book for a half hour or an hour. I just have to read 10 pages a day. I don’t have to study for a long time, I just have to learn one new thing and remember it. I don’t have to speak a language well in a certain time frame, but I do need to learn and have good recall of a few phrases or words per week.

The bar is low so I have a very good chance of clearing it. When I’m good at clearing those low hurdles, it’ll be easier to move on because the increased pleasure and esteem I receive from dealing in things in which I have mastery will continue to push me forward. Mastery can be a potent motivator as well as something which can hold you back from moving on.

Written by yesithinktoomuch

January 20, 2011 at 2:51 am

Posted in goals, psychology

The Incomplete Lifestyle Change

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I try not to think or talk too much about weight loss, as I’m laboring to marginalize that aspect of my life. I find that unless one makes an effort to minimize the influence of the shadow of weight loss over their lives, it will eclipse all else and become the sole definition of self. That being said, it’s rather hard not to think about it when you’re sitting around taking in your bras and pants (yes, you can take in a bra), weighing your food, and logging your calories online in order to keep track. Whether I like it or not, it is a part of my life, though thankfully not an all-consuming one by any stretch of the imagination.

Since I abandoned my old blog in the middle of last September, I’ve lost about 20 more lbs. (now about 215, though I haven’t weighed myself for 2 weeks so I can’t know for sure). That puts my loss rate “down” to about 5 lbs. per month, but that lower average loss comes with a caveat. I’ve stepped up certain types of exercising that build muscle mass and I’m sure that I’m regaining muscle lost during the initial year or so of loss. In terms of overall size, I believe there have been some more tangible losses, so I’m not too fussed about dropping from nearly 10 lbs. of loss to 5 lbs. per month. The numbers on the scale matter less than perceptual changes in overall size. This all serves to reinforce the notion I have had all along that the scale needs to be used sparingly and as a very rough and somewhat poor measure of overall progress.

At any rate, this is not a progress report on my weight loss, though it is reading like one so far, but rather some thoughts on the way people talk about adopting “lifestyle changes” in order to lose weight. Most people talk about such things in a manner which I think are difficult to relate to because they convey the idea of drudgery (forcing oneself to exercise) and deprivation (eschewing certain foods). I’ve found that that is absolutely not necessary, though clearly big changes are necessary, but not the mechanistic ones that people tend to focus upon.

One thing I have noticed is that people tend to talk about “choices” a lot, and I’ve written before that I believe we do make choices, but our capacity to make good ones is not equal. Each person is driven by their personal history to choose a particular path and the momentum that drives an individual to make poor choices is stronger depending on your past. It has been my focus throughout my weight loss process to work with the factors that drive choices rather than focus on the choices themselves so strictly. If I remove the forces that drive bad choices, then I am freer to make better ones.

As I have grown nearly completely comfortable with living a lifestyle which is conducive to weight loss, I’ve come to understand just how powerful and important the psychology is. It’s even more potent than I have felt from the start, and I felt pretty strongly about it initially. I mainly notice this because I realize more fully how expectation, perception, and the ability to delay or mitigate the need for certain types of gratification factor powerfully into fully embracing a “lifestyle change” without serious difficulty and especially resentment. There are many people who have lost weight and even maintain it who still struggle with the boundaries they have to live within. They struggle to stay within the lines of their calorie guidelines. They obsess about food. They hate their limits and exercise needs. They do it, but they fight it and struggle every inch of the way and the fear of regaining or falling off the wagon is a specter that lurks over their lives.

The reason that people struggle with this is that they have “normalized” their behavior but they haven’t normalized their thought processes in regard to their necessary lifestyle changes. By ignoring the underlying attitudes and emotional issues and focusing on the mechanistic aspects of weight loss, they have made the healthier choices, but not dealt well with the personal history that makes them want to make the unhealthy ones. Imagine someone driving a car which has a steering wheel that pulls to the left and they have to fight very hard to constantly force it to go to the right. It’d be a lot easier to  keep going right if you fixed the thing that was pulling you in the opposite direction rather than just kept applying brute force against it.

A true and lasting “lifestyle change” doesn’t simply mean weighing your food, counting calories, and exercising. It means you place food in its proper context rather than view it in a distorted fashion which makes you feel deprived. It means you don’t find food calling you to your doom like a siren, but rather see it as a source of sustenance and pleasure. Exercise isn’t something you force yourself to do, but something you do because you feel good doing it. In essence, all of the emotional baggage that is associated with food and weight being jettisoned is essential to a real lifestyle change.

Most people refuse to acknowledge the psychological component, and I think it’s because they deny that there is an issue in that quarter. I’m not sure if this is because they lack sufficient insight to see a connection, feel uncomfortable (or ashamed) with the possibility, or are too uneducated in the complexities of psychology to realize that many of the pat explanations for “emotional eating” are shallow and imprecise. They see a lot of talk about food and psychology and can’t see themselves so they assume that is not on the table for them. It’s not all about trauma or Freudian substitutions for love or emotional gratification. Sometimes, it’s about habituation, conditioning, etc.

The reason that this has been on my mind as of late is that I struggle very little these days with my relationship with food and exercise and on those occasions when I do, it’s much easier to push back against my urges than ever in my lifetime. The relative ease with which I battle my hunger on days in which I’m hungry all day (generally just prior to or during ovulation) occurred to me and felt quite gratifying. The notion that “it’s only food” comes very easily all of the time. And when I say that, I don’t mean that “it’s only food” in a manner which minimizes its importance as a substance or diminishes the pleasure I take in it. I mean “it’s only food” in that it no longer drives me powerfully psychologically. Food has assumed it’s proper place in my mind so doing whatever I have to do to continue to lose weight is easier.

Right now, the next stage in my “evolution” with my relationship with food is going to restaurants. I have been reluctant to go to them mainly because it often requires that I accept a level of uncertainty and potential “sacrifice” of calories to err on the side of caution when making calculations. Since I don’t live in America, restaurants rarely offer nutritional information so it really is about  my existing “education”. However, what I am finding as I wade into these waters is that it’s easier than expected. The food is more caloric than what I prepare at home, but it’s very easy to simply not eat it all and control the calories with portions. I’m always satisfied when I finish and enjoy the different food immensely. I also don’t feel unhappy about “wasting” food I paid for and leaving it behind or resentful that I can’t eat it all. After all, it’s only food.

I’m not claiming that it was easy to get to this point, but I am going to say that this is a great place to be emotionally and psychologically. It took a lot of work (as detailed in my former blog) to get here and it does take continued (though actually quite small) effort to stay here. I still have to kick in a mantra or two occasionally and resist eating when I  might prefer, but it really does come more naturally and more easily as time goes by. I have no doubt that this is a lifestyle change that I can maintain for the rest of my life and that it will lead eventually to a healthy weight, and I didn’t get here by hating on myself, drinking water until I felt like a fish, or categorizing food into “bad” and “good”. I got here by avoiding those things.

Written by yesithinktoomuch

January 19, 2011 at 2:44 am

“Currencies”

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Most people with a rudimentary knowledge of history know that ancient civilizations used different materials for currency than modern civilizations use. In fact, if one were to travel back in time to the pre-Columbian era and land on the shores of Mexico, one would find that the Aztecs were using cocoa beans. Your paper dollars would be meaningless to them and their beans would be nearly as meaningless to you. In essence, an offer from one side would be of no value to the other and, what is more, rejection of the other party’s currency would be seen as an offense and personal affront. It would not only confuse, but possibly anger the other party.

Currency is a way of representing value. Paper  money or coins themselves are not inherently valuable, but they represent value based on the economic potential of the country that issues them or something more concrete such as precious metals. In many ways, we also employ the concept of “currency” psychologically without even realizing it. We choose things, experiences, interests, or hobbies as representations of value to us. We value them and if others value them, they accept our personal “currency”. Respecting the things we value is equivalent to respecting us. Rejecting them is the same as rejecting us.

One of my husband’s friends had an experience recently which brought this concept into full light, but it is something which I have had a lot of personal experience with as the years have gone by. His friend’s experience ended with the loss of a long-term and valued friendship, and I think it was at least in part because she and her friend no longer carried out friendship “transactions” with the same “currency”.

Personally, I’ve been struggling with friendships which FaceBook has brought back onto the table after years of dormancy. I used to be a very ardent follower of a famous 70’s glam rock band and I had a lot of friends that I made through this interest. As the years went by, I married, moved abroad, and let go of most of my material interests including my interest in this band. In fact, not only did I lose interest in them, but I lost respect for my former favorite member of the group because of the crass commercialism and open greed he expressed at every turn. Years later, my friends seem to continue to remain fans and value this group while I’m many years past my interest in them.

What I’m finding now is that it has become very difficult to relate to these friends because the currency we once freely exchanged in our friendship has lost all of its value to me and the new “currency” which I use has little value to them. In fact, one of those friends recently insulted one of my current interests by saying that she felt it was a “waste of time” to engage in that activity. In essence, she overtly snubbed this “currency” by commenting on a FaceBook status message. Frankly, it wasn’t she who it was being offered to but my newer friends who share this activity with me.

I was slightly annoyed at this person for what she did, not because I agreed with her, but rather because she’s applying a value judgment to me and I make an effort to refrain from applying those to her and others. The truth is that I feel that it is imperative for someone who is as overtly non-materialistic as myself to make such an effort or risk become smug and self-satisfied. There is a difference between not becoming overly materialistic because it doesn’t  suit me and would inhibit my growth as a person and believing that that would be best for everyone else. It’s not my place to judge the choices others make, and I wish they would at least try not to judge me. My friend could go ahead and render judgment in her own mind, and the only thing she had to do to show consideration for me was to say nothing, but she didn’t even extend that courtesy.

Speculating on the reasons why she may have decided to go ahead and say something overtly rude is interesting because I think that perhaps it is as much about showing growing discomfort that our currencies are not of value to one another anymore as it is about possibly elevating the value of her choices over mine. It could be that she wants to believe her choices are right, or it could be that this was just one more indication that we can’t have valuable friendships transactions anymore and she acted in a manner to indicate that. I cannot know for sure, but nonetheless, I think recognizing that people put their interests out there as extensions of themselves for others to accept as having value is important.

When a friend of mine offers a status message about how attending a concert, meeting an 80’s has-been celebrity on a cruise, or attending a convetnion of 70’s T.V. stars makes her excited and I say nothing to affirm that the experiences are of value, interest, etc., she may feel as if I’m rejecting her with my indifference. Not caring about what she cares about is the same as not caring about her. These are not merely interests, but projections of herself that she closely identifies with.

To a far greater extent, I think that people with children also employ a common currency which people without children reject. They believe that their particular “currency” (their children and spouse) is more “valid” or “real” because it deals with people, but they are also merely extensions of oneself that one attaches value to. Your children and spouse are not you. Rejecting them is not rejecting you, but if they are your “currency” with which you conduct friendship transactions, you will be extremely upset if others do not accept it.

I think that Americans in particular are prone to deal in currencies of this sort both because the culture is heavily consumerist and because it is lacking in a cohesive national identity. We know what it is in certain terms to be “American”, but those terms are not ones which offer true definition. Being American actually means being independent and an individual. Beyond that, you can be anything you want to be. Without a concrete identity, we reach out to things around us to act as extensions. Trust me, as someone who has spent a few decades in an Asian culture, when I say that this does not apply to every culture in the world. While each person has his or her own identity, many people in other countries define themselves without using such extensions in the same manner as Americans.

What I realized from pondering this line of thought is that many people define themselves in accord with “negative space“. Negative space is a term used in art to talk about the space around an object rather than the object itself. The less we know about what is inside of ourselves, the more we define ourself by what is around us. It could be a lack of self-understanding that causes this, but I have a stronger sense that we do this out of a sense of our own smallness inside. In a world where everyone in the media comes across as larger than life or too small to be of interest, there is no subtlety or texture to our way of conceptualizing ourselves. We are so big that we are awesome, or we are so small that we are worthless.

If we feel we are small, we look around us to attach ourselves to something which is greater and more awesome than we are. In many cases, that is our interests. My friend may be doing a boring retail job after having failed at her last two attempts to start a real career and her marriage, but the celebrities she meets and has her pictures taken with raise her interest level in her estimation. She goes from mundane to fabulous by defining herself by that which is around her. However, that illusion is shattered if I reject her particular currency as valueless. If I don’t care about the celebrities, then she remains the lone object in the picture  devoid of the benefits of the negative space around her.

The value of this recognition for me is in trying to do my best to never overtly reject anyone’s currency and to try and develop empathy for the things of value to them which are valueless to me. I don’t have to think that having ones picture taken with has-been celebrities is a wonderful thing, but I should at least try to internalize the value of the experience for my friend and express my happiness at her happiness. I don’t have to accept her currency, but I can recognize that it’s of great value to her.

Written by yesithinktoomuch

January 5, 2011 at 3:48 am

Posted in friendships, psychology

The Opaque Jar

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The past month or so has been an incredibly busy time for me. I posted previously that I was having problems mentally adjusting to all of the exposure to the outside world and changes in my life beyond the changes involved in continued weight loss. Going out and about was overwhelming. Spending money was creating anxiety. It was the next level of change and I felt as if my mind was somewhere back in my almost hermit-like existence while my body was ready and at least semi-willing to start living more “normally”.

Somewhere between infrequent posting, my mental transition made a jump, and I developed not only a sense of calm and acceptance with the increased activity of life, but a craving to push forward. Part of it was deciding to climb a mountain and actually succeeding, and part of it was simply wanting to make the most of the past holiday season and the time off. I’ve found that FaceBook coupled with a potent motivation to imprint highly meaningful memories before I leave this country coupled with a very much improved confidence level in my capacity to navigate the world physically has spurred me on. I wouldn’t say that I’ve cleared all hurdles, but I would say that a serious alteration has occurred.

The interesting thing which I have discovered about all major life changes is that there are always periods of struggle and fear which take energy and effort to cope with up until the moment they are suddenly gone. I have experienced this twice now in the past year. First, around February of 2010, I stopped obsessing about food and seemed to reach an adaptation point where it no longer became necessary to fret over when and how much I could eat. The problem  just evaporated as psychological and physiological adjustments reached a critical mass. Then, sometime in the last month, the same thing happened with a lot of my anxieties regarding going out, spending money on things which are utterly reasonable and well within my means, and generally living life in a normal fashion.

These changes psychologically are difficult not only because I had to push on everyday, but because the changes aren’t gradual. It’s like putting marbles into a huge opaque jar without any sense of how many more it will take to fill up. You spend a great deal of time and energy constantly adding them in. It’s laborious and feels like it will never end and suddenly, it’s full to the top and you had no idea how close you were. This is what these changes have been like for me. Each step and every internal dialog and mental readjustment is hard work up until the work is suddenly done and I’m free.

I don’t know if it is like this for other people or if it’s just this way for me, but I want to recognize and comment on the pattern. Knowing that this is the way it works will make it easier to be patient with future challenges when it seems like I’m getting nowhere. I have to have faith that eventually I’ll arrive unexpectedly, because I have done so in major ways twice already.

Written by yesithinktoomuch

January 4, 2011 at 2:03 pm

Posted in psychology

Course Corrections

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I have been hoping for quite some time to write some blog posts, but my life has become incredibly busy in a variety of ways. One of the things that has happened since I have lost so much weight is that my weekends are spent outside of the home and I have little time to sit down and type posts, even when I have things I want to say.

I mentioned some time ago on my former blog that successfully losing weight in the long run is really about self-actualization, not simply adding healthy eating and exercise to your life. I have come to more fully appreciate what that means over the past six months, and it has not been easy. On the one hand, the manner in which I have reframed my relationship with food has not sent me scurrying to the pantry in times of stress, but the amount of stress has increased because the changes that occur have brought up other issues.

For one thing, being out and about so much brings up a serious approach-avoidance conflict for me. I want to get out more for the enjoyable aspects, but find the experience oppressive in so many ways because of the overwhelming sensory stimuli. Since I live in one of the most densely populated cities in the world (where people are literally crammed onto trains during rush hour by conductors shoving them into the doors), every step out of the door involves dodging people, listening to unpleasant noises (construction, loud speaker announcements, etc.), and having to adjust to a variety of unpredictable variables which directly affect my comfort but are utterly out of my control like whether or not I can sit on public transport (and therefore take pressure off of my gimpy knee).

These logistical issues and overstimulation were anticipated problems as a result of being more mobile and free to leave my apartment after losing weight. Related aspects which I hadn’t considered are also cropping up and tapping into other neuroses of mine. Going out and about involves more money being spent, and I grew up poor and have a lot of anxiety about money in general. This isn’t helped by the fact that I’ve spent the last 7-9 year focused rather strongly on saving money and being frugal in anticipation of leaving this Asian country and going home to America. Loosening my notions of what is “reasonable” to spend with certain unemployment in my future and after training myself to live as low on the hog as possible has been very difficult for me.

There is actually an almost humorous irony to the current situation that I find myself in. At 380 lbs., I used to avoid restaurants for fear that I’d be too fat to fit in the seating and be embarrassed (a fear I still have at around 225 lbs., but I realize that it’s irrational for the most part). Now that I am physically able to sit in a restaurant, I find that I have anxiety about the money spent on the meals. It’s hard not to feel strange paying about $25 for a meal when I can make something at home for 1/5 that amount or less (and have leftovers to boot).

Before I go any further, I must stress emphatically that I am not substituting a new anxiety for an old one in some psychological balancing act which will allow me to feel stressed and neurotic all of the time. That is not what is going on. This is an existing neuroses (about money) that wasn’t being brought as strongly into play because the circumstances were such that the responses came out less frequently than they do now. It shows in yet another way how being so fat as to be essentially disabled from normal life was actually beneficial to me. It allowed me not to engage in anxiety invoking behaviors.

The changes I’m going through and the new issues that are coming out have taxed me greatly. I am constantly battling my negative responses and trying to wrestle them to the ground with logic and positive conditioning. It’s the equivalent of talking myself off the bridge day-in and day-out rather than allowing that jump to happen. “The jump” in this metaphor would be deciding not to go out and live life as a “normal” person would and remain secure in my home with my neuroses ruling my behavior. It applies to more than simply my fears about money, fears that were built into me by my upbringing as a very poor person and my mother’s constant dialogs about our issues with it.

Every day is exhausting for me because of these needs to correct the course of my mental pathways. They want to go straight ahead and I keep forcing a right turn. It isn’t really all that dissimilar from the sort of mental conditioning I did when I changed my relationship with food. These other issues are just as persistent, but more ambiguous and vague than the simple choices related to food. This makes mental conditioning more complex as I’m not as certain of the outcomes.

I can tell myself that I will get a job in the future so I don’t need to save every cent from now until when I leave for home. I can tell myself that I have a little over a year left here and that I should take advantage of the time to see and do everything I might want to do and spending a little money on that is a good thing. In fact, I may regret not doing so. However, in the back of my mind is the thought that I could regret spending the money and the fear that I might end up broke and in dire circumstances. This is unlikely, but not out of the realm of possibility. And even when reason succeeds in convincing me that I should spend a little more money now and worry less about later, it doesn’t mitigate the feeling in the pit of my stomach which remains.

So, one of the reasons I haven’t been posting is that I’m constantly wearing myself out trying to deal with new feelings and problems. I constantly feel as though I’m being torn from safe and secure moorings and setting sail into unknown and potentially dangerous seas. The fact that I’m the one choosing to do it doesn’t make it any easier. I simply know, however, that if I want to “get anywhere” (continue to grow as a person and self-actualize), I have no choice  but to keep forging ahead.

Written by yesithinktoomuch

November 26, 2010 at 4:28 am

Why I’ll Always Be a Negative Nelly

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Recently, I started reading a book on Transactional Analysis. The beginning of the book cites an intriguing study in which people’s brains were stimulated using electrical probes to stimulate memory recall. Every time a memory was recalled, the feeling that accompanied it was also brought forth. If the same area was stimulated a second time, the same memory and feeling resulted. This research shows that we not only store memories of experiences which are significant enough to be placed into our long-term memories, but whatever feelings that came along with them.

The book labored to point out that we cannot erase either the memories or the feelings. They are like data burned to a non-rewritable DVD. Once the pairing of a feeling and a memory is laid down, it is there for good. No matter what you might prefer, you cannot unhook your feelings from your brain’s storage of an experience. This is why the probes elicit them together. There’s no cognitive process or interpretation involved in pulling forth the memories so there’s no bias in this conclusion.

My reading about this study was particularly timely because I had an unexpected experience related to this very issue recently while discussing a situation with my husband. We were talking about a friend of his who we have socialized with on a few occasions and I remarked to him that I felt this friend wasn’t particularly fond of me. I said this because we had a discussion in which she expressed a viewpoint and I expressed a countering viewpoint which ended with her being silent rather than responding to my supporting arguments. I should note that the argument was not heated, nor particularly aggressive, but I found the way in which she stared ahead and essentially went silent to mean that she didn’t like my point and perhaps was not fond of me for having made it.

My husband, who at the time wasn’t aware that this is what motivated me to say that she didn’t like me, said in response to my assertion that she perhaps felt that I didn’t like her. I asked him if she had said something to him and he said she had not. However, at one point in the past, she asked if I would meet her at a local coffee shop near a train station about a half hour walk from our apartment. On the day that the request was made, I had a work-related appointment (I work from home) and told her that I didn’t have enough time to make the round trip to the station and talk, but if she’d like to come by our apartment, we could chat for an hour or so before my work started. She declined this offer and that was the end of that.

My husband believed that she may have the expectation that I would invite her to a similar appointment at a coffee shop if I wanted to be friends with her and my failure to proffer such an invitation could be viewed as a rejection of her. I told him that on a subsequent outing, in which the three of us ventured far afield to do some specialized shopping together, it had been my idea to invite her along. While I didn’t invite her to coffee, I did invite her on this long journey in which we spent many hours together, and during which the aforementioned argument occurred. Surely, my inviting her on this outing counted for something in regards to expressing a desire to be friends.

As he and I discussed this, I became increasingly unhappy and frustrated because he mentioned that there may be a social convention in which I must meet her outside at some point (alone, not with him) if I wanted to convey a sense of becoming friends with her. After he asserted this for about the third time, I felt pressured to do this because he has expressed that he wants she and I to be friend. He actually didn’t mean to pressure me, but this was how I felt. I became increasingly uncomfortable and apprehensive at the prospect of meeting her outside of my apartment.

As the discussion wore on, I suddenly launched into an explanation of why I didn’t want to meet any of his friends in a location outside of our home. I became increasingly agitated as I explained why, and at the end was completely emotionally overwhelmed and crying uncontrollably. I told him that I didn’t want to go out in public with anyone except him because I knew that people would make comments about my weight, stare, point, or gawk at me and I couldn’t bear the humiliation of this happening in front of new potential friends or people who I didn’t trust. I told him that I remembered all too well when I lived in my hometown and walked around stores or went to restaurants with friends and people would make fun of me because of my weight and I would flush with humiliation and my friends would adopt this certain look and demeanor which tried to hide the fact that they heard but wanted to spare me by pretending that they hadn’t. I remember how horrible it felt each time this happened and how being with someone else made these experiences far worse than enduring them alone. At the end, I put my head on my desk and wailed repeatedly that I absolutely could not bear that type of experience again. My husband felt terrible about eliciting this, and he hadn’t meant to pressure me anyway, but it really wasn’t his fault. I didn’t know this was what was going on with me, so there was no way for him to know about it.

This situation illustrated several points made in the book I’m reading. One is that often we don’t remember the experiences themselves immediately, but we recall the emotions associated with the memory. I was apprehensive about going out to meet his friend at a coffee shop, but I didn’t exactly know why. As I was pressured, I had an increasingly fearful and panicked response that I couldn’t quite track. I just knew I strongly did not want to do it. Eventually, the remembered feeling and the actual memories found each other, and I relived in very vivid emotional and visual detail these humiliating and degrading experiences from more than 25 years ago.

The other thing this showed very clearly is that the memory and the feeling definitely are intertwined and that we unconsciously may act on a memory without recollecting it because the associated feeling comes forth. We avoid something or are drawn to something, but we may not understand exactly why. I didn’t know why I didn’t want to do it, but I knew I didn’t.

The thing which this research reveals is exactly how much your life experiences, especially those in your early life (particularly childhood) affect your later life. Since you cannot uncouple the remembered emotion from the memory, it will always be there. If I have copious memories of suffering, pain, embarrassment, rejection, and fear, I cannot erase those by force of will. The brain doesn’t allow that level or reorganization. The only thing you can do it “negotiate” rationally the connections. I may connect public places and embarrassment, but I can attempt to regulate my response to the emotional and memory pairing through analysis and effort. This is no small task nor is it easy. It takes a tremendous amount of emotional and psychological effort to work through such issues, and I have realized that my recent depression is, in part, a result of burning out on exactly this type of self-directed movement away from my natural emotional responses. This started a year and a quarter ago when I started to lose weight, but it has been ongoing ever since with other issues and problems as well as continued weight-related ones.

Since the vast majority of my memories are full of a variety of problems and pain, I’m constantly trying to manage my responses. There are so many experiences which I have a painful memory association with that I’m spending copious amounts of my thinking time trying to “talk myself out of” my default response. I didn’t choose to be negative about so many things. These things are written in the library of memories and every book I open is full of painful experiences. Relative to the card catalog of my entire life, there are few books which have happy pairings, and almost every one of them involves my husband. This is why I rely on him so heavily. He’s the only one with the influence over me (and motivation) to create new and sufficiently meaningful memories which will be paired with positive responses. Without him, I’m spending my days negotiating with my old memory pairings rather than building newer, more positive ones.

So, now I have some biological insight into why I’m so negative much of the time and why fighting my nature is such a chore. I’m not saying it’s not a battle worth continuing to wage, as I want to be healthier psychologically, but I am saying that I can only accomplish so much in a certain period of time. One thing that is for certain though and that is that people “blame” their parents for their problems and this evidence (which is factual) would seem to indicate that that blame is well-placed. Your earliest memories and the feelings associated with them are laid down in large part by your parents, and the worse your circumstances are growing up, the harder it will be for you to ever be happy and whole. The template they lay down with you is there forever and no amount of motivation, willpower, or “can do spirit” can delete these associations.

Written by yesithinktoomuch

November 6, 2010 at 1:50 pm