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pjeby comments on Where is the line between being a good child and taking care of oneself? - Less Wrong

11 Post author: jkadlubo 04 December 2014 07:26AM

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Comment author: pjeby 04 December 2014 05:55:00PM *  20 points [-]

You can't fix what's wrong with you by trying to fix your parents or your relationship with them. As HPMOR would say, there is no point in assigning blame to a part of the system that you can't actually change.

That doesn't mean you're responsible for anything, it just means that when it comes to this type of dysfunction, the real problem exists in your "inner parents" rather than your outer ones. That is, your mental models of your parents, specifically the part of your brain that predicts how they will act in certain situations, and decides how you should feel/act about that.

Lots of people will say stuff about getting away from your parents, or how wrong they are or how you should speak up to them or whatever. This is irrelevant, because if your mental models make you feel bad about cutting off contact or speaking up, then you're going to have problems doing that. What you need more is to give up hope regarding your parents, whether you cut off contact or not.

What do I mean by "give up hope"? I mean that the thing that keeps you bound to their opinions is your desire to get something from them: love, acknowledgment, respect, etc. -- just as you're already starting to realize. As long as you feel it's possible for you to receive any of this, you'll be stuck trying to do things their way, or at least feeling like you should.

This happened because your parents put out "bait" that implies it's possible for you to get their good opinion (e.g. by being like your sister). Your brain thinks, "ah, so if I do what they want, maybe they'll give it to me."

A quick way to begin poking holes in this belief is to imagine that you have done everything perfectly to their desire, been the exact person they wanted you to be... and then ask that same part of your brain, "What would happen then?"

Most likely, if you actually reflect on it, you'll see that what your parents would do at that point is ignore you, or possibly tell your sister to be more like you... but there will not actually be any love, respect, etc. coming.

Don't logic this out; though. It's necessary for the part of your brain that makes emotional predictions to work this out for itself, by you asking questions and reflecting. Otherwise, it will just be in the logic part of your head, not the emotional part. The emotional part has to see, "oh, my prediction is in error - that wouldn't work out the way I want." Otherwise, you will be stuck knowing you should do something different, but still doing the same things as you did before.

Unfortunately, this is not a one-time, one-off thing to fix. Your brain may have hundreds of specific expectations that "If I do this thing in this kind of circumstance, they will finally love/appreciate/whatever me", and each one may have to be handled separately. In addition, it can sometimes seem to generate new ones! The emotional brain doesn't generalize in the same way the logical brain does, and doesn't seem (in my experience) to abstract across different classes of expectations when making these kinds of changes. But that's my personal experience and YMMV.

In a sense, the root cause of these "If only I do X, I will get Y" beliefs is a belief (alief, really, since it's not a logical thing) that you aren't worthy of receiving Y. There's like a part of our brains that imprints on our parents' behavior in order to learn what we're entitled to in our tribe, so to speak, and what we can expect to receive from others. If they don't give us love, respect, whatever, there's a part that learns "I have to earn this, then."

(The technical term, by the way, for this feeling you don't deserve good things (love, appreciation, respect, etc.) and need to earn your "pats on the back", is shame, and it's the #1 byproduct of being treated the way narcissistic parents treat us. So when you look at or for books on dealing with this, that's a keyword you want to look out for.)

Giving up hope that you can earn these pats on the back in a particular area is one way to uproot shame, but there's another method that seems to have an advantage in bypassing this and going after a feeling that you deserve to receive Y as a fundamental right... thereby eliminating the feeling that you need to earn it.

The method is described in this book, though it does contain some new age babble (that can be safely ignored if you focus on the specific instructions rather than theory).

The approach described does seem to be able to work at a higher level of abstraction than the other method I've described, by "giving up hope" of fixing various aspects of one's self rather than the hope of getting positive interactions from others. It still will need to be applied to a lot of things, but it may cover more ground faster, if you can make it work for you. I don't have as much experience with it personally as the other method, but it does seem at first glance to bring a much deeper sense of being at peace with myself and with the people whose "pats on the back" I previously sought.

Comment author: jkadlubo 06 December 2014 02:27:20PM 5 points [-]

This reply made my cry more than any other. But I know this kind of crying - it happens when somebody opens my eyes to a different perspective, so it's good crying.

My hope was mostly broken, but I kept trying to fix it. Popular psychology makes people believe that they can make almost any relationship work. Yesterday evening I felt lighter. I could start thinking "I can let go of trying now."

A quick way to begin poking holes in this belief is to imagine that you have done everything perfectly to their desire, been the exact person they wanted you to be... and then ask that same part of your brain, "What would happen then?"

I would be like my sister and have what she has. She can pull off almost any kind of abstruse plan which involves parents doing something for her or giving her money. I resent that ability of her and yet would like to be able to do almost the same. My mind has trouble going further, ponder what if I was better than her. I don't really believe your version, but in fact I can remember one situation exactly like that. When I was better and what happened next. I got a 5 on a biology test (scale 1-6, where 1 is fail, 6 is outstanding), she got a 4. Normally only people with grades lower than 3 can retake a test, but parents made her retake the test and me teach her. She got a 5+ on the retake (it's also frowned upon when getting a 6 is possible on a retake, since the second test should be a chance to pass only for those kids who failed), they were satistifed and I was bitter.

The right answer is that they would not pay attention to me being good enough. They would concentrate on her being worse than me. And try to make me help her be at least as good as me (and also push her). Since being exactly the same is not really possible, she would end up being better than me, again. And I would be even more disappointed.

I doubt myself a lot. You and others, who say "this relationship is unfixable" really say "you were right, you only doubted too much."

Comment author: pjeby 07 December 2014 12:53:47AM *  2 points [-]

The right answer is that they would not pay attention to me being good enough. They would concentrate on her being worse than me. And try to make me help her be at least as good as me (and also push her). Since being exactly the same is not really possible, she would end up being better than me, again. And I would be even more disappointed.

The key thing to focus on here is that even when you were better, they still didn't treat you with the love or respect or appreciation that you are looking for. That's the part you need to connect with, to realize on an emotional level that it's not really about you.

Your brain is doing something I call the Prime Conclusion/Prime Assumption pattern. It goes sort of like this:

  • The Prime Assumption: If I were good enough, then other people would care.
  • The Prime Conclusion: If others don't care, then I am not good enough.

The Prime Assumption is actually false: your parents wouldn't care even if you were good enough, as your experience already proves. There is no level of "good enough" that is sufficient to make them act differently.

The really good thing is, once you break this assumption, the conclusion is also broken. You will realize then that, if no amount of "good enough" will get you care, then that means the care is not under your control. It is not your responsibility to do anything to make them care, and you will stop feeling "not good enough". (More precisely, you'll no longer interpret your parents' behavior as meaning you're not good enough, and it will be more difficult -- though not impossible! -- for your parents to make you feel inadequate.)

You and others, who say "this relationship is unfixable" really say "you were right, you only doubted too much."

I don't say the relationship is unfixable, actually. When you actually let go of wanting/needing pats on the back from them, then you'll have a real choice about whether to continue relating to them or not. You won't be coming from a place of neediness and shame, and will be able to set better boundaries. Nobody can predict exactly what form your relationship with them will take. You may find that you can love them for who they are, or you may find that you don't actually enjoy their company and choose not to spend time with them. You may find that you can set effective boundaries. Who knows?

What is unfixable is not the relationship per se, but your intention to obtain love, appreciation, etc. from them. You already know from experience that you can't get it, but you haven't yet realized it "in your heart" (i.e., the emotional/alief side of your brain). The book I suggested can help a lot with that.

When we try to get love and respect from others, feeling we don't have it ourselves, it's not because we actually don't deserve them, and it's not because we actually need for other people to have a particular opinion about us. What really happens is that we feel bad when we share those people's opinions of ourselves.

Since you've assumed that you being good enough would result in care (Prime Assumption), you conclude that the lack of care means you're not good enough (Prime Conclusion). Once you've concluded this, you then proceed to not care for yourself, either. You don't treat yourself with the kindness, respect, appreciation, etc. that you actually deserve.

However, if you realize that this idea is wrong, you can learn to give yourself that kindness and respect and love that you're missing -- and won't feel the need to act a certain way around your parents, or the need to convince them to act a certain way around you. (Again, the book I suggested will help a lot with this.)

Comment author: jkadlubo 09 December 2014 09:50:29AM 0 points [-]

you'll have a real choice about whether to continue relating to them or not. You won't be coming from a place of neediness and shame, and will be able to set better boundaries. Nobody can predict exactly what form your relationship with them will take. You may find that you can love them for who they are, or you may find that you don't actually enjoy their company and choose not to spend time with them. You may find that you can set effective boundaries. Who knows?

I'll save this for future reference.

Right now I feel cutting myself from my parents from my perspective would be a punishment for them (and I know mother would not care, so it would be in vain - yesterday we were in the same room and as an experiment I tried to not talk first but look available to conversation. She didn't even say "hello" or "I didn't expect you here, why did you come?"). I have too much grudge yet to have a real choice.

Comment author: pjeby 09 December 2014 11:26:45PM 2 points [-]

I have too much grudge yet to have a real choice.

A grudge is what the algorithm for "they owe me and I think I can collect via social pressure" feels like from the inside. This implies that you still believe:

  1. They owe you something, and
  2. It's possible to collect

Both of these statements are false, but it's easier to start with the second one. Admit the truth: barring a miracle, you are never going to collect this "debt", because it's not one your parents will ever acknowledge. Indeed, I would guess that if someone held a gun to their heads and insisted they repent, they'd be like, "What are you talking about? We didn't do anything to her!"

When you finally admit to yourself that this is true, there won't be a grudge any more, because the grudge is nothing more than your brain's insistence that you should be able to collect, in denial of the fact that you can't collect. Use the Litany of Gendlin and the Litany of Tarski here, or the questions from The Work of Byron Katie, which is particularly effective at resolving grudges and judgments directed at other people.

One of the things Byron Katie sometimes says about these kinds of judgments is that in order to free yourself, you have to want to know the truth, more than you want to be right, or than you want to get whatever it is from that person. The truth will set you free, but first it's going to annoy the hell out of you. ;-)

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 05 December 2014 04:30:11PM 4 points [-]

This happened because your parents put out "bait" that implies it's possible for you to get their good opinion (e.g. by being like your sister). Your brain thinks, "ah, so if I do what they want, maybe they'll give it to me."

This may be how people think when they do that thought experiment, but I ran into a rather chilling example in the real world. I know some people who talk disparagingly of their daughter. When the daughter worked for me and did quite a good job, I told her mother so, and the mother invented reasons why the daughter's motivations weren't good enough.

I think that when someone is defined as being of low status, the people who were enforcing the low status will have to admit they were wrong if they change their minds, and people generally aren't willing to admit they were wrong about that sort of thing.

Comment author: pjeby 05 December 2014 05:43:47PM 7 points [-]

I think that when someone is defined as being of low status, the people who were enforcing the low status will have to admit they were wrong if they change their minds, and people generally aren't willing to admit they were wrong about that sort of thing.

That's way too generous an interpretation, as it requires the parent to actually think of the child as a person in the first place. The simpler explanations for that kind of parent-child behavior are usually:

  1. Narcissism (i.e., caring more about how the situation reflects on them, than the child's well-being) and/or
  2. A sincere belief that positive treatment of a child will result in horrible outcomes

It's possible for a parent to have both, but neither one has anything to do with status per se. Notably, narcissistic parents cannot conceive of their children as entities having a status. (And if they cared about their children's opinion, they'd tell them what that opinion should be!)

To the narcissist, his/her child is not actually an independent individual. They're a possession, sort of like a little robot that happens to be annoyingly unpredictable and independent, and is viewed as defective whenever it doesn't conform to their whims... preferably without them needing to go to the trouble of communicating in advance what those whims are. The child should Just Know or Should Have Known what the right thing to do was, and is viewed as obstreperous, obnoxious, and willfully disobedient for failing to intuit the correct behavior and perform accordingly.

At least, that's my personal experience, from being on the receiving end of that sort of thing. ;-)

Anyway, given that sort of viewpoint, there's no way that the woman's daughter being helpful to you would raise her opinion of her daughter. Instead, a narcissist would simply view that as further evidence of how annoying her daughter is. After all, she might be helping you, but she's only being obnoxious and disobedient at home (by the narcissist's messed-up standards, as described above).

So, in the mother's eyes, your praise of the daughter just means that the daughter can be helpful, and is therefore refusing to be helpful to her mother. The daughter must be helping you because of some ulterior motive, some selfish reason that doesn't involve her mother at all... which just proves how bad the daughter really is, not thinking about her mother at all. Instead of being merely a defective robot, she's now a rebellious robot, a traitor who is supporting an outsider (you) and putting her own childish goals, thoughts, and feelings ahead of those of her own mother.

[Shudder]

Sorry, flashback moment there. ;-) Anyway... yes, there are people like this, and yes, they are unfortunately allowed to raise children, utterly helpless children who will love them absolutely and believe everything they say, at least for the first several years of their life.

(Which, of course, is why they have the children in the first place...)

Comment author: TheOtherDave 05 December 2014 04:54:45PM 0 points [-]

I agree with your last paragraph, but also there are a number of cultural factors that might be in play with this sort of thing.

E.g., in many cultures parents will disparage their children in a humble-brag sort of way, like "oh, you're lucky your children are so well-behaved! Joannie is so difficult to deal with, I try to get her to do her chores but all she wants to do is study calculus!" as a way of expressing "Joannie is really studious and therefore better than your children, nyah nyah."

Natch, I have no particular reason to believe that was the case with the people you're describing here.

Comment author: MattG2 08 May 2017 03:07:27AM 0 points [-]

The link no longer works... what is the book?

Comment author: pjeby 01 June 2017 03:53:15PM 1 point [-]

Huh. Looks like the author decided to raise the price and sell it exclusively on their own site. Kind of a pity, since it means dramatically fewer people will even know it exists. Anyway, it's Embrace The Unlovable, by Amyra Mah.