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MattG2 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: 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.