Hoping to start a discussion about overcoming insecurity

post by ILikeLogic · 2013-09-22T20:53:45.605Z · score: 16 (17 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 53 comments

Since Jr High at least, I've been frustrated by my insecurity. I don't intend this to be a personally revealing post so I'll just sum it up by saying that being insecure has had a profoundly negative impact on my life. I feel that it is the single biggest reason why I've failed to reach my potential in all ways. That's fine though, I'm not really bitter but I remain very frustrated and I want to solve this problem. I want to 'crack the code', if you will.

I've recently started reading some psychology books (again) which has led to me to revisit a couple of the self-help/psychology books that I used to be very fond of.

I've really been wanting to find a forum where I can discuss this with people who will understand what I'm talking about. Well, the other day, I followed a link to LessWrong, which I was somewhat familiar with because I used to visit and spend time here every now and then, and I remembered that I had read on here about self-help. Also I remember reading about how some of the people here had really liked the meetups because they were able to to talk more freely and be better understood than they normally are. I have had some frustration in discussing emotional topics elsewhere because of the lack of intellectual rigor with which they are often discussed. Like everything else, human emotions 'work a certain way'. Exactly how they work is not something that is perfectly understood by anyone but I find it frustrating when discussing them with people who don't seem to understand that, whatever the rules are, there are rules. So it occurred to me that LessWrong might be a good place to have the kind of discussion that I'd like to have. If you are interested in emotional insecurity in general and my take on it then you may want to read the rest of this post.

I've developed my own understanding of insecurity, which, admittedly, is a synthesis of other people's ideas, but I haven't found any book or therapy or system that puts it all together in a way that I fully agree with.

Here is what I think:

I think that what insecurity is, is inhibition of feelings of disappointment/loss because of an implicitly learned belief that to express these feelings will have negative consequences (ie – it will only make things worse).

I came across this idea after reading some EvPsych theory about the functional purpose of shame. The purpose of shame, it seems, is to signal to the other person that you feel badly and to elicit a rapprochement, a re-initiation of the connection that was broken when the other person broke it (due to anger or rejection or disapproval). Shame is functional. It allows group members to signal how much they value their connections to one another when those connections are temporarily broken. The person who engaged in the behavior that elicited the disapproval/rejection/anger feels a rather intense aversive feeling when the connection is threatened and this is signaled by the signs of distress that accompany properly functioning shame. The other person recognizes that the transgressor regrets the transgression and this appeases their anger. So the whole thing results in everyone feeling better, all connections restored, and the transgressor being a little bit wiser for it all.

I think insecurity develops when a person who has had a connection interrupted, expresses the normal distress and is further punished for that expression. If they are punished enough for expressing this distress they will suppress it, consciously at first and then automatically after the habit is formed. (I remember as a child being proud that I could endure these humiliations without crying. But I was naive, because I believed that if I wasn't reacting to it I wasn't affected by it. Wrong. This was not a good ability to have.) Before long they will be repressing their distress without even being aware that they are doing so. If they are like me they will, later, wake up to the fact that they are anxious and awkward and that these things are making their life a lot worse than it could be.

This is where a couple of the books that I've been reading recently come in. The two books are 'The Neuroscience of Psychotherapy' and 'Unlocking Your Emotional Brain'. At one point in 'The Neuroscience of Psychotherapy' the author (Louis Cozolino) talks about his job as a therapist being to create, in his clients, the expectation of reassurance or soothing, when they are faced with distress. It occurred to me that the anxiety that I was experiencing may be just the memory of a rejection/disapproval followed quickly by inhibition(accomplished via fear or anxiety). Inhibition that became a habit because there was no reassurance or soothing when the rejection/disapproval occurred. And so the idea naturally followed that if I could perhaps, somehow, not inhibit the feeling, and instead jump in and console or reassure or soothe myself in one way or another, then I could break the habit of inhibition and be rid of the anxiety.

That brings me to another self-help book, 'Focusing' by Eugene Gendlin, which I read about 20 years ago. The basic idea of 'focusing' is that if you pay attention to the feeling in your body, and don't distract yourself with too much thinking or paying attention to other things but just 'stay with' the feeling in your body then after some time (seconds or just a few minutes usually) you will recognize the feeling and have an insight about what it is that will provide you with immediate relief as the feeling, consciously recognized, runs its proper course. I remember really liking this book when I first read it and tried its ideas. The relief that you can feel is immediate and unmistakable. This is not something where you adopt some positive attitude that you think will benefit you but underneath you still feel anxious and insecure. No, the relief leaves you really feeling good and confident.

When 'Focusing', a book written about 30 years ago, showed up in the “Users Who Bought This Also Bought” on Amazon.com for 'Unlocking Your Emotional Brain', I remembered reading it and naturally got the idea to combine the focusing technique with my idea about jumping in with reassurance.

At about this time (this was fairly recently) I had also started reading 'Unlocking Your Emotional Brain' (still am – I'm about 1/3rd through it). This book is very exciting because it goes into a bit of detail about some of the scientific research on memory re-consolidation that really makes it seem possible to permanently rid one's self of unhelpful automatic emotional reactions. The gist of the memory re-consolidation research is that every time neuronal connections are activated they are vulnerable to change, and will change if a relevant experience that contradicts or modifies the belief on which they are based, happens soon enough after the emotion has been activated. If they are not activated, however, they cannot be changed. So just talking and thinking about feelings without activating them cannot change the learned emotional reactions. The authors have a therapy that they call Coherence Therapy which is designed to take advantage of this. I haven't really read far enough to know the details of their Coherence Therapy but what I have read so far fits in well with my own developing understanding of this.

Also relevant is Arthur Janov's primal therapy. When I read his book, also almost 20 years ago now, I had a strong intuition that he was right, even if his theory to explain it was a bit half-baked and nonsensical. I tried to do Primal Therapy on myself and at times I succeeded. And the change in how I felt was, like with focusing, profound. The change with a good primal was even stronger than with focusing. I felt completely secure and free of anxiety for up to a few days. It was wonderful. It also had a feeling of “this is how it is supposed to be”. So my experience with Primal Therapy (on myself, never with a therapist) also leads me to believe that some experience that involves actually engaging the problematic feelings is necessary to change them.

Well that's about where I stand with it right now. I'm trying to spend some time every day doing my process (a modified form of Focusing). When I have some quiet and a decent block of time (at least 20 minutes uninterrupted but ideally up to an hour) I seem to be having some good success with it but it is also frustrating at times as sometimes it is difficult to get 'movement' in how I feel.

I'd really appreciate anyone's thoughts on this. Thanks in advance.

53 comments

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comment by Vaniver · 2013-09-23T00:11:28.558Z · score: 16 (16 votes) · LW · GW

Focusing is one of the books that I think should be a much larger part of LW's emotional life than it is, as I discussed a while ago, and so I'm happy to see someone mention it.

I think that, for most things in psychology, studying the healthy is better than studying the unhealthy- rather than asking what causes insecurity, I would ask what causes security.

I suspect the difference between security and insecurity is basically expected value of acting- I seem to be insecure in areas where I think on net my actions are likely to have negative consequences or in areas where I can't tell between helpful and harmful actions, and secure in areas where I'm confident in my ability to accomplish goals and distinguish options.

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2013-09-23T14:44:30.187Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

the difference between security and insecurity is basically expected value of acting.

This sounds right.

I feel insecure very seldom.I feel safe and confident in my actions. Whatever I do I'm sure it's the right thing. Sometimes it is the right thing to try things out and consciously risk something. Most negative feedback I got from acting under stress. I know this and thus tend to not attribute such negative feedback to my action itself but to the stress that caused it. I try (and mostly succeed) in limiting stress in the long run (note: this has the disadvantage of possibly lesser productivity if overdone).

I know people who feel permanently insecure even though I'd say that they don't get significant negative feedback about their actions. I think the key is the expected value of the action. If you have high expectations (perfectionist) than it is easy to interpret the outcome as (partly) negative.

comment by ILikeLogic · 2013-09-24T03:44:00.382Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think the question is why someone is a perfectionist in the first place. I think the answer is that the perfectionist is afraid to be less than perfect because he is already afraid that he won't be accepted. And I think that he is afraid that he won't be accepted because he has been rejected in the past and never really 'got over it'. What exactly it means to 'get over it' needs to be expanded but I do think we have an innate process for 'getting over it'.

comment by Creutzer · 2013-09-24T05:58:49.678Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Well, failure to be rejected in a situation where rejection could plausibly occur helps. In my experience, the trouble with that is that you have to continually experience it over a longer period of time, because otherwise your brain's going to think it was just a fluke.

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2013-09-24T06:07:04.987Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

[He] is afraid that he won't be accepted because he has been rejected in the past and never really 'got over it'.

The past is sticky. Even if the prefectionist didn't get negative feedback for a long time he still seems to fear it. It has become a habit. A part of personality.

I do think we have an innate process for 'getting over it'.

We have two:

  • Crisis. New strongly differing experiences can question old feelings or simply make them unimportant in comparison to the new situation. This seems to be related
  • Maturity. There are many studies about adult development (e.g. George E. Vaillant) which indicate that time heals (slowly).

A combination probably works best: Build up an environment that is stable and safe where negative experiences are by nature objectively limited - even if you don't feel this. And from this environment try some risk. Best a risk you didn't choose but that occurred by itself (from your point of you) e.g. you met someone awesome (or you discovered LW). Use all positive support you get in this situation. Strong emotions will work best to overcome you insecurity.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2013-09-26T07:35:11.836Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Even if the prefectionist didn't get negative feedback for a long time he still seems to fear it. It has become a habit. A part of personality.

The perfectionist keeps punishing themselves by generating fear.

The old causal chain was like this: trying something -> rejection -> feeling bad

The new causal chains are like this: trying something -> fear -> feeling bad

The "rejection" part is no longer there, but the "feeling bad" part still is, and it keeps conditioning against that kind of action.

comment by ILikeLogic · 2013-09-27T00:28:20.268Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I agree. But what is causing the fear? By that I mean precisely how does this fear work? I'm not sure habit is the correct word. I think it's a learned emotional response that has become automatic. So can it be unlearned? My supposition is that expressing the pain from the original rejection in an environment where the full expression of that pain can run it's natural course, will extinguish the fear. The problem would be solved. This is a big difference from a habit. Its being driven by an automatic emotional response that was acquired by a painful emotional experience (or many of them). If that emotional experience can be fully processed the emotional reaction will cease and it will not drive the behavior. I see your point about the fear conditioning the behavior. But I don't really see that as a problem once the fear is gone. The reason is that a person will not stop wanting to engage in life. Those desires will always be there. So once the fear is gone the person will jump at the opportunity to engage with people. The habit of avoidance will not overpower this inclination once the fear that was driving it is gone.

But will expressing the original pain in this way really extinguish the fear? The idea behind re-consolidation is that a disconfirming event must take place in a window of time after an emotion is activated in order to extinguish it. If a big part of the fear is not just the pain of rejection but also fear of expressing the pain, then expressing the pain in a supportive environment will extinguish the fear of expressing the pain. That will leave the pain of the rejection itself but that can also be extinguished if something disconfirms whatever the rejection was based on. If the basis of the rejection can't be disconfirmed the person will still be better off. Rejection does happen and it does hurt. A healthy fear of rejection is ok up to a point. Not if it leaves a person isolated or afraid to take chances but maybe it's the case that when the pain of rejection can be freely expressed in a supportive environment then it's not THAT scary.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2013-09-27T07:37:10.368Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

But what is causing the fear?

A prediction of failure. As if the brain asks: "what is the likely result of this?" and the memory answers: "feeling bad".

So can it be unlearned?

Yes, by creating situations which your brain can classify as belonging to the same reference class, and the result is not feeling bad. The problem is, how to design such situations, if mere memory of feeling bad yesterday can make you feel bad today.

Here CBT has some strategies; for example creating so weakened variant of the situation that your brain does not put it in the same reference class, and you hopefully succeed; and then very slowly increasing the intensity, so that your brain still pattern-matches it to the previous weakened version, instead of the full version.

It's an inconsistency of brain. Imagine that when some variable x = 10, you feel bad, and if x = 0 you feel good. If you ask "what happens if x = 8?", your brain will predict feeling bad, because it's closer to 10 than to 0. -- But if instead you ask "what happens if x = 1?", your brain predicts feeling good; and then you ask "and if x = 2?" etc. and when you come to "and if x = 8?", the brain will predict feeling good; especially if each step is then confirmed experimentally. And then when you come to x = 9, the memory will return: "there are multiple matches: we have good feeling for x = 8 and bad feeling for x = 10"... and then you apply some cognitive pressure and say something like: "but you know, the x = 8 data is fresh, and the x = 10 data is obsolete" and the brain gets convinced that the correct prediction is feeling good. And then you use the same trick even for x = 10, and you win.

In some situations this can happen "naturally", but that depends on luck. In a specific situation your brain may say: "well, the old memory is not relevant here, because... something important has changed". Or you can be tricked into doing the task first without having time to make a negative prediction.

If a big part of the fear is not just the pain of rejection but also fear of expressing the pain, then expressing the pain in a supportive environment will extinguish the fear of expressing the pain.

A hostile environment can increase the pain, which makes the fear reaction stronger. You get 1 unit of pain from the rejection, and perhaps 10 units of pain from people who keep mocking you for weeks. So your memory associates the event with 11 units of pain, instead of 1. This alone is enough to explain why the situation is worse.

Maybe the brain processes those additional 10 units in a different way than the original 1 unit (for example because when the 1 unit is over, you know it is over; but you never know in advance when those people get tired of mocking you, it could in theory go to infinity), but this additional hypothesis is not necessary to explain why the pain in a hostile environment is worse than in a supportive environment. (By which I am not saying it is false.)

comment by ILikeLogic · 2013-09-27T21:23:43.463Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I like this :

A hostile environment can increase the pain, which makes the fear reaction stronger. You get 1 unit of pain from the rejection, and perhaps 10 units of pain from people who keep mocking you for weeks. So your memory associates the event with 11 units of pain, instead of 1. This alone is enough to explain why the situation is worse.

I am suggesting that it may work a lot like this but a little bit differently. The main difference is that I'm suggesting that there is something uniquely painful and harmful about, not the mocking that follows the expression per se, but the inhibited expression of the pain that happens because of the mocking (the inhibited expression of the pain of the original insult but I suppose expression of the additional pain caused by the mocking itself will also be inhibited). Our emotions are functional. We do not have them just to make us miserable or to make us happy. They serve an evolutionary function ( is there any other kind of function in living things?). So my idea here is that when a person, (or animal for that matter) is prevented from expressing an emotion it is uniquely damaging, much more so than whatever damage the event would do if they could express it.

I heard a guest on a psychology podcast that I listen to (shrinkrapradio.com #321) describe how a facial tic that he'd had all his life went away after re-experiencing a car accident that he'd been in when he was a child. He hadn't connected the tic to the car accident but after re-experiencing it he understood it as a continual triggering of his initial attempt at a defensive reaction. The tic was on the same side of his face from which the other car had hit the car he was in. He believes that once he was allowed to complete his natural defensive reaction the tic went away. The reaction had been triggered over and over and over in his life but had never been allowed to complete. In one session, where he allowed it to run its course, it was gone forever and he hasn't had it since. So what is happening there? He hasn't gone out in a buch of car rides to desensitize himself. In fact in his life since the accident he'd probably ridden and/or driven cars thousands of times and it had no effect on the tic. Simple behavioral learning theory doesn't explain this. There is more going here. Something about not completing the natural reaction to the situation created a recurring problem.

I'm not exactly sure what is going on in a case like this but I'd be curious to hear anyone's theories.

I want to add that I think, and this may be obvious, that this also applies to entirely emotional reactions. I don't see any reason why emotional reactions would be subject to different rules than physical protective reactions.

comment by ILikeLogic · 2013-09-24T03:36:46.090Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm actually not a big fan of the positive psychology movement which takes the emphasis off of mental illness and pathology and places it on psychological health and flourishing. I think they mostly had it right in the first place. I think that feeling good is mostly about not feeling bad.

I suspect the difference between security and insecurity is basically expected value of acting-

I suppose some calculation like this is going on unconsciously but I think a large part of figuring the expected value is quick comparisons of the current situation to past situations, especially to see whether it resembles any past situations that resulted in painful outcome. Implicit emotional memory isn't very analytical.

comment by Vaniver · 2013-09-24T16:48:50.096Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think that feeling good is mostly about not feeling bad.

I think that, in general, there are more ways to feel bad than to feel good, and so switching is often best done by identifying a way to feel good and moving towards it. There are certainly deviations from feeling good which demand special attention, like psychological illnesses with clearly physiological origins, where this plan won't apply.

The cognitive mechanisms that healthy, satisfied people use are not magic, are often transferable, and are continually useful. What I mean by that is it looks like many successful treatments for, say, depression are more like brushing your teeth than drilling cavities- even people with healthy teeth brush their teeth. Similarly, even secure people deal with insecurities and failures; what makes them "secure people" is that they cope effectively with those challenges, not that they don't have them.

I think a large part of figuring the expected value is quick comparisons of the current situation to past situations, especially to see whether it resembles any past situations that resulted in painful outcome. Implicit emotional memory isn't very analytical.

Agreed. The helpfulness of this model is that it suggests that you 1) get more past situations that are similar to the current situation and positive and 2) focus on the expectations explicitly. (One of the treatments for anxiety is basically contingency planning, which helps because it both actually reduces the chance of negative outcomes and can sate the fear of negative outcomes by taking them seriously and working against them.)

comment by WalterL · 2013-09-23T20:22:29.137Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

I've struggled with insecurity for a while. Here are my most effective two techniques.

First, whenever I become self conscious I remind myself that I think mostly about myself. Other people are probably like me, so they are probably uncaring about whatever I'm concerned with.

  • Oh my gosh, I didn't wash my face this morning, everyone will think I"m a slob.

When I see someone with a dirty face it doesn't change my opinion of them. Other people will also not care how dirty my face is.

  • Hmm, this guy isn't responding to my text. Maybe he could have come to the conclusion that I'm a vicious racist!

I don't think about whether acquaintances are racists all the time. Other people are also not thinking about me when I'm not talking to them.

  • I'm not going to be on time. Everyone will think I'm being deliberately late in order to emphasize my own importance by making them late.

I may not be the latest one, and most people will be concerned with their own reasons for attending. My tardiness will be overlooked, or I will be asked for an explanation.

My other trick is that if I'm in a private place (and most often when I'm insecure I'm at least mostly in private. I have little time for such ruminations when I"m distracted by socializing.) I'll verbalize my insecurities. Then I'll respond out loud to the insecure statements.

Doing so seems to activate the parts of my personality that decide who I back in an argument, and the response is invariably more confident/assured than the insecurity (almost by definition). I find my thoughts falling into agreement with my responses rather than my insecurities.

To put it more simply, many insecure worries sound really odd when spoken aloud. This springs from the same root as the first tip. My insecure thoughts are not the sort of thing I imagine that other people have, so hearing them out loud makes explicit the contrast.

Insecure Walter: I spent too much on that online game which I didn't play very much. That'll become a trend and then I'll go broke and lose my house and die in a gutter. Response: I've spent too much before and never spent everything, and even if I went broke I could take out a loan. Principle of Mediocrity says this won't be too different. I'll just spend less in the future. Thoughts: Yeah, I shouldn't spend so much.

Hope this helps.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2013-09-23T21:05:37.025Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Somewhat relatedly, I often find that even when I don't know what is causing me to feel anxious (which I often don't), saying out loud that I'm feeling anxious for no reason I understand is oddly helpful.

My shorthand for this used to be "I'm afraid demons will eat my children," but I stopped using that when I noticed that I had stopped treating it as an absurd statement (despite not having children, among other things).

comment by ChristianKl · 2013-09-24T23:28:15.119Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not going to be on time. Everyone will think I'm being deliberately late in order to emphasize my own importance by making them late.

When it comes to a thought like that, I would ask: "How bad would it be if other people think that I'm to late to emphasize my own importance?"

How much negative utility would be created? How much money would I pay to prevent that this effect happens?

Hmm, this guy isn't responding to my text. Maybe he could have come to the conclusion that I'm a vicious racist!

If a person thinks that I'm a vicious racist based on what I say, than that person is crazy and we aren't a good match. I would rather spend my time with other people so it's no problem that the guy isn't texting me.

comment by ILikeLogic · 2013-09-24T03:50:08.083Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I like those techniques and I've used variations of them myself in the past. They can definitely make the worry vanish if you hit the right note. I'm really after something more though. I've got this idea that the worries in the first place are the result of learned automatic emotional responses that can be unlearned. I'm not trying to force this idea on anyone but the desire to discuss this possibility is what motivated this post. If a particular worry is the result of a learned automatic emotional response and that response can be unlearned then they won't have to do any of those things. Not that those aren't good techniqes - they are.

comment by Brillyant · 2013-09-24T15:42:22.406Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I've got this idea that the worries in the first place are the result of learned automatic emotional responses that can be unlearned.

I share this idea. And I experience pretty significant insecurity and social anxiety (mingling makes me sweat bullets).

I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss the techniques mentioned as not the "something more" you are looking for.

If the model for cultivating the "learned automatic emotional responses" that leads to worry involved years of subconcious, negative, irrational self-talk (e.g. "everyone is looking at me and thinks I'm overdressed and has concluded I'm a social moron! Ah!'), then I think it is at least plausible that the reciprocal -- conscious, rational, postitive self-talk -- may improve the situation over time and with substantial practice. The reality is most people don't care to criticize us nearly as much as insecure people perceive they do... but it can take time to correct your perception once it has gone askew.

Is there a quick-fix/mind-hack? Maybe. Is it possible this is the sort of thing that requires patience and consistent effort to overcome? I think it is very possible.

comment by Ishaan · 2013-09-23T19:00:28.018Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Semantic quibbles:

Insecurity is when someone perceives that they are not secure - i.e. they are in danger of being harmed by others or deprived of an essential resource be it money, social standing, a relationship, or self-esteem. It more refers to abstract and long term things that cause anxiety rather than fear - so any problem significantly more abstract and long-term than say, a bear, can cause insecurity.

I think that what insecurity is, is inhibition of feelings of disappointment/loss because of an implicitly learned belief that to express these feelings will have negative consequences (ie – it will only make things worse).

I think that what you have described are the compensation mechanisms that some people use in response to a specific type of insecurity.

When one's insecurity centers around self-esteem / self-image, the defense mechanism is to try to avoid admitting certain things about yourself to yourself which might contradict a proud self-image. It's a form of self-deception, similar to belief in belief.

One might also have similar behavior because they are afraid of people hurting them, and so avoid relationships with people and avoid exposing vulnerability to others. Since its hard for many people to fake social cues one might to some extent hide one's vulnerability from oneself as well.

There's plenty of other insecurities, with different ways of dealing. People feeling insecure about money will have stronger emotional reactions to losing it. People with insecurity about losing a relationship might get clingy, while people who are afraid that they will be harmed by others will avoid forming attachments. Not all of these insecurities involve deception to self/others about negative emotions.

comment by ILikeLogic · 2013-09-24T02:07:46.248Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

When one's insecurity centers around self-esteem / self-image, the defense mechanism is to try to avoid admitting certain things about yourself to yourself which might contradict a proud self-image. It's a form of self-deception, similar to belief in belief

This may be correct. However my supposition is that it keeps one from resolving the problem. It keeps one from potentially unlearning the emotional response. It may be, and I'm hypothesizing here, that it takes a fully uninhibited experience of the fear to unlearn it. That is what I'm suggesting. It may not be so, however.

The idea behind these therapies is that we do indeed do something very similar to what you've described (hide our insecurity from ourself), maybe exactly what you've described and eventually it becomes habitual and automatic but to effectively unlearn the emotional response we have to somehow not react to it that way and then have a disconfirming experience.

The types of insecurities that don't involve self-deception are probably well-founded. I don't think it would be desirable to be without the well-founded and reasonable insecurities. But they are probably not the ones that sap the joy from life as much.

Also, another possibility for why we form a habitual reaction to a feeling that is different than a straightforward expression of it is that a straightforward expression of the feeling may have had a very painful result. It may be self-deception or it may be self-protection. The motive may have been to avoid the kind of reaction from others that was so painful rather than an effort to avoid signalling an undesirable trait.

comment by Ishaan · 2013-09-24T02:48:44.813Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The types of insecurities that don't involve self-deception are probably well-founded.

All the insecurities encourage behavior which is adaptive when the threat is real and maladaptive when it isn't. Universally, they all sap joy from life. Joyful behaviors were probably maladaptive in stress-inducing situations, once upon a time. It's always superior to identify and delete unjustified insecurities, and be consciously aware of and improve real-world causes that justify the justified ones.

You in particular may have once experienced maladaptive self-deceiving insecurity, so you think that one is particularly maladaptive while the others make sense in context. But self-deceiving insecurity makes sense in context as well.

Just imagine that you actually were in a social situation where admitting weakness would have undesirable consequences. Suppose you were in a schoolyard, and larger children decided to bully those who show signs of weakness and get sadistic pleasure out of observing shame and crying. You would do well to suppress negative feelings in this scenario to avoid becoming a target. You would also do well to avoid interacting with unknown people who might hurt you - something that avoidant-type social anxiety neatly accomplishes.

Conversely, the other insecurities can be just as life sapping.

Imagine you've had loved ones cut you off for no apparent reason. You don't want it to happen again, so you cling to people who extend tidbits of affection and get anxious when they aren't by your side. Your needy behavior puts people off, perpetuating the cycle of failed relationships.

Imagine you grew up during a time of economic scarcity, so you save every penny due to ingrained financial insecurity. You skimp on healthcare. You stay in crappy housing. You refuse to trade money for labor, instead spending hours doing dangerous and difficult tasks yourself, often botching them due to lack of skill. You end up losing money in medical and repair bills, and have a lower quality of life,

And so on. Insecurity is a sign that something is wrong - either your mind is mis-calibrated for the situation, or you are in real-world trouble. If you can remove the emotional baggage of insecurity and just calmly carry out the necessary adaptive behaviors, you probably should.

comment by ILikeLogic · 2013-09-24T04:37:04.092Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I agree. I am 'mis-calibrated' to put it one way. I'm sure these reactions were, at one time, adaptive. Considering your examples the interesting phenomenon is that they can persist long after they have ceased to be adaptive. But it seems that a particular type of experience can eradicate them. A logical argument that they are no longer adaptive, convincing as it may be doesn't seem sufficient to accomplish the feat. I agree that the learned emotional reactions that are sapping the joy from life were most likely adaptive at one point. But they don't just go away on their own once they cease to be adaptive and they don't even go away once you start to believe that they are maladaptive. But, the theory I'm operating under right now is that a particular type of experience, not an argument (although an argument can be a part of it) can unlearn them. Obviously I have not accomplished this yet. So, yes, I agree I am mis-calibrated. I need to re-calibate. I have to figure out how to do it.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2013-09-23T08:57:11.503Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I think that what insecurity is, is inhibition of feelings of disappointment/loss because of an implicitly learned belief that to express these feelings will have negative consequences (ie – it will only make things worse).

That's almost the opposite of what I would consider feeling "insecure". In the predictive sense, it's being pessimistic. In the emotional sense, It's not inhibition of feelings, but having them. Expecting something bad to happen to you and feeling afraid and anxious is to feel insecure. Generally usage of "insecurity" usually applies this to your own competence or other's perceptions of you.

Reading through your post, I kept waiting for a some kind of delineation of what you were referring to with "insecurity" along those lines. What you've given above seems very idiosyncratic to me.

comment by ILikeLogic · 2013-09-24T04:08:16.526Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

By insecurity I just mean it in the everyday sense of someone worrying a lot about how other people feel towards them and being afraid of being rejected, excluded, ostracized etc.. I suppose it was not quite correct to say that inhibition of feelings of disappointment/loss is what insecurity is. I think its more that's what causes someone to be insecure. My thinking on this is that if someone is not afraid to feel disappointment or loss they won't be insecure. Let me distinguish between loss itself and the feelings that result from it. Loss is always undesirable and its normal and inevitable to fear loss. What I'm suggesting is that it is not inevitable to fear the feelings that result from loss after the loss is incurred. We didn't evolve the feeling of sadness (really I should switch to sadness from here on to avoid confusion) to deal with loss to make ourselves worse off. I think the evolutionary design is to fear loss but not to fear the resulting sadness. I believe that the sadness has a restorative function. I should read up on the best evolutionary theories on the actual function of sadness but for here its enough to say that it is serving a positive purpose and its not in our nature to be averse to our own feelings. But if someone has developed a fear of sadness, perhaps because it was not met with the comforting that it is probably designed by evolution to elicit but rather with some negative reaction, a person can develop a fear of sadness. The idea is that they then may come to not only fear rejection but to fear the sadness that comes with it. My hunch here is that if they don't develop this fear then they will not be insecure. They'll fear the negative outcome but not so much that they are unwilling to take the risk. That's the idea I'm getting at.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2013-09-24T07:25:52.390Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

By insecurity I just mean it in the everyday sense of someone worrying a lot about how other people feel towards them and being afraid of being rejected, excluded, ostracized etc..

That's entirely social insecurity. One could also be insecure about one's level of competence, regardless of the opinions of others.

My thinking on this is that if someone is not afraid to feel disappointment or loss they won't be insecure.

I think that's some of it. Failing to face a possible outcome and accept it makes anticipation worse. To face it is to usually see that you will survive, and it won't be so bad.

However, some insecurity is an ingrained emotional response to actual events. If one grows up in a hostile or treacherous environment, your emotional reaction will likely be appropriate to that threat, with little regard for a change to a safer and less treacherous environment. Also, one thing I've recently considered, is that the habitual act of looking for threats makes the world seem more threatening through the availability heuristic, making you feel less secure than would be appropriate. Notice that heightened vigilance for threat is a natural response to a threatening environment, but it would leave one feeling less secure even after the threat is removed.

In both failure modes, there is a cost to anticipating future failure, whether in the pain of that anticipation, or in estimating the world to be more threatening than it is, again leading to painful anticipation, but also inaccurate predictions of risk that create suboptimal action.

comment by ChristianKl · 2013-09-22T22:13:57.487Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Could you link to a source that describes what primal therapy involves?

comment by ILikeLogic · 2013-09-24T04:17:47.106Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

There may be some descriptions on Art Janov's blog:

http://cigognenews.blogspot.com/

I just want to reiterate that I don't find his theory very coherent or well stated. Its just that, again, I have a strong intuitive sense that we have an evolutionarily derived capacity to heal from the types of experiences or 'primals' that he tries to elicit.So please don't come back and tell me how goofy his theory is - I know it already. I think you have to read him generously.

comment by maia · 2013-09-22T23:21:46.728Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Have you read Feeling Good, or any other books on cognitive therapy?

I've found that thinking of my mental phenomena in terms of words like "insecurity" and "learned inhibition of feelings" and finding the root causes of my emotions based on my childhood and so on... doesn't really help very much with feelings of insecurity/anxiety, but that cognitive therapy techniques do help some.

Also, cognitive therapy has been shown scientifically to work well in a lot of people. I'm skeptical of a lot of other therapy techniques, because many are not as well tested; not that I'm against trying things and finding what works for you, but it is probably a good idea to try the most well-proven techniques first.

comment by ILikeLogic · 2013-09-24T01:47:21.653Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not a fan of congitive therapy. I tried it for a while and it worked ok at times but I believe that it is impractical in the long run. Its using your cognitive mind to 'fight' against conditioned emotional responses. It can work as long as you spend a lot of cognitive effort on the cause. Eventually I grew tired of the effort and it wasn't really all that effective. My goal is to discover how to decondition the learned emotional responses.

comment by Zaine · 2013-09-23T00:46:09.708Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Perhaps I've misunderstood the post, but it seems like they are doing a variant of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy; id est, they are identifying problem thought areas and attempting to change them during activation.

comment by ILikeLogic · 2013-09-24T01:44:49.802Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yes. Activation is the key. The synapses that code the learned emotional responses have a period after which they have been activated during which they can be changed. If no disconfirming or contradictory experience takes place they will be re-consolidated. But if a disconfirm experience takes place in that window they will not. That is the theory and there is some good animal research to support it.

comment by Zaine · 2013-09-24T02:02:21.706Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Note that this period is extremely time sensitive, and, depending upon when changes occur, determines whether the strength of the connection will be increased or decreased. For anyone interested in a technical explanation of this theory of memory, vide - particularly the sky blue side bars on the left. Although not believed the whole territory, it, to about half of convention-going neuroscientists, comprises a large part of the current map.

comment by Brillyant · 2013-09-22T23:04:38.369Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The basic idea of 'focusing' is that if you pay attention to the feeling in your body, and don't distract yourself with too much thinking or paying attention to other things but just 'stay with' the feeling

This 'focusing' reminds me of my understanding of meditation, where the sitter "watches" his thoughts and how they are moving around in the mind and being manifest into emotional states. With practice, this allows a detachment from negative thoughts & emotions as they are recognized to be operating in a system separate from the sitter's source of observation.

In effect, one could stop saying "I am insecure and depressed and anxious!" and say rather "This cognitive-emotional system is insecure and depressed and anxious. I am watching it so I am aware of that now. Hm. Unfortunate & interesting."

The shift in itself can be rather cathartic as it releases you from the sort of "self-blaming" attitude that can accompany low mood states. Further, it can perhaps provide the basis for a more objective, non-shame-filled investigation of how to improve your mood. (Or rather "how to fix that insecure cognitive-emotional system you have succeeded in identifying")

I'd point you to Eckhart Tolle and his book The Power of Now, but I'm not sure that is on the approved reading list here at LW. It is filled with a lot of woo woo, but there is a baby in that bathwater. I think it does a good job of Westernizing some Eastern philosophical concepts that may be valuable in your pursuit. (The first two chapters will give you the gist...)

comment by ILikeLogic · 2013-09-24T05:00:44.504Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I've done a very little bit of insight meditation and a fair amount of focusing and they are very similar. I'd say the biggest differences are 1) focusing is not as wide open. You are trying to 'work on' some troublesome feeling and 2) while you do stay detached somewhat from the feeling and are an observer, you don't just let if float away. You have an interest in it and you stay with it. You are supposed to ask it ( I hate that anthropomorphizing of it but that's what they say) what it wants and stuff like that until you get a 'shift' where you have a sort of epiphany which is marked by an unmistakable release of tension. It really does feel an awful lot like mindfulness meditation.

comment by ThereIsNoJustice · 2013-09-24T19:32:16.209Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

You have an interest in it and you stay with it. You are supposed to ask it ( I hate that anthropomorphizing of it but that's what they say) what it wants and stuff like that until you get a 'shift' where you have a sort of epiphany which is marked by an unmistakable release of tension.

I have to be missing the purpose of this. Wouldn't a feeling of insecurity have a simple response like: get away from the speech podium, etc? I did look at some "focusing" websites, but this point I can't figure out from the few bits and pieces around.

comment by ILikeLogic · 2013-09-24T20:01:12.328Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The purpose is to elucidate the feeling in more detail. Our feelings become automatic and don't require conscious appraisal. Often, a clear conscious appreciation of exactly what our feelings are, doesn't exist. The feeling can be there but there may not be a conscious understanding of exactly what it is and what it is for.

There is an assumption implied by this whole post that, at least sometimes, our feelings are not appropriate to the situation. Why would I want to get rid of an emotional reaction that is entirely appropriate? If it is serving me well then I would want to keep it. So, yes, there is an assumption that the feelings in question, the ones that I want to be rid of, are not appropriate. Bringing a feeling into clear conscious focus can sometimes make it immediately obvious that that feeling is not needed anymore, at which point it will vanish. That is the point of focusing. A public speaking fear, such as you describe, would certainly not go unnoticed. But that doesn't mean that the person is fully aware, in detail, of what they are afraid of and why. But focusing can bring that awareness. And often the fear is unreasonable and will vanish when that is realized. But if the feeling is not brought into clearer focus this will not happen. I want to emphasize this point. You can make a very rational airtight argument to yourself that it is irrational and unnecessary to be insecure in that situation. If you haven't brought a clear picture of the fear into conscious awareness it will not turn off the fear. But if you do bring that clear, detailed picture of the fear and its reasons, and you realize that the reasons are not valid, the fear will vanish. But you have to get that clear picture first or you can't change it. That is the point of it. The feelings may be irrational but they will not change unless they are brought into clear conscious focus. Perhaps that is why it is called 'focusing'. The name seems to work better as an analogy to focusing a camera on some particular area than in the common every day sense of 'focus' meaning to concentrate.

comment by ThereIsNoJustice · 2013-09-24T20:27:21.913Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Great explanation. Thanks.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2013-09-24T06:59:52.743Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That sounds like a different version of Focusing than the one I've read about-- I thought the procedure was to keep looking for words to describe the feeling until you find words that satisfy you.

I can easily believe that the looking for words approach doesn't work for everyone, and so there are alternatives.

comment by ILikeLogic · 2013-09-24T16:19:46.363Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

No, that's it too. You keep looking for words to decribe it and check whether they fit. In another book you are supposed to ask the feeling (which to me is goofy) what its about and see what comes. The release of tension happens when you get the description to match the feeling.

comment by ChristianKl · 2013-09-23T11:26:08.067Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

In effect, one could stop saying "I am insecure and depressed and anxious!" and say rather "This cognitive-emotional system is insecure and depressed and anxious. I am watching it so I am aware of that now. Hm. Unfortunate & interesting."

That sounds like disassociation of emotions instead of detachment. That's not what someone like Eckhart Tolle would recommend.

I once attended a session of Meditation for Hackers at the Chaos Computer Congress and the psychology PHD who held them considered that kind of disassociation dark and potentially harmful.

The goal of meditation isn't to make your emotions go away but to stop holding them so that they can go on their own.

comment by Brillyant · 2013-09-23T14:19:02.857Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

That sounds like disassociation of emotions instead of detachment. That's not what someone like Eckhart Tolle would recommend.

...

“Rather than being your thoughts and emotions, be the awareness behind them.” -- Eckhart Tolle

Tolle (and others) speak(s) of the value of not identifying with your thoughts and emotions, but rather observing them without judgement.

What distinction have you identified between "disassociation" and "detachment"? Are we saying the same thing using different words? If not, please elaborate?

I once attended a session of Meditation for Hackers at the Chaos Computer Congress and the psychology PHD who held them considered that kind of disassociation dark and potentially harmful.

Who was the PHD? S/he said the scenario I just described was "dark and potentially harmful"? Can you please explain how?

The goal of meditation isn't to make your emotions go away but to stop holding them so that they can go on their own.

I don't think I recommended making your emotions "go away", nor am I certain what that means or how one would do it. Can you explain how you "stop holding your emotions so they go on their own" and how that is different from the understanding of meditation I presented?

comment by ChristianKl · 2013-09-23T18:20:55.081Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I don't know what you exprience while you meditate but I think that the description that you gave would lead the average person who reads it to dissociate emotions.

When you speak about the emotion being unfortunate, that's gives the impression of judgement. That you don't accept that the emotion being present is completely okay. You want to fix it. It's not okay the way it is. That you are attached to wanting it go away.

The sentence "This cognitive-emotional system is insecure and depressed and anxious" looks to me like dissociation. It looks like a mental description. In Tolle's words it's the mind speaking. There more content in that sentence than just observing insecurity, depression and anxiety.

If you do that with the "negative" emotion I would predict that the immediate effect is that it hurts less.

Why is dissociation dark? If you are in that state of dealing with emotions there nothing stopping you directly from hurting other people. You can observe that you hurt someone but you won't get punished through some empathy mechanism.

If you want a soldier to kill people you need him to disassociate emotions. On the other hand someone like Tolle isn't in a state where he would kill someone. New Agey people who go the light path aren't. In Buddhism people become vegan because they don't want to feel what it feels like to be responsbile for killing something.

Their higher self awareness doesn't lead them to say: "My mind feels some agony about being involved in killing. But that's just my mind, that's not my true self."

Some satanist might intentionally go to a state where he can do such things but that's not the mental place where the feel good New Age people like Tolle want to go when they advocate mediation.

So what do you do when a strong negative emotions like anxiety comes to you? You treat it like a small crying child that comes to you. You show it love and accept that it can cry on your shoulder till everything is alright. You don't give the child the impression that it's unfortunate for you that it came to you to cry on your shoulder. The child might have unreasonable concerns but it's still okay that it's there and tries till it's over. All the while the parent shows love to the child.

That's what the New Age phrase of unconditional love is about. Of course unconditional love is a goal that most people won't achieve at their first meditation experience. If you can't manage love finding the emotion interesting is a good step.

Of course you can't force yourself to feel unconditional love and trying to attach yourself to the idea that you should feel unconditional love during a meditation will likely screw up the whole experience.

That why the usual way of teaching meditation is through a teacher that takes into account where the student which whom he talks is and not though books.

Who was the PHD? S/he said the scenario I just described was "dark and potentially harmful"?

Sai. He made the point that dissociation is dark. It's my judgement that what you describe leads to dissociation.

comment by Brillyant · 2013-09-23T20:18:21.475Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

There is a lot here to respond to. And I don't know that I can or know how to.

I think we have a disagreement largely based on our definitions of some admittedly slippery concepts.

In my example, "unfortunate" was perhaps an unfortunate word choice by me. You are right that unfortunate may be something of a judgement. I meant something more like "this cognitive-mental situation is causing pain."

I'm speaking (generally) in the context of a response to the OP. Insecurity (and anxiety & depression) might be explained by a mental state that can effectively be observed -- but not by the sufferer themselves. In fact, some of what makes these sorts of mood states difficult to improve is a lack of insight on behalf of the sufferer.

An outside observer would say, "Oh, there is nothing to worry about... in reality, you are okay." Meditation, and some of Tolle's work (as I understand it) allows you to become identified with that outside observer by recognizing there is an awareness beyond our thoughts and feelings, and become more familiar with that awareness.

We might taboo "disassociate" and "detach" and do better.

I guess I can see how someone could use these techniques to do evil, and I don't want to be naive... but I'm speaking more about how to feel less social anxiety/insecurity in light of the topic at hand.

comment by ChristianKl · 2013-09-25T00:03:26.937Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think we have a disagreement largely based on our definitions of some admittedly slippery concepts.

I think the words are slippery but the concept themselves aren't. The difficult thing is to trace from the words that someone uses what he actually experiences. The other difficulty is to predict what the words will do to a reader.

An outside observer would say, "Oh, there is nothing to worry about... in reality, you are okay." Meditation, and some of Tolle's work (as I understand it) allows you to become identified with that outside observer by recognizing there is an awareness beyond our thoughts and feelings, and become more familiar with that awareness.

I'm not happy with the word "outside". It's more a place that neither inside nor outside or both. But that might be semantics.

More importantely that observer is awareness and not thought. A phrase like "this cognitive-mental situation is causing pain." looks to me like an intellectual descrition. It looks constructed.

My impression could be wrong. On the other hand I do point to a failure mode that exists.

I guess I can see how someone could use these techniques to do evil, and I don't want to be naive... but I'm speaking more about how to feel less social anxiety/insecurity in light of the topic at hand.

I think the light way of dealing with social anxiety to come out with empathy. Having empathy has other advantages besides stopping you from hurting other people. It's my impression that's the way that Tolle advocates.

comment by ILikeLogic · 2013-09-24T05:09:40.287Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I don't know where the line between detachment and dissociation is either.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2013-09-23T18:27:32.521Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Somewhat but not entirely tangentially..

In Buddhism people become vegan because they don't want to feel what it feels like to be responsbile for killing something.

Is this as distinct from becoming vegan because they don't want to be responsible for killing something, and/or from becoming vegan because they want fewer things to be killed?

comment by Dorikka · 2013-09-22T21:05:28.887Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Um, would you mind changing your font to the LW default?

comment by ILikeLogic · 2013-09-22T21:32:01.057Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Does that look right? There is no font selection in the editor. I just had to remove it completely and paste it in again from my text editor. The editor is not exactly commercial word-processor level.

comment by Dorikka · 2013-09-22T22:32:37.843Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yep; that looks right. Thanks.

comment by ILikeLogic · 2013-09-22T21:08:48.160Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

No problem. I have to figure it out 1st though. Give me a few minutes.

comment by [deleted] · 2016-02-01T06:23:06.103Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

There seem to be some good books on avoidant personality disorder. I'm going to check one out that I saw on Amazon.

The blurb may convince some of ya'll to give it a go:

The avoidance reduction techniques presented in this book recognize that avoidants not only fear criticism and humiliation, but also fear being flooded by their feelings and being depleted if they express them. Acceptance is feared as much as rejection, because avoidants fear compromising their identity and losing personal freedom. Kantor describes the different therapeutic emphasis required for the four types of avoidants, including those who are withdrawn due to shyness and social phobia, such as people who intensely fear public speaking; those who relate easily, widely, and well, but cannot sustain relationships due to fear of closeness; those whose restlessness causes them to leave steady relationships, often without warning; and those who grow dependent on―and merge with―a single lover or family member and avoid relating to anyone else.

comment by ChristianKl · 2013-09-23T12:27:46.090Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I don't intend this to be a personally revealing post so I'll just sum it up by saying that being insecure has had a profoundly negative impact on my life. I feel that it is the single biggest reason why I've failed to reach my potential in all ways. That's fine though, I'm not really bitter but I remain very frustrated and I want to solve this problem. I want to 'crack the code', if you will.
[...]
I've developed my own understanding of insecurity, which, admittedly, is a synthesis of other people's ideas, but I haven't found any book or therapy or system that puts it all together in a way that I fully agree with.
[...] Since Jr High at least, I've been frustrated by my insecurity. I don't intend this to be a personally revealing post so I'll just sum it up by saying that being insecure has had a profoundly negative impact on my life. I feel that it is the single biggest reason why I've failed to reach my potential in all ways. That's fine though, I'm not really bitter but I remain very frustrated and I want to solve this problem. I want to 'crack the code', if you will.

If I understand you right you are saying: You are exposed to Arthus Janov ideas for 20 years and they ideas that you developed from that exposure haven't solve your issue. They had some temporal effects but the anxiety always came back.

Then you say that you haven't found any therapy that matches your understanding of the problem. If the therapy works well with the problem I would expect that it doesn't matches with your understanding of the problem.

I also don't believe that you will understand what a form of therapy is about by reading a book about it.

Exactly how they work is not something that is perfectly understood by anyone but I find it frustrating when discussing them with people who don't seem to understand that, whatever the rules are, there are rules.

There are rules but empathy can often be more useful for dealing with someone's emotional issue than trying to use intellectual rigor.

comment by ILikeLogic · 2013-09-24T04:48:29.390Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm considering therapy. I was in therapy for several years many years ago. Not primal therapy. I tried doing that on my own, with some transient success as I said in the post. The more conventional therapy had its moments too but ultimately it was a disappointment. I was still insecure after several years. But these new feeling-centered experiential therapies have become more and more popular the last few years. They've actually only come onto my radar in the last four months. I had pretty much given up on the project but was encouraged again when I came across them and started reading about them. It's in reading about them that I realize that they've been gaining in popularity. It probably has a lot to do with neuroscience findings being more supportive of them than of heavily cognitive therapies.

And, the neuroscience findings support your assertion that empathy will do more than intellectual rigor (check out 'The Polyvagal Theory' by Stephen Porges - I'm slogging through it now - its very technical but so far very fascinating). But I have to defend myself on that. I didn't mean intellectual rigor in the process of working out these problems. I meant intellectual rigor in figuring out what is the best way to go about working out these problems. And if the rational analysis suggests that an empathetic relationship is the way, well, then that's the way.

comment by Bemused · 2013-12-27T19:31:59.546Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Thank you for raising this topic, ILikeLogic. I am sufficiently insecure that it has taken me quite some time even to post here. (It is my first time posting - not reading - on LessWrong.)

I have lately been looking for therapy to deal with matters, but two sessions with a therapist leave me with the impression (rightly or wrongly) that this person is less philosophically/scientifically acute than I am. From college experience, I got the impression that there is a lot of hollow conceptualizing going on in academic psychology (or it may be that I am so emotionally twisted that I did not get it, but I do doubt this). There may be empathy, but there must also be enough sharpness for me to let my guard down so that we can get anywhere emotionally. Consequently, while I will keep on looking for face-to-face therapy, my expectations are not too high; and the discussion here is stimulating, so let's see.

I have a few items:

  • You say that with self-applied primal therapy, you (sometimes, I understand) "felt completely secure and free of anxiety for up to a few days". What happens then? Also, could you describe in a few lines what procedure you used -- or is there some sort of copyright issue with that? (I did follow the link to Janov's blog, but could not pin anything down in a reasonable span of time...)
  • You say (I'm paraphrasing) that insecurity comes from distress made worse by negative responses to expressing that distress, and subsequent defensive reactions. Sounds true, also personally. But I wonder: are such responses bad for everyone, always? Does an order to "stop crying" (literal or in some other form) always lead to a defensive response? I would guess not -- some are able to find a proactive modus to overcome the distress. Maybe because they enjoy winning more, because they have different hormone levels, because of X, Y and Z? My point is: in what cases is it enough to 'rewire the emotional brain', and in what cases does that leave the person with a brain that is actually 'too optimistic' for him/her to handle, given his/her other attributes?
  • I had a particular look at Coherence Therapy. Found this interview underwhelming. Most of it seems hollow academic talk to me. When Ecker finally reveals the heart of the matter at the end, it comes down to 'bring up negative past experience and emotion / associate with a positive emotion in relevantly similar situations / follow-up'. Sounds good by itself, but instead of all the vague talking, I'd like a short script of sorts that guides me through these steps. Where have you gotten with CT / "Unlocking the Emotional Brain" by now?
  • In this annotated transcript there is an interesting case of a man who was insecure and self-sabotaging because of harsh treatment by his father (didn't want to 'win in life' because it would prove the father right); Coherence Therapy helps the young man to face the fact that his father is not going to apologize, and to move on. Now such a single damaging childhood figure, bad as it may be, is one thing. I feel I am more facing a probabilistic issue here: you never know who is going to stab you. Showing me that I should not be afraid of a particular person, or repeating this particular fear until I feel I 'own' it, etc. ... might not do that much good, because I know already that many people do not stab. I fear (!) that even if I go through a perhaps tortuous process of trying to identify and re-live and lay to rest particular negative experiences (and what about potential pre-memory, infant ones? they're out of reach), my rational brain will still ask of the next person I face: does this person stab? Because some people do stab. Is this sort of thing addressed in "Unlocking the Emotional Brain"?

Thanks again!

comment by Nornagest · 2013-09-22T21:10:20.100Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

This will likely be better received if you change the font style to match LW standard. That's true for nonstandard formatting in general; in this particular case, though, it's being rendered into something difficult for me to read at my default resolution and browser settings.