Instead of "I'm anxious," try "I feel threatened" 2019-06-28T05:24:52.593Z


Comment by Holly_Elmore on How To Write Quickly While Maintaining Epistemic Rigor · 2021-09-02T05:43:28.499Z · LW · GW

Thank you for writing this so there's common knowledge that it's okay to write this way on LW, or that it would be okay with the many upvoters. I certainly got the feeling that posts have to be well-researched dissertations or persuasive arguments on here sometimes. 

Comment by Holly_Elmore on Pain is not the unit of Effort · 2021-02-17T15:26:35.751Z · LW · GW

My problem is less internal confusion about pain equaling effort and more of a need to credibly perform painful effort to others. I fear that if I’m happy and relaxed and don’t perform well, it will seem as though I didn’t care about my collaborators or that I cavalierly stole my employer’s money. On the flip side, I seem to think that I can purchase the right to be lazy/not expose myself to criticism by making myself suffer— conspicuously, so those to whom I am responsible see it.

I don’t think my fears of not suffering when I’m “supposed to” are entirely baseless. When your boss thinks pain is the unit of effort, it’s at the very least your unit of evaluation. But I think most of that is in my head, and that I superstitiously believe the pain of effort and self-flagellation can protect me from the pain of judgment.

Comment by Holly_Elmore on Straight-edge Warning Against Physical Intimacy · 2020-11-24T17:09:14.779Z · LW · GW

My only question is, why privilege your “natural state” so much? Seems like naturalistic fallacy. For example, why would I think my anger at my partner is more authentic than how I would feel if we had sex? When that happens, I usually remember how much I love them and let go of my anger, which feels a lot more true to me. And what’s the true amount of funny for a movie?

I think saying “everything in moderation” is a really unsatisfying answer, but it’s true here. Sex can warp your judgment but it’s also a need for most people. Overeating can make you complacent with a bad situation, but that doesn’t mean your judgment is better when you’re hungry. Unfortunately there’s no one true base state and we need to keep applying inputs as well as abstaining to stay in the right zone.

Comment by Holly_Elmore on Excusing a Failure to Adjust · 2020-08-26T18:18:40.842Z · LW · GW

I'm concerned that rationalist values can promote excessive sliding, just because that seems like the virtuous thing to do, when really much of the new evidence we receive is weak or inconclusive (at least at the time we recieve it). Looking to adjust your slider after every conversation seems to be setting yourself up for error, to me, because I don't think it's realistic to think we can discriminate that well based on evidence that would otherwise be so easy to dismiss as it trickles in. Although, for many beliefs, I suppose there isn't much reason to privilege your previous level of credence over what you feel after getting slightly more ambiguous evidence...

Comment by Holly_Elmore on How to Ignore Your Emotions (while also thinking you're awesome at emotions) · 2019-08-04T16:54:48.958Z · LW · GW

As someone who fatefully discovered dissociation/depersonalization/derealization ( around 10 only to have shit hit the fan in my 20s, I think I can articulate what’s lost when you lose touch with emotions. At first it feels great to ride above the pain, for me social pain in particular, and only come back down when it’s safe, like at home with my family. But eventually you can’t come back down to experience even essential things like interest, excitement, most of all love and connection. I feel that I was slowly bleeding out the entire time I was away from my body, never fully replenishing what was lost, and after years I was just empty and shriveled. I had my first real depression at the end of college and I felt mostly numb but also miserable and heavy. There was a deep sense of loss for I didn’t know what. Now I know what I was craving was a sense of being embodied, of feeling real and being connected to the world.

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

Comment by Holly_Elmore on How to Ignore Your Emotions (while also thinking you're awesome at emotions) · 2019-08-04T16:19:07.594Z · LW · GW

I feel you so much on depersonalization seeming super awesome until you realize you’re cut off from life itself in many ways. I’m still mad how much the outside world seems to appreciate when you’re half-dead inside...

Comment by Holly_Elmore on How to Ignore Your Emotions (while also thinking you're awesome at emotions) · 2019-08-04T16:10:09.215Z · LW · GW

Strongest upvote. My life story is very similar— what I thought was just discipline totally handling my emotional and personality issues was actually an internally (and sometimes outwardly) abusive system that imploded after enough major life stressors.

I’ve written about the self-righteousness and judgment that came ultimately from not respecting my own vulnerabilities and needs here:

My model there is that I had a strong internal critic that I thought was protecting me from sucking and being unlovable. I liked to turn that critic on others (self-righteousness) because it gave me a break and made me feel safe, like at least I was better than them. But the real problem was how overpowered the critic was and that it had access to my feelings of self-love and self-acceptance at all.

Comment by Holly_Elmore on Alleviating Bipolar with meditation · 2019-08-04T15:36:08.259Z · LW · GW

Do you also take medication?

Spaciousness is such an important concept for all people but especially those with mood disorders. But it’s so hard to explain to new and skeptical people. I’m most fond of Tara Brach’s way of describing spaciousness, “you are not the waves— you are the ocean.” Another helpful image from her is that having space is “the difference between putting dye into a bathtub and putting the same amount of dye into the ocean.”

Comment by Holly_Elmore on Magic is Dead, Give me Attention · 2019-07-18T03:04:04.825Z · LW · GW

My model: I think quality attention is a finite resource, and that many people have a ravenous appetite for attention. The people around them are not under any obligation to do the emotional labor to give them their fill. Expressing a desire for attention (or anything your interlocutor could give you), overtly or covertly, easily comes off as a manipulative indirect request/demand. This is why people find attention-seeking so gross. Because attention-seeking is agreed upon as a contemptible behavior, people use this as a weapon against each other and accuse others to throw everyone else off the scent of their own vulnerability.

Comment by Holly_Elmore on Magic is Dead, Give me Attention · 2019-07-15T17:39:45.395Z · LW · GW

I really relate to wanting attention but feeling degraded, or like it's not acceptable, when I ask for it. I had a different reaction to it, which was to become a thought leader among my friends who always knew what was morally and factually right. This made me shiny to a lot of people but also let me fall back to a righteous stance if someone didn't like me.

I wish wanting attention weren't treated as if it were so disgusting. I grew up hearing "Don't listen to him. He just wants *attention*" with contempt in the speakers' voices. My parents weren't like that, but I got the message all the same. A deisrable person, the person who would get the attention, didn't give a shit what people thought of them.

Comment by Holly_Elmore on Instead of "I'm anxious," try "I feel threatened" · 2019-07-07T23:30:52.778Z · LW · GW

I've never heard of IFS in particular but I really like the sound of it! I have sort of naturally started experiencing my mind as consisting of multiple parts and agents as a result of therapy and introspection (also studying neuroscience and evolutionary psychology). It really helps me to understand and accept my mind as it is when I don't believe it's actually one consistent thing, but multiple modules with potentially conflicting goals.

Comment by Holly_Elmore on Instead of "I'm anxious," try "I feel threatened" · 2019-07-07T23:20:39.804Z · LW · GW

I see now that I didn't adequately emphasize my experience with meditation and CBT-style thought dissection enough, and perhaps my advice is terrible if you have not done those things first. Thinking in terms of "my body feels threatened" helps me because I 1) have the mindfulness to notice quickly, 2) I am able to rewind the tape a little and, often, recall the moment the anxiety wave broke over me even though I wasn't mindful of it at the time, which 3) often makes the "threat" clear. Noticing the things I consider threats helps me to keep them in perspective as I continue to encounter them. Mostly importantly, realizing the banal thing that actually triggered my anxiety helps me not to make false attributions.

It frequently happens that people suffer from anxiety because they don't allow themselves to be angry because they want to be a "nice guy" or "nice girl". David D. Burns sees this need to be nice as one of the pillars of a lot of cases of people have anxiety disorder in When Panic Attacks.

Hear, hear. Yes, this is what I think was happening with me and jealousy. I basically felt that good person is not jealous and steeped in comparison, and so I stopped being aware of when I was jealous, getting anxious and attributing the anxiety to other stuff instead.

Comment by Holly_Elmore on Instead of "I'm anxious," try "I feel threatened" · 2019-06-30T14:22:24.707Z · LW · GW

Yeah, I doubt you'll find "trance" in the literature, but that's what I meant so that's what I said.

Comment by Holly_Elmore on Instead of "I'm anxious," try "I feel threatened" · 2019-06-30T03:11:05.509Z · LW · GW

Courage is really important to me, too. But I don't even remember to try courage if I'm an anxiety trance. It's hard to direct courage at diffuse feelings. Identifying "threats" when I can makes applying courage more possible.

Comment by Holly_Elmore on Instead of "I'm anxious," try "I feel threatened" · 2019-06-29T15:26:03.922Z · LW · GW

Ah, I see. I think our disagreement comes down to experience. I've had my share of misattributions, but through practice with CBT and mindfulness, I'm now pretty good at noticing quickly after I experience an anxiety spike. Then I just have to replay the last few minutes, and usually I feel triggered again when I get to the original trigger. I'm not saying this gives me clarity on whatever "underlying issues" may also cause anxiety, but it's usually immistakable that that event minutes ago triggered the anxiety that started then.

If I don't realize that some small thing just gave me an uptick in anxiety, that's when I start misattributing it to big life issues. But if I wasn't able to identify anxiety spikes quickly and identify the proximate cause with confidence, finding the proximate cause could just be another playground for anxiety.

Comment by Holly_Elmore on Instead of "I'm anxious," try "I feel threatened" · 2019-06-28T17:02:27.144Z · LW · GW

"Oftentimes you are experiencing dread without any real external triggers whatsoever, providing no readily available, preferably small threat that you can safely attribute it to."

Again, I doubt this actually occurs that often. My prior is that there is some trigger whatsoever in most cases. Perhaps it is better not to try to find a cause, though, if you think it most likely you'll turn up something false.

I'm not recommending you try to dispatch with your anxious feelings through (mis)attribution. When I realize something like jealousy is keeping me tense and distressed, usually the real (still unpleasant) feeling comes to the fore and fight-or-flight recedes on its own. But sometimes I realize what's happening and still feel anxious, just more mindful and not spinning off into false attributions as much. I'm not recommending you seek the relief of an answer to soothe yourself, but rather that you remember that, when you are feeling anxious, your body is preparing you to deal with what it perceives as a threat. With mindful observation, it is often possible to determine what set off anxiety and led to the cascade of imaginary threats. And very often, thinking about the perceived threat consciously cuts it down to size.

The true thing that is threatening you may not be insignificant, and may feel really terrible. But we don't call it anxiety if someone is having a totally proportional reaction to their problems.

Comment by Holly_Elmore on Instead of "I'm anxious," try "I feel threatened" · 2019-06-28T16:53:00.815Z · LW · GW

I see what you're saying about false attributions, which seriously exacerbate anxiety, but I'm talking about piecing together the actual series of events that occurred when you became anxious, not the things you subsequently started worrying about. I actually don't think feelings of chronic anxiety have no proximate cause and come up out of nowhere. Of course no one knows this for sure, but my belief based on the high efficacy of CBT for anxiety, my experience with CBT and Buddhism, and my own introspection is that thoughts are the triggers and sustainers of chronic anxiety. Most people can learn to identify the thoughts that sustain their anxiety and see for themselves that they contain cognitive distortions. Furthermore, I believe that the anxious feelings that call up the thoughts usually do come from some external trigger, however subtle. Being on your commute where you're normally stressed, someone giving you a confusing look, or having feelings you're not supposed to have (like jealousy) can be enough to get an anxiety storm going.

For any particular instance of anxiety coming "out of nowhere," my prior is now that there was an external prompt or trigger. I'm not saying anxiety was a called for reaction (if it ever is), but it was the reaction to something that you perceived as a threat to your safety, status, self-concept, etc. Often the trigger is so small that you don't consciously notice it, drawn instead by anxiety's slight of hand to worry about health, safety, all the things you listed.

Maybe the threat reframe doesn't work for you, but for some reason it does for me. When I ask myself what's threatening me right now, the answer tends to be more real and immediate than when I ask myself "why am I anxious?" and get a bunch of general reasons that might justify feeling distressed. I think the threat question cuts through a lot of the shame I have at feeling negative feelings towards other people. I believe my anxiety results in large part from wanting to avoid and not to have to acknowledge those feelings. Reminding myself that I'm perceiving my natural feelings and reactions as threats helps to check one of the most common causes of my anxiety.