Coping/Reframing: What Rings True?

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Coping/Reframing: What Rings True?

Post by nearly_takuan on Wed Jun 17, 2015 4:01 am

In the process of getting my thoughts down I will unavoidably find myself using words such as "truth", "never", and "impossible". In part because I am stubborn and will never stop exaggerating, and in part because one of the themes of this thread is going to be "what rings true," it will be impossible to use different words instead. As a mathematician, I am accustomed to thinking about problems that can never be solved; as an engineer, I am accustomed to leaving certain things as rough approximations of the best I can do rather than insist that everything be perfect on the first go, with no need for maintenance; as myself, I may not know Reality, but I know my reality. But I also know these are not concepts that are comfortable or palatable to everyone here, so if it helps, you can probably safely replace "truth" with "nearly_takuan's distorted opinions", "impossible" with "what seems to be an excessively complicated function of probability, stuffed full of very small-looking scalars", "never" with "ain't gonna happen", and so forth—as necessary.




I've had what might be called a small revelation, over the course of the past day or so, which seems to have partially answered the question I've spent so much time pondering. And it happened sort of by accident.

I was wallowing, I think. Everything from casual water-cooler conversations at work to pedestrians in traffic seemed to exist solely to remind me to be miserable. And then I read this article about what sort of gasoline I ought to use. There's a bit at the end, intended as a bit of stupid sexist body-shaming humor, and when I read it I just thought, I don't get in-law jokes. I can't. And it was like when Arthur Dent realized McDonald's was gone. This profoundly stupid thought just wouldn't let go. I will just never have the same visceral understanding of jokes about in-laws that normal people get. And I think it was a thought that really did start out as actual indignation. This was the last straw. Yet one more essential piece of human experience had been denied me. And then I had to confront the utter ridiculousness of it. And thought: That's not actually all that bad. I'll never have to put up with shitty in-laws, and never shall I burden another with the irritating quirks of my own extended family's various personalities. That's not a cosmic insult, that's a silver lining. It's the silver lining.

Which is... I mean, it's totally fucking stupid, right? Whee, go me. Winner of the crummiest consolation prize, and therefore of the "who has the crummiest consolation prize" pissing-contest.

I remembered a comment from over the weekend, on Paging.
lonelyoffices wrote:When you're trying to reframe your experience, one of the essential aspects of how you reframe it is that the reframed version needs to ring true.

All the platitudes and reassurances and commiserations people have tried to offer just...haven't rung true. I was usually truly grateful for the intent, but whenever people expressed some hope that things would turn out well for me, my instinctive reaction would just be, "great, now there are two people who won't get what they want." It was too serious, I guess. And, perhaps just because of the narrow way I tried to interpret such sentiments, too incompatible with what I already knew: that when I die, I'll die alone.

This, instead, is Life's Cruel Joke taken to its natural extreme. Exaggerated and extended and beaten with a dead horse's leg until all that's left is a bad joke. Sitcom cliches flash in front of me, now reminding me of all the meaningless crap I don't have to worry about, even as it still reminds me of what I'll miss. So what if I can't be a father, that just means I'll never have to give up on my dreams and attempt in vain to fulfill them vicariously.

The illusion has not entirely unraveled. But it's weakened a bit.
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Re: Coping/Reframing: What Rings True?

Post by Guest on Sun Jun 21, 2015 12:04 am

Yo, this thread needs dusting out. There's too many cobwebs.

Anyways....I'd like to add to what lonelyoffices said. Reframing negative experiences not only needs to ring true, they need to feel satisfying (Insert big words about humans being emotional and illogical creatures who aren't happy being rational and pragmatic etc.).

Platitudes and commiserations are inherently annoying because, well, they're hardly a substitute for real, quantifiable and positive experiences. So of course they never ring true! They're probably just as as ineffective as excessive worrying and unproductive thinking.

In the end, I think that attempts to cope with and reframe our realities will always be inadequate. With time it'll just be another 'thing' that needs to be managed. Like diabetes. Or a habitually leaky anus.

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Re: Coping/Reframing: What Rings True?

Post by nearly_takuan on Sun Jun 21, 2015 4:36 am

That all sounds pretty right to me. So far this way of framing stuff (trying to observe strangeness instead of trying to "look on the bright side", indulging in relatively gentle self-flagellation over all this navel-gazing, and getting somewhat meta about that as well) has gone okay, but it really hasn't been that long yet so... Maybe it'll suck again real soon, I dunno.

I was wondering if others here had similar experiences, i.e. had some sort of mental shift that came from a seemingly unusual or unexpected thought or event. Times when conventional wisdom seemed not to apply, but by chance something else came up that did. (Seem to, that is.) What was that like? What was the effect, short-term and/or long-term?
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Re: Coping/Reframing: What Rings True?

Post by Guest on Tue Jun 23, 2015 9:30 am

I'm sorry, I don't think I know how to answer your question well.

I think that when I run into events that don't follow my biases, I find myself not knowing how to feel about said experience (especially if the event is rare and doesn't follow what I think ought to be expected trends). So it doesn't create a strong 'mental shift' per se because I don't see/experience it enough times for it to topple my confirmation biases.


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Re: Coping/Reframing: What Rings True?

Post by lonelyoffices on Tue Jul 07, 2015 2:02 pm

Regarding the mental shift, I have what I'll call a strategy that I employ occasionally.  I intend to employ it consistently, but in the fog of emotion I can't seem to find it a lot of the time.

The strategy is a bit like re-framing, with a twist I guess.  I have a lot of insecurities. Or maybe just one, but I digress.  I can't seem to consume any kind of media without things I'm insecure about creeping into my awareness.  Sometimes charging in.  My instinct when this happens is to try and think my way out of it, which is basically applying an intellectual solution to an emotional response.  Mistake. Sure, the emotional response has an oft told story attached to it, and so "fighting" those painful words with less painful words seems like a decent idea on the surface, if those emotions need to be "fought" at all.  Those less painful words even have that ring of truth to them, but they don't do much to combat the old familiar narrative, in part because I'm trying to avoid thinking about the narrative, which puts my focus on.......the narrative.

The long story, condensed, is that I am X, and so my life sucks.  Alternate condensed versions might be that "people with X trait are viewed negatively".  That appears less damning in some ways, but it's not very hopeful (WTF can I do about people's perceptions) and on some level I know it's code for "my life sucks".  Another alternative might be, "X is one trait among many", or "people who judge me or anyone based on X are, ummm, judgmental".  And so on.  Still code, and for me edging into happy horse shit territory.  Full on happy horse shit would be that I'm not X.  

I can ruminate about X for hours.  On line, I can find dissertations on X and what it means along with dissertations on each of the alternative narratives I try to believe about X. This shit gets exhausting and I end up where I started, except that the neural pathways from the original stimulation to all that follows are much smoother now. Yay.

What I'm trying to do with all of this is to think of a way to not feel bad when I'm reminded of X.  That hasn't worked so well for me in 40 years of trying that approach.  

What has worked, when I've seen clear to do it, is to let myself feel bad about X.  Few words, with the focus ins on the emotion itself.  I read about someone with X struggling, I start down that neural pathway toward hours of painful "effort" with words clearing any obstacles, and when I notice this I stop.  I ask myself what I'm feeling.  I'm feeling bad about X.  I ask again.  What am I feeling?  I'm frustrated and angry that I have X.  I take a deep breath, I ask one more time and then I admit that I'm afraid and sad.  Talk about a bell pealing true. And I let that be.  I don't have to argue, to prepare my appeal, to fight this thing.  I can just be sad.

After a few minutes sitting with the feeling, if I think about this at all it's to remind myself that all along I was assuming that it was intolerable that I was saddened.  Ironically, feeling sad or afraid or deeply confused translate as "weak" for me, and weak is sometimes the X I'm fighting, if sometimes means always, every fucking time.

So I guess I reframe by tearing down the framework altogether.  It's helped me.

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Re: Coping/Reframing: What Rings True?

Post by nearly_takuan on Wed Jul 08, 2015 2:54 am

lonelyoffices wrote:The long story, condensed, is that I am X, and so my life sucks.  Alternate condensed versions might be that "people with X trait are viewed negatively".  That appears less damning in some ways, but it's not very hopeful (WTF can I do about people's perceptions) and on some level I know it's code for "my life sucks".  Another alternative might be, "X is one trait among many", or "people who judge me or anyone based on X are, ummm, judgmental".  And so on.  Still code, and for me edging into happy horse shit territory.  Full on happy horse shit would be that I'm not X.

Y-up. All those one-word adjectives I shoved into my IntenseDebate profile are the Xs that I hate about myself (along with, I sometimes think, pretty much everybody else). It's meant (as with most things I write) as quasi-ironical dark humor, because... well, (tangent) it seems inaccurate to say I am "more than" those labels because that sort of statement hides the great complexity of what many of those labels mean, and I don't want to treat them like cardboard cut-outs. But I don't totally fill all the expectations people in general would have of those labels, either; and I (like anyone else) have traits outside of them as well.

lonelyoffices wrote:I can ruminate about X for hours.  On line, I can find dissertations on X and what it means along with dissertations on each of the alternative narratives I try to believe about X. This shit gets exhausting and I end up where I started, except that the neural pathways from the original stimulation to all that follows are much smoother now. Yay.

What I'm trying to do with all of this is to think of a way to not feel bad when I'm reminded of X.  That hasn't worked so well for me in 40 years of trying that approach.

Makes sense. Other useless stuff I've tried: finding examples of other people who are X (but did Y anyway); trying to look for viable advice about circumventing or hiding X; trying to look for viable advice about changing people's expectations/assumptions about X (this last is just too long-term for me to really give a shit when X is affecting me, right now Razz ).

lonelyoffices wrote:What has worked, when I've seen clear to do it, is to let myself feel bad about X.  Few words, with the focus ins on the emotion itself.  I read about someone with X struggling, I start down that neural pathway toward hours of painful "effort" with words clearing any obstacles, and when I notice this I stop.  I ask myself what I'm feeling.  I'm feeling bad about X.  I ask again.  What am I feeling?  I'm frustrated and angry that I have X.  I take a deep breath, I ask one more time and then I admit that I'm afraid and sad.  Talk about a bell pealing true. And I let that be.  I don't have to argue, to prepare my appeal, to fight this thing.  I can just be sad.

After a few minutes sitting with the feeling, if I think about this at all it's to remind myself that all along I was assuming that it was intolerable that I was saddened.  Ironically, feeling sad or afraid or deeply confused translate as "weak" for me, and weak is sometimes the X I'm fighting, if sometimes means always, every fucking time.

So I guess I reframe by tearing down the framework altogether.  It's helped me.

"Weak"...

...Yeah, I think that's not an uncommon thing to want to avoid self-identifying as. And letting the self-pity flood in that much feels a lot like admitting defeat/weakness, so no wonder there's natural resistance to it. Makes sense.

Definitely food for rumination. Brave of you to talk about it. Thanks.
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Re: Coping/Reframing: What Rings True?

Post by kath on Wed Jul 08, 2015 3:35 am

Your first post read to me like exquisite, modernist existential poetry. I quite liked it. Also absurdity / noticing the strangeness is like, one of the primary things that makes life interesting. Which is to say, I think you've hit on a good strategy there?

My tangent-y, random ephiphanies have been pretty tangential, so I haven't employed them in any particular way. Would less tangential, more "OK, I think I get this now" or "wow, that book really did say something helpful" type revelations and attempts at applying them to life be helpful or interesting?
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Re: Coping/Reframing: What Rings True?

Post by nearly_takuan on Wed Jul 08, 2015 4:00 am

Oh, thanks. Embarassed

What you're describing certainly sounds interesting (I am in suspense!). I, uh, can't really make guarantees about what I (let alone anyone else) would find helpful, but if you're asking because you are worried I might react negatively... I promise not to do that. >_>
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Re: Coping/Reframing: What Rings True?

Post by kath on Sat Jul 18, 2015 2:34 am

Well more, sometimes hearing a tangential thing is like "meh" or deraily, so I didn't want to do that.

The one I was thinking of was, sort of thinking through in my head "why we like food that is bad for us", and realizing that the reason is that those foods are actually the most calorie dense foods, when caloric intake would have been our primary nutritional limiter for most of our evolutionary history (and there are lots of people in the world for whom this is still true). Wanting to eat all the fat and sugar I can while I have the chance is an impulse I have because it would, "normally", be totally adaptational to take advantage of resources I would probably get in a flood and then not again for who knows how long. It's only potentially a health risk for me because I live in a very privileged position where I always have pretty much unlimited access to those dense energy sources.

I haven't had to apply that in a super direct way yet, but it's certainly slowly working on allowing me to reframe how I deal with living in an evolutionarily insane context, and like ... cutting my "body" some slack, and feeling more like it's actually on my side I guess? I am not currently actually dealing with a huge number of food-related issues, so it's not like it's made an acute difference or I've used it as a linchpin in a rework of my relationship with food or anything.

Ones that have been more relevant I guess tend to be slower for me. Stuff like, understanding my tendency to take things personally - it takes me a long time to recognize that, and then a long time to notice when I'm in the middle of it, and now I'm "working" on being able to talk myself down from it when I'm experiencing it. That's a reframing process - reframing "WHY DO YOU HATE ME" to "thanks for that input", and I'm applying it to my life, but it is decidedly NOT an epiphany. Most of the reframings I've had in my life have been pretty slow burns, and mostly about how my interior world relates (or doesn't relate) to the exterior world.

The other "epiphany" that I think of as really reframing things for me, but I am not in any way sure how it has done this (maybe I'm at the beginning of a very slow burn realization here) is the cosmic microwave background radiation. Just reading about and feeling like I understood what it is. I think about it and it sort of continues to blow my mind, which I just enjoy generally, and I think it's changing how I understand "the universe", but I'm not 100% sure how yet. Other than "it's just awesome". Right now I'm finding "it's awesome" pretty compelling.

(Info about it at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cosmic_microwave_background - I would say wikipedia is probably not the most mindblowing way to get this info. I read about it in The Goldilocks Enigma by Paul Davies)
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