This is a long-form list of examples where I ended up doing what I wanted, often after being initially confused about what I wanted. Mainly to illustrate the point. All examples happened after I had fully developed all the skills in Parts I and II.
— I was having trouble falling asleep at night sometimes, because when I laid down, I’d end up having terrifying vivid imaginations of someone breaking into my house and hurting me about a tenth of the time. I tried meditating on this, and the problem persisted. Meditating on it did give me the sense that it was probably safety-related. It also occurred to me that maybe this emotion/event was a signal that I needed to do something physically to satisfy my values, but I couldn’t figure out what. I brought it up to my incredibly competent therapist, Parker, who was like, “huh, and you’re not even homeless”, and I was like, “huh, I used to be, and this wasn’t even a problem then.” And then I was suddenly like, “oh, that’s because I always had a knife on me back then”, and then I started wearing a folding knife to bed and the problem totally disappeared. (Note that this was the correct thing to do rather than trying to “unlearn” the fear response via e.g. exposure therapy, even though the fear was in some sense out of proportion to the danger).
— I went to a meetup to make friends, because I was feeling lonely, and the host patted me on the shoulder without warning. (In retrospect, it was probably a dominance thing and not a sexual thing, though I read it as the latter at the time). I was like “wtf that just actually happened” for about five real-time seconds, and then I threw a fork at him and told him he was shit. The other organizers took about 30 seconds to communicate with each other and realize they were all on his side, and then I got kicked out of the event.
This was the correct course of action, in the sense of being in line with what I wanted to do, but I felt super depressed about an hour after the event. I realized that that was because I felt like I was being expelled from my friend group. (Even though the meetup group I got kicked out of had nothing to do with my actual friend group whatsoever. Feelings can be “dumb” like that). So, I ended up hanging with my friends a few days later, and they were like “yeah I wish I was awesome enough to throw a fork at people like that”, and I started feeling fine about a few hours after I hung with them, probably because I’d gotten the reassurance I wasn’t going to be friendless.
— The first time I met with my therapist, Parker, Parker was like, “uhh, you’re 10 minutes late, please phone me next time if you’re going to be a bit late”, and I was like, “yeah whatever”, my thought process being that, this person hadn’t done anything useful for me yet and probably wouldn’t be able to.
Three months later, I’d built an awesome relationship with Parker, who happened to already have all the mental tech from this blog, and frequently suggested smart things that didn’t occur to me. One session, Parker and I were talking normally, and then I freaked out and stopped talking for about 8 minutes. I knew immediately what the issue was, but took that long to articulate it. The issue was that I wanted to talk with Parker about a thing related to money, but that I was taking sessions at a significantly reduced rate, and I was worried that talking about money might make me have to pay a larger rate or cause Parker to think I was scamming.
Which was a huge issue, because fuck, this was either the first or second most competent person I’d ever met and I didn’t want to lose that.
What ended up happening, is that I paused for 8 minutes, and then directly brought up the issue of “I’m afraid to bring up money because it might endanger our relationship etc”, and then Parker was like, “you’re paying my employer, and my employer pays me the same regardless of what you pay them, and also I think judging people fucks with their ability to think and to process their own emotions, so I have a code against doing so, and you’re good”.
Despite the value of the relationship, it would have gone against my true values if I’d had to monitor my speech for social “correctness” to maintain my relationship with Parker. But, pausing for 8 minutes to think through things was totally the best thing I could do to satisfy my values. Let’s dig into the actual steps I took to see why:
-first, I realized something I valued in danger, and stopped to gather information from myself
-second, I realized that one possible strategy for dealing with this was to censor myself for social correctness in all future interactions relating to money
-third, I realized that I wasn’t willing to care about social correctness, so that strategy was out
-fourth, I realized I was framing this thing wrong and needed to step up a level. In particular, I’d stopped because I wanted to talk about a specific future plan I’d made around money, and then realized that maybe it would harm my therapist-client relationship with Parker to talk about that specific future plan. But, maybe I could explicitly ask Parker about the more general worry of, “I feel like discussing money with you might harm our relationship and I’m worried about harming our relationship”, instead of the more specific one related to whether I should share what had been on my mind.
-fifth, I sorta thought over whether there were any other advantages or disadvantages of bringing that up directly for a few minutes before bringing it up, and decided that bringing it up dissolved the problems mentioned above (I’d not have to worry about tiptoeing around discussions of money if I brought it up and Parker was cool, and I would weed Parker out from “people I trust this much” if Parker wasn’t cool about it).
-sixth, I sorta relaxed, which seemed like a signal to the conscious part of myself that I’d thought things through enough and ought to go ahead and execute on what I’d decided to do.
And then I brought it up and things went well. I think that’s a good example of how it’s important to listen to your emotions even when they seem to be pointing you in a strange direction—sometimes, you need to keep digging and reframing the problem until the emotion dissipates.
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