Holding on to Hope

My Own Childhood
My childhood was materially comfortable and I knew that my parents loved me. However, both of my parents were neglected and abused as children and they grew up apart from their own parents for significant periods of time. They simply had no idea how to be parents and had no resources for helping their children handle their emotions. Their primary parenting tool was to humiliate and criticise until I learned to hide my feelings. I suffered from depression and anxiety which were first diagnosed when I was 8 years old. I remember going through a stage where I would spontaneously burst into tears because I was so incredibly bored. In my depressed state, nothing interested me and I couldn't motivate myself to do anything. My mother's response was to scream at me and to mock my crying.

My parents criticism of me became all encompassing. For, example, I am right handed but hold my knife and fork as a left-handed person would - I don't know why but it seems more natural to me. I couldn't sit down for a meal without being criticised for unthinkingly starting to eat left-handed. I suffered from allergies and sinus problems so would sometimes sniff to clear my nose. I was criticised for that. I had extremely dry skin on my on my arms and legs and felt self-conscious about it so I insisted on wearing long sleeves and long trousers even on hot summers days. I was criticised for that. My dry skin became sensitive so I didn't wash myself properly for a time. My mother said I looked filthy and I felt so ashamed that I ended up accidentally rubbing my skin raw in an attempt to try to look clean again. I developed the habit of biting my nails and picking at the skin on my fingers. I was criticised for that. I also picked up the habit of pulling on my hair. My mother would scream at me that I looked subnormal. I developed compulsive eating habits due to my mental health problems and gained weight. I was criticised for that. My mother as much as told me that I deserved to be bullied because of it – I think this was her way of trying to motivate me to lose weight.

My parents' general approach to parenting seemed to be “If we make our children feel bad enough about themselves then they will do good”.

While I know that this is not about blaming my parents, I think it's important to acknowledge that their criticism was excessive and it wore me down. They didn't make me feel "NOT OK" as an accident. They through that feeling "NOT OK" was the best way to motivate me.

On top of the criticism, I felt immense pressure to perform well academically. Early in my childhood, I showed academic promise but would sometimes struggle to perform to my best. This upset my parents immensely. I can remember one occasion when a childhood friend was visiting and my parents spoke to him about what we were learning at school. He clearly understood the material far better than I did. After he left, my parents seemed distraught to a level that was completely disproportionate. I felt that my own lack of understanding was unacceptable and intolerable to my parents and therefore to myself.

Of course, my parents had their own “inner children” and “Parent Ego States”. My father had grown up with high expectations to perform well academically and in his subsequent medical career. He once had ambitions to become a surgeon but hadn't succeeded and instead became a family doctor. There was one occasion when we heard about a young surgeon at the start of a promising career and I remember my father fighting back tears and saying that he had wasted his own life. I vowed to never allow myself to get into a situation where I would feel like that. I think my parents had already tried to make that decision for me and that was why they put so much pressure on me to do well academically.

I was a weak and sickly child and was unable to physically keep up with children. This made it difficult for me to play with other children and if I tried to get involved I would feel frustrated and humiliated. I felt that my academic performance was the only thing I had that could make me feel worthwhile. At the times when I was struggling academically, I felt that I had lost my only possible source of self-esteem. When I later started to perform well again, I felt relieved. But I was also scared that I was just a fraud, covering up my lack of real talent by learning tricks to pass exams, and would soon be found out once again.

Needless to say, I grew up with a very strong sense of being “NOT OK”. My Parent Ego State was highly critical and controlling. My Child Ego State was highly adapted. Growing up with the mindset of a “NOT OK” Child left me vulnerable to bad experiences. People saw my vulnerability and were often unkind. My vulnerability caused me to take every bad experience to heart and to allow it to reinforce my “NOT OK” feeling.



Transactional Analysis and Change

So coming back to how this relate to change.

There are clearly dysfunctional ways that a desire and motivation to change can come from the Controlling/Critical Parent Ego state - we set goals according to what was important to our parents and try to use self-criticism as a way to motivate ourselves to pursue them.

There are also dysfunctional ways that a desire and motivation to change can come from the Adapted Child Ego state - we set goals that we think will help us escape from the painful feeling of being “NOT OK” and try to use the promise of an escape from being “NOT OK” to motivate ourselves.

Since the goals are being set with the mindset of a child that is in emotional pain, the goals may become unrealistic, grandiose fantasies. These fantasies can give rise to problems when it becomes clear that we can't live up to them. The emotional Child Ego State is also not best placed t

A few years ago, I asked my doctor if I could look back over my medical records from when I was a child and I found a letter from the psychologist that had been treating me for anxiety and depression. In it, she told my doctor that she recommended further treatment because I was “at risk of becoming depressed again if I failed to live up to the excessively high standards that I set for myself.”. Even at the age of eight, someone saw these issues beginning to develop in me.

I think that the desire and motivation to change needs to come primarily from the Adult Ego State. I don't think I've quite worked this out yet so it's something that I'll come back to later.
 

Blondie

Well-Known Member
Hey Future1, I liked reading your post and seeing how you methodically went through your childhood experiences to understand you present circumstances. This is a great way for seeking total understanding of yourself. This journal is the perfect place for such things, don't worry about the stupid comment above.

Good luck on your journey.

You're doing great!
 
Feeling bad enough to do good
This is one way that I've heard the excessively critical parenting style described. The parent tries to "make the child feel bad enough about themselves that they do good" (ie. change their behaviour).

I think that the current understanding is that it usually doesn't work though.

However, I think there is naturally some painful emotions involved in change which can't be avoided. Feeling disappointed with myself for not living the way that I wanted to, guilt, regret and so on. I want to learn to see these emotions as useful signals telling me what's important to me and when my behaviour isn't in line with what's important to me.

I think that one of the key things to work out is whether things are really important to me or whether it is something that feels important to me because of it was important to my parents or because it was something that was important in my childhood.

I think that another key thing is the difference between feeling bad about myself (shame) or feeling bad about my actions (guilt).


Heathy motivations to change
In the book "The Biology of Desire", Marc Lewis writes:
what all addicts have to do to move beyond their addiction, is reconnect desire with the higher levels of cognition. They have to reconnect their thinking and feeling. And they have to discover their own motives rather than heed the demands of real or imagined others. Often following a period of great suffering, they have to want to refashion their lives, and they have to want that more than another dose of the substance or behaviour they’ve been pursuing for so long. That’s how the synapses between the striatum and the dorsolateral PFC are rekindled, extended, and strengthened. That’s how grey matter volume returns to isolated control regions: not only back to normal, but beyond normal levels, as described in Chapter Six. When habits lose their strength, when synaptic traffic finds old and new routes between the striatum and the cortex, it’s not that self-control suddenly appears; it’s that self-control changes in character—from an imposition to a desire, from a heartless reflex to a heartfelt wish.

I think this is very relevant to the idea of moving beyond being motivated by an inner "critical parent" or a hurt "inner child".

I was also reading another book called "The Science of Sin" where the author writes about the positive aspects of pride.

a proud person feels worthy of great things and so finds themselves motivated to achieve them. This particular concept of pride implies having sufficient self-confidence and determination to feel unintimidated by the challenges faced when grappling with ambitious goals.
From the perspective of developmental psychology, conquering fear may well be one of the main reasons we feel pride in the first place.
Somewhere around the age of two, infants develop the capacity to understand whether their own behaviour has been good or bad. When infants of this age receive feedback indicating that they’ve been good, they show signs of pride. When they realise that they’ve been naughty, on the other hand, they show the characteristic hallmarks of shame.
Pride is a positive, reinforcing feeling. It helps toddlers to find the balance between an intrinsic fear of the unknown and the natural urge to explore. Caregiver feedback to the child provides guidance by encouraging them to take on challenges when it is safe to do so. The pride children feel is an emotional reward for conquering their fears and achieving their goals, and such experiences make them more likely to persevere when confronted with obstacles in the future. Pride also incentivises children to explore their surroundings, which helps them to develop their capabilities.

I think it's this sense of pride that I need to rediscover as a motivator in my recovery and a motivator in my life. And I think this is where my inner "critical parent" and the negative emotions involved in change really become a problem - if they take away my pride as a motivator in making change.

A few books that I've read talk about how parenting styles can motivate a child to change in a way that is healthier.

In "The Science of Sin", it's explained as follows:
One influential theory relating to what plants the seeds of narcissism describes two different parenting styles that, one way or the other, end up preventing a child from successfully differentiating between ‘self’ and ‘other’. This process is powerfully influenced by the daily interactions between infant and parent or carer, or whoever else the infant spends most of their time with and with whom they build the closest bonds. Broadly speaking, neglectful parents or carers don’t put sufficient time into their interactions with the child to enable the establishment of where their ‘self’ ends and ‘others’ in the outside world begin. Problems can also arise at the other end of the spectrum with over-attentive, so-called helicopter parenting. By constantly jumping in to answer for their children and forever telling them what they should be doing, feeling and thinking, the child is prevented from developing the capacity to work anything out for themselves. Either parenting approach can interfere with the development of a healthy, independent sense of self, which can result in a life spent constantly seeking positive feedback from others for reassurance.
I think that these issues that can arise with the sense of self are key to some of the issues that we have distinguishing feelings of guilt from shame. If guilt is a negative feeling about what we have done whereas shame is a negative feeling about who we are, we need to first establish a strong sense of who we are that is separate from our actions before we can feel guilt instead of shame.

attention, the devil really is in the details when it comes to how feedback can steer pride towards virtue or vice. When parents and carers give feedback on whether a child’s current conduct is good or bad, i.e. a transient judgement, they are on safe ground. The trouble starts when feedback is framed in absolute terms that sound much more permanent: ‘You are such a naughty child’ or ‘There’s my perfect little princess’. Such comments may seem perfectly harmless, but when used consistently, they could be inadvertently planting the seeds of narcissism. Problems arise when parents or carers give feedback on behaviour using language that sounds like an evaluation of the child’s overall value. If, rather than hearing comments along the lines of ‘That was a very naughty thing to do’ or ‘Why are you being so difficult today?’, the child consistently hears words to the effect of ‘You are a bad child’ or ‘Why must you always be so naughty?’, they will gradually internalise the message and may ultimately accept the idea that there is something wrong with them.
To nurture the positive aspects of pride in children, without accidentally inducing the diabolical consequences of narcissism, the rule of thumb is: give love
unconditionally – establishing that the child is worthy of love – and keep feedback on whether their current or recent behaviour has been good or bad as a completely separate issue.

I think that this is where ideas about self-compassion and unconditional self-acceptance come in. I need to love and accept myself and use this as the stable base for making changes to my behaviour that I can really take pride in. With this stable base and pride as my motivator, my attempts at change will be more sustainable.
 
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Hey Future1, I liked reading your post and seeing how you methodically went through your childhood experiences to understand you present circumstances. This is a great way for seeking total understanding of yourself. This journal is the perfect place for such things, don't worry about the stupid comment above.

Good luck on your journey.

You're doing great!
Thanks for the reply. I really appreciate it.

I wasn't sure whether people would be reading what I was writing because my posts are getting so long and rambling.

It looks like the other guy has deleted his post now. He asked what I was trying to say with my long "essays". The truth is that I'm not entirely sure what I'm trying to say. I'm just writing to try and get my thoughts together. I've had quite a few attempts at recovery over the last 10 years. I've had a fair bit of therapy and I've read a lot of self-help books. I'm just using this blog to collect ideas that have been helpful and to reflect on why certain things have been less helpful.

I think that I'm starting to make some kind of sense of it now.

I wish it was as simple as "just stop watching and take up new habits and my brain will rewire" but sadly it's not - at least it's not for me. There's so much emotional stuff involved in how my problem developed and how I go about changing. I definitely need to work through it somehow.

I'll start writing about more up-to-date stuff soon. I also want to start reading more of other peoples' journals and replying to them once I've got my thinking a bit more organised.
 
More thoughts on how parenting can encourage change in healthier ways

Stephen Covey writes about his son's development in his book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. His young son was struggling. He was not performing well at school, was physically behind other children and was emotionally immature. Covey and his wife “attempted to psych him up using positive mental attitude” and tried to protect him from the other children who were making fun of him. They could see the effect that his struggles were having on his self-esteem and they were starting to become worried.

Covey and his wife reflected on what was going on and found that their attempts to help their son were not coming from the best of places. He writes that “our perception was that he was somehow inadequate, somehow 'behind'”. They realised that they were getting “social mileage” out of their other children's achievements and good behaviour and that, in their eyes, “this son simply didn't measure up”. He goes on to say “there was a lot more wrapped up in the way we were seeing and handling the problem than our concern for our son's welfare.” and “We knew that social comparison motives were out of harmony with our deeper values and could lead to conditional love and eventually to our son's lessened sense of self-worth.”

He then talks about how they changed their approach to helping their son. “Instead of trying to change him, we tried to stand apart – to separate us from him – and to sense his identity, individuality, separateness and worth.” “We saw within him layers and layers of potential that would be realised at his own pace and speed. We decided to relax and get out of his way and let his own personality emerge. We saw our natural role as being to affirm, enjoy and value him. We also conscientiously worked on our motives and cultivated internal sources of security so that our own feelings of worth were not dependent on our children's 'acceptable' behaviour.”. “We found ourselves enjoying him instead of comparing him or judging him. We stopped trying to clone him in our own image or measure him against social expectations.”

There's a lot that I can identify with in this story. Particularly when he talks about the importance of his motivations as a parent for wanting to change his son. When I wrote out my story earlier, I noted how my father had been pressured as a child to perform well academically and how he carried shame about his perceived failures throughout his life. This is clearly important for understanding why my parents would react so strongly when I was struggling at school. Perhaps the most damage is done when parents try to change their children as a way to address their own deep-rooted psychological problems, rather than out of love for the child.

I think that the lesson that I need to take from Covey's story is that I need to take a similar approach to myself when it comes to change. I need to love and accept myself as I am and this will form a stable base for change. Ideas like self-acceptance and self-compassion are not ways to justify staying exactly as I am. They are ways of “lowering the stakes” of trying to change by making sure that I won't turn on myself - I won't allow my critical “inner parent” to take away my self-esteem and self-respect - when I encounter setbacks . Just as a critical parent who wants their child to change sometimes has to change their attitude and remind themselves (and their child) that they will love their child no matter what, I need to similarly change my attitude to loving myself.

Letting go of the critical, unhelpful parts of my “inner parent” has not been easy though. As a child, the pride that my parents felt when I did perform well academically was very important to me. So it has been hard for me to also believe that I could have performed well without their criticism. One of the challenges of working through all of this is that many of the changes that my parents wanted for me are things that I now do actually want for myself. I need to keep hold of some of their goals for me but try to take the heat out of the feelings that were involved.

I need to try to, as Covey puts it, get out of my own way and let my own personality emerge, to see within myself layers and layers of potential that will be realised at my own pace and speed.


The idea of self-justification again
In “I'm OK, You're OK”, these ideas are expressed as follows: “Through the enlightenment that 'I'M NOT OK' was the wrong position to take comes the reprieve after which one can begin to understand that it is safe to give up games.”. I think of “the enlightenment that 'I'M NOT OK' was the wrong position to take” as developing that unconditional love for ourselves.

He goes on to explain how we respond to our own mistakes from a Child Ego State and from an Adult Ego state. “Whereas the Child says 'I'm sorry... 'I'M NOT OK'... please forgive me... ain't it awful', The Adult can make a critical assessment of where change is possible and then follow through.”.

I think that this is an important idea for countering the feeling that I need to justify myself. If we are able to let go of the feeling that we are "NOT OK" then we no longer feel like we need to justify ourselves to our inner "critical parent". Developing self-compassion and self-acceptance and unconditional love for ourselves can help us to let go of the beliefs that we are "NOT OK".


Why all of this is important for change
One thing that someone told me during my first attempt at recovery was that “there's no failure, only feedback.”. I said that in my case, the feedback gets drowned out by the critical voice inside my head telling me what a failure I am. And then I in turn get wrapped up in the idea of needing to justify myself against this critical voice.

I'm going to try and use some of the ideas that I've summarised above to help me to get past that critical voice so that I can make use of the feedback from my interactions with the world to build a better life.


Narcissism
In the Science of Sin, these ideas is touched on in the chapter on pride:
A true narcissist is never wrong, so they miss out on opportunities to learn from their mistakes.
One consistent observation to emerge from scientific investigations into the differences between narcissists and non-narcissists is in how they respond to social pressure. A recent study required participants to perform one of two tasks while being observed by two silent strangers. They either took a maths test, or were given three minutes to prepare a six-minute talk about themselves to be delivered in a public forum, and judged by an expert. Such circumstances would be stressful for anyone, but narcissists – despite often seeming fairly thick-skinned – actually released significantly more of the stress hormone cortisol than their non-narcissistic counterparts. They also reported a greater degree of emotional turmoil than the non-narcissistic participants.

I don't think that I suffer from narcissistic personality disorder or anything like that. However, I think I do suffer from a "narcissistic wound" from my childhood experiences. A severe injury to my self-esteem that affects my functioning. I feel overly sensitive to experiences that make me feel inadequate. They trigger painful feelings about myself that recall earlier experiences from my life. I feel as though I need to justify myself. I think that narcissistic defences are a particularly extreme and dysfunctional way of trying to justify oneself - the pretence that your imperfections simply don't exist or don't matter or are the fault of someone else.

I don't think it needs to be like this though. If I work on self-compassion and self-acceptance and hold onto the belief that I am basically "OK" and that this is enough then I can let go of these narcissistic defences and begin interacting with the world and with others in a more meaningful way.
 
I'm thinking about this idea of the role of pride again today.

I noticed something in my thinking yesterday. I'm trying to lose weigh. I've lost weight many times before, often very quickly but I have always put the weight on again and usually ended up heavier than I was before my most recent attempt at weight-loss. When I've lost weight in the past, the feeling of being hungry started to feel positive. I noticed that this was happening again and I wanted to reflect on it.

This kind of thing is discussed in "The Biology of Desire" by Marc Lewis.
In another sense, anorexics are classic addicts because they relentlessly pursue a symbol. Symbols gather our cognition, our thoughts and associations, into coherent emblems, full of meaning yet consisting of very little in themselves. Symbols always represent something else. Symbols include beautiful women, flashy cars, fatherly love, financial security, even the idea of youth. Each of these is an arrow on a map, or an array of arrows aligned with each other, a direction to pursue. Each shrinks a cluster of related goals into a single goal we can chase after unambiguously. For Alice, that goal may have been attractiveness, leading to positive regard, at least in childhood and adolescence. By now it was simply self-mastery, that crystalline sense of control—a symbol far more refined, more idealized, than anything she had previously sought.
What may start off as the pursuit of a particular body shape can end up having little to do with one’s appearance and everything to do with restriction and self-control.
symbols govern our actions, from humanity’s greatest accomplishments—scientific discoveries, symphonies, works of art—to its greatest tragedies—crime, persecution, and, yes, addiction. But the symbol and the passion don’t always converge instantaneously. They can arise in parallel, then connect, then develop some more, as did Alice’s anorexia, from a child’s pride at self-control to the austere habits that defined her body and mind twenty years later. Both anorexia and addiction rely on neural networks that grow.
There is no single brain region or system where symbols are created and activated. But the prefrontal cortex (PFC) is a critical player, connecting present experience to the cluster of elements the symbol stands for. The part of the PFC that pulls information together—the dorsolateral PFC—is known to become highly activated when addicts are exposed to their drug of choice and when anorexics and bulimics are exposed to food (or food cues). At least until it starts to disengage, as described in Chapter Six. The perceptual cortex is also part of the team, providing the sights and sounds that dress the symbol in its garments, and so is the amygdala, where the flame of emotional meaning is suddenly ignited. Symbols pack a lot of meaning, but they also come to a point, a sensory image or a word spoken or remembered. Words and images are cues, and cues are the keys that open the locked gates of addiction and anorexia both. Cues trigger craving. Cues trigger relapse. Cues release dopamine in the accumbens, cranking the engine of desire.

I find this all really interesting. I think it's the idea that our brain gives meaning to things and that all parts of the brain work together to do this, including our perceptions, cognitions and feelings. We can begin pursuing things because our brain assigns them a meaning based on what's important to us. But over time, our pathways of desire become sensitised to seeking things out and we form habits that centre around seeking them out. The meaning of things changes and so do the reason that we pursue them.

In my case, my weight was such an emotionally charged issue since childhood. My parents were critical of my weight and lack of fitness. I can remember going to look for school clothes and struggling to find clothes that fit properly. I remember my mother becoming critical and looking at me with what I felt was disgust and saying "you need to go on a really strict diet". I remember my father laughing and saying "a starvation diet". I felt really bad about myself. There were also the issues at school where my lack of fitness made me feel excluded form joining in play with other children. Other children could be cruel to me about my weight and teachers were judgemental to a degree that seemed utterly disproportionate.

Looking back at photos of myself, I can see that I wasn't actually that overweight by today's standards but I clearly was carrying more fat that I ideally should have been. I think it was my lack of fitness that really drew so much negative attention. In my state of depression, it was hard to really feel motivated to do anything about my fitness. So my weight became the fixation and the goal in my head that had the most meaning. I think it comes back to the feeling that I needed to justify myself. If I lost weight then at least I could go about my day without feeling judged by others, even if I was still incredibly unfit.

When it came to weight loss, hunger felt like an indicator that I was losing weight and eventually hunger felt rewarding in itself.

I think this is where things risk getting unhealthy. When something is being pursued for the sake of it but is disconnected from the larger goals that matter. Especially when those goals arise from other people making me feel bad. I wonder if hunger had also taken on meaning as a form of self-punishment for having been overweight and unfit in the first place.

There are clearly better, more sustainable ways to lose weight than allowing my brain to reduce it all down to "be hungry more". But these other ways of approaching weight loss require reflection and insight that it's hard to have when the goal has so much emotional meaning associated with it since childhood.

Last night, I was able to reflect on what was going on somewhat. I thought about how it should be rewarding to respond to hunger by eating an appropriate amount of a sensible food. Not always responding to feeling very hungry by eating a large fast food meal or snacking on large amounts of crisps and chocolates. Instead eating a more sensible meal (eg. a spinach ommlette and potato cakes - probably still not perfect but better than a large fast food meal) and seeing if I still feel hungry 20 minutes after eating and if so, having a banana and a yoghurt.

So it's that ability to realise what's going to help me to achieve my long-term goals and learn to feel pride in what will help me to achieve them, rather than to allow my brain to assign meaning to things (eg. being hungry) based on what I felt about my weight in childhood. All this said, I don't think there's anything wrong in my feeling pride in learning to tolerate a moderate level of hunger for a certain amount of time.

I think that these ideas about meaning also comes in when I think about how I would "fall off the wagon" with my diet. Indulging my desire for fatty and sweet foods had a meaning beyond the immediate pleasure that they gave me. It meant telling my critical parents, my bullying peers and the ludicrously judgemental teachers to "f*** off" and that they couldn't change me through being cruel to me and making me feel bad about myself. And this was heightened by the fact that I had just spent months restricting and punishing myself to try and conform to what they were telling me that I had to be in order to be loved, respected, or even treated with basic dignity. This all added to how compelling I found it to indulge to excess when I stopped dieting.

I think that these ideas about meaning are also relevant to other areas of my life. They're certainly relevant to the way I felt about my sexuality and my sexual behaviours. I've probably already written about a lot of this but I think I'll write another post to try and bring these ideas together.
 
Coming back to this idea about the meaning that we give to things.

I think that another way that this has played out in my life is in my striving for academic success when I was younger. It was clearly something that was very important to my parents. And it's something that was clearly important to my father - it was important to him that I did well academically and it was clearly something he had been pressured about when he was a child. He was hard on himself over his perceived lack of achievement in his career.

Proving that I was clever (or simply that I was definitely not stupid) became a goal in itself. Problems that I had to work hard to solve simply made me doubt whether I really was that clever. I felt no joy in the act of learning. Once my education moved past the point where I could easily use my work to "prove that I was clever", I started to lose motivation. I started to become very bitter. After I left education and entered the work place, I was able to coast along for a while, "proving that I was clever" because I had been to a prestigious university and with occasional flashes of insight. However, I never learned to apply myself consistently. Once the fears that I described earlier set in, the prospect of achieving anything special in my work went out the window anyway but I never quite let go this need to "prove that I was clever".

Clearly, I do enjoy using my mind and learning things. Learning about recovery and psychology is something that I enjoy. There's a sense in which I need to reclaim this enjoyment of learning and applying my mind and separate it from this idea that I need to "prove something".

A few other ideas are going around in my head now.

The first one is the topic of frustration. I remember how I used to feel really frustrated when I didn't feel able to do something in my school work. Frustration also seems to play a role in motivation. I think I read somewhere about how dopamine is released in response to a near-miss to tell us to "keep going" and "keep trying". I think this is something that I've experienced while playing computer games. Almost achieving a win spurs me on to have "one more go" and then "one more go" and so on. It's kind of like frustration but it's also very compatible with finding the game fun and engaging. I wonder where the line is between frustration that's de-motivating and that positive feeling of engagement and really wanting to solve something. Or maybe there is no line and the same feeling can either be frustration that makes us want to give up or a feeling of engagement and solution-seeking, and the difference depends on other factors and things that are going on.

I've also heard that feelings of frustration can also be closely associated with desire. The following are quotes from the book "Maximum Willpower":

Desire doesn’t always make us feel good – sometimes it makes us feel downright rotten. That’s because dopamine’s primary function is to make us pursue happiness, not to make us happy. It doesn’t mind putting a little pressure on us – even if that means making us unhappy in the process.
When your reward centre releases dopamine, it also sends a message to the brain’s stress centre. In this area of the brain, dopamine triggers the release of stress hormones. The result: you feel anxious as you anticipate your object of desire. The need to get what you want starts to feel like a life-or-death emergency, a matter of survival.
Each time the area was activated, the rat’s brain said, “Do this again! This will make you feel good!” Every stimulation encouraged the rat to seek more stimulation, but the stimulation itself never brought satisfaction.
What if the area of the brain they were stimulating wasn’t rewarding them with the experience of profound pleasure, but simply promising them the experience of pleasure? Is it possible the rats were self-stimulating because their brains were telling them that if they just pressed that lever one more time, something wonderful was going to happen?
At Tulane University, Robert Heath implanted electrodes into his patients’ brains, and gave them a control box to self-stimulate the newly discovered pleasure centre. Heath’s patients behaved remarkably like Olds and Milner’s rats. When given permission to self-stimulate at any rate they liked, they averaged forty shocks per minute. When a food tray was brought in for a break, the patients – who admitted they were hungry – didn’t want to stop the self-stimulation to eat. One patient put up vigorous protests whenever the experimenter tried to end the session, while another continued to press the button after the current was turned off, until the experimenter demanded that he stop.
It’s true that the patients said the shocks felt good. But their near-constant rates of self-stimulation, combined with anxiety about having the current turned off, suggested something other than true satisfaction.
One patient, who suffered from narcolepsy and was given the portable implant to help him stay awake, described the feeling of self-stimulation as intensely frustrating. Despite his “frequent, sometimes frantic pushing of the button”, he was never able to achieve the sense of satisfaction he felt he was close to experiencing. The self-stimulation left him anxious, not happy. His behaviour looked more like compulsion than a man experiencing pleasure.
I find this very interesting. I can see how frustration and desire are linked and how the frustration involved in desire can be a negative experience. I think of things like "fear of missing out" and the way that computer games can be compelling even when they are incredibly frustrating. I think this is true even when what we desire is something that feels important rather than simply being an immediate experience of pleasure. However, I think there's also a sense in which the "frustration" involved in desire can instead be a feeling of positive engagement and a drive to solve something and make it work. I'm not sure how to make sure our feelings come out on the right side of these two possibilities. I'm thinking of the basic model used in compassion-focused therapy of a drive system, a threat system and a soothing/affiliation system. The idea is to get all these systems in balance. Perhaps when we achieve this balance this will stop the frustration involved in desire from spiralling out of control.

Another thing I'm thinking about is this idea I came across that "it's impossible to get enough of something that almost works". For example, using over-eating or over-use of porn to deal with emotional needs or difficult feelings. If these things didn't seem to work at all, then it might be easier to accept that they're not working and to try something else. It's the fact that they seem like they might work and even do seem to work for a limited amount of time that makes them so compelling.

I also remember hearing the idea that narcissistic tendencies can themselves be seen as an addiction. We keep chasing achievements in the hope that it might fill the hole in our self-esteem. Again, it's this idea of something "almost working" that seems so compelling. I can remember being a young teenager and becoming fixated on maths problems, trying to solve them to prove that I wasn't stupid, anxiety building, and the longer it was taking me to solve, the more anxiety I felt that my stupidity was being proven. I realise how sad that sounds.

I'm also thinking about something I read about how the feeling of frustration might actually be important for the process of learning. The following is a quote from "The Intelligence Trap":
Today, the spacing effect is well known to psychological scientists and many teachers, and it is often represented as demonstrating the benefits of rest and the dangers of cramming. But the true mechanism is more counter-intuitive, and hinges on the very frustration that had annoyed the postmen. By splitting our studies into smaller chunks, we create periods in which we can forget what we’ve learnt, meaning that at the start of the next session, we need to work harder to remember what to do. That process – of forgetting, and then forcing ourselves to relearn the material – strengthens the memory trace, leading us to remember more in the long term. People who learn in longer blocks miss out on those crucial steps – the intermediate forgetting and relearning – that would promote long-term recall precisely because it is harder. In this way, Baddeley’s study gave some of the first hints that our memory can be aided by ‘desirable difficulties’ – additional learning challenges that initially impair performance, but which actually promote long-term gains.

Finally, returning to the idea of the meaning that we give to things and the role this plays, I think that Transactional Analysis and the idea of Life Scripts would help me to understand this better.

I know that this is kind of all over the place but it's helping me to make sense of things. I hope that I'll be able to edit all of this into something that makes more sense one day.
 
I'm not sure how what I'm writing is coming across. I'm finding it helpful to write though. I've got so many ideas going round in my head from all my previous attempts at recovery and I feel like I'm finally managing to sort them out.

I feel like something has shifted in my head recently. I've had some content blocking in place on my internet. It's saved me from returning to old habits. I've still "acted out" with things on social media and youtube but I feel like I'm losing interest in those things now and becoming more excited about a future without addiction and with good mental health.

I'm coming back to this idea of wanting to change. I know I have a tendency to over-think things and that I'm probably trying to make sense of things that I don't have enough understanding to fully make sense of. However, I do think it would be useful for me to think about this some more.

There's this idea of ego-syntonic vs ego-dystonic behaviours and desires. My understanding is that ego-syntonic behaviours are behaviours that are in line with our values, our positive sense of who we are and the goals for our lives. Ego-dystonic behaviours are behaviours that are not in-line with our behaviours and desires.

I did a quick google search to check my understanding and I found the following articles/blog posts:



One example of this from my own life is how anxiety and depression have stopped me from doing so many things that were really important to me. I think this is an example of choices feeling very ego-dystonic. I think it also makes the way that my behaviours have affected my life feel distressing in a particular kind of way. Almost like I was possessed by some outside force that was causing me to make choices that I knew would harm myself in the long run.

This idea feels like it will be really important to me but I can't quite put my finger on why. I'm wondering if there is a sense in which my feelings of anxiety and depression are ego-dystonic. In the sense that they felt unacceptable to me, just as they were unacceptable to my parents while I was child. This inability to face up to these issues prevented me from dealing with them and ultimately led them to have a greater effect on my life than they would have done if I had faced up to them. I know I won't get this exactly right but I have this sense that there's something slightly ropey in my sense of self that these feelings of anxiety and depression should cause me so much distress. I think of it as being related to narcissism and this simplistic idea that I should just "be stronger" rather than dealing with the anxiety and depression.

On the other hand, it wouldn't be healthy for the anxiety and depression to be ego-syntonic. I imagine this would look like a person who's perfectly ok with giving up and letting the anxiety and depression prevent them from doing things that are really important to them. I think there's a sense in which I tried to convince myself that the effects that my anxiety/depression were having on me were ego-syntonic. I think a lot of people might have the tendency to try to tell themselves "I don't want to do that anyway" when fear stops them from doing something. There's a line in the song "Smells like teen spirit" that goes "It's fun to lose". It's a line that always kind of stood out to me. I wasn't aware of this when I first heard the line, but I think it stood out to me because it resonated with this idea that I tried to make myself feel ok about the way that anxiety/depression were preventing me from doing things. I think this might actually be why I find the effects so distressing - the way that I spent so many years convincing myself that I was ok with them, even to the point where I would revel in them. With hindsight, it looks so perverse and self-destructive - it seems kind of sick.

I think it goes even further than this. I've been drawn to sexual behaviours that are very degrading. While I found these exciting, I also found them distressing. The therapist that I started seeing in 2011 explained that these kind of sexual fantasies can sometimes develop as a way of trying to process difficult experiences from childhood - in my case, childhood experiences of being criticised, humiliated and bullied. She summed it up as being like a childish response to being treated badly but feeling that you have no control over it - you say "do it again, I like it anyway.". A way to deny the hurt. Feeling hurt by others' actions but also feeling powerless to do anything about it is too painful, so we tell ourselves and others that we like it anyway. I'm seeing connections here to the ideas about resentments and about the victim mentality.

It's these kinds of ways of thinking. "It's fun to lose", "hurt me again, I like it anyway". They seem so perverse. Knowing that I can get caught up in them makes my skin crawl when I think about it. I didn't want to admit that my anxiety and depression were stopping me from doing things, or that I felt powerless to defend myself against people who were bullying me. So I tried to convince myself that I wanted these things.

So, I think that the way through this is to accept that I do have feelings that are ego-dystonic - eg anxiety and depression that make it difficult for me to do things that are important to me. To try to develop a strong sense of self that won't collapse in the face of these feelings. To try to avoid the extremes of denying these feelings altogether or trying to pretend that I don't care or even enjoy the effects that these feelings have on my behaviour and my life.

I think a lot of this comes down to balancing acceptance and change again. I might want to change (eg. in the sense of not allowing depression/anxiety to affect my life but I won't be able to just change at the drop of a hat. Depression/anxiety are real things that take time to heal from and to learn to manage. wanting to change is not enough. If I allow myself to be aware that I want to change then I need to face up to my ego-dystonic levels of depression/anxiety.

I need to go to bed now but I think that this is a really important topic for me so I'll ramble on about it more tomorrow.
 
interestingly we are reflecting the same things at this time.
I am studying hoarding disorder and i find many characteristics that hold true for the PMO addict.
please find some time to study text on hoarding.
i find books by gail steketee very good.
the psychological precursers are very similar to what was being described on your previous post.
Gail's books will hold key to better understanding and more importantly, suitable therapy methods.
Hi TakeActionNow,

Thanks for the recommendation. I'll look up Gail Steketee's book.

I'll also read your journal. It's good to know that we're reflecting on the same kind of things and I'd like to read about how you're thinking about it and working through it.
 

Phineas 808

Respected Member
I am studying hoarding disorder and i find many characteristics that hold true for the PMO addict.

I've also found and studied the similarities between eating disorders, anxiety disorders (like OCD, PTSD, etc), as well as other substance abuse and behavioral addictions, and find that they are closely related or very similar to sex and porn addiction.

I've even followed some who have overcome their eating disorders as if we were talking about the same things, and that's because we almost are, almost...
 
So I thought I'd focus on what's going on for me now rather than focusing on ideas again.

I was having a pretty frustrating day.

I got a fine from when I parked in a supermarket car park in order to use the bank on the high street. I did that twice so I'm expecting another fine to come through in the next few days. I know the car park was for customers only so the first time I was yhereI went into the store and bought something. The second time, I didn't though. The letter about the fine seems to be saying that you're supposed to type your car registration number into a machine in the store to validate your parking. I forgot to do this the first time even though I did buy something. I've not come across that in supermarkets before though.

So first time, I think I did the right thing to buy something from the store and made an honest mistake by forgetting to type in my reg number. I'm not sure if I could appeal this or not. It's only £40 so I may need to just let it go. £40 isn't totally insignificant to me but I've got other things on the go that are more important.

The second time, I was taking advantage of the supermarket. I was stressed about what I needed to do at the bank and I thought I'd take my changes. I thought there was no way they could identify every person who parked in the car park and didn't use the store. So I guess I should just pay that one and not get upset about it or beat myself up about it. I chose to take a chance based on what was important to me at the time.

I was stressed about getting all the details for a mortgage application. It was a weekday and I needed to get back to work. I was having trouble getting the appropriate statements from the bank to show my savings to the mortgage lender. I could have put more thought into my parking but so what in the big scheme of things. I'm luck to be able to afford to buy a house so I'll let the £40 go.

I think I do need to take the feelings on board though. I regret making poor decisions with money and in the heat of the moment, I made another poor decision. £40 is £40 and if I keep making that kind of decision then it adds up. I need to take the feelings of regret as a sign of what's important to me. However, I also need to keep the feelings of regret in proportion. I can go the other way with money and being overly tight with it. I haven't bought any decent clothes or shoes for myself in a long time. Issues with money go way back for me. It's one of the reasons that trying to buy a property has caused me so much stress. There’s a lot of emotional associations and meaning around money for me that I probably need to dig into.

I think the main thing is that I'm disappointed in myself for allowing stress and emotions to influence my decision-making again. I had the week before last off work. I could have got everything ready for my mortgage application in that week. But I kept my head in the sand because I didn't feel able to face up to the stress. The reason that I was so stressed is because I'd been putting off making a commitment to seeing this purchase through. I'd been putting it off because of all kinds of emotional reasons.

Anyway some more issues seemed to come up today about the survey on the house that I'm buying. Nothing major. Just looks like the wrong kind of survey has been booked in. I habitually started to worry about it. What am I going to do if I can't rebook the survey? What if the sellers of the property start to worry about me rebooking the survey and think I'm not a serious buyer? All those kinds of questions.

I guess bringing some of the ideas in from my earlier posts:

Feelings of regret are telling me what’s important to me. I would have rather approached my mortgage application in a more organised and responsible way.

At the time, my feelings led to put things off rather than facing up to them.

Feelings of regret can tell me about my priorities. If I reflect on it, I can work out if I’m feeling there because I didn’t do something that is important to me or whether there’s something else going on. Eg. Being hard on myself because of something from the past such as parents attitudes.

Regret is telling me that I need to change something going forwards.

A key aspect of depression is to fall in despair in response to a failure. The mind’s way of telling you to give up and “go to the back of the cave and hide”. This is something that I’ll explore in more detail at some point. It’s an idea that I came across in the book “overcoming depression”.

I need to accept that I sometimes have this depressive response. There’s no point denying it.

This feeling that I want to change feels very frustrating. I feel very frustrated with myself.

In the past I would have gone to my family for support but they would just say “lots of people make mistakes with money”. I always find this response really unhelpful. It’s true but it doesn’t really help me to come to terms with my feelings of regret and come to terms with my desire to change. It feels like they’re saying this to shut down my feeling of frustration with myself by saying “it’s normal, don’t worry about it”

I need to be careful of beating myself up and trying to make myself feel bad as a way to motivate myself to change.

I need to remember to take pride in making changes. For example I made my bed today. I’ve been sleeping on an unmade bed for several weeks. Basic self-care had gone out the window.

There’s something about change that’s so hard. Like I can’t imagine changing and at the same time holding onto my dignity. This is probably all the critical parent, adapted child stuff.

I’m trying to approach it differently now. Bringing in that feeling of pride. My own authentic desire to change.

I realise that I’m still in a really bad sleeping habit and that has contributed to my disorganisation and lack of discipline. Rather than beating myself up and trying to adapt to this critical parent as a way of establishing a better sleeping pattern. I now have a sense of “let’s do this” about going to bed at a reasonable time, not messing with my phone in bed and getting up the next morning without snoozing until I have to roll out of bed and log straight into work without even having a shower.

I really want to become more organised and make better financial decisions. Sleeping better will help me to do this so I feel positive and enthusiastic about doing it.

There are definitely feelings of regret and frustration with myself but I’m staying on the right side of allowing those feelings to motivate positive change rather that make me beat myself up.

One thing I’m seeing is that I always believed that I could change, at least in some level. One reason that I resisted change was that I couldn’t see a way to change and at the same time hang onto my dignity. Trying to look at my inner critical parent and my inner child has helped me to find a different attitude to change.
 
So I thought I'd focus on what's going on for me now rather than focusing on ideas again.

I was having a pretty frustrating day.

I got a fine from when I parked in a supermarket car park in order to use the bank on the high street. I did that twice so I'm expecting another fine to come through in the next few days. I know the car park was for customers only so the first time I was yhereI went into the store and bought something. The second time, I didn't though. The letter about the fine seems to be saying that you're supposed to type your car registration number into a machine in the store to validate your parking. I forgot to do this the first time even though I did buy something. I've not come across that in supermarkets before though.

So first time, I think I did the right thing to buy something from the store and made an honest mistake by forgetting to type in my reg number. I'm not sure if I could appeal this or not. It's only £40 so I may need to just let it go. £40 isn't totally insignificant to me but I've got other things on the go that are more important.

The second time, I was taking advantage of the supermarket. I was stressed about what I needed to do at the bank and I thought I'd take my changes. I thought there was no way they could identify every person who parked in the car park and didn't use the store. So I guess I should just pay that one and not get upset about it or beat myself up about it. I chose to take a chance based on what was important to me at the time.

I was stressed about getting all the details for a mortgage application. It was a weekday and I needed to get back to work. I was having trouble getting the appropriate statements from the bank to show my savings to the mortgage lender. I could have put more thought into my parking but so what in the big scheme of things. I'm luck to be able to afford to buy a house so I'll let the £40 go.

I think I do need to take the feelings on board though. I regret making poor decisions with money and in the heat of the moment, I made another poor decision. £40 is £40 and if I keep making that kind of decision then it adds up. I need to take the feelings of regret as a sign of what's important to me. However, I also need to keep the feelings of regret in proportion. I can go the other way with money and being overly tight with it. I haven't bought any decent clothes or shoes for myself in a long time. Issues with money go way back for me. It's one of the reasons that trying to buy a property has caused me so much stress. There’s a lot of emotional associations and meaning around money for me that I probably need to dig into.

I think the main thing is that I'm disappointed in myself for allowing stress and emotions to influence my decision-making again. I had the week before last off work. I could have got everything ready for my mortgage application in that week. But I kept my head in the sand because I didn't feel able to face up to the stress. The reason that I was so stressed is because I'd been putting off making a commitment to seeing this purchase through. I'd been putting it off because of all kinds of emotional reasons.

Anyway some more issues seemed to come up today about the survey on the house that I'm buying. Nothing major. Just looks like the wrong kind of survey has been booked in. I habitually started to worry about it. What am I going to do if I can't rebook the survey? What if the sellers of the property start to worry about me rebooking the survey and think I'm not a serious buyer? All those kinds of questions.

I guess bringing some of the ideas in from my earlier posts:

Feelings of regret are telling me what’s important to me. I would have rather approached my mortgage application in a more organised and responsible way.

At the time, my feelings led to put things off rather than facing up to them.

Feelings of regret can tell me about my priorities. If I reflect on it, I can work out if I’m feeling there because I didn’t do something that is important to me or whether there’s something else going on. Eg. Being hard on myself because of something from the past such as parents attitudes.

Regret is telling me that I need to change something going forwards.

A key aspect of depression is to fall in despair in response to a failure. The mind’s way of telling you to give up and “go to the back of the cave and hide”. This is something that I’ll explore in more detail at some point. It’s an idea that I came across in the book “overcoming depression”.

I need to accept that I sometimes have this depressive response. There’s no point denying it.

This feeling that I want to change feels very frustrating. I feel very frustrated with myself.

In the past I would have gone to my family for support but they would just say “lots of people make mistakes with money”. I always find this response really unhelpful. It’s true but it doesn’t really help me to come to terms with my feelings of regret and come to terms with my desire to change. It feels like they’re saying this to shut down my feeling of frustration with myself by saying “it’s normal, don’t worry about it”

I need to be careful of beating myself up and trying to make myself feel bad as a way to motivate myself to change.

I need to remember to take pride in making changes. For example I made my bed today. I’ve been sleeping on an unmade bed for several weeks. Basic self-care had gone out the window.

There’s something about change that’s so hard. Like I can’t imagine changing and at the same time holding onto my dignity. This is probably all the critical parent, adapted child stuff.

I’m trying to approach it differently now. Bringing in that feeling of pride. My own authentic desire to change.

I realise that I’m still in a really bad sleeping habit and that has contributed to my disorganisation and lack of discipline. Rather than beating myself up and trying to adapt to this critical parent as a way of establishing a better sleeping pattern. I now have a sense of “let’s do this” about going to bed at a reasonable time, not messing with my phone in bed and getting up the next morning without snoozing until I have to roll out of bed and log straight into work without even having a shower.

I really want to become more organised and make better financial decisions. Sleeping better will help me to do this so I feel positive and enthusiastic about doing it.

There are definitely feelings of regret and frustration with myself but I’m staying on the right side of allowing those feelings to motivate positive change rather that make me beat myself up.

One thing I’m seeing is that I always believed that I could change, at least in some level. One reason that I resisted change was that I couldn’t see a way to change and at the same time hang onto my dignity. Trying to look at my inner critical parent and my inner child has helped me to find a different attitude to change.
I really got a lot from reading this, thank you for taking the time to post it. I can relate to an awful lot and just wanted you to know that I think you're doing a great job with it all, not least the self-care recognition... God knows I struggle with that. It sounds ridiculous but I've recently committed to starting every day with a shower - morning routines took a nosedive during lockdown and it became increasingly clear that if I don't start the day right, it's so much easier for me to lapse into temptation. I hope to stay on the journey with you.
 
I really got a lot from reading this, thank you for taking the time to post it. I can relate to an awful lot and just wanted you to know that I think you're doing a great job with it all, not least the self-care recognition... God knows I struggle with that. It sounds ridiculous but I've recently committed to starting every day with a shower - morning routines took a nosedive during lockdown and it became increasingly clear that if I don't start the day right, it's so much easier for me to lapse into temptation. I hope to stay on the journey with you.
Thanks for replying. It will be good to get to know people on here. We're definitely on a journey and it's good to share that with each other.
 
I think everything is sorted out with my survey now. Fingers crossed the house purchase will go through. I had to be quite assertive with the surveyor company for them to get it sorted so I'm proud of myself for that. It's a big company so I needed to deal with call centres etc which is never fun. I kept getting passed from one department to another and I needed to put my foot down and insist that someone take responsibility for sorting it out.

I'm still thinking about this idea of wanting to change. I think it's such an important topic for me. I think that a key reason that my previous attempts at recovery kept failing was that I wasn't wanting to change in the right way and that I didn't have the right attitude to change.

There's that sense that change felt incompatible with dignity that I wrote about yesterday. I think that's relating the "inner child" adapting to the demands of an "inner critical parent". The way out of this is something to do with trying to find a more "adult" attitude to change. A real authentic desire to change that isn't based on the "adapted inner child" trying to escape from the feeling of being inferior and trying to satisfy and "inner critical parent". I think that this is the route to taking authentic pride in our attempts to change.

I've found it very difficult to change my attitude towards change. In part that's because I found it hard to imagine being motivated by anything other than self-criticism and trying to avoid that horrible feeling of inferiority.

I'm recalling something from another book that I read called "The Last Diet" that ties in with this idea of finding the right attitude to change in order for it to be sustainable.
On one occasion, I continued long after the usual six weeks, and although I used a combination of very unhealthy methods, I managed to lose a lot of weight. I went from a size 20 to a size 8. For the first time in my entire life, I was undeniably thin. So, I lived as a thin person for a couple of years during my last year of university and the year following it. My hair was thinning and I struggled to focus, but I didn’t care because for the first time I was thin. Although you will have gathered that this story doesn’t end well, I have to admit that it was all that I’d hoped it would be in a lot of ways, but largely because I’d spent my life treating it as the criterion I needed to meet in order to enjoy myself. I wore the clothes I’d always dreamt of wearing; I went on a holiday and wore a bikini the whole time; I stood up straight and acted more spontaneously. Plus, the world applauded me. And not just because of my achievement, because I was thin. I wish this wasn’t true but it was. I knew this because coming into contact with new people as a slim person was an entirely different experience. The suspicions I’d had that fat people weren’t treated as well as thin people – at least in the UK – were confirmed. When I met people for the first time as a slim person and told them how much weight I’d lost, they usually reacted to my ‘before’ pictures with shock and horror. ‘That doesn’t even look like you!’, ‘Wow, what an achievement, you looked ten years older then!’, ‘You look SO much better now’, ‘Make sure you keep up the good work!’, ‘It just suits your face more to be thin’, ‘Boys must be queuing up now . . .’ I lapped it up. Then there were the people who knew and cared for me, who communicated their relief that I was finally thin. They treated my weight loss as a done deal, a solution to a problem that had been low-key concerning everyone for a while, not least because of how much it concerned me. Everything was fixed as far as other people were concerned, and I deserved praise, so they were happy to tell me how much better I looked. But it wasn’t a fix. They didn’t know that I hadn’t found a long-term solution to staying slim other than things like skipping meals, white knuckling it and abusing appetite suppressants. Plus, every time someone told me how much better I looked now, it made me think they didn’t think I looked fine before. Nonetheless, in the short term at least, people reacting positively to my weight loss spurred me on.
I think that the focus of this part of the book is mainly on finding an approach to weight loss that is sustainable in a practical sense. However, the sentence that I highlighted in the quote really stuck with me. I think it's the focus on "looking fine" along with the emphasis on being spurred on by praise from others. I think it says something about the motivation for change and the attitude towards it. I think it's this motivation and attitude that can set people up to be drawn towards taking approaches to change that aren't practical or sustainable. I know that I have sometimes tried to change in ways that aren't practical or sustainable simply due to lack of understanding of what it would take to change. But I was never able to learn from these experiences and I kept doing the same kind of thing over and over again even though part of me knew better. I think the problem was my motivation and attitude.

I can definitely identify with that feeling of shame even after I made positive changes. It's like it was never actually me that was making the changes, it was my "inner critical parent".

I know another person who, like me and the author of "The Last Diet" was a yo-yo dieter for many years. I remember one time when we were losing weight at the same time and I noticed that he developed what was almost a kind of contempt towards people who were still overweight - I'm sure I had similar screwed-up attitudes. No wonder our attempt at weight loss didn't stick.

I know I keep quoting from books. I'm finding it useful to do this because I've read so many self-help books over the years but never really made sense of what they're saying and what it means for my recovery.

The next thing that I'm reminded of is from the book "The Chimp Paradox". The author has the model of our minds that is made up of three parts: The "Chimp", the "Human" and the "Computer". The "Chimp" is the author's way of characterising the "lower" parts of the mind - the limbic system, all the way up to the orbito-frontal cortex (OFC), I think. I think Marc Lewis describes the OFC as the "ground floor" of the pre-frontal cortex. The "Chimp" is responsible for our instincts and drives. The "Human" is the part of the mind that is responsible for our sense of self and values and for organising and planning to achieve longer term goals. It is made up of the ventral pre-frontal cortex and dorsal pre-frontal cortex. I'm not sure if the OFC can be seen as a part of the mind where the "Human" and "Chimp" overlap but I think this understanding is correct.

Anyway, the key thing that I was going to quote was the ideas about how we define success and how they relate to these different parts of the mind.
There are always different ways to measure success, For example if you want to take an exam course, there are two ways with which success can be measured. Of course you want to pass the exam however, you could approach it from different angles.

The first measure of success is passing the exam, which is more likely to be the Chimp's definition of success, to which the Human may agree.

The second way might be by completing the course, or even just trying, which is more likely to be the Human's definition of success. This is because logic says that if I have done my best I can hold my head up and deal with the consequences.

If you choose the Human's definition, then as long as you try, you cannot fail to be successful. Of course, it would also be great to pass the exam! However, if it doesn't work out, it doesn't imply anything more than you tried your best (and you can't do more than this) and therefore you can celebrate your successful effort.

Your Chimp will still insist this is a failure. Think carefully, you have a choice here. If you always wish to measure success in life by what level you attain, then you must accept the emotional con sequences when you do not reach this level. If you measure success in life by effort and doing your best, then it is always in your hands to succeed and to be proud of yourself. You can then deal with any disappointing level of attainment as an adult Human.

So first define success before you start on any venture and also work out what that success will mean to you. There are choices Success can be attainment or it can be effort or it may be both.

Success can be a material gain or it can be a spiritual or personal gain. Don't forget the Chimp and Human may differ considerably in what they define as success.

Another point worth considering is that success does not have to be black and white. There can be levels of success and stages of success with shades of grey. It may be that you can consider partial levels of success and be happy with these. For example, you may decide to attack the garden because it is neglected. So you have a go, but don't manage to do it all. You can sit back, call it a partial success and be pleased with what you have done.

Partial successes are often reality checks on what you can realistically achieve. Learning to accept that you have made a mistake and rewarding this, is far more constructive than criticising yourself for failing to reach total success. Try to recognise when to accept and celebrate partial success.

Success can often be broken down into stages and celebrated at each stage. Your Chimp is very good at either rushing you to succeed, Or procrastinating and stopping you from moving. Recognise this and deal with it by staging success.
 
There's another passage from the Chimp Paradox about confidence. I think this is also very relevant to having the right attitude to change.
You are about to make a choice that will decide how confident you will be in every situation. Read this chapter slowly and make sure that you follow the reasoning step by step. If you decide to change your standpoint then it will give you confidence in anything you do,

The way that most people think is as follows: 'The more I believe I can do something, then the more confident I am.' These are the steps they follow:

1. What is it that I want to do?
2. How able am I to achieve this?
3. My confidence is now measured on how I rate my ability to achieve my goal.

This seems straightforward and it results in varying levels of confidence: so how do we increase our confidence?

With this thinking there are only two ways to increase your confidence: either increase your ability to do something or brain-wash yourself into believing that you can do it, even if you can't.

Most people default to one of these ways of thinking because the Chimp is hijacking them into believing there is no alternative to gaining confidence. However there is an alternative way of thinking, and a small minority of people use this. The alternative, the Human way, has confidence levels remaining at 100 per cent at all times, no matter what they do. So how does this work?

The Chimp is saying, 'I am basing my confidence on my belief in my ability to reach certain levels that I have to achieve and I cannot deal with the consequences of not reaching them.'

Whereas the Human is saying, "I am basing my confidence on doing my best to reach certain levels that I would like to achieve, and as an adult I can always deal with any consequences of not reaching them

Therefore the two choices for confidence are: to base your confidence on your belief in your ability, or to base it on doing your best.

You can never guarantee what you can achieve, and therefore if you do this, your Chimp will take the blood supply in your brain and cause some unease, as it will constantly see the threat of failure.

You can guarantee to make your best effort. Therefore, if you choose the basis of best effort, you will have full control and your Human will take the blood supply. This will mean you see life as full of opportunities and you will deal with the consequences.

With this choice we can see that the normal state for the Human is confidence because you can always do your best and deal with consequences, and therefore there is no fear. Whereas, the normal state for the Chimp is variable confidence, with a lot of fear, based around consequences and possible failure.

I think there's a lot for me to unpack here.

Firstly what do I think that these consequences of failure are? I think these are largely consequences to my self-esteem. There's issues with success going back to childhood. Pressure from parents to perform academically, seeing my father being upset about his perceived lack of success in his career, hearing about how he was also pressured when he was a child. I'll probably come back to this idea about the perceived consequences of failure. The idea of failure making me feel humiliated and vulnerable and why. The evolved need to feel valued by others for our abilities in order for "Chimps" to be included in a troop. The awareness that I'll beat myself up if I fail.

Then there's the idea that "the normal state for the Chimp is variable confidence, with a lot of fear, based around consequences and possible failure.". I think that, with my depression and anxiety and the ideas that I have about failure and self-esteem, this fear is heightened until my mind goes into it's "go to the back of the cave and hide" depression/anxiety mode.

Then there's the idea of trying to build confidence by "brain-wash yourself into believing that you can do it, even if you can't". I'm reminded of ideas about narcissistic defences here.

And then there's more from ideas about narcissism that I think are relevant to this. I've read things about how narcissists show much higher increases in stress levels when they're performing and task in the presence of another person.

This state of fear and stress interferes with performance. With the unhelpful attitudes to success, poor performance feels terrible and reinforces fear next time I approach the task.

Then there's the idea of choice. Choosing your attitude to what confidence and success mean. I think it's hard for me to consistently choose a healthier attitude to confidence and success without unpacking all of the above and working through it. I think I've started this process but that it would also help me to clarify things by writing it all out.

I keep coming back to this idea about life scripts. In "The Chimp Paradox", it talks about the beliefs in the "Computer" part of the mind and how they interact with the emotions in the "Chimp" part of the mind. The "Chimp" and the "Computer" work so quickly and so powerfully that the "Human" part of the mind cannot keep up. It's only when we've calmed down that we can examine the beliefs in the "Computer" to replace them with more helpful ones. Obviously this will be more difficult to do if there are unhelpful beliefs about change in there that trigger extreme emotional responses.

I've also got this image in my head of myself as a child and a teacher is telling me "do you want to be a quitter? do you want to be a loser?" and myself as a child saying "yes. It's fun to lose, I like it anyway". I definitely feel like I need to understand more about life scripts. I've started reading a book called "This is me! Becoming who you are using transactional analysis". I'm looking forward to reading that this weekend. We've got a 4 day bank holiday weekend for Easter that I'm looking forward to.

I think I also need to look at the various ways that I've resisted change in the past.
 
It's the start of a 4 day bank holiday weekend here in the UK. I'm really looking forward to it. I've got a few social things planned as well as some recovery reading and some relaxation.

I'm back on this idea of narcissistic wounding again. I feel it's really important for me. I was thinking over that quote from the book "The Last Diet" where the author describes being spurred on by people's positive comments about her weight loss and the nagging sense of shame about how overweight she was before she lost weight. I can definitely identify with still feeling weighed down by shame about how I used to be. It definitely sabotaged my first attempt at recovery.

I also remember the way that I kind of made my recovery into a performance. I had this one friend who I'd known since childhood. It was always a bit of a tricky friendship. The way in which the friendship was unhealthy is probably something I should write about in more detail at some point but for now, I'm just remembering how I tried to present my recovery to him. I never told him that I was recovering from porn addiction but I really made a show of how much I was changing my routine, getting up and exercising etc.

I also tried to express to him the childhood stuff that I had overcome - guess I was kind of justifying why I'd allowed myself to get into such a mess and struggled so much. I'm sure there's much more to be said about that too

But coming back to this idea of making my recovery into a performance. I'm remembering this idea of how authentic pride needs to be an important part of my recovery. I think when there are things about myself that I feel deeply ashamed of, it's hard to feel this authentic pride about changing them. So perhaps that's when people become overly reliant on other people's positive feedback as a motivator.

Shame is largely a social emotion, I think. I've read that it relates to our ancestors' fears of being rejected by our tribe which would have meant death. As social creatures, being rejected by our group is very painful. Living in isolation is painful and bad for our mental health. Without anyone we can rely on for support we expect life to be very hard and experience a lot of fear. So when we are ashamed of something, it makes sense that we would be primed to try to generate positive feedback from others in order to reassure ourselves.

I'm also thinking about how this relates to the "go back to the cave and hide" aspect of depression. I think it goes like this. You take a risk and try something. You experience a failure - especially a social failure. Trying to achieve something put you at risk. You fall into a depression and lose your motivation to try. It's your mind's way of protecting you and saying "don't try because it puts you at risk". Depression is a state when most things are not motivating. It places people at risk of addictions because it's only the immediate sources of pleasure that are motivating when in a depressed state. I think this also ties in with ideas about shame and pride. In "The Science of Sin", the author writes:

The great philosopher Aristotle even considered it a virtue. Not just any virtue, but the very ‘crown of the virtues’, no less. His reasoning went along these lines: a proud person feels worthy of great things and so finds themselves motivated to achieve them. This particular concept of pride implies having sufficient self-confidence and determination to feel unintimidated by the challenges faced when grappling with ambitious goals. It can make us determined to reach our target, even in the face of adversity. Aristotle may have had a point. From the perspective of developmental psychology, conquering fear may well be one of the main reasons we feel pride in the first place.

Shame and depression basically take away our healthy sense of pride so that we are no longer motivated to overcome our fears. It takes the feeling that we are worthy of great things and our motivation to achieve them off the table in order to keep us safe. It all ties in with the "Chimp"' part of our mind's ideas about success and confidence.

I'm kind of thinking about how grandiosity is a way that people who feel shamed or depressed can make mundane things more motivating. It's a warped way of trying to ignite our pride. Kind of like how resentments are a way to reignite our anger when we feel defeated. Grandiosity is a way to reignite our pride when we feel defeated.

I certainly did this in my first attempt at recovery. I think that I used the ideas of spirituality from the 12-steps as a source to fuel that grandiosity. I'm not saying it's like that for everyone. I'm sure that the spirituality of the 12-steps can be healthy for many people. Perhaps even a level of grandiosity about it can be positive. For me, I don't think it was though. It set me up for a failure that would make it even harder for me to take pride in my future attempts at recovery.

I think I need to keep coming back to why all of this is important to my recovery from addiction though. There's this idea from "The Biology of Desire" where Marc Lewis talks about how we need to move beyond simply suppressing urges and feelings in order to build sustainable recovery. He characterises suppression as a basically childish form of self-control "I won’t do it! I won’t! I won’t even think about it!" I wonder whether it can sometimes be seen as a sort of emotional form of self-control based on criticising and shaming yourself? And perhaps that's why it's so exhausting and unsustainable. He also talks about more sophisticated forms of self-control based on reflection and imagining a future where we live up to our values and higher goals - a future that we really want and that we are motivated to living up to. So I think this is why I've needed to put so much work into understanding what's been stopping me from using these more sophisticated forms of self-control. This is where the ideas about pride come in and also the ideas about depression and the various unhealthy ways that I have of trying to motivate myself (Eg. grandiosity etc.). I'm not sure how the rebuilding of my authentic pride is happening but I I think it is.

I feel like this is all starting to take shape for me now. Fingers crossed...
 
I'm having a nice day today. It's the first day of the 4-day bank holiday weekend here. I cooked a road dinner today with my housemate. I even managed to get up early and chop and peel the vegetables before going to Church. It's been month's since I've been to a morning Church service so this really was an achievement. I went for a walk after lunch and spent some time relaxing so it's felt like a really healthy and productive day.

Still got lots of ideas going round in my head. In particular these ideas from the book "The Chimp Paradox".
So who are you?

With all of these factors having varying degrees of influence on your final personality, how can you determine who you really are?

To work out who you really are as a person is easy to do. If you wrote a list of all the things you would like to be, you may write things like calm, compassionate, reasonable, positive, confident and happy, then this is who you really are. Any deviation from this is a hijacking by the Chimp. This is a very important point.

It is vital that you understand you are simply being hijacked and therefore we need to just stop this. What is happening is that as you are trying to be you, the Chimp keeps interfering or hijacking you with emotion or emotional thoughts and making you present yourself to the world in a way that you don't like. If the Computer has Gremlins in it, then even the Computer can affect you and turn you into someone that you don't want to be. If you do not recognise this hijacking then you may become disillusioned with yourself and feel like you are constantly failing. This in turn may lead to you beating yourself up. This is such a worthless thing to do. Beating yourself up for perceived failure, or self-loathing, is a destructive and useless waste of time and emotion.

I would like you to see yourself as the person that you want to be, but the Chimp and some Gremlins are stopping you. With this understanding you can move forward by getting frustrated with the Chimp and Gremlins, and not yourself, and then work on managing the Chimp and removing the Gremlins. This is far more constructive.

Let's move on for a moment and forget this hijacking by the Chimp and look at you instead. Let's say that on your list you have put honest, happy, confident, reliable, friendly and so on. The chances of being happy, calm and whatever other characteristics you have written down, even without Chimp activity, are slim unless you work on this. Most of us have got the capacity to be happy and calm but we have not developed this side of our personality. To develop yourself into the real 'you' will take time and effort. The characteristics that you want to flourish within you need action plans to bring them out. They are there but probably only come out by chance on a few occasions.

I this idea of who I truly am is really important. In particular this idea of my true self being what I ideally want be but being hijacked. I'm just brainstorming some ideas about this.

For example, I would like to be more confident but depression and fear get in the way of me from being confident in my daily life. I'm not sure if it makes sense to say that I am a confident person just because I want to be though. However, there's something to be said for the idea that it's not useful to say "I'm not a confident person" and instead say that my "Chimp" is hijacking me, of that my feelings of depression and fear overwhelm me. Something about holding on to the fact that my depression and fear are not who I am. My depression and fear might produce strong feelings that I want to "go to the back of the cave and hide" but I don't actually want to. The feelings of depression and fear might overwhelm me and freeze me up and stop me from doing the things that I want to do if only I could be more confident.

The fact that I have emotional responses that "want" to do things that "I" don't want to is kind of difficult. It sets me up for immense frustration. As the author put it, it would be better to direct this frustration at my emotional responses rather than at myself.

This is not that straightforward though. I've had these emotional responses for so long that I've lost sight of who I am. I think this is where all those ideas about different parts of the self come in, eg. The "Parent", "Child" and "Adult" Ego states. Perhaps I could think of it as my "Child Ego State" being very identified with these feelings of depression and anxiety. In therapy, I thought of my "inner child" as "the morbid little sod". I suppose this kind of makes sense since children haven't yet developed the brain functions and skills to manage their emotions in the more sophisticated ways that require abstract thought. I think there's also something going on with what the author says about feeling disillusioned with myself and like I'm constantly failing. Without a way to accept and step back from my emotions, it becomes too frustrating to want to change so I just say this is who I am.

On the other hand, I'm also thinking of child-like denial and "grandiosity". Without a way to work towards change, I deal with the discomfort by simply denying that I lack confidence and with fantasy about being super-confident.

I heard a podcast once where a psychotherapist was talking about the idea of having a vision. She said that how important it was to first make sure that you're able to work on being emotionally regulated before thinking about your vision, otherwise it turns into "dissociative fantasy". I think that was the words that she used. I think this makes sense to me.

This is probably all coming back to those ideas about ego-syntonic and ego-dystonic parts of ourselves and how people try to cope with their ego-dystonic responses.

I'm also recalling something from "The Biology of Desire" where the author discussed how there can be different parts of our identity and how this is relevant to addiciton.

Waves of desire shaped Donna’s medial PFC into a matrix supporting two self-portraits: Donna the benefactor, who took care of others, fulfilled their needs, and repressed her own, and Donna the defiant, who took care of herself because no one else would. “It became a double life,” she told me. “I was still a good person, still taking care of people, still successful. . . . People would be shocked to find out about this other me.” She slipped back and forth between these two personae, each barely acknowledging the existence of the other. Not quite a split personality. Rather, a kind of chameleon road trip. She still wanted to be accepted and loved, but it was no longer the only game in town. She continued to practice her warm smiles and generous offerings. Yet when drugs were available, when that singular stream of activation geysered up her prefrontal midline, she could put all that aside. And instead find satisfaction, even triumph, in deceiving those around her, and getting away with it—a new solution to a very old problem.

There's so much here that seems really important for me. Marc Lewis's writings are some of the most useful stuff that I've read on addiction. His books really helped me understand how my addiction is connected to my psychology in general and he gives a good overview of the neuroscience behind it all.

This idea of a sense of self that is not coherent or well-formed and how this complicates things in addiction and recovery. It's one thing to say that my "Chimp" wants something that "I" don't really want. But my sense of who "I" am might not be 100% coherent. There might be a a part of my sense of self that does actually want to act out - its not just a drive coming from my "Chimp" that my "Human" can manage, there's a part of my "Human" that's on board with the "Chimp".

This is something that I've needed to reflect on and understand. Where is part of my sense of self came from and how it was maintained and how to manage it and heal it.

In the example that Marc Lewis uses, he says that:
The urge to delete her inner world had emerged long before her drug-taking days. The equation that guided her life was that she must hide her feelings of need and vulnerability, her disappointment, her anger, in order to be accepted, tolerated, loved.
Clearly tying in with a video that I linked to in an earlier post about how people become susceptible to addictions when they learn in childhood that their emotions are unacceptable to their parents. I too think that this part of me that actually does want to behave in ways that other parts of me know to destructive formed in childhood.
 
Lewis goes into more detail about the medial PFC, the part of the brain involved in this sense of self.

the medial PFC is particularly important for connecting our self-image with our emotional goals.

The medial PFC is activated when we judge ourselves, adjust ourselves, become ourselves. So it’s not surprising that it gets reconfigured by the repetition of an experience with immense social and emotional meaning.

I think the sentence about connecting our self-image with our emotional goals is extremely important. I think this is something to do with this part of the brain being used to imagine how we would feel in various future scenarios that might result from our actions. If I have a part of my self-image that says it will feel great to act out even though other parts of my self-image find it destructive then this is clearly a problem. Recovery from addiction is not only about my PFC learning how to manage my limbic system, it's also about realising when this destructive part of my self-image is active and learning how to manage it and ultimately heal it.

This idea of connecting self-image with emotional goals recalls all the stuff about authentic pride that I was writing about the other day.

The sentence about how our sense of self is shaped by experience with immense social and emotional meaning seems particularly worth considering when we're talking about sexual behaviours. This is definitely something that I'll come back to at some point.

There's another part of the book where Lewis talks about how addiction is not always about loss of control per-se. It's often more a disorder of priorities and goals. He talks about how addictive behaviours can often involve meticulous planning. I think that this part of our self-image plays into that. This part of our self-image seems like a key way that the desire to act out works its way up from the limbic system and the OFC to the parts of the PFC that are involved in more detailed planning and organising. I'm also recalling the idea from Transactional Analysis that the "Adult" Ego State can become contaminated by the "Child" Ego state. The "Adult" Ego state becomes coloured by the experiences stored in the "Child" Ego State and the thinking skills of the "Adult" Ego State are purposed towards dealing with the issues of the "Child" Ego State.
 

Simonly

Member
Hi @TheFuture1 , I hope the bank holiday weekend is going well for you. I'm also from the UK, and am making the journey to overcome porn addiction.

Overcoming porn addiction isn't always a case of simply installing blockers and filters to stop access.

Unravelling thoughts, and revisting our past to understand how we became addicts will help long recovery.

Good Luck 👍

... and so onwards we go!
 
Hi @TheFuture1 , I hope the bank holiday weekend is going well for you. I'm also from the UK, and am making the journey to overcome porn addiction.

Overcoming porn addiction isn't always a case of simply installing blockers and filters to stop access.

Unravelling thoughts, and revisting our past to understand how we became addicts will help long recovery.

Good Luck 👍

... and so onwards we go!

Hi @Simonly. Good to hear from you. I'm having a good bank holiday weekend, thanks. Main issue I'm facing is that I've been really tired. I think that part of it is the anti-anxiety medication that I started a few weeks ago. But also, I think that I've not been in a great routine with sleep. While I was depressed, I got into the habit of messing around with my phone while in bed. Not acting out but just scrolling through youtube videos about various topics and things like that.

I've started to take steps to improve my sleep. I tidied my bedroom today. It had got into a real state while I was depressed.

I'm certainly trying to unravel my thoughts and make sense of my past. It's been really helpful and rewarding. But also frustrating and confusing and I think it's also interfering with my ability to rest. I'm working on finding a balanced approach to it.

Thing are going to get really busy at work next week. It will go on for a few weeks. So I need to prepared for that challenge and prioritise rest.

How's your long weekend going?
 
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