A Self-Respect Feedback Loop

This is a fol­lowup to Affor­dance Widths.

Epistemic Sta­tus: It’s only a model

Okay! This is some­thing I’ve been try­ing to ex­plain for awhile, but I think I have a handy chart for it now.

Here’s how it works:

A per­son can ac­tu­ally reg­u­late how much self-re­spect they feel, and show. Other peo­ple will re­ward them for hav­ing more self-re­spect, up to a point.

Then they start push­ing back.

BUT, each of these “push­backs” is a tem­po­rary dip in the “self-re­spect to pos­i­tive feed­back” curve. You just have to have enough self-con­trol, or willpower, or “grit”, or “spoons”, or what­ever, to keep push­ing through and pow­er­ing more and more self-re­spect while peo­ple at­tack you for hav­ing it, un­til you break through into the next up­swing of the curve.

The thing is, a lot of self-con­trol/​willpower/​grit/​spoons/​etc. is pow­ered by peo­ple not treat­ing you like shit.

It seems like there are ac­tu­ally three differ­ent dips that oc­cur, each with a wider gap than the last.

Some peo­ple try to push up into a gap, dis­cover they don’t have enough willpower to es­cape to the far side of the dip, give up, and fall back into the pre­vi­ous sus­tain­able peak.

Those that can’t even make it past the first peak are losers—peo­ple that ev­ery­one can tell can’t even get their ba­sic needs met. They make it ob­vi­ous that they have needs when they’re in the “needy” dip, but never man­age to show enough self-re­spect for any­one else to feel like their needs mat­ter.

Those that can’t make it past the sec­ond peak are door­mats—peo­ple who can’t en­force their bound­aries or rea­son­ably re­quest ba­sic fair­ness. They make it ob­vi­ous that that they ob­ject to the situ­a­tion they’re in when they push them­selves into the “en­ti­tled” dip, but never man­age to show enough self-re­spect for any­one else to feel like re­spect­ing those bound­aries or re­quests.

Those that can’t make it past the third peak are the vast ma­jor­ity of the hu­man pop­u­la­tion—peo­ple who can’t pull off the Steve Jobs level of de­mand­ing other peo­ple’s re­sources and time and just get­ting it. They make it ob­vi­ous that that they want more—or even think they de­serve more—when they push them­selves into the “ar­ro­gant” dip, but never man­age to show enough self-re­spect for any­one else to feel like fol­low­ing them into the breach.

There are a few peo­ple have their goal and iden­tity set on be­ing in a par­tic­u­lar peak, higher than the one they’re on, and keep push­ing and push­ing and push­ing even though they don’t have enough grit to quite make it to the other side. Th­ese peo­ple end up per­ma­nently in the “needy”, “en­ti­tled”, or “ar­ro­gant” dip in­stead of hang­ing out in a mu­tu­ally sus­tain­able, but lower-achiev­ing plateau. Peo­ple tend to not like them very much, be­cause con­stantly fight­ing through a dip that you can’t break through is ex­haust­ing for ev­ery­one.

Also! Note that this model isn’t pre­cise, and is prob­a­bly multi-di­men­sional—there are some peo­ple that are “win­ners” in the field of busi­ness, “losers” in the field of re­la­tion­ships, and “reg­u­lar guys” in the field of friend­ships.

Now, here’s a thing that I keep try­ing to com­mu­ni­cate, that might be a bit con­tro­ver­sial:

It’s to­tally nor­mal to push back on peo­ple in the ‘needy’ /​ ‘en­ti­tled’ /​ ‘ar­ro­gant’ valleys. This is just how hu­mans are.

BUT—when you have some­one that your gut says is needy, or en­ti­tled, or ar­ro­gant, but that your an­a­lyt­i­cal mind says should be way cooler than they feel, you can ac­tu­ally choose to help them out of the valley.

You can—as weird as it feels—de­cide to ig­nore the sense that they’re be­ing needy, or en­ti­tled, or ar­ro­gant, and just give them a chance. Treat them as if they had already earned the re­spect they’re bid­ding for. Don’t do so be­cause you are some­how “bad” for “mis­treat­ing” them! You’ve been de­mand­ing a perfectly rea­son­able costly sig­nal of com­pe­tence be­fore you re­ward some­one the re­spect they’re bid­ding for. BUT, re­al­ize that those de­mands are com­ing from a part of your brain that is far, far older than your pre­frontal cor­tex, and it might not be tuned to prop­erly un­der­stand sig­nals of com­pe­tence rele­vant in the mod­ern world, and you might want to use that awe­some pre­frontal cor­tex to ad­just your in­tu­itive pri­ors.

You shouldn’t do this for ev­ery­one—most peo­ple, your in­tu­itive pri­ors are ac­tu­ally prob­a­bly pretty okay. But some peo­ple you can look at and say “man she’d be amaz­ing if she wasn’t so in­se­cure”—and then de­cide to help with the in­se­cu­rity by… just ig­nor­ing it.