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.