Hoping to start a discussion about overcoming insecurity

Since Jr High at least, I’ve been frus­trated by my in­se­cu­rity. I don’t in­tend this to be a per­son­ally re­veal­ing post so I’ll just sum it up by say­ing that be­ing in­se­cure has had a profoundly nega­tive im­pact on my life. I feel that it is the sin­gle biggest rea­son why I’ve failed to reach my po­ten­tial in all ways. That’s fine though, I’m not re­ally bit­ter but I re­main very frus­trated and I want to solve this prob­lem. I want to ‘crack the code’, if you will.

I’ve re­cently started read­ing some psy­chol­ogy books (again) which has led to me to re­visit a cou­ple of the self-help/​psy­chol­ogy books that I used to be very fond of.

I’ve re­ally been want­ing to find a fo­rum where I can dis­cuss this with peo­ple who will un­der­stand what I’m talk­ing about. Well, the other day, I fol­lowed a link to LessWrong, which I was some­what fa­mil­iar with be­cause I used to visit and spend time here ev­ery now and then, and I re­mem­bered that I had read on here about self-help. Also I re­mem­ber read­ing about how some of the peo­ple here had re­ally liked the mee­tups be­cause they were able to to talk more freely and be bet­ter un­der­stood than they nor­mally are. I have had some frus­tra­tion in dis­cussing emo­tional top­ics el­se­where be­cause of the lack of in­tel­lec­tual rigor with which they are of­ten dis­cussed. Like ev­ery­thing else, hu­man emo­tions ‘work a cer­tain way’. Ex­actly how they work is not some­thing that is perfectly un­der­stood by any­one but I find it frus­trat­ing when dis­cussing them with peo­ple who don’t seem to un­der­stand that, what­ever the rules are, there are rules. So it oc­curred to me that LessWrong might be a good place to have the kind of dis­cus­sion that I’d like to have. If you are in­ter­ested in emo­tional in­se­cu­rity in gen­eral and my take on it then you may want to read the rest of this post.

I’ve de­vel­oped my own un­der­stand­ing of in­se­cu­rity, which, ad­mit­tedly, is a syn­the­sis of other peo­ple’s ideas, but I haven’t found any book or ther­apy or sys­tem that puts it all to­gether in a way that I fully agree with.

Here is what I think:

I think that what in­se­cu­rity is, is in­hi­bi­tion of feel­ings of dis­ap­point­ment/​loss be­cause of an im­plic­itly learned be­lief that to ex­press these feel­ings will have nega­tive con­se­quences (ie – it will only make things worse).

I came across this idea af­ter read­ing some EvPsych the­ory about the func­tional pur­pose of shame. The pur­pose of shame, it seems, is to sig­nal to the other per­son that you feel badly and to elicit a rap­proche­ment, a re-ini­ti­a­tion of the con­nec­tion that was bro­ken when the other per­son broke it (due to anger or re­jec­tion or dis­ap­proval). Shame is func­tional. It al­lows group mem­bers to sig­nal how much they value their con­nec­tions to one an­other when those con­nec­tions are tem­porar­ily bro­ken. The per­son who en­gaged in the be­hav­ior that elic­ited the dis­ap­proval/​re­jec­tion/​anger feels a rather in­tense aver­sive feel­ing when the con­nec­tion is threat­ened and this is sig­naled by the signs of dis­tress that ac­com­pany prop­erly func­tion­ing shame. The other per­son rec­og­nizes that the trans­gres­sor re­grets the trans­gres­sion and this ap­peases their anger. So the whole thing re­sults in ev­ery­one feel­ing bet­ter, all con­nec­tions re­stored, and the trans­gres­sor be­ing a lit­tle bit wiser for it all.

I think in­se­cu­rity de­vel­ops when a per­son who has had a con­nec­tion in­ter­rupted, ex­presses the nor­mal dis­tress and is fur­ther pun­ished for that ex­pres­sion. If they are pun­ished enough for ex­press­ing this dis­tress they will sup­press it, con­sciously at first and then au­to­mat­i­cally af­ter the habit is formed. (I re­mem­ber as a child be­ing proud that I could en­dure these hu­mil­i­a­tions with­out cry­ing. But I was naive, be­cause I be­lieved that if I wasn’t re­act­ing to it I wasn’t af­fected by it. Wrong. This was not a good abil­ity to have.) Be­fore long they will be re­press­ing their dis­tress with­out even be­ing aware that they are do­ing so. If they are like me they will, later, wake up to the fact that they are anx­ious and awk­ward and that these things are mak­ing their life a lot worse than it could be.

This is where a cou­ple of the books that I’ve been read­ing re­cently come in. The two books are ‘The Neu­ro­science of Psy­chother­apy’ and ‘Un­lock­ing Your Emo­tional Brain’. At one point in ‘The Neu­ro­science of Psy­chother­apy’ the au­thor (Louis Co­zolino) talks about his job as a ther­a­pist be­ing to cre­ate, in his clients, the ex­pec­ta­tion of re­as­surance or sooth­ing, when they are faced with dis­tress. It oc­curred to me that the anx­iety that I was ex­pe­rienc­ing may be just the mem­ory of a re­jec­tion/​dis­ap­proval fol­lowed quickly by in­hi­bi­tion(ac­com­plished via fear or anx­iety). In­hi­bi­tion that be­came a habit be­cause there was no re­as­surance or sooth­ing when the re­jec­tion/​dis­ap­proval oc­curred. And so the idea nat­u­rally fol­lowed that if I could per­haps, some­how, not in­hibit the feel­ing, and in­stead jump in and con­sole or re­as­sure or soothe my­self in one way or an­other, then I could break the habit of in­hi­bi­tion and be rid of the anx­iety.

That brings me to an­other self-help book, ‘Fo­cus­ing’ by Eu­gene Gendlin, which I read about 20 years ago. The ba­sic idea of ‘fo­cus­ing’ is that if you pay at­ten­tion to the feel­ing in your body, and don’t dis­tract your­self with too much think­ing or pay­ing at­ten­tion to other things but just ‘stay with’ the feel­ing in your body then af­ter some time (sec­onds or just a few min­utes usu­ally) you will rec­og­nize the feel­ing and have an in­sight about what it is that will provide you with im­me­di­ate re­lief as the feel­ing, con­sciously rec­og­nized, runs its proper course. I re­mem­ber re­ally lik­ing this book when I first read it and tried its ideas. The re­lief that you can feel is im­me­di­ate and un­mis­tak­able. This is not some­thing where you adopt some pos­i­tive at­ti­tude that you think will benefit you but un­der­neath you still feel anx­ious and in­se­cure. No, the re­lief leaves you re­ally feel­ing good and con­fi­dent.

When ‘Fo­cus­ing’, a book writ­ten about 30 years ago, showed up in the “Users Who Bought This Also Bought” on Ama­zon.com for ‘Un­lock­ing Your Emo­tional Brain’, I re­mem­bered read­ing it and nat­u­rally got the idea to com­bine the fo­cus­ing tech­nique with my idea about jump­ing in with re­as­surance.

At about this time (this was fairly re­cently) I had also started read­ing ‘Un­lock­ing Your Emo­tional Brain’ (still am – I’m about 1/​3rd through it). This book is very ex­cit­ing be­cause it goes into a bit of de­tail about some of the sci­en­tific re­search on mem­ory re-con­soli­da­tion that re­ally makes it seem pos­si­ble to per­ma­nently rid one’s self of un­helpful au­to­matic emo­tional re­ac­tions. The gist of the mem­ory re-con­soli­da­tion re­search is that ev­ery time neu­ronal con­nec­tions are ac­ti­vated they are vuln­er­a­ble to change, and will change if a rele­vant ex­pe­rience that con­tra­dicts or mod­ifies the be­lief on which they are based, hap­pens soon enough af­ter the emo­tion has been ac­ti­vated. If they are not ac­ti­vated, how­ever, they can­not be changed. So just talk­ing and think­ing about feel­ings with­out ac­ti­vat­ing them can­not change the learned emo­tional re­ac­tions. The au­thors have a ther­apy that they call Co­her­ence Ther­apy which is de­signed to take ad­van­tage of this. I haven’t re­ally read far enough to know the de­tails of their Co­her­ence Ther­apy but what I have read so far fits in well with my own de­vel­op­ing un­der­stand­ing of this.

Also rele­vant is Arthur Janov’s pri­mal ther­apy. When I read his book, also al­most 20 years ago now, I had a strong in­tu­ition that he was right, even if his the­ory to ex­plain it was a bit half-baked and non­sen­si­cal. I tried to do Pri­mal Ther­apy on my­self and at times I suc­ceeded. And the change in how I felt was, like with fo­cus­ing, profound. The change with a good pri­mal was even stronger than with fo­cus­ing. I felt com­pletely se­cure and free of anx­iety for up to a few days. It was won­der­ful. It also had a feel­ing of “this is how it is sup­posed to be”. So my ex­pe­rience with Pri­mal Ther­apy (on my­self, never with a ther­a­pist) also leads me to be­lieve that some ex­pe­rience that in­volves ac­tu­ally en­gag­ing the prob­le­matic feel­ings is nec­es­sary to change them.

Well that’s about where I stand with it right now. I’m try­ing to spend some time ev­ery day do­ing my pro­cess (a mod­ified form of Fo­cus­ing). When I have some quiet and a de­cent block of time (at least 20 min­utes un­in­ter­rupted but ideally up to an hour) I seem to be hav­ing some good suc­cess with it but it is also frus­trat­ing at times as some­times it is difficult to get ‘move­ment’ in how I feel.

I’d re­ally ap­pre­ci­ate any­one’s thoughts on this. Thanks in ad­vance.