Where I’ve Been, and a Brief Taxonomy of Bad Patterns

I didn’t post yesterday because I was traveling all day. I got up extremely early and took Lydia on a cab to SFO for a flight to JFK, then took another flight to Portland, ME, then another cab, then a ferry. Add in time being pushed three hours ahead, and that’s the day. I also didn’t have my computer last Wednesday-Sunday because we were at Ephemerisle, which we got home from late, with just barely enough time to nap and pack. The weekend before that, we went to Napa for my cousin’s wedding, and before that we were at the EA Summit…

Never being at home is pretty bad for getting writing done. But hanging out with interesting people all the time is good for generating ideas. I’ll sketch out at least one idea today and will state that it is my vague intention to get more writing done on this trip than I do in an average week.

There are many, many ways to divide up and classify destructive emotional patterns, but I’ll share one that occurred to me.

Some bad emotional patterns are, at their heart, crappy strategies. They’re likely outdated and originally formed by a less-resourced self, but I wouldn’t say they’re a result of trauma. The other month, I noticed that I was resisting changing my emotional state in the thick of discussions with Will because I wanted him to practice the skill of being the one to change the emotional tone.

It wasn’t working. Once I put my finger on what I was doing…I just asked Will to get better at that. And that seems to have worked pretty well. Much better than the other thing, anyway. I would call that one a bad strategy. There was no huge underlying childhood emotional pain to be processed. And I knew how to do something better, once I unraveled my reasons for not doing so. I’m actually pretty good at changing my state on command when my whole brain is on board with it.

Some emotional patterns really are because of childhood (or more recent) trauma. Where trauma doesn’t have to be something that looked terrible from the outside, just something that overwhelmed us at the time. I won’t say a ton about that, since this seems relatively straightforward to me. The pattern is set up to protect us from facing some pain that we never felt. The easiest/best/only? way to change the pattern is to look at the pain and deal with it. I think I’ve healed my low-hanging trauma fruit. I’ve written about the healing of trauma in the context of IFS before, so I’ll leave it at that.

Other emotional problems are most easily solved by learning new skills. Will finds it harder to change his state on command, but practicing some NLP-style visualizations helps. Many people just don’t seem to know to access self-compassion. I remember not knowing how to be curious about myself, or what it meant to look at emotions as data, reflecting on them in the moment and trying to ferret out cognitive distortion. I remember not knowing a bunch of useful questions to ask my self, like “what are you afraid would happen if”, and I remember not knowing what an automatic response was and that it was very worth paying attention to them. I didn’t know the NVC framework. I had never practiced mindfulness meditation. Once upon a time I had never encountered Eliezer’s writing! Etc.

As I’ve learned more and more techniques, I think fewer and fewer of my most salient problematic emotional patterns are about learning skills. I’m sure some still are, and there are awesome as-yet-to-be-invented cognitive and emotional skills. And as I’ve dealt with a lot of my stored emotional pain (once again, obvious not all of it), fewer of my problems are about that.

Presumably, as I get in the habit of noticing crappy, confused strategies, fewer of my problems should be about that. But recently, it’s felt like I haven’t had huge gains in that area. Goal for me: notice bad strategies and use better ones more often.