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Feeling bad about feeling bad can make you feel worse (berkeley.edu)
263 points by RKoutnik on Aug 14, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 133 comments

Something I wish my parents had told me when I was growing up:

You, the thing listening to this advice, is just a small part of a greater whole, much of which you (the thing listening to this advice) are not consciously aware of. This is because you were built by your genes to be good mainly at one thing: reproducing. That's all your genes care about. They don't care about your happiness or achievements or having a fulfilled life. In fact, they don't even really "care" about reproducing, except the same way that water cares about flowing downhill.

Your negative emotions are real. The pain you feel is real. But it's not you. It's something that is being done to you. In that regard it is exactly the same as physical pain, which is also not part of you, but rather something done to you. The fact that you're depressed is no more a character flaw than the fact that it hurts when you skin your knee.

I actually go the completely opposite way, and I'm the happiest person I know.

I own everything, everything that happens to me, everything that goes wrong around me, I take my share of responsibility in it. Analyze what I can do to improve it, and do it.

When I think like what you mentioned I tend to lose control of my emotions, I feel angrier, I feel sadder. When I own what happens to me, I feel peace. I know almost everything can be improved. Maybe not short term, but eventually.

Coming back to the other side, I think the core of it is that thinking that stuff is happening to me makes me feel like a victim. I don't take responsibility for anything, thus it must be the fault of some external factor. I try to rationalize and assign blame. All in all, it's a much more negative experience for me.

Everything needs to be thought of in the context of the person thinking it.

Some kids are naturally reckless and should be told to always look both ways when crossing the street, and to stop and think and make sure. Some kids are naturally anxious and would have always looked both ways because they knew there were cars and cars are scary, so telling them how scared they should be is going to make navigating a city like a normal person will be an exercise in fear.

If you're depressed and you have no good reason to be as depressed as you are, then the way you feel is going to be something you feel bad about and it shouldn't be. You didn't cause it or bring it on yourself. You didn't make a bad choice.

On the other hand, neither are you powerless in the course of your life, and if your natural inclination is feeling helpless rather than guilty, it's not helpful to think about it as though your feelings are just this unstoppable force rolling over you.

I think general advice just doesn't work very well. Everyone is the combination of decades of context. Some of it needs to be taken into account.

As usual, the answer probably lies somewhere in the middle. There are things you can control, and there are things that you can't. Improve the things you can, and don't feel bad for the things you can't.

Exactly -- I think it's important to continually act in a way consistent with improving outcomes. This doesn't mean you will always get the outcome you want, but much like luck favors the prepared mind, continual, continuous, consistent action towards higher goals does eventually cause results.

> I own everything, everything that happens to me

Really? Everything that happens to you? What if you were mugged?

I think you can (and should) take responsibility for what you do (or don't do), but I don't think you can (or should) take responsibility for what you feel because you don't have control over that.

> Really? Everything that happens to you? What if you were mugged?

You take ownership of how you respond to every situation. Things happen to you beyond your control, but you can be in control of how you handle and internalize it if you practice.

Not being able to control your feelings is false for the most part.

Giving up the sense of control over self and one's circumstances is well known to have depressive and demotivational psychological side-effects. Recognize that some things are outside your control, but something in every situation is under your control: your own mind. If you're interested in more, read up on Stoicism.

But your own mind is not completely within your own control, I would argue.

Maybe. But in all cases, it can be very very hard to control indeed. Which does not mean you should not try, because it will help you if you do. And the original point is that if you fail at it, better take it in stride than feel extremely bad about it, since it will make things worse.

The more you think like that, the less control you have.

Control might be an illusion - we are getting into the realms of philosophy here, but some argue there is no such thing as free will.

If control were an illusion, then my desire to raise my arm would not result in me raising my arm. The fact is, desires, wishes and so on, have direct causal influence on actual physiological and psychological states.

Free Will doesn't really enter into this, so we don't have to enter that rabbit hole.

Your action might feel self willed but may in fact follow inevitably from all prior events. Individual agency could just be a creation of the mind. Personally I try not to dwell on these thoughts, but the philosophical discussions around free will cannot be dismissed simply with a wave of the hand, as you seem to be doing.

Whether outcomes and desires follow from prior events isn't relevant. The fact is that outcomes follow from my desire that it be so, regardless of the source of that desire. So if you can muster the desire, there are good causal reasons to believe you can achieve that desire.

The true nature of free will and its connection to determinism simply isn't relevant to whether desires are causally connected to outcomes, and so whether this belief is well founded.

Edit: the only way out of this is to be a fatalist, whereby outcomes will always happen no matter how hard you struggle against them, that they are independent of our desires. Few people subscribe to such a view though, and if you happen to, then I can only say I'm sorry.

> What if you were mugged?

Walking down a dark alley, alone, at night and not having a sense of situational awareness. I was nearly mugged because of that, and now have a much greater sense of situational awareness.

I know, I know, blaming the victim is bad, but sometimes clearly assessing what led you to be in a certain type of situation can help you avoid those types of situations in the future.

This actually happened to me in 1991: I was a few months from defending my Ph.D. so I was already under a lot of stress. I came home from work after dark to an empty house and saw that the light we kept on a timer wasn't on (it turned out later that the bulb had burned out). I entered the house and caught some movement out of the corner of my eye. I shouted, and the burglar who was on his way out the window took a pot shot at me with a 038. The bullet missed me by about a foot. I had nightmares about strangers in the house for years. None of that was my fault.

There is an epilogue to the story: after the incident I crawled to the phone and called 911. The police arrived a few minutes later, and a few minutes after that told me that they had caught the perpetrator. The put me in the back of a police car and drove me out to where they had a hispanic kid, maybe 15 years old, sitting on the curb in handcuffs. They asked me if I could identify him and I said no, it was dark, I couldn't see anything but a muzzle flash. So they let him go. I have no idea if I let an armed robber back out on to the street, but I've never lost a minute of sleep over that decision.

You own your actions, not your feelings.

Well not really in this case. This is still trying to align sense and structure to an otherwise random event. Suppose you got mugged with your partner on a lightly populated main Street in the evening by a stranger with a gun, as happened to my partner and I; what is the takeaway there? Muggings, like many other situations we imagine, tend not to happen as we've seen it in movies and tv but more so when we least expect it.

A lot about owning a situation is allowing yourself to do what feels right, not creating a plan for every contingency and situation. Muggings happen and they're very unfortunate and bad. But owning it well isn't as much about future prevention as it is trying to make sure that you still can have control over yourself afterwards. Sometimes things happen; why did some guy key my beat up old 95 Accord and not the dozens of other cars? Probably alcohol, but the point is less about the specific reason and more what you do in response and how you are able to gain control and feel comfortable.

cancer ?

In zen there is the question, who is in control of these feelings? Where is the locus of control, and what kind of a thing is it?

Where is the boundary between things inside your mind and things outside of your mind? Where does control get inserted into the process of things arising and falling away?

One way of thinking about this produces a realisation that nobody is in control, but nobody has been denied or robbed of control either. Instead, the idea of control appears to be a kind of misapplied concept.

I think this is a realistic interpretation of the evidence which does not lead to a depressive fugue, but only when it's absorbed beyond a textual description (a bit like how reading a program is different to running one, in HN-friendly terms).

I think this is exactly right. Even the conscious part of you, the part you perceive as being "in control" isn't really. Free will is an illusion (but a very compelling one!) This realization, too, can help you make better decisions. For example: I've found it helpful in reducing my consumption of sugar. I didn't decide to love the taste of sugar. That's something that just happened to me, like depression. So it's easier for me to resist the urge to snack if I think of the cravings as an attempt by an "external" agent to control my actions, even though that agent is physically located inside my own brain.

This idea even comes with a catchy slogan: sometimes your brain has a mind of its own :-)

> In zen there is the question, who is in control of these feelings? Where is the locus of control, and what kind of a thing is it?

> The exterior things touch the soul in no way. They have no access to it and neither can change the mood of the soul nor move it. Rather it gives itself its mood and movement, and according to its judgements that it makes about its own dignity, it also values the exterior objects higher or lower.

-- Marcus Aurelius

I think it would be remarkably weird if the state inside me were entirely uncoupled from 'exterior things'.

In the zen view, the 'trick' is that there are no exterior things because the distinction between the exterior and interior is artificial. Processes of change may reach across that boundary just as they cross any other boundary we care to draw, so there is no absolutely self-governed component.

Assuming (perhaps wrongly, let me know if I'm overreaching) that you see your self as a stoic or happy to interpret them, what do you think the Aurelius quote above means? What is the soul which it's talking about?

We can identify patterns that remain stable for a bit, so you might say that my soul is whatever essential features or patterns remain unchanged, but on the long span I find it hard to imagine such features. After all I will be eaten by worms or incinerated sooner or later.

>What if you were mugged?

In general, any time you point to others and say "they did this to me" you remove your own power to change the situation. You may have to be creative, but personally I never want to give others that power.

> but I don't think you can (or should) take responsibility for what you feel because you don't have control over that.

I disagree with this. I consider the mind a muscle like any other. It can be trained and taught more productive ways of thinking [1].

[1] https://web.ics.purdue.edu/~drkelly/DFWKenyonAddress2005.pdf (please ignore that the author of this speech later shot himself in the head)

> I never want to give others that power.

Of course you don't. But sometimes the laws of physics leave you no choice, in which case accepting that fact can save you a lot of heartache and frustration.

> I consider the mind a muscle like any other. It can be trained and taught more productive ways of thinking [1].

Of course it can. And I submit that one of those "more productive ways of thinking" is to understand the laws of physics and the constraints they impose on your agency, because if you don't do that you will be frustrated when reality doesn't live up to your expectations.

> please ignore that the author of this speech later shot himself in the head

And why should I ignore that? It seems like a pretty salient fact in the context of this conversation.

>But sometimes the laws of physics leave you no choice, in which case accepting that fact can save you a lot of heartache and frustration.

Different views of the world, I guess. If the laws of physics "leave me no choice" I'm personally going to still consider that my responsibility and look for ways to prevent that situation in future, if possible. Sometimes there really is nothing you could have done (e.g. fired by a scumbag boss who didn't reveal their nature until it was too late to do anything about it) but there is nearly always something you can do to respond.

>And why should I ignore that? It seems like a pretty salient fact in the context of this conversation.

I was half joking with the comment, but the non-joking part was more to say that just because this guy wasn't able to take his own advice and contain his "horrible master" doesn't mean everything he said is invalid. It's still something to strive for.

> I'm personally going to still consider that my responsibility and look for ways to prevent that situation in future, if possible.

I hope nothing I said gave you the impression that I would in any way disagree with that.

> It's still something to strive for.

Of course. All I'm saying is that you should not despair if you don't always achieve it.

I completely agree with you. Rightly or wrongly, taking responsibility for things makes me feel better, like I am challenging myself to do better next time.

Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.

You are confusing taking responsibility with taking blame and identifying oneself with the problem

This helped me a great deal with people. That is, I kept falling in love with "narcissists" (probably not fully fledged, but bad enough) and then cried about how they treated me, tried to show them how wrong they are, and all that. But I always found something where I gave them power, and people who didn't allow their borders to be violated, always rolled their eyes and wondered what I even saw in them. Narcissists and their prey do play a game with each other, no doubt in my mind about it. I don't accept blame for how others treated me, but for that I let myself be treated that way, if that makes sense.

But I also lost someone very close to me in a totally pointless accident, like a flower pot falling on their head. There is no responsibility to accept there, just sadness. That's okay, a growing opportunity even, but still no blessing. So I don't fully subscribe to it -- it helps with people, but not completely with life.

fool me once shame on you, fool me twice ..

It's something that is being done to you.

It's nice if that works for you but for me it totally doesn't. I have once also tried to teach myself to think that way, but in the end figured out I'd just be lying to myself by trying to come up with an alternate formulation of a problem which makes it sounds less of a problem but in reality doesn't help as it does not find a solution.

For example me being depressed is just me, no way around it. Physically speaking it's probably the non-depressed version but with some altered chemical levels causing the brain areas where it originates to be more actuated than the rest. But it's still the same body, still the same mind, just an altered state. I found embracing that and reflecting on it works better than the 'it's being done to me' thought because the latter, to me, implies there's a cause to be found and to be cured. I'm an engineer, after all. Finding the cause of depression I wasted years of thinking on already, let alone curing it. It doesn't work. So better deal with it. Which is basically what Stoicism teaches us, btw.

> me being depressed is just me

I think you're missing a subtle but important distinction. Yes, it's you, but it's not just you. There is no "just" you. You are not a unified whole, notwithstanding that that's how you perceive yourself. That perception is an illusion. You are in fact more complicated than that. At the very least there is the conscious you and the unconscious you. There is the part of you that has agency and exercises free will (or at least has the illusion of exercising free will) and the part of you over which that first part has no control. That's the part that keeps your heart beating and your lungs breathing and rolls your over in your sleep and feels pain when you break your arm or eat ghost peppers. Depression, like other forms of pain (and pleasure BTW) originates in that second part. The part of you that has agency can't decide not to feel pain. The only thing that part of you can do is to interpret the pain differently and act on it differently.

> Finding the cause of depression I wasted years of thinking on already, let alone curing it. It doesn't work. So better deal with it. Which is basically what Stoicism teaches us, btw.

I don't see how anything I said contradicts that. Just because you find the cause of a problem doesn't mean you can fix it. In this case it's the exact opposite: it's the realization that you can't fix it that helps you deal with it because you can stop beating yourself up for not fixing it. Feeling emotional pain is not a failure on your part. It's just the way part of your brain works.

But is the pain suppose to be there? Is it valid pain? For example, I see myself being jealous or anxious or angry. Even if I can rationalize to a level where I can convince that the feelings may not be warranted, there's just a few seconds of relief; but that flood of negativity always comes back. Does that pain have a place, even if we deem it stupid or pointless?

I don't know what the difference between "valid" and "invalid" pain is. The point is not that it's valid or invalid, the point is that it's not up to you whether or not you feel it. The only thing that's up to you is how you act on it. Understanding that can make it feel a little less painful, especially over time. In particular, if you use that insight to break the cycle of self-reinforcing behavior (like sitting at home wallowing in self-pity) then it can actually help.

> This is because you were built by your genes to be good mainly at one thing: reproducing.

About that...

I feel like this sort of abstraction is hyperpersonal, and if your parents tried to share this vague idea they would use alternative language or slight shading on the idea and it wouldn't stick.

I frequently find when I try to share an idea and it's this abstract, it makes perfect sense in my head but it's clear it doesn't land at all.

I sort of get what your saying, but on the face of it, it goes against the typical advice for managing emotions, which is to separate the emotion from the action/agency. That is, turning "you made me sad" into "I felt sad."

I think ego destruction are still at the core of both your and this idea

That's actually completely consistent with what I was trying to say. I guess I just didn't phrase it very well. It's a difficult concept to render into words.

I've come to accept this with regards to sexist/racist thoughts. Once you realize that it is a normal, ingrained biological urge to have these thoughts as a result of human evolution and cultural conditioning, it frees you to stop "feeling bad" about having those thoughts and trying to block them out, so that you can objectively assess the flawed assumptions behind them and reason yourself past them without the need for self shaming.

Looking at a young woman and the first thing that clicks on my head its asking and answering "is she attractive?" in a matter of milliseconds; its annoying as hell... why can't my first through be something more interesting? or at least why can't it be nothing at all so it doesn't interrupt my thinking? but I have come to realize that this is a more of a hormonal reflex than what we usually consider "a thought"; an annoying reflex which exists in a lot of other species as well, not just humans. I have noticed this reflex only weakens when I'm feeling depressed or other strong negative emotions; which I guess makes a lot of sense in an evolutionary context.

I can understand why you find it annoying.

Instead of being annoyed, perhaps you can find joy in watching what your mind perceives as beauty, just like people look at cars or sunsets?

My grandmother always used to live up when she saw us and complimented us on our looks, although I'm sure they were nothing spectacular. After having children myself, I'm beginning to understand her - there's something satisfying watching other people. I think we should accept those joys we receive for free here in life.

Women can enter into a friendship with a man perfectly well, but to maintain it - a little physical antipathy is required.

-- Friedrich Nietzsche

Why is it annoying? Who told you that you need to feel bad?

> Why is it annoying?

Because it affects his concentration? He already expressed that in his post

" or at least why can't it be nothing at all so it doesn't interrupt my thinking"

By having those sorts of thoughts, you are privileging that aspect of them over any other sort of accomplishments they might have. They have less opportunity to present themselves in the way they would like to.

Imagine if everyone around you in your workplace would think about how you're dressed instead of what you're actually trying to talk to them about.

Women have the same instinctive reaction to attractive men though. I do agree everyone should be aware of how attractiveness can influence their perception of another person, but I don't feel guilty about noticing whether a woman is attractive or not and I definitely am not going to make a futile attempt to prevent it.

We live in a society where this issue affects women way more than it does men (see Clinton getting lectured at about not constantly smiling). Bringing this up is part of a fight to reduce systemic bias.

I get that and generally agree. I am more challenging the idea of feeling bad / guilty about sexual attraction, which I interpreted as being implied by some of the other comments in this thread.

I think you are arguing against biology.

I think you are arguing for denial of a fundamental aspect of human nature.

I suspect you're missing the point of the parent comment, and the post itself. Regardless of whether these thoughts are wrong or oppressive, is it useful to fight or deny them? Is it helpful to chastise ourselves or feel guilty for having them?

I understand why you're getting downvoted but I think this is a really good point.

Radical feminist, or hyper-devout Christian?

I can't even conclusively tell the difference any more.

Or perhaps someone who doesn't want their valuation of other human beings to be solely based on criteria which are instilled by a mixture of: a) a centuries-long ingrained conception of women as possessions and b) (if you insist) evolutionary priorities.

These two things are not the same.

A) Noticing a woman's beauty when you first encounter her.

B) Making a 'valuation' of a woman 'solely' based on her looks.

What's really deeply disturbing about the above is the mind-control aspect, driven by shame. Not only must you censor your words, but you must also hate yourself for your involuntary thoughts. This is total ideological possession, as Peterson puts it.

And it's so, so familiar. I swear, soon enough progressive men will be wearing chastity belts to help banish impure thoughts, or hair shirts to make up for their privilege. I am not even sure I'm joking.

Ok, let's set aside the object of this "mind-control", i.e. the whole theme around men's attitudes to women, because we're not going to agree on that I guess. This is to be expected. But what I don't understand is your unwillingness to accept that it's sometimes ok to feel shame or the need to self-censor when one has certain thoughts. Is "mind-control", as you put it, always bad? Is one not allowed sometimes (not always) to attempt to regulate one's thoughts according to the guidance of a sector of society one respects (whoever that may be)? Indeed (though this is extreme) can one not even sometimes hate oneself for one's involuntary thoughts (depending on what they are, of course)? I understand you're linking this to the case of finding women attractive, but your post also seems to suggest that any kind of self-regulation, second-thoughts, self-criticism, is "ideological possession". Surely you don't believe that.

Of course everyone is allowed to feel shame or self-censor. I don't think the OP was suggesting it shouldn't be allowed.

Personally I don't think that is a particularly good way to live though. The mind is our only refuge from the rest of society, and to attempt to censor your mind so it's more acceptable to society seems like a really sick thing to me.

To me it doesn't seem that OP is arguing against self-regulation or self-improvement in general, just self-regulation against conforming to society at large. That isn't to say one's own personal values aren't influenced by the values of society.

Which is precisely why I added loads of caveats - "sometimes (not always)", "a sector of society one respects (whoever that may be)", "(depending on what they are)". I haven't seen anyone in this discussion suggest that one should conform to (in your words) "society at large". That's just a straw-man.

This isn't a debate and my comment wasn't adversarial to yours so I'm struggling to understand how you think I've set up a straw-man to attack your argument. I agreed with your rhetorical question in my first sentence then went on to give an additional opinion.

Sorry, perhaps I misread your comment. I thought your second paragraph was disagreeing with my assertion that self-censoring is sometimes a valuable act.

I wasn't clear at all looking back. I do agree, self-censoring I suppose is what "differentiates us from animals" and what allows us to grow as people.

Thinking about it more the whole issue is incredibly complicated.

And yet when we select partners evidence shows that most people look for the conventional attributes i.e. fertility in women, and status in men. Arguing against what seems to be a critical part of what we are seems bonkers.

Not in my experience, but that is anecdotal. If you have evidence beyond the anecdotal I'd be interested to see it, though of course there's no obligation for you to do research work for me.

EDIT: Just to add that your comment's two halves are not logically connected. Even if we do act in this way, it doesn't make it a "critical part of what we are", or if it does, there is no reason that "critical parts" cannot be altered if need be. In the early 19th century most people would have thought that a 10 hour working day was too liberal - an 8 hour working day would have been unthinkable; but that "critical part" of people's way of perceiving society was not set in stone, as it turned out.

There are studies that show general agreement on estimations of physical attractiveness, regardless of race and culture. Needless to say these are disparaged by those whose beliefs are challenged by said research, but anyway. There are also studies that indicate that most people end up with partners of a similar level of physical attractiveness all else being equal, which would seem to indicate that a hierarchy does exist, and moreover that each of us has some notion of our personal position in the hierarchy.

Whether this all derives from biology is hard to say - however the alternative is to suggest that we are all somehow indoctrinated to value physical attractiveness and would otherwise be saintlike in ignoring things that suggest genetic unfitness, such as obesity, small stature, disfigurement etc. Look at the animal kingdom - I don't think animals are gauging partners on their ability to tell a funny joke, or having the correct politics. The sex drive is one of our most basic drives. To think it's not still driven by basic prerogatives does not seem reasonable to me.

When you hear something new, your first reaction is what you've been taught. Your reaction to that reaction is what you have learned.

This is a great insight (at least for me) and has shed light on a problem I've been grappling with for a long time. Thank you.

Accepting thoughts is key for me. If you ever try a meditation course, one concept you tackle is the idea of not fighting your own thoughts, you just let them be, watch them go through your head, and don't worry about them. You're free to analyse them later, but don't try and not think them, or get angry for thinking them.

This helps with all sorts of things (e.g. you can't sleep because your head is full of thoughts, but getting angry and frustrated at them makes it worse!), and also with parent's situation.

If you haven't tried a meditation/mindfulness course, I can recommend it. As a session at the gym helps keep your body fit and helps prevent injury, a little time spent meditation keeps your mind healthy, and can help you stay on top of your thoughts.

I agree, and rephrasing the problem in different ways often helps to define what it is in you that bothers you about/in others. Your feelings are not wrong, but it would do well to understand them as clearly as possible, in the first place, for your own benefit. Being at home in your own mind is a life-long project. To cut through your own BS can be both extremely hard and satisfying.

I feel like this validates my tendency to deal with a serious Low Mood by turning out the lights, lying on the floor with headphones on, and listening to the saddest, loneliest music in my collection for a while. I'm gonna feel sad whatever I do, and I may as well make some time to give in to really feeling sad and getting it out of the way.

When I feel bad I generally do a quick mental checklist: Have I drunk any water lately? Have I eaten? Have I had my pills? Usually the answer to at least one of those is 'no' and I feel better after correcting them. Then since my need for a warm place to sleep is pretty well settled, it jumps up a few notches to checking when the last time I cuddled someone was, how I feel about my current project, etc.

Thank you for sharing this.

This article is going to make you feel bad about "feeling bad about feeling bad"...don't go there. You've been warned.

Too late...I don't even know what level I'm in anymore. Hopefully this will stop before I experience a depression stack overflow.

What we really need is an article on how to increase our emotional stack depth so that this recursive badness doesn't matter at all.

Jokes on you, at 2 levels I already overflowed. I would buy more emotional DDR memory for myself but the human body is closed hardware with no extra slots available.

There's a slot in the back but it unfortunately isn't backwards compatible.

I was going to make this meta-text joke if no one else had beaten me to it. Bravo, sir. But do you feel bad about giving people that ominous warning?

I feel pretty good about it actually...the stack is looking good at the top at least, even if it's shitty all the way down.

Two negatives make a positive, right?

I learned to accept that I feel bad sometimes and it made me happier.

But I went farther than that.

I also learned to accept that my ideas and behaviors are inconsistent and it helped me better understand the world and myself.

And finally, I learned to accept that I sometimes do bad things (and desire to do even more bad things) and it made me a better person.

(Disclaimer: my experiments have n=1, no control group and subjective measurements chosen in hindsight.)

That touches on a couple of Buddhist thoughts.

The human condition is suffering. Suffering comes from desire.

Rather than desire your unhappiness to disappear, you've accepted it. Thus, you do not suffer from it.

Or so they say.

You're a bad Buddhist.

We all are.


This article sounds like a long version of Carl Jung's quote -> "what you resists, persists" to me. That's how I deal with pain. I don't try to resist it. I simply allow myself to go through the pain. Cry occasionally if I had to. Feeling bad about feeling bad doesn't make me feel better, it simply delays my healing.

Been there, done that :( For me, it's been a negative spiral that ends with behavioral paralysis.

Over the years, I've managed to train myself to be amused by feeling bad. Because it's so pointless and silly. And so I smile, feel happy, and consider what needs done. Sometimes what needs done is sleeping for 15 hours. But that's very different from refusing to get out of bed.

I wonder if causality is backwards. Perhaps if your negative emotions are really causing problems, you're more likely to actively to to stop them by telling yourself not to feel them.

It's both — it's a feedback loop. Here's a typical couple of days when you're dealing with uncontrolled anxiety:

You feel like shit, that makes you unproductive and slow and dull. End of the day, you didn't get anything done because you stare at your text editor and your brain just refuses to engage in anything but panicking over... something. You get home, Now you still fill like shit the same as before, but also feel like shit over the fact that you didn't get anything done today and and you need to make up for it tomorrow. But then you don't get any proper sleep and you still have to catch and on lost time and you're in for a pretty bad day, but you shouldn't think like that, why are you wallowing in self pity, just get over yourself and get stuff done. But that doesn't really work, oh shit oh shit oh shit thingsarespiralingoutofcontrolwhatdoIdo?

You fall into that trap and now you're proper screwed. Anxiety is causing problems, problems are causing anxiety. The alternative is to learn to cut the second order effect short, which stops the loop. Yes, you had a bad day, and yes, your project is delayed because of it. What's done is done, and you can't fix it, so just accept it. Let people know you're behind schedule, replan if necessary, and move on.

In many ways, breaking that cycle is an exercise in allowing yourself self-compassion without indulging in self-pity.

Agree with all of this. Additionally, splitting the idea of myself into past, present and future really helped as well.

That is, whatever past Foo did is done. Maybe he was a dickhead and didn't study for the exam that future Foo is gonna have to sit. So present Foo can be a better friend and get that shit out of the way now, so future Foo can relax, pass, and gets to drink beer.

Like that concept of being your own best friend, only the friend you're forgiving is your past self and the friend you're doing favours to is future you.

Helps to get away from hang-ups about what is already in the past, and for some reason many people struggle with the idea of themselves as a person they should be kind towards.

Thank you for this, you've described my dark days from another perspective.

I think the answer (from personal experience) is that overused 90's word; synergy.

    Step 1: Feel sad, depressed, stressed, lonely.
    Step 2: Beat yourself up over #1
    Step 3: Misery^2.

This was my immediate thought as well. If you don't have problems with your emotions, of course you won't try and tell yourself "I shouldn't feel like this".

I have learned some strategies for dealing with emotions from Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy by David Burns. By controlling your thoughts you ultimately control how you feel.

Perhaps to a certain degree, but people with imbalanced brain chemistries who are affected by bipolar disorder, personality disorders etc. cannot simply 'think' bad moods away. It's unfortunately more complicated than that.

It's simple, if you want to fly, just fall and miss the ground.

Simple doesn't mean easy.

I used to suffer from severe clinical depression and ultimately the only thing that's helped was to learn how to control my thoughts. It still rears its head when I'm tired, hungry, or drunk enough so I don't have the energy to control my thoughts. Hell, sometimes I just relax too much and forget to and it comes rushing back.

But on the bright side, the need for constant productive output has really helped both my career and my physique. Pros and cons I guess.

Ultimately I find this much more desirable than the antidepressants that just made me numb to everything.

I don't see the parent calling it simple. Thought control isn't simple and is part of strategies like CBT which seem fairly effective in treating people with imbalanced brain chemistries, which is going to be all the people who care about this stuff anyway.

The book addresses your points.

Thanks for this recommendation. Bought the Audible version (1 credit) for someone I believe could benefit; will see how we go.

I don't know if this claim is true or false but I'm pretty sure that doing a study on this kind of thing is an extremely fraught enterprise. Edit: more so than even simpler psychology studies, many of which are coming back with problems.

How does one determine that someone is really "feeling bad about feeling bad" or whether they're satisfying some expectation of the experimenter or doing something else? And moreover, cause and effect can be slippery, maybe those with more extreme problems tend to be caused to do the thing the experimenter thinks is a mistake rather what they do having an effect.

Alan Watts said it better: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=emHAoQGoQic

worrying about worrying about worrying

Are there any existing recordings of Alan Watts that don't contain a distracting background track? If what he has to say is actually useful, there is no need for the cheap trick.

Yes: https://www.alanwatts.org/

Also (good starter collection): https://www.discogs.com/Alan-Watts-Out-Of-Your-Mind/release/...

(There seems to be a small industry of YouTubers taking snippets of Watts and adding music and images to make short inspiring videos. To be fair, most of them don't do the background music thing.)

Somewhat similar to some problems I used to have with sleeping. If I was particularly stressed and had trouble getting to sleep a couple of days in a row. Then I would be stressed, tired because of lack of sleep and now starting to stress about not being able to get to sleep leading me to find it even harder to sleep.

"Men are affected not by things but the view they take of them" -- Epictetus, Stoic philosopher

It feels like a "duh" thing to me.

Emotions are adaptations. They trigger in particular circumstances and they cause particular behaviors. The entire point of having an emotion is to engage in emotionally appropriate behavior until the circumstance has passed. Positive emotions are attractors towards the triggering class of circumstances, while negative emotions are repellers.

"Feeling bad about feeling bad" pretty much works out to be something like "naive gradient descent on the function that maps attention onto emotional valence". This doesn't solve the underlying situations that cause you to feel bad - it's like not looking at pictures of your dead wife, rather than grieving, getting support from friends and family, and then moving on with your life.

You rang?

Emotional Valence and the Free-Energy Principle (2013) http://journals.plos.org/ploscompbiol/article?id=10.1371/jou...

This effect is at the root of homesickness, I think. In my experience you're never really homesick when you're happy - homesickness only happens when you're sad for some reason and you can't separate it from the place/situation you're in. That reason is only sometimes a direct result of that situation, but your instinctive response is to think "this would be better if I were at home" regardless.

Getting over homesickness seems to be about being able to accept the bad thoughts as you would do at home and move on, rather than "feeling bad about feeling bad" in the form of wishing you could just go home.

I'm fortunate enough to have never experienced it, but I imagine serious grieving is like this too.

This paradoxical idea of sitting with and being close to the very things that make you suffer is central to Alan Watts' teachings, who westernized Zen Buddhism in a secular way. Robert Wright also talked about this very topic in a recent episode of Fresh Air.

If this piece interests you, you should read the "subtle art of not giving a f*ck." Its a nice down to earth book about dealing with negative emotions and high expectations.


Eh, you can skip that (it's not a bad book) and go directly read the Stoics.

Does the work of the stoics make you laugh and speed your eyes over their witty pages and puns? I also liked "a guide to the good life" [0], but the Subtle art is a much easier and lighter read.

[0] https://www.amazon.com/Guide-Good-Life-Ancient-Stoic/dp/1522...

Thanks for your downvote; it substantially aids your argument.

As I've said, the book does re-package some millennia old ideas and adds couple of hundreds usages of the f*ck world -- because it's of highest priority to be witty for some, apparently. Hell, CBT essentially does the same -- but it doesn't feels witty as it should be, right? Witty is of utmost importance after all.

> Thanks for your downvote; it substantially aids your argument.

How do you know who downvoted you?

Occam's razor.

Haha, Occam failed you this time ;)

Maybe this sounds too simple and not academic:

The more I am busy (with meaningful work) the less time I have time to feel bad about feeling bad or just thinking about this.

This doesn't mean one should escape into random work but that there maight be a slight correlation.

>The more I am busy (with meaningful work) the less time I have time to feel bad about feeling bad or just thinking about this.

It can help as a distraction but not to fix the long term thought patterns - Anecdotally, I was super busy with meaningful work at university, but I was the most depressed I have ever been. The work offset it for some time, but it took a lot of non-work effort to improve the thought patterns.

I've found that when I'm in a better mood I find myself more busy with meaningful work, so the correlation may go the other way.

IDK and in my case the cause effect direction is the other way.

Imagine you get busy because of external deadlines you cannot influence and you need get things done and don't have time to think a second about anything unrelated.

Even if you are in a bad mood and don't want to work you MUST because of the deadlines. Once you are working towards the deadlines, all bad feelings are gone.

Not sure how it works the way around, I am happy, now I make myself busy with random taks?

Edit: Still thinking about your opinion and now I might agree. If you feel good you might have the willpower to start new meaningful things which make you busy again.

Therefore.. Feeling good about feeling good, can make you ecstatic. <punExplainer>When you keep feeling good about your previous good thought, the system is stable, hence, 'static'.</punExplainer>

I think the same goes for worrying too much about and trying to assert too much control over one's impulsive behavior. Like trying to eliminate it completely. It may paradoxically bring more of it.

Reminds me of Mr Prosser who felt bad about vacating Arthur, then felt good about feeling bad.

Is this why some antidepressants work, they can break the cycle ?

That's what being on an SSRI has felt like to me: it seems to dull neurotic 'loops' in my head. It doesn't make them go away entirely but, maybe, (it's hard to explain) it seems like the loop doesn't bother the rest of my brain as much.

Overthinking is a curse. JFDI.

By controlling your thoughts, you control the universe. Mind blown.

It's bad feels all the way down.

No shit.

> We found that people who habitually accept their negative emotions experience fewer negative emotions


> those who generally allow such bleak feelings as sadness, disappointment and resentment to run their course reported fewer mood disorder symptoms than those who critique them or push them away, even after six months

Yet the comments so far are mostly about "controlling your thoughts", rather than accepting negative emotions (and maybe looking at what they're trying to tell you rather than killing the messengers).

this mirrors my experience after going through a bout of anxiety disorder during my time in college.

Just a few sessions with a psychologist who suggested 'mindful' behaviour (defined as observing your own emotions and not judging yourself rather than being involved in them) helped a pretty great deal.

As most people who have dealt with this probably know, trying to surpress anxiety symptoms does not help at all and mostly makes the attacks worse.

I think recognizing why we feel a certain way is important but a little different than what the article is discussing at face value. A lot of what the article discussed seemed to describe people feeling added emotional stress because of a reluctance to believe that the negative emotions afflicting them were okay (for lack of a better term). It's like the difference between struggling to swim out of a powerful current versus simply letting it carry you and waiting for the lifeguard because you know you're already caught. Granted, you should probably signal the lifeguard but that breaks the metaphor.

How about the waterfall metaphor - If you get washed over a waterfall (or a wier) you'll stick in the eddies below, your instinct will be to swim up and try to keep your head above water. But, doing this will ensure you keep getting washed back under the waterfall. Instead, a better approach is to swim down, then away downstream.

Point is directly fighting against something can keep you trapped by it. Rolling with it and working yourself into a better position without resistance can, eventually, take you away from the problem.

I'd say that the "control" part here would be teaching yourself to stop denying that you're thinking/feeling something. A bear 5 ft away isn't going to be "controlled" by you closing your eyes and plugging your ears.

How can you change something if you're still denying it?

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