A Nerdy Perspective on Emotional Mastery

While doing research for the upcoming book, I’ve been thinking a lot about ego-identity formation, or basically the investments that we each choose to define ourselves by and by measure our self-worth. For instance, growing up, we’re all pressured to measure ourselves as success/failures as men based on how strong, competitive, rich, sexually accomplished we are. Many of these identity choices are made unconsciously or are pushed on us by society/family when we’re young. The book will go into nose-bleeding detail about this stuff and how it relates to masculinity, self esteem, sexing all the womenz, and, oh yeah, happiness. But in the meantime, here’s a little bit of a daydream nerd theory I had on an airplane yesterday. It’s a way to model emotional development in general. Warning: This is a hair-brained theory of mine and not a psychological model put together by any researcher that I know of. So strap yourself in for a pretty nerdy analysis of your emotional problems and how they eventually get solved. And by no means take this as gospel.

Model of Competency

how to get up and balance yourself on the board as you ride the wave in. but you’re unaware of what is required to surf. . Eventually you get to the point where you are consciously competent. Take a skill. It looks something like this: This grid is used in regards to learning new skills. that you don’t know how to push yourself up onto the board and you’re horrible at balancing even when you do. you become consciously incompetent. You can surf. You learn that you suck at paddling through waves. not only are you unable to surf. Everyone starts out an unconscious incompetence. You’re incompetent and you’re painfully aware of it (as you almost drown). but you stil have to think through everything you’re doing — how to paddle efficiently. how to read the incoming waves and time them correctly. let’s say surfing.There’s a famous grid in Neuro-Linguistic Programming that people like to refer to when they want to state the obvious in a way that sounds really smart. That is. From there.

I used to have to search for the keys over and over and at one point you had to sit there and sound out each letter in a word to read it correctly. There’s time and work involved: 1. Everyone can relate to the feeling unconsciously competent at something. you become unconsciously competent. through repetition. I’m unconsciously competent at typing this and you’re unconsciously competent at reading it. The actions just happen and you can successfully ride waves while thinking about the toilet paper you need to buy on your way home.Finally. What that means is that you can surf without even thinking about it. But it wasn’t always that way. To go from unconscious incompetence to conscious incompetence. But unconscious competence does not come easily for any skill. . you must first gain knowledge and study the skill.

what if we apply these same concepts to emotional development? Model for Emotional Mastery My nerd theory is that the process in which we come to terms with our emotional problems follows a similar process.2. Look: Let’s go over the terms. one requires practice and conscious effort. unconscious competence happens through habituation: you’ve practiced something to the point where you don’t even think about it anymore. 3. Compulsion refers to overreactions of negative emotions or emotions that cause you to pursue behaviors that go against your values or self-perception. right? Well. becoming better and better at your chosen activity. Then you pick harder skills and repeat the whole process again. To go from conscious incompetence to conscious competence. Eventually. For . Pretty simple and self-explanatory.

then you may internalize an ego-identity of being stupid and incompetent. Reaching a point where he doesn’t have violent outbursts but perhaps feels disappointed or hurt that she forgot to think of him is a normal regulated form of the emotion. The problem is that when we form an unhealthy ego-identity. Our emotions are also either identified or disidentified. anger is a normal and healthy emotion that we all feel at one time or another. you were always made fun of for being stupid. in our anger example. And because they’re unaware of why these emotional meltdowns are occurring. let’s say a man’s girlfriend forgets to call him when she gets home and he goes on a screaming fit and starts threatening her. even if objectively you are very smart. My personal pet theory — and there is evidence for this — is that our emotions exist in order to protect our ego-identity. and the man has serious underlying issues that need to be address. then they . This is where it gets a bit complicated and where my back-of-napkin theory kicks in. Their emotional reactions are compulsive. This is why a smart and capable person can have an emotional meltdown when presented with the smallest amount of intellectual stress. we begin to produce an unhealthy array of emotions. Or why a charming. But getting angry at the slightest infraction and becoming uncontrollably violent is a serious compulsion and unhealthy. For instance. if when you were young. The problem is that we adopt a lot of aspects of our identities unconsciously or when we’re so young that we forget that we did.Regulation means an emotion which we’re able to manage or which occurs in appropriate situations.instance. attractive man can feel totally unworthy and desperate around women. This is a compulsive emotional outburst. So.

are disidentified with them. as in. These beliefs fall into place because they justify the compulsive emotions. the first step to recovery is acknowledging you have a problem. that smart person who has emotional meltdowns when presented with any intellectual stress may have convinced themselves long ago that people treat him unfairly and expect him to be perfect — that it’s not his fault he’s so stressed out all the time. for instance. The hardest part about identifying with compulsive emotions is that we construct a lot of beliefs and defense mechanisms to justify our compulsive emotions. then they can become identifiedwith the compulsive emotions. Or the desperate man may have convinced himself that women only go for the most alpha of men and you have to go the extra mile to prove how high status you are to them. Still with me? Once a person becomes aware of why their compulsive emotions are occurring (usually with the aid of some kind of therapy). So the person who deep down believes that they’re stupid and incapable consciously does not identify with that belief. As they say. So. Why?” Or the smart person who feels incapable finally admits and identifies with the reality that they are incapable of handling any intellectual stress or responsibility. the part of their identity that is causing these unwanted emotional outbursts is unconscious. but I feel desperate and pathetic around women. “Hey. So the desperate man comes to realize. I’m attractive. . Or the man who is attractive but desperate does not consciously identify as a desperate man.

. they must then learn to regulate them. resisting negative emotions and fighting against them often makes them stronger (evidence for this too. Once one does this successfully. As the Buddhist saying goes: “What you resist will persist. by the way). examples coming up). What does that fruity word “self-compassion” mean? It means re-orienting one’s beliefs to understand and accept where the compulsive emotions come from (don’t worry. one must then accept it and practice self-compassion with the faulty part of oneself. And if one does become those things. or less whatever. the chunk of their identity that is causing the compulsive emotions hasn’t changed. One will find oneself becoming less angry. Others try to find healthy ways to redirect their negative emotions. The reason is that while they’ve gotten better at altering the negative behaviors that the emotions cause. but rarely make for good long-term solutions. or less panicky. the belief that we are not good enough or that we are somehow faulty. In fact. eventually the compulsive emotions will become manageable and regulated. These are forms of coping. Most people attempt to regulate their emotions through sheer will power. and even sharing it. accepting it. Research shows — and TED superhero Brene Brown says — that we undo our underlying shame by exposing it. or less overwhelmed. and they are good short-term solutions.” Compulsive emotions are caused by deep internal shame. The way to do this is paradoxical.Once a person has identified with their compulsive emotions. So once one becomes aware of their compulsive emotions and the shame that underlies.

Finally. AA is actually surprisingly one of the most successful therapeutic processes in the world. he was often frustrated because his mother seemed more concerned with her social life than him.it’s not the end of the world. They understand that they don’t have to act on them and. one can disidentify with the old compulsive emotions by sharing them and objectifying them through words. But that’s a story for another time. This happens through vulnerability. So we get a new model that looks something like this: Here are a couple examples of how this process may work: 1. they’re OK with it. As a kid. John grew up with a single mother who was unreliable. it’s far easier now not to. He internalized an identity that he was not worth committing to and bolstered this . despite being made up by a drunk with absolutely no expertise whatsoever. once that’s occurred. in fact. You may actually recognize this process as being similar to what Alcoholics Anonymous uses.

He feels the anxiety and faces the rationalizations telling him to dump the girl for stupid reasons or to run away.identity with the beliefs that women are unreliable and untrustworthy. In adult life. He accepts that he’s had an unfortunate emotional past and he’s committed to changing. Since John is awesome and reads this site. He accepts these feelings and rationalizations and slowly learns that they’re not . he recognizes that there’s no quick fix for his anxiety and that he must consciously face it head-on when he’s in these intimate situations. As new relationships come up. he becomes unbearably insecure and stressed around them. These were all unconscious. at least. While he seems abnormally pre-occupied with dating and having sex with women. Or. or the few he does become attached to. they happened so young that he forgot he had them and just always believed that’s the way the world worked. although he doesn’t force it either. He must perceive his own anxiety and stress. John is a mess with relationships. John doesn’t resist getting closer to women. To even notice these issues are going on. he can identify as someone who has major attachment and intimacy issues. John must be able to sidestep his personal beliefs about women and their trustworthiness and recognize his irrational emotional reactions to any woman who gets close to him. he finds himself either ditching the women immediately. and suffers through compulsive anxiety and stress any time a woman gets too close to him. Once he’s done this. perceive his rationalizations for his behavior and his apparent inability for secure intimacy.

As he makes himself vulnerable and shares these emotional realities. something he’s never felt comfortable with before in his life. Worst of all. had trouble in school.” But as life went on. he feels far more comfortable with the prospect of becoming attached and intimate with one woman. being very open about the fact that he used to have trouble with commitment and intimacy used to make him uncomfortable. “Some people just aren’t talented. 2. Greg began suffering from unbearable depression. Greg. and that they pass with time. He begins to find that some women actually are trustworthy and that intimacy can actually be far more pleasurable than mindless sex.” he told himself. Greg internalized a lot of shame and constructed belief systems to cope with his feelings of inferiority. Harvard graduate. “I can’t help it if I’m not good at anything. He placates everyone and is afraid to assert himself. and every time he screwed up he was compared to his father. and when he was.necessarily true. he always anticipated failure. He was rarely motivated to do anything. He’s so comfortable now that he doesn’t mind sharing his problem with the women he dates. and successful at everything he’s ever done. just someone who used to have intimacy issues. on the other hand. he’s able to gain a third-person perspective on them — the former emotional issues are separated from his identity and soon he doesn’t even identify as someone who has intimacy issues. After many months and a few short relationships. He struggles regularly with depression and has a lot of self-defeating thoughts. his inability . Greg chronically feels unworthy. Greg’s father is a popular politician.

acknowledging that they weren’t necessary anymore and that he could still love himself even if he felt like a failure or like he was disappointing someone. being supported. He still sees a therapist to keep him on top of his emotional issues. not one his parents wanted. despite his unconventional choice of career. He made a point to focus on new behaviors that would help build his self esteem and create a life for himself. It was in one of these periods that he hit his limit. He came to the startling discovery that a lot of his behaviors self-perpetuated hismisery. Eventually. And for the first time in his life. Greg is able to get off his anti-depressants. The anti-depressants allowed him to separate enough from his beliefs and emotions that he could look at them objectively with the help of the shrink. he began to realize how much pressure he had always put on himself to do something that would make others proud. He’s disidentified from the depressed person he was years ago. he’s proud of who he is and what . not for anybody else. He began making good money and moved out of his parents house. It was almost like he wanted to be a failure and disappoint his parents. He identified these emotions and accepted them. as his new life gained steam. but he is no longer subjected to compulsive sadness. He got another job. He also realized how hard he had always been on himself. his parents became emotionally supportive of him. one that he wanted to do. by his successful father. He signed himself up with a psychiatrist. was put on anti-depressants and began seeing a therapist every day to talk about his issues.to hold a good job always landed him back at his parents house. To his surprise. As he did this. again.

he’s doing with his life. He’s come to terms with his past and is more comfortable making vulnerable around others. This comes in handy since his new job is acting in gay porn. .

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