In praise of psychologists

Psychologists work with many people while also having large bodies of information collected by other psychologists. This allows them to see patterns that individuals working alone cannot see on their own.

I am a lone worker on the edge of the field of psychology. I see things very much from a linguistic or psycho-linguistic point of view. I am not well-trained in any of those fields but I am fairly well self-educated in them. I think my perspective has allowed me to see something no one else, to my knowledge, has seen. And that is the need for a practice like FIML.

That said, I have been intellectually limited by my poor ability to see the patterns in human behavior that so many psychologists can see.

My main example of this comes from my long quest to understand my self and the family I grew up in. This quest led me to gradually understand the narcissism of my parents and vaguely grasp how this affected me and my siblings.

I learned the concept of narcissism from psychology but had trouble applying it to my family. The dynamics of two parents and four children confused me. I have read a fair amount about the dynamics of narcissistic households, but never fully grasped how that applied to me and my family.

My FIML partner has explained it to me many times, even including naming which of my siblings was the Golden Child (one of my sisters) and who was the Scapegoat (me), but I never was able to grasp the logical simplicity of the whole-family narcissistic dynamic.

Until I read The Narcissistic Family Structure. I saw that short essay for the first time the day before yesterday and after reading it felt like all the pieces had at last fallen into place.

I felt deeply relieved, even liberated, to read that post. My dad was the overt narcissist as described, my mom was his narcissistic enabler, one of my sisters was the Golden Child and I was the Scapegoat. It was clear as a bell. My other sibs were the “other children.”

The structure is fairly simple once you see it. I bet it’s one of several basic default dynamics that can occur in any small hierarchical group, including the nuclear family.

Only the work of many psychologists over many decades could have produced such an elegant description. After reading it, in addition to feeling relieved of a burden and happy to see the whole puzzle fitted together, I also felt a kind of unemotional thought compassion or existential compassion for my family.

My Golden Child sister, who has grown into a narc herself and who can be exceptionally underhanded, is truly not to blame. She had it even worse than me. I was isolated and demeaned, but my situation also forced me to see that something was wrong. My sister has never figured her role out because her role rewarded her for being underhanded while preventing her from seeing anything else.

My dad died at a fairly young age. After that, my mom flared into full-blown overt narcissism for a few years, but then quieted down. Without his support, she didn’t have enough fuel. About fifteen years after my dad died she even cam to me on her own and provided me with an extensive apology and revision of my/our past. She admitted everything without my prompting and without either of us having any understanding of narcissistic family dynamics. I respect her immensely for that.

I hope that any psychologists reading this will note that my mom really did turn around. She really had been a narcissist with malicious traits and she really did apologize for all of it extensively and over a period of several years.

I also want to thank the profession of psychology for having been able to accumulate enough knowledge to abstract out the basic structure of narcissistic families. I could not have done that on my own.

My FIML partner was crucial to my finally seeing the light. She held to her explanation for almost ten years before I at last got the point. I love it when people do that—stick to their guns for years for your benefit. It’s quite rare and very beautiful.

It may be that as the Scapegoat it was hard for me to see the forest for the trees. I know it was very hard to see my dad critically or to stop idolizing my Golden Child sister. As a Scapegoat child, I learned to accept the drama as presented. My dad was perfect and my sister was beyond awesome.

I write this stuff on the off-chance that someone will benefit from it, much as I did from the post linked above. I think it’s also part of being a former Scapegoat—you spend all your time trying to figure people out.

You could explain FIML as the mind of a Scapegoat forever wondering what is going on.

And also, FIML does transcend one individual’s psychology to reveal a method of finding the deeply unique patterns that make up the intricate structures of all individuals.

Thoughts hidden by subjective phrases

After years of clearing up my mind, I noticed that my inner voice sometimes uses short phrases to bring negative trains of thought to an end. It was a habit I was aware of but had never given any thought to.

The phrases are not pretty; e.g. “I hate them all,” “fuck them,” “who cares about assholes like that,” etc.

My guess is this kind of inner speech is not uncommon. I was using it to end various lines of thought that had wandered into painful territory.

Having a clearer mind today or at least believing I did, I decided that when phrases or words like that came up again, I would not let them shut off my thoughts as I had been doing. Rather I would let the thoughts continue, explore what was there.

What I found is a bunch of old memories and emotions that were fairly easy to clean up. They were not so much repressed as not having been visited for many years. The nasty phrases were like labels in an old, unused filing cabinet.

About half the material was out of date and easy to toss. Another one-quarter was pertinent but was stuff I had dealt with in other ways and was thus redundant.

Only about a quarter of the material lying behind those nasty phrases deserved more thought.

In some of the most interesting cases, I realized that I was letting someone off too easy by hiding their behavior inside a neutral memory. They actually had been horrible but I had been too young to understand (narcissists, for example). Analyzing that stuff over again in a more mature mind was a bit of a chore, but the results have been good, even refreshing.

The process is ongoing. It does resemble cleaning an attic or an old filing cabinet. The stuff I found behind those nasty phrases was not all the stuff from my past. It was just stuff where I was blaming someone or feeling angry about something or had been harmed by someone. The bad stuff I’ve done is elsewhere in my mind.

I am struck by several things concerning those phrases and what lay behind them. One is a lot of that material dates back to childhood and early adulthood. It was not so much unconscious as not having been visited for a long time. Though most of it does not have strong emotional valence, some of it is very revealing because it brings together memories that had been disconnected, leading me to understand dramas or aspects of experience I had not understood before even though I had lived them. I also notice that it was just a few words that closed off those “files.” The power of words to command silence in the mind.

I had been dismissing all that material with just a few words whenever I didn’t feel like going there, which was every time. After not going there for many years, it was refreshing to poke around and rearrange those parts of my mind. I am quite sure I freed up some memory space and removed some snags in my thinking by dealing with that stuff. I also see new patterns within my general sense of my past, patterns with better explanatory power, both truer and more concise.

I see our minds as having a structure sort of similar to language or a forest. Trees of ideas, memories, and feelings grow and change. It’s good to remove some of them sometimes, put the space to better use. Buddhist practice is very helpful in endeavors like this. Rather than get all worked up with Freudian passions and delusions, we can simply observe, dismiss, refile, erase, upgrade, or reimagine as needed based on our capacities and understanding of what’s best.

Our bhavanga or “storehouse consciousness” contains memories, pictures, ideas, words., explanations They flow along with us, in many ways are us. When the mind is clear, a lot of that material can be rearranged for the better. There aren’t many rules for that. Just do your best.

The existential beauty (and chemistry) of updating beliefs

A new study shows that updating beliefs about the world requires and stimulates dopamine release in the brain.

Lead author of the study, Matthew Nour, from University College London and Kings College London has this to say about the findings:

“We found that two key brain areas of the dopamine system (the midbrain and striatum) appear to be more active when a person updates their beliefs about the world, and this activity is related to measures of dopamine function in these regions.” (Source)

Healthy people update beliefs when new evidence is presented. The study may also show that abnormal dopamine functionality is implicated in schizophrenia and paranoid ideation by interfering with normal updating.

The study can be found here: Dopaminergic basis for signaling belief updates, but not surprise, and the link to paranoia.

I like this study because participants were measured while changing minor, short-term beliefs.

Small changes in beliefs manifested in short-term memory lies at the heart of FIML practice.

FIML relies heavily on changing inaccuracies in the short-term memory bank because this data can be isolated and objectively agreed upon by both partners and because this data is by definition fairly small and thus easily changed.

A year of FIML practice may entail a thousand or more small updates in perception, belief, and self-knowledge. Each individual update is typically small, but the aggregate of many updates over longer periods of time creates the basis for very large psychological transformations.

And since these transformations are based on more accurate data, they lead to a more realistic view of the world and the self.

Moreover, by regularly making many small updates in their perceptions of each other and themselves, FIML partners are constantly exercising their dopamine “updating system,” thus strengthening their abilities to function well in any environment.

FIML changes can come quickly, but it is long-term practice that brings the best results.

The above study shows that something very real happens when we update our perceptions. I would maintain that making this happen often with meaningful psychological information through FIML practice leads to very significant and beneficial changes in psychological functioning across many domains.

American Pravda: The ADL in American Society

In our modern era, there are surely few organizations that so terrify powerful Americans as the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) of B’nai B’rith, a central organ of the organized Jewish community.

Mel Gibson had long been one of the most popular stars in Hollywood and his 2004 film The Passion of the Christ became among the most profitable in world history, yet the ADL and its allies destroyed his career, and he eventually donated millions of dollars to Jewish groups in desperate hopes of regaining some of his public standing. When the ADL criticized a cartoon that had appeared in one of his newspapers, media titan Rupert Murdoch provided his personal apology to that organization, and the editors of The Economist quickly retracted a different cartoon once it came under ADL fire. Billionaire Tom Perkins, a famed Silicon Valley venture capitalist, was forced to issue a heartfelt apology after coming under ADL criticism for his choice of words in a Wall Street Journal column. These were all proud, powerful individuals, and they must have deeply resented being forced to seek such abject public forgiveness, but they did so nonetheless. The total list of ADL supplicants over the years is a very long one. (Source)

Ron Unz’s American Pravda series is essential reading. His choice of subjects is fascinating, his tone measured and personable, and his arguments devastating. Buddhist readers in particular will benefit from Ron’s work because he clearly shows that public “reality” has many faces and that the most prominent one is often false.

Notes on communication problems

A good rule of thumb is more efficient communication is almost always better than less efficient.

A few basic communication problems that FIML partners (and others) will surely encounter.

  • Whenever a new subject is raised in informal conversation, there is a great likelihood that the listener will experience some sort of mix-up concerning the context of the subject; the intent or attitude of the speaker; their reasons for raising the subject, etc. There is no way we can expect a partner to fully appreciate all aspects of a new subject we have just raised or why we have raised it. Similarly, when we are listeners, we cannot expect to fully understand what our partner is saying (or wants to say) when they are just beginning to raise a new topic.
  • This same sort of problem occurs whenever we raise a new aspect of an old subject. If we are speakers, we should be aware that our partner will probably not quite understand where the new aspect differs from the old. And as listeners, we will have this problem from the other side of the equation.
  • It is very common for speakers, especially when informally introducing a new subject, to be vague, unclear, even seriously misleading. In free-flowing conversations between friends, new subjects will be spoken about as soon as they arise in someone’s mind. This tends to generate imprecise speech and contribute to the points raised just above.
  • Similarly, the hearer of a new topic may understand the message very differently from the way it was intended.
  • It is much better to sort out these basic problems as they arise than to fall into the trap of arguing, accusing, or mocking each other, to cite some of the worst outcomes of these fundamentally innocent kinds of mix-ups.
  • “Suffering” in silence is not a good way to fix these problems either because the “sufferer” is actually experiencing nothing more than a common speech mix-up and not some ongoing “bad trait” possessed by their partner.
  • I am certain that FIML practitioners will be amazed and delighted to see (through practice) how often mistakes like this occur. What a relief to see how and why we may attribute a wrong intention to our partner and how and why to stop that process from going forward.
  • If a subject of conversation suggests another subject to one partner who then changes to that new subject, the other partner may not understand that they have to almost completely decouple from the old subject if they are to understand what their partner is now saying. Speakers will do well to make this explicit before going too far into the new subject.
  • Another common problem partners may have is slipping into a bipolar mode when none is called for. This means that if one partner says A, the other partner may want to pause and consider what is meant before jumping at saying not-A. It is easy to slip into talking in a bipolar (A vs. not-A) mode when a cooperative or exploratory mode is more suited to the subject.
  • Sometimes bipolar is good and necessary, but partners should not ever use it as a default mode. It is just one way of talking and should only be used when two choices have been clearly outlined.
  • Sometimes our questions (or statements) can lead to confusion in our partner because they may misunderstand our intentions for asking. For example, if I ask my partner if she is going to make salad now, I may just be wondering why she is cleaning the lettuce. But she may very well hear me saying that I want her to make some salad now. This sort of mix-up can be kind of sweet because it is often based on each partner being very considerate of the other. If she asks me, do you want me to make salad now? And I reply, no I do not. I may be replying that way because I want to save her the trouble of making it now. And then she will begin to wonder if I am just being considerate, and so on. This sort of thing can go on a long time. It’s best if partners learn to identify the ways these sorts of exchanges occur between them and how to step back and be very clear with one another.
  • This sort of mix-up also clearly shows that communication problems can and do occur even when partners are very considerate and kind to each other.
  • Just being nice doesn’t work in all situations. The key is to find out where the misunderstanding or mix-up is and fix it. If the only tool in your chest is to be nice, your partner (and you) is eventually going to find it impossible to know what you mean or feel. Is he just being nice again? Does he really not want the salad?
  • It is important for listeners to check with speakers about what they mean. And it is important for speakers to be able to clarify what they mean. Then it is important that the listener be able to understand and accept what the speaker is saying. And both partners must be honest about this at all times.
  • FIML partners will see how significant these matters are as they advance in their practice. An incident that may in the past have caused a big mix-up will be handled quickly and easily with FIML techniques.
  • Generally, it is very important that the listener not have the power to decide what the speaker means or meant. A speaker can be misinterpreted in many ways (even more than the ones discussed in this post) and it is tragic for anyone to assume full understanding of another’s speech without asking.
  • Indeed, this tragedy is so common and so serious, without FIML techniques between committed partners, mistakes are likely to occur even after asking the speaker.
  • This can happen because when a speaker is questioned, it is quite normal for most people to bristle or freeze or misunderstand why they are being questioned, thus forcing them all too often to say something inappropriate, misleading, stupid, even aggressive.
  • Once a mix-up gets going and its origin is lost to memory (often this takes just a few seconds), it is all but impossible to turn back and fix the problem. This is why we need to use FIML techniques as much as we can with out partner.
  • FIML helps partners see these problems (and many more) and deal with them before they can grow into bigger problems.
  • FIML also helps partners avoid resorting to public semiotics as a main way of preserving harmony in their relationship. Public semiotics in a private relationship can become very boring and unsatisfying if they are the only way partners know how to deal with mix-ups.
  • Some examples of public semiotics in this context might be employing stock behaviors, religious or otherwise; adopting roles that are designed to hide feelings; relying too much on unsatisfying habits; being extra committed to some cause as a substitute for genuine intimacy with your partner, and so on.
  • A mix-up denied is a mix-up multiplied.
  • Before quitting this post, I want to mention one more speech act that can feel weird to the speaker and may be insufficiently appreciated generally. It is saying something more or less definite about a subject that you know you don’t fully comprehend. For example, I have an alcoholic friend and whenever I say anything about that person or alcoholism I feel a terrible mix of shame, guilt, sadness, meanness, weak hope, utter befuddlement. Friends or relatives of alcoholics will probably know what I mean by this. It happens because we don’t well-understand alcoholism and don’t know how to cure it in many cases. And yet we have to say something sometimes; sometimes we have to make decisions about alcoholics. Some other examples might be speaking with certainty about something we are not certain of; speaking too highly about something or not speaking highly enough about it.
  • I hope FIML partners (and others) will take note of the many ways they can and will misunderstand each other. And I hope they will use FIML (or some other similar technique) to correct these misunderstandings as soon as they happen.

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First posted June 2, 2012

Radical new plan to upend the World Wide Web: Tim Berners-Lee

Last week, Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, asked me to come and see a project he has been working on almost as long as the web itself. It’s a crisp autumn day in Boston, where Berners-Lee works out of an office above a boxing gym. After politely offering me a cup of coffee, he leads us into a sparse conference room. At one end of a long table is a battered laptop covered with stickers. Here, on this computer, he is working on a plan to radically alter how all of us live and work on the web. (Source)

I am looking forward to this. Communications and data should be in the hands of citizens and not controlled by government or private corporations. Hate speech laws should be abolished worldwide and China and others should be dissuaded from using the Internet for totalitarian control. It’s obvious where malign forces will take us if we don’t find another way to store data and share information. ABN

A theory of FIML

FIML is both a practice and a theory. The practice  is roughly described here and in other posts on this website.

The theory states (also roughly) that successful practice of FIML will:

  • Greatly improve communication between participating partners
  • Greatly reduce or eliminate mistaken interpretations (neuroses) between partners
  • Give partners insights into the dynamic structures of their personalities
  • Lead to much greater appreciation of the dynamic linguistic/communicative nature of the personality

These results are achieved because:

  • FIML practice is based on real data agreed upon by both partners
  • FIML practice stops neurotic responses before they get out of control
  • FIML practice allows both partners to understand each other’s neuroses while eliminating them
  • FIML practice establishes a shared objective standard between partners
  • This standard can be checked, confirmed, changed, or upgraded as often as is needed

FIML practice will also:

  • Show partners how their personalities function while alone and together
  • Lead to a much greater appreciation of how mistaken interpretations that occur at discreet times can and often do lead to (or reveal) ongoing mistaken interpretations (neuroses)

FIML practice eliminates neuroses because it shows individuals, through real data, that their (neurotic) interpretation(s) of their partner are mistaken. This reduction of neurosis between partners probably will be generalizable to other situations and people, thus resulting a less neurotic individual overall.

Neurosis is defined here to mean a mistaken interpretation or an ongoing mistaken interpretation.

The theory of FIML can be falsified or shown to be wrong by having a reasonably large number of suitable people learn FIML practice, do it and fail to gain the aforementioned results.

FIML practice will not be suitable for everyone. It requires that partners have a strong interest in each other; a strong sense of caring for each other; an interest in language and communication; the ability to see themselves objectively; the ability to view their use of language objectively; fairly good self-control; enough time to do the practice regularly.

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This was first posted 12/15/2011