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Fear is a compelling illusion September 24, 2013

Posted by shaunphilly in Polyamory, Skepticism and atheism.
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If you meet me at a poly meetup, for the sake of Lord Xenu and all the minions of Cthulhu don’t ask me how we deal with jealousy or other such banal questions.  Instead, ask yourself how you would do so.

I know.  Life is scary.  You saw your boyfriend check out that cute girl at the bar.  Your boyfriend is currently making out with that saucy minx in the hot tub.  You think that maybe your partner is having a good time, without you, on their date right now.  Maybe in a bedroom somewhere.  Hell, you might just be worried that the person you are in the current process of sexually pleasuring might prefer the way another person does it.  They might be thinking about the flirtatious sex bot at the party you just came from.  You know, the one that triggered your insecurities about your own imperfections.

All of that shit is in your head.

And it’s in my head too.  I worry whether I do enough to keep my partners happy.  I worry about all sorts of things related to insecurity and fear.  But I realize, even while suffering emotional throws of uncertainty, that it’s all an illusion.  It’s all stupid, terrible, lies told by a madman who pulls the levers of fear in my head.  I hate that madman sometimes.  But that madman is me.  And I don’t want to hate myself. So, instead it tell that madman to cut that shit out, because it isn’t helping.

He doesn’t usually listen to me, though.

I understand why people create boundaries, rules, and restrictions in relationships.  I understand the impulse to want to stake a claim of ownership, or at least of permission, around your lovers so that this madman inside your head does not go crazy and start making you feel terrible and afraid.  Monogamy, and polyamory with restrictive rules around things like sleeping over with another partner, not getting too emotionally attached, or something as simple as no sexual intercourse, makes sense from the point of view of accommodating this madman.

But those restrictions don’t solve the problem because that madman is, well, unreasonable.

Your partner really wanting to have sex with someone, but only being “allowed” to make out, touch, and get worked up with them while not doing what they want does not make you feel better.  That’s an illusion.  If your partner come back home from a date, does it matter exactly how much sexual contact they had with some other person (or people?) Isn’t the exact point of pain there either at the desire itself or your own fear? What does it really matter if they did what you were afraid of? Is the act itself the problem?

No.  That’s all bullshit.  When I’m feeling uncertain or jealous about what my wife or other partner is doing with someone else, the problem is not what “base” they got to (oh man, how stupid is that shit?), but my own fear of inadequacy.  And my concern with what parts of their date was touching what part of them is not the location of the problem.  And no matter how much it hurts, how many emotions flare up and demand to be attended to, the problem is illusory and stupid.

Whether a matter of social training about the possessiveness of relationships, an evolutionary/genetic set of dispositions, or something else, it’s all an illusion.  The emotions are real, but the emotions are lying to you about the source of the pain.  It’s a cognitive sleight of hand (and a good one, I’ll admit!), and even us poly people are susceptible to it.  It’s very similar to “religious experience;” the experience really happened, but the experience is lying about its sources. It’s all in your head.

Fear is the mind killer.  Emotions are powerful, and sometimes exist for legitimate reasons, but it is what we choose to do with those feelings that matters.  Jealousy might make you want to punch the guy hitting on your partner, but that guy is not the source of the pain and fear.  A sense of injustice might make you want to rant and rave against a clueless person (whether racist or not), but that person is not the source of the injustice.  In those (and many other) cases, emotion can take us off the path of being the best people we can be.  Fear, like depression, lies.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not advocating any sort of Vulcan-esque repression of emotion or even a complete distrust of our feelings.  Emotions are wonderful, powerful, and useful parts of out human experience (when used well).  I just want us to realize that there is a thing called rationalization, illusion, and a set of cognitive red herrings which compel belief in untruths.  Emotions can convince us we are being reasonable when we are not.  So whether it is possessiveness, righteous indignation, or many other forms of emotion which may compel action, we need to keep in mind that we might be being lied to, by our own brain.

Anger, fear, jealousy, and all the other emotions that are often called “bad” sometimes exist for good reasons.  I will not tell anyone they cannot be angry, annoyed, etc.  I will say that they should be careful with how they use those weapons.  if you are not well trained in the use of a weapon, you are likely to hurt yourself or a loved ones with it.

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Comments»

1. Scott - September 24, 2013

Rules helped us get to a point where we were able to ease into where we are now, and where we are going. Fear was in there, too, but it wasn’t the only motivator or entirely unreasonable.

2. Caroline - September 25, 2013

Yay for introspection and being responsible for your own feelings! Emotions are good! They let you know your amygdala is working, which is the most primitive part of our brain. It’s designed to alert you to danger and/or pleasure and has kept you alive thus far. It’s only when these emotions reach an unhealthy level and play over and over in your head, that it’s a good time to try therapeutic exercises empirically proven to work and short circuit the instant replay-of-negative-thoughts brain mechanism called the Cingulate. The emotions are real but the thoughts that proceeded them are not; accurate observation and a good step to recognizing erroneous thought processes. You’ve just uncovered the first step to CBT and we all practice a form of it from time to time though not in its entirety. I think it can be very helpful too, to understand how the brain works to forge different levels of emotions to different thoughts and how the intensity can be adjusted to be more tolerable or pleasant. It’s just neural networks, synapses and the hormone reward system (that is if your brain is healthy). Okay, it’s not THAT simple however the basic concepts that would be good to know are pretty simple. Our neural networks are formed by environment, experience and biological make-up (so if you have A.D.D….man you’ll have it tougher than most). This is why some will experience jealousy with greater intensity and hence even greater pain. The way to overcome hurts or anxiety is not complicated but requires over-learning and practice so that it becomes second nature… to encourage the return of our original nature. I don’t think that the level of jealousy we experience today is natural, I’m almost certain it isn’t! I do know that the more you allow in negative thoughts, the better you’ll get at thinking them in the future. You could end up being an extreme-madman! Practice does make perfect. What ever emotion you allow yourself to feel more often is the emotion you’ll be very good at conjuring with even greater intensity in the future. Synapses are either strengthened or weakened and the more you use a certain neural connection (which sends messages to your brain that you’re either happy, anxious, angry etc…) the stronger that synapse and neural pathway that supports these emotions will become. And just when you think you’ve weakend all the neural synapses that support a belief/behavior you no longer want , your thoughts find a fringe neural connection and all the feelings you worked so hard to rid yourself of, has returned.

Rules and boundaries can be useful. We use them in society to encourage a more harmonious existence and sometimes we even forget they exist as we go about our day to day lives. We stop at the end of the street and look both ways…if we don’t we may get hurt. We allow people to exit the elevator before we enter, it’s courteous yes but helps to navigate the flow harmoniously. And so we dance with our partners. We may need to go over the steps so we don’t step on one another’s toes but at some point we become so skilled and graceful (or skilled enough) that formal steps are no longer necessary, we can follow our partner almost with-out effort and we learn to free-style. Okay, cheesy example yes but sort of true.

Not everyone needs rules and not everyone needs not to need rules if they’re already happy. Some people enjoy structure, some people enjoy spontaneity but if all of a sudden you feel stuck, that’s a pretty good symptom that it’s time for an adjustment:) How great then there are simple methods to return to a healthier state of mind.

3. cr2ncaroline - September 25, 2013

Oh….”And just when you think you’ve weakened all the neural synapses that support a belief/behavior you no longer want , your thoughts find a fringe neural connection and all the feelings you worked so hard to rid yourself of, has returned.” That’s usually temporary…it takes a while to weaken all neural pathways so every once in a while, we do feel a bit more jealousy one day. Overall however the healthier emotional levels stick:) We can’t control our emotions all of the time.


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