March 15, 2016

What's a good metacognitive mirror for defeating self-loathing?

Someone asked that question on a forum I frequent, and I thought I'd share my answer here.

First, what is a metacognitive mirror?

People have bias. We sometimes have ulterior motives nudging our decisions in certain ways, a kind of bias we're all aware of, and our perception of the world also develops some quirks based on the way our brains work. (See Kahneman and Tversky)

For example: we tend to question evidence that confirms our beliefs less harshly than we question evidence that disproves them. Counteracting this can be as simple as pretending you started out believing the opposite, and asking yourself how you feel about the evidence then.

Some problems like this take more effort to root out than others. Some of them actively work against our ability to notice and overcome them.

For example, feeling angry.
A lot of heated discussions go much more smoothly as soon as one or both parties take a breather to calm down. But the angrier you feel, the less you notice the ways that your anger works against you. Sometimes you can be in the middle of an argument, shouting "I'M NOT ANGRY" and barely even notice the contradiction.

Another example, getting drunk
We know alcohol causes a slower reaction time and impulsive decision making. There's good reason not to drive or make important decisions while under the influence. Unfortunately, judging whether you're too impaired to do something is also a decision, and it's negatively affected as much as any other.

What's that about self-loathing?

When you hate yourself, you can twist *anything* that happens into evidence that you are an awful person. Any mistake is unforgivable, anything good could have been better. You develop very distorted beliefs about your own abilities, what other people think about you, and what is or isn't worth doing. An astute self-hater may even notice the distortion of their thinking and proceed to beat themselves up for not having fixed it.

A litmus test on par with breathalizers for alcohol: Look yourself in the eye in a mirror and say that you're a worthwhile person.

It's stupid and corny, but it's seriously just words. If you find yourself flinching away from a simple exercise like this then your judgment is likely affected in less immediately visible ways too. Other tells: avoiding eye contact, talking faster, touching self nervously, exaggerating your words or voice or movements, nitpicking over the technicalities of your claim, making excuses not to do it another time, etc. It's like Gendlin-style Focusing.

You can combine the mentality of this with body mindfulness; notice that your body exists and spread yourself out to physically lay claim to all the space you can afford yourself.

You can especially benefit from noticing why you aren't trying both of these *right now*.

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