Refute your awfulizing

Implicit memory is a kind of memory hidden deep in the body and the primitive structures of the mind. I wondered. Why so intensely? I kept returning to that vivid moment when Michael smiled at her. My mind alighted on the way that geese instinctively bond after birth with the first moving object they see. It reminded me of Christina, in her fragile state, latching onto the beauty and goodness of the first human face she saw. It was as if she had fleetingly returned to a time when her protective barriers had not yet formed. When we met again, Christina’s mood had lifted a bit. She seemed more like a person in the grip of a crush. Maybe the problem isn’t so much your feeling of attraction, I offered, reacting to her more lighthearted mood. Maybe it’s the sense of danger you attach to it. Something similar was said of friendships in the workplace: the dominant mode of relatedness there is individualistic and utilitarian; friendship overcomes that when individuals come to know and love each other for who they are, not simply what they give. There are many ways to tell this side of the story and scholars sometimes ferociously debate which is best. However, an interesting place to pick it up is to step back in time again to a particular moment in social history, the birth of the coffee house. During the latter half of the seventeenth century – that pivotal period for the emergence of modern society – several hundred coffee houses opened up in London alone. For a society that had come to consider commercial exchange, not social hierarchy, as its basis, they were places where people could relate as individuals on equal ground. They spread for very similar reasons in the US, if somewhat later, after the Civil War. Having said that, they were not in general places for friends to meet. In fact, the rules of politeness that guided behaviour in them preferred people not to be close friends, or at least not to act as such;

it was thought that conversation between intimates too easily descended into small talk. She was obese, at least a hundred pounds over her desired weight. But who can resist a 40 percent off sale, she thought. As she looked around the market, she considered loading up on the fresh vegetables – the cauliflower and peppers and broccoli and tomatoes and artichokes. She could prepare some healthy meals, give a gentle nudge to doing something about her eating habits and weight, maybe begin a diet – although she’d stopped counting how many times she’d taken that route and failed. She was also intrigued by the store’s shiny new juice bar – the noisy machines surrounded by piles of carrots, kale, celery, cucumbers, and apples and the busy associates grinding out juice drinks all day. It was one of the store’s most popular departments. She’d had friends who’d lost weight rapidly on weeklong juice fasts and so-called detoxes. Maybe she could learn more from the juice bar manager. Either way, she was loading up on vegetables. The manager, heavily tattooed and evangelical about juicing, answered Emily’s questions, then made an offer Emily couldn’t refuse. So deep and automatic is implicit memory, in fact, that it is available even before birth. The body encodes important experiences automatically, without being aware that it is having an experience, or that it is remembering anything at all. (Important experiences, by the way, are experiences that have an impact on survival, on continuity of the species, and on thriving. ) But please understand: With implicit memory, there is absolutely no sense of time. No sense of sequence. No sense of memory. These memories are the waters in which our psyches swim. Do you see? Invisible.

Let’s take the child with an avoidant attachment disorder, for example. Perhaps you can let yourself be playful and enjoy a bit of harmless banter when you see him. She let me know this was exactly the wrong thing to say. I feel like I’m falling off a cliff, emotionally and physically. It doesn’t feel like play. Suddenly looking worn-out, she informed me about the current shape of her days. She would set her sights on a productive workday each morning and find herself preoccupied instead, and on the brink of tears. If she ran into Michael when picking up the kids at school, she spent hours trying to right herself. Routine school functions triggered high anxiety as she anticipated making small talk with Michael and his wife, Shauna, and dealing with the private emotional fallout afterward. I asked how she had managed the past few weeks before coming to see me. She reported thoroughly on all the efforts she’d made to snap out of what she knew to be a distorted state of mind. Rather, the coffee house was a place where for relatively modest amounts of cash – the price of coffee and possibly an entrance fee – all manner of mostly men could mingle for the serious business of discussing anything from Indian imports and Whigish scandals to German Idealism. The point is to display a conspicuous heterosexuality that negates any suggestion of what might be construed as affection. This is the tragic side of modern friendship between men; it means that, culturally speaking, friendship between men is often trivialised. The spirituality of friendship is similarly something to be rather sceptical about, at least at first. If asked what it might mean probably the most common answer would have to be soul friendship. The first thing to do is to expose the spiritual veneer of the friendship of the marketplace. Consider again, the Aristotelian conception of the friend as another self.

The very ambivalence of the phrase is indicative of a characteristic that is key to any significant spirituality of friendship. If you buy the vegetables, he said, I’ll give you a juicing machine for free. Emily arrived home that evening with a shopping bag of produce, a chrome Omega juicing machine, and a juicing video titled Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead. Then she did something smart (and unusual). She emailed friends and family to announce that she was embarking on a sixty-day juicing program – and asked for their help. That’s how I was introduced to Emily R. One of her email recipients was her uncle Mark, who is my longtime literary agent and writing partner. He’s also well versed in the Daily Questions process. He offered to coach Emily as she took on a behavioral challenge. Emily’s story is an instructive template not only in the mechanics of doing Daily Questions right – picking the questions, keeping score, monitoring yourself, sticking with it – but in the choices and tweaks we make that influence the outcome. When I meet clients, I’m casually forming a change profile in my head to gauge how much the clients can take on – and what they should leave for another time. Repeated early experiences of deprivation and a lack of any fulfilling connection have left a deep impression on this child’s unconscious mind, and have contributed to the formation of a certain inner-but-unacknowledged model of the world, an expectation of how the world is. Do not expect a satisfying experience of connection. People will abandon you. People cannot be relied upon. You will do better to rely upon yourself. These mental models are completely unconscious. They are, as the theory states, implicit. They are the waters in which that avoidant soul swims. Out of these unconsciously encoded experiences, the brain–the mind–creates unconscious mental models of the world.

So the adult body of this child will automatically respond with a resounding no to any invitation to intimacy. First, she dipped into the popular writings that try to explain complicated emotions via hormones and brain activity. She learned that nature has bred philandering into our genes, and that perhaps her sexual intensity was due to high testosterone levels. Evidently, her brain’s dopaminergic reward system was being activated, since the intense cravings of love and cocaine both worked through that system. From sociobiology, she learned that she was evolutionarily programmed to fall in love again every four years, and her interest in another man might spring from the ancient evolutionary imperative to garner resources by confusing men about their paternity. Maybe these general facts were true, she thought, but what could they possibly explain? Obviously, all emotional states have biological underpinnings, yet these underpinnings could tell her nothing about the psychological meaning her emotions had to her. The writers’ glaring lack of interest in human subtleties and complications left her dispirited. Yet one day she exclaimed, I almost wish I were convinced by these articles. At least then I’d have an explanation. She found their reductionism shallow, but also strangely relieving, as if it held promise of some world where the personal meanings in her life could be dismissed as insignificant specks, dwarfed by implacable and timeless evolutionary forces. Another self’ captures both the intimacy of close friendship in conveying the idea that this friend is another person like yourself; to discover such a person is to discover someone who at least some of the time mirrors your own thoughts, beliefs and feelings – someone with whom the apparently intractable distance between human beings collapses until it is vanishingly small. And the phrase also includes the vital qualifier that, for all the closeness, soul friends still recognise that they are separate individuals. Each isan other self’ to the other. Deep respect. Implicit trust. No distorting neediness. Even a first look at soul friendship shows that it is nothing if not an exceptional state. Aristotle implied that it could only form between certain individuals.

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