Conditional Love

I just realized why I'm always so close to the limit of my window of tolerance. Basically revving my engine close to the red line.

I'm on the right path, keeping a good pace, but I'm not out of the woods yet. It's partly just a matter of time, but I gotta keep up with the work every single day. I can't just focus on the light at the end of the tunnel, I have to also make sure my feet move one in front of the other. I'm still listening to the same music, still playing hard on my coping mechanism of watching TV comedies. I think I've flushed out enough of the trauma to create capacity to rise to life's demands, eg. traveling to Vegas and Vancouver, but I'm not quite "well" yet. Doing better, not 100%.

Learning that I'm on the mouse wheel and chasing self-acceptance, it hit me why I'm constantly drained. People feel good about themselves because of who they are, but I need to push out so many units of work to maintain the same level of happiness. Apparently you can circumvent the whole exercise by loving yourself for your intrinsic value.

You'd think that it would be as easy as saying "hey Jon, you're great just the way you are," but it isn't. I try to say these things to myself, but it's almost like a foreign language. "Does not compute." I'll tackle this topic in my counselling sessions, but I just wanted to collect my thoughts and process some ideas in the meantime.

My identity has been built up over years on the basis that I'm not inherently valuable. I need to please people, make others feel good in order to have value myself. What is value? Why do I need to even feel like I have value at all? Is there another word I can use so this post doesn't sound repetitive? Meaning, purpose, worth, esteem. Ah, much better.

Part of the challenge of counselling is replacing unhealthy foundational structures with more robust, healthier ones. I'm not sure they even do this with actual buildings. They pretty much just tear down the whole thing and start all over. Is that an applicable analogy? Maybe it's more like swapping the engine from a car. You have to unscrew a bunch of pieces and parts, roll in a lift, raise it out of the hood. The subsystems derive their power and operation from the engine, so until it gets changed out, you're sitting in the shop and not really taking people places.

Perhaps instead of swapping the engine, you're restoring an old vehicle. Lubricating parts, replacing the worn out ones, refilling fluids. Some types of service take longer, but you still have to drive every week. Some are easily visible changes, eg. new wheels, replacing the windshield, getting a fresh coat of paint. Some operations change the way the entire machine works, going under the hood.

In that sense, changing my reward system from extrinsic to intrinsic feels like swapping a gas engine to an electric motor. Internal combustion vehicles are incredibly complex. You have heating and cooling systems, timing belts and valves, gears and plates, fuel delivery, variable timing, etc. Electric motors just need a battery to spin. Teslas are described as computers on wheels. There is simply a giant battery pack, some motors, and then the creature comfort systems.

Honda Accord internals Tesla Model S internals Guess which one is which

Moving back from the analogies, performance orientation feels like a complex system: running around making sure I take care of myself while reserving energy for others; how do I give advice when people bring their problems to me so as to maximize their benefit so I can feel even better about myself; what skills should I have so I can refer people to others when I can't help them; who's going to pat me on the head the most when I give them my energy. If somehow I can derive my self-worth from just being myself, then it would be so...simple. It's all so simple that it almost feels wrong.

A lot of days, I run out of gas quite early. Sometimes I try to push myself harder, but no go. If I could somehow hack my mind to feel good by simply "being," then I would get a bunch of my life back. Huh.

Jonathan Phan Lê @jon_le