I do not like being touched

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I do not like being touched.

My only touch in childhood was a paddle, there were no warm and fuzzy attachments.

My mind is hardwired to defend, to protect not attach, or trust.

I have no memory of desiring to be hugged.

How did I miss out?

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Isolation: ptsd symptom

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Exploring emotions

On one hand, I am sensitive, extremely sensitive to criticism, ridicule, and humiliation.

Contrast that sensitivity to the numbness of not feeling attachment, closeness, awareness of my own body.

I do not experience or desire emotions normal people hold dear.

I have no memory of closeness, of warmth with others, or inside my body and mind.

Trust is foreign, immense fear surrounds the thought of trusting anyone.

avoiding people has become my way of surviving.

The pain of life is overwhelming at times.

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We respond to differences, not absolutes

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Excerpt from “The Sweet Spot” the pleasures of suffering and the search for meaning

We respond to differences, not absolutes, and this means that something can become pleasurable not because of any stand-alone properties it has, but rather in contrast to the experience of the past.

As one neuroscientist put it, “Because the brain grades on a curve, endlessly comparing the present with what came just before, the secret to happiness may be unhappiness . . .

the transient chill that lets us feel warmth, the sensation of hunger that makes satiety so welcome, the period of near despair that catapults us into the astonishing experience of triumph.”

If this all seems vague, consider the research of my colleague Robb Rutledge and his collaborators.

In laboratory studies, they asked people to go through a series of financial choices that were either certain or risky, and every few trials they were asked,

“How happy are you right now?”

The main predictor of reported short-term happiness wasn’t how much the subjects were making;

it was how much they were making relative to their expectations.

Momentary pleasure and pain are, at least in part, relative experiences.

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Is Surviving always the best outcome?

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Is Surviving always the best outcome?

I have been through worker’s compensation and SSDI debacles for six years, visiting hospitals, doctors, evaluators, federal judges, and lawyers.

Many times in the hospital wing for spinal injuries, I witnessed lives that would be better served if they did not survive.

It is easy for those who have not suffered a serious spinal injury to value life in some romantic way.

How much suffering is to much?

At what point does it cross that line?

Many severely abused kids have a life of misery ahead of them, jail, injury, cancer, mental disorders, addictions, alcoholism, prostitution, etc.

How about them?

What advice would you give them?

A hard question for me after the toll childhood abuse has taken on my life.

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But is happiness really what we want?

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Excerpt from “The Sweet Spot” the pleasures of suffering and the search for meaning

But is happiness really what we want?

Many people think so.

Freud writes that when it comes to people’s primary motivation, “the answer to this can hardly be in doubt.

They strive after happiness; they want to become happy and to remain so.

This endeavor has two sides, a positive and a negative aim.

It aims, on the one hand, at an absence of pain and displeasure, and, on the other, at the experiencing of strong feelings of pleasure.”

Blaise Pascal was even blunter: “All men seek happiness. This is without exception.” And, to make clear how serious he is, he later adds:

“This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.”

These quotes are from Daniel Gilbert’s excellent book Stumbling on Happiness, and they summarize Gilbert’s own view.

He thinks that we all strive for happiness and that this is a perfectly good and rational pursuit.

Gilbert is aware that some philosophers push back on this, but he thinks that they just have a too narrow understanding of what it is to be happy.

As he puts it, many philosophers see the desire for happiness as akin to the desire for a bowel movement, “something we all have, but not something of which we should be especially proud.”

Less graphically, they see happiness as bovine contentment, reflecting a sort of dullness.

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pain itself need not be negative.

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Excerpt from “The Sweet Spot” the pleasures of suffering and the search for meaning

But it turns out that pain itself need not be negative.

We can get some hint of the complexity here by looking at certain conditions.

You may have heard of congenital analgesia.

People who suffer from this can feel themselves being cut or hit, but they don’t register these experiences as pain, and so have no intrinsic motivation to avoid them.

Most people with this condition don’t live past their twenties, and this illustrates the importance of pain, both in preventing injury and allowing injuries to heal.

A more puzzling syndrome is pain asymbolia.

This is a condition wherein people feel pain and describe their experience as painful—but they don’t find the pain to be unpleasant.

They offer up parts of their body to doctors and scientists for intrusions that, for you or me, would be agonizing.

But it’s not as if they are numb; one patient reported, “I feel it indeed; it hurts a bit, but it doesn’t bother me; this is nothing.

This disorder is associated with damage to parts of the brain such as the posterior insurance and the parietal operculum, areas that, more generally, respond to threat.

Such a syndrome should open our eyes to the idea that the experience of pain need not be inherently unwelcome.

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Hurts so Good

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Excerpt from “The Sweet Spot” the pleasures of suffering and the search for meaning

“To see the puzzle in a different way, think about the function of these psychological states.

Jeremy Bentham said that “nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, Pain and pleasure” and he saw them as inherently opposing forces, pushing us in different ways: approach and avoidance, carrot and stick.

But how can you approach and avoid at the same time.

We’ll talk about Freud in a little while, but I”ll just note here that whatever one might say about his views, he did appreciate the weirdness of the phenomena.

He writes that since the primary aim of a person “ is the avoidance of unpleasure and the obtaining of pleasure; it follows that seeking out pain is “incomprehensible.”

Perhaps the way out of this puzzle is to conclude that pain is never pleasurable.

We seek out pain, sure, but maybe we do so only because this provides every benefits.

This sort of trade-offs is the stuff of life.

You run outside on a chilly day, shivering and uncomfortable, to retrieve an important package that has been left up the walk.

Or undergo a painful operation to fix a long-standing medical condition. Or sit, board and unhappy, in a government office to renew your drivers license.

Or even withstand torture so as not to reveal the identities of your comrades.

There are many reasons to choose pain and suffering that don’t deny awfulness.

And the next chapter, in benign masochism, includes a lot about how we choose Pain to obtain pleasure just a few seconds afterwards.

Such explanations don’t deny the badness of pain.”

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Omnipotent, Kryptonite, and Boredom

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Excerpt from “The Sweet Spot” the pleasures of suffering and the search for meaning

“The impossibility of failure is one of the weaknesses of daydreaming.

The behavioral economist and psychiatrist George Ainslie once complained that daydreams suffer from a “shortage of scarcity.”

We can choose to put ourselves into a bind, but we can also choose to get out of it.

This freedom can strip away much of the pleasure we get from solitary fantasy. This is why, in case you were wondering, omnipotence is boring.

If there were no kryptonite, who would care about Superman’s adventures?

Actually, true omnipotence would be misery.

There is an old Twilight Zone episode that elaborates on this point.

A gangster dies and, to his surprise, wakes up in what seems to be paradise.

He gets whatever he wants—sex, money, power.

But boredom sets in, and then frustration, and finally he tells his guide that he doesn’t belong in heaven.

“I want to go to the other place,” he says.

And his guide responds that this isn’t heaven; he is already in the other place.

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Two types of chosen pain and suffering

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Pain does not always bring suffering.

Can pain bring pleasure?

Is there a purpose for some pain?

Excerpt from “The Sweet Spot” the pleasures of suffering and the search for meaning

“THIS BOOK WILL explore two different sorts of chosen suffering.

The first involves spicy food, hot baths, frightening movies, rough sex, intense exercise, and the like.

We’ll see that such experiences can give pleasure. They can increase the joy of future experiences, provide an escape from consciousness, satisfy curiosity, and enhance social status.

The second is the sort involved in climbing mountains and having children. Such activities are effortful and often unpleasant.

But they are part of a life well lived.

“These two sorts of chosen pain and suffering –for pleasure and for meaning—differ in many ways.

The discomfort of hot baths and BDSM and spicy curries is actively pursued; we look forward to it—the activity wouldn’t be complete without it.

The other form of suffering isn’t quite like that.

When training for a marathon, nobody courts injury and disappointment.

And yet the possibility of failure has to exist.

When you start a game, you don’t want to lose, but if you know you will win every time, you’re never going to have any fun.

So, too, with life more generally.”

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Let’s look at Suffering

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From “Making Sense out of Suffering”

Yet people are hurting far more psychologically and spiritually today than ever before.

Suicides are up.

Depression is up.

Mindless violence is up.

Boredom is up. (In fact, the very word boredom does not exist in any premodern language!)

Loneliness is up.

Drug escapism is up.

But the barbarians are no longer at the gates.

The Huns and the Norsemen have long gone.

What are we escaping from?

Why can’t we stand to be alone with ourselves?

Solitude, the thing which ancient sages longed for as the greatest gift, is the very thing we give to our most desperate criminals as the greatest punishment we can imagine.

Why have we destroyed silence in our lives?

We are escaping from ourselves (or trying to, since yourself is the one thing other than God that you can never escape from) because we all hurt, deep down.

Usually it is not an unusual, spectacular, tragic kind of hurt but a general greyness that settles like dust over our lives, a drabness, a dullness, a dreariness, an ugliness, an ordinariness of everything.

We go around like robots, obedient to our social programming, never raising the great questions.

Our very passions are sleepy.

We stumble into bed obedient to sexy advertisements, and out of bed obedient to alarm clocks.

We have almost no reason to get out of bed and almost any reason to get in.

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