Yes, And I Like It

Sometimes I come up with reasons about my behavior based on my childhood. “I must be overly compliant and afraid of authority/rulebreaking because my parents were authoritarian,” I think. This is a rationalization that gives my behavior meaning – there was a cause (authoritarian parents), a reaction (whatever emotional responses that had – fear, desire for love, etc.), and a lasting effect (compliance). It is a story about myself, not from a cold, distant perspective, but from the inside, from my own mind – what it feels like to make decisions.

This is a narrative that has been very useful and intuitive, and led me to things like dealing with my overcompliance by reminding myself that the world is not my parents, or forgiving myself for overcompliance by identifying the concrete cause of exposure to authority. Overall, the story of “authoritarian parents caused my compliance” is one that has helped me gain control over my actions. Because it makes sense and has worked so well, I think it is true. How could something work so well and not be true?

Imagine my surprise when my Mom read to me notes she had taken about me as a toddler, prior to any age I remember. “Very compliant,” she had written. “very concerned about pleasing those around her.”

The fact that I was displaying these traits before any serious parenting happened was a huge blow to my idea that my parents caused my compliance. Gone was my image of a plucky three-year-old getting the fire snuffed out of her. (Now, of course my story of authoritarian-compliance could still be true. My parents did do things like “hit her as a baby if her cries sound defiant”, so it’s possible that my personality traits mostly emerged as a response to that training. It’s also possible my traits were mostly genetic. I have no idea.)

This instance, among many others, really divorced me from the idea that I was tapping into some sort of ‘actual truth’ when I made up explanations for why I was the way I was, particularly when the causes in question were unclear, complicated, or a long time ago.

It also sort of reminds me of a sensation I had after a long and strange dream. When I tried to communicate the dream, I found that much of it was too ethereal to capture in words – so I described it as best I could, an abridged version, forcing tiny bits of narrative to cover up the gaps I couldn’t explain adequately. As I recounted the dream, I could feel the memory fading and being wholly replaced by the story I was telling – deeply, in the way I believed it. It was an odd sensation, to sense something untruthful become truth to me, but I realized that was the only way my brain could hold on. This tale was now the only access I had. I would have felt uncomfortable, except I realized I had probably done this countless times in the past without knowing it.

In fact, I probably was doing this constantly – not just with dreams or childhood tales, but with every story I told myself about why I did the things I did. In the translation of my life to words in my memory I was inevitably engaging in a lie, because words cannot possibly accurately convey experience. I was a fabric woven out of tales spun from experience.

Everything I thought about myself and my own identity was subject to this. I had the feeling that my ideas about myself were “true” because they proved to be both useful and elegant – but then my idea about authoritarian-caused-compliance was both useful and elegant, and it probably-possibly wasn’t “true” at all! I could not know, and if something is impossible to know then it is just as good as not existing at all.

Ultimately, “who I was” felt like a story I had created in my own mind to make sense of my surroundings. A useful story, an elegant one, but still a story.

This concept of self-as-a-story, as specifically different from self-as-definitely-real, places identity in the realm of self-creation as opposed to world-creation. Doing this grants us agency and is a core for a lot of theories of healing and emotional growth.

Once you buy into the idea of self-as-a-story, once you integrate it as a deep belief, it becomes easier to accept new stories you employ to give direction to your life and identity. A lot of people have a strong negative reaction to this idea with the sense that they are lying to themselves – but the sense of “lying to yourself” arises only when you are consciously saying one thing and your subconscious is saying another. If you truly believe deeply, your subconscious will be aligned, and it will feel like truth. If you feel the sense of lying-to-yourself when trying to accept new stories, then that means you haven’t believed deeply enough yet. Beliefs are malleable, and we can learn to use them like clothes, switching them out as is appropriate for the occasion.

Here I want to talk specifically about engaging a story, much like the ones we employ every day, that is not grounded in reality, but is rather both useful and elegant. (It’s almost certain I’m not the first one to try to verbalize this, and I have a horrifying lack of education in basically everything, so I am under constant fear that my thoughts are already common knowledge, so if this is common knowledge pls ignore.)

The story is called: “Yes, And I Like It.”

It meant to address self-disgust or variations on it. The first step is to identify the thing you’re doing that you dislike, such as:

Getting jealous when your partner meets up with an old fling
Talking about yourself too much in social situations
Procrastinating housework

The second step is to identify, as primally and as honestly as possible, the source or reason for the unpleasantness. For some things this can be very difficult to do and take a long time. Phrasing them as self-referencing is usually the best:

I am afraid I’m not good enough for my partner.
I crave approval of my peers.
I lack willpower for simple tasks.

The third step is to respond “yes, and I like it.”

I am afraid I’m not good enough for my partner.
Yes, and I like the fear.
I crave approval of my peers.
Yes, and I like the insecurity.
I lack willpower for simple tasks.
Yes, and I like the helplessness.

The idea here is that to change yourself you must first accept yourself, and to accept yourself you must first accept your flaws, and to accept your flaws you must view them as intentional. Not in name, not in word, but deeply, truly. You must believe the story of Yes, And I Like It.

(Another objection might be that this leads to passivity and helplessness, but I disagree.)

The concept of liking negative emotions might seem pretty silly, but the idea that we must not like things that hurt is in itself a belief we can step out of, with a little practice.

In fact, we practice it anyway without realizing it. We immerse ourselves in movies with threats and tragedies that feel real, if only for a few hours. Some of us get a little excited when bad world events happen – not because they wanted it to happen, but because badness is exciting the same way it is in movies. And I’m sure most of us as teenagers discovered we had recently developed capacity for complex emotional pain and promptly spent a lot of time feeling all the pain we could at once. Experiences of intense emotional pain while on psychedelics can lead to this sensation as well, usually much more vividly.

We already hold within our minds stories of I like this thing that hurts, even if we don’t realize it. Pain can be exciting, cathartic, or meaningful.

And so learning to believe the story of Yes, And I Like It can take that little dark pleasure and channel it into your life now. It can apply even to things outside of your own control (My mother died; I miss her terribly, and I like it).

Ultimately the goal is to divorce yourself from the narrative that pain is bad. That is an elegant and useful story, but elegant and useful does not mean true.

3 thoughts on “Yes, And I Like It

  1. I really appreciate your writing, I find it very insightful and well thought out, and wonderfully expressed. It bothers me that repeatedly in several of the articles I have read so far, you apologize for having original thoughts and worry that someone else might have had them already. Your insight is appreciated and your particular perspective is unique, why would you worry if you are expressing the same concept that another person, independently‚Äč of you, also expressed, how would that change or diminished your thoughts on the subject? Thank you again, I look forward to continue reading your work.

  2. I love your writing man, I followed this link from okc and purposely stoped reading so I would have more to read later. Don’t you think that the content mothers notes while you were still very young could have been a result of her perception as an authoritarian. Maybe just lieing there quietly was her version of compliant. Anyway Thank you from writing about something beneath the surface. It’s refreshing.

  3. I had a similar experience recently. I’m a bit of a control freak, but at my parents’ house I found an old note from my kindergarten teacher that said I “didn’t like to do as I was told” and “had problems with her authority” and so on. The whole thing could have been written about me today without a single word changed. When I mentioned this to my parents as a joke, they looked at each other and told me a story from when I was one year old. I would play a mimicking game with them where they had to match what I was doing with my arms, and I would cry if they stopped playing or got it wrong.

    The whole experience made me think that there are parts of our personalities that are hard coded and do not change. “Yes, and I like it” is a good way to think about it — there’s no ideal personality and each style has its own unique benefits and struggles to overcome. Identifying yours can make it easier to avoid / correct the bad, but I’m not sure it’s possible to ever change the hard coded personality pulling the strings. So it’s probably healthiest to just accept that part of yourself and move forward.

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