Attention-reactive problems

by phil on Sunday Jan 8, 2006 8:13 PM

I want to flesh out this psychological concept of attention-reactive problems. These are problems such that by the very fact of being aware of them and giving them attention, you are making the problem worse.

This is an extension of what is the model for obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). In OCD, when you are disgusted by how dirty your hands are, you may probably wash your hands. But if you're still disgusted, then you may try to wash your hands a second time. But this cleansing process only brings more attention to your disgust, thus prolonging how long it bothers you. Because during the seconds you spend washing your hand a second time, the primary subject in your head is not the cleansing but the disgust you are trying to rid. So the disgust is the focal point, the cleansing just keeps the spotlight on the disgust.

This model can be extrapolated to, let's say relationships. I don't know much about marriage counseling, but I'm going to throw this out there that based on my model of attention-reactive problems, I would be against marriage counseling.

Because when you begin marriage counseling, you cease to be counseling a regular marriage. Rather, you are counseling a counseled marriage. By the very act of going to a marriage counselor, you place yourself into a marriage-that-requires-fixing. Really the problem is in having to go to the counselor in the first place.

That doesn't mean you should pretend that problems don't exist. But rather, you should keep in mind where your efforts to fix a problem are largely indirectly the cause of that problem.

Another example is chatty boyfriends and girlfriends. Here's a scenario:

Alan has a girlfriend named Betsy who desperately wants her boyfriend to love her. This stresses her out, and so she's constantly venting to her girlfriends about this or that. This makes her cry at times, and she reads self-help books to figure out what's wrong with her and her relationship. When Betsy then visits Alan, she has all this tremendous backstory that is going on in her head. Alan can sense this, for example, for how generally silent Betsy is. Betsy is constantly monitoring the situation for changes. Looking for bits that correspond to why her relationship isn't working properly, and recalling the recapitulation of troubled spots that are recurring in front of her eyes. As a result, Alan feels a little smothered, even though Betsy's trying to be as un-smothering as possible (that's what her book told her to do), and eventually he breaks up with her.

I also notice this in sports. If you think too much or try too hard when playing sports, your attention becomes too much on winning or in your troubled spots, than on the actual gameplay. Your mind needs to surrender to your bodily instincts when playing, so giving too much attention to things beyond letting your body swing and hit properly will distract you winning.

I think most attention-reactive problems are problems that involve you thinking about yourself. For example, if you're angry, oftetimes just staring at your anger will just make you more angry. Or if you're bored, sitting around and thinking about how bored you are is incredibly boring. And then in relationships, whatever you're thinking about in your relationships should recursively include an obsessive over-analyzer of relationships, i.e. you, the one sitting there thinking about it.

My friend said she burned her diary one time. I wonder if that's the result of self-involvement gone awry.

Even in life in general, as you reflect and introspect, you automatically gain the negative distinction of being self-involved. You automatically place yourself in the position of someone who is focusing on internal concerns rather than the concerns of what's around you.

If you constantly are trying to improve your conversations, then people will feel you trying to manipulate the conversation for your own personal measurement of what's a good conversation. They will react negatively to that, and therefore your goal to improve conversations will defeat itself.

When I used to approach people with various problems, oftentimes I'd get a reaction that says, "please, let's just not talk about this." My initial assessment had been that these people were just trying to brush me off. But now when I think about it, maybe this natural defense mechanism of wanting to avoid uncomfortable topics is a way to prevent us from imploding onto ourselves. Maybe "don't think about it," "don't worry too much," "don't take things too seriously," and "let the chips fall where they may" need to be given a second chance.


Bob said on January 9, 2006 11:00 PM:

Kind of like the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle for relationships? The Dhingra Relational Uncertainty Principle, perhaps?

Philip Dhingra said on January 10, 2006 1:54 AM:

Yes, that's a good way of putting it.

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