Unfolding the reasons behind an illogical action

Matthew Hendricks
depressionsuicide
6 / 5 / 19

The reason – the basis for rational action – can only be met with the logic that supports it. Everything else is ridiculous.

Trying to explain the logic of an action that seems wrong to you is only done by guessing truths you could never know.

Everyone's mind has unique stories about itself. Stories it tells about its origins, about its environment, its expectations; about suffering itself.

You can never retell a story in the same way as the original storyteller. The connections that are made in me are not the same connections made in you. So in the same way, your belief about a person's story isn't the same belief they have about their own life.

Whatever the thing was, it's never about the thing.

Try not to give power to whatever was causing their dysfunction.

When I was younger, I was often let down and left baffled by the alcohol and drug influenced situations created by blacked out friends (or even of myself). Some of these actions and their consequences had such a deep impact on me, I found myself plagued with questions about what the person could have been thinking in that state.

I became obsessed with understanding their motivations from A to Z – which was also fueled by a very strong belief of mine that, even if the person was blacked out, there must have been something I couldn't see that compelled them to act in relation to my perspective – making it completely about myself.

I got to a point where I needed to ask for help from a therapist. She told me something that took me years to understand to be able to see these decisions for what they are.

you can't rationalize with an irrational person

Sure – OK. I didn't take it to heart and didn't put much time into trying to understand it either.

With enough time, I've come to understand what she was trying to tell me – if anything, I hope I can help someone suffering from these ruminating thoughts.

You’ve got your work cut out for you.
Photo by Hans-Peter Gauster / Unsplash

Every decision comes from your brain, which can be separated into 3 structures.  

The most primitive structure is in the middle and is responsible for keeping our organs going and has very little to do with our ability to think.  It's the next two parts that drive your orders.

  1. The Illogical Parts that experience their environment  - the limbic system that is shared by mammals that influences mood, memory, and hormone control.
  2. The Logical Parts that rationalize their environment - the cerebral cortex system that makes up our complex social interactions and advance planning that enable us to do higher functions that other mammals cannot.

This is how we can go from:

There looks like there is a piece missing from this puzzle and this bothers me.

To resolving it with a simple connection:

I know where to look for it, it must be under the couch.

We want to be in control, as if we are the logical parts telling our nervous system how to behave. But it's the illogical parts that are fueling the logical parts.  We like to believe we are making cognitive decisions and then responding to our environment, but in reality, our emotions are triggering the thought process to begin our decisions.

Throughout the day, we often switch between these two modes of thinking, depending on our experiences and our environment.

In times of stress, we become more primitive and think in a more limbic fashion – often drawing on memories and experiences to relate to the current situation, or even trying to look for new clues that we can feed to our higher executive functions that can try and make sense of these facts.

When we are at ease and we reflect, we are using our cognitive functions to try and make sense of our experiences and feed that back to the limbic system.

Not a shortcut, a short circuit  

Our ability to stay in that higher or lower brain function depends on the situation.
When a cow feels threatened, it reacts.  It does not take time to try and understand the situation. It's actions are mostly limbic. But we have an upper hand on the cow.

While we can try to use our own logic to reason and direct our emotions, that feedback loop sometimes not within us.  Sometimes just like the cow, our reactions drive our behavior, and we never get around to thinking about what we're going to do before we just do it.

This explains why you sometimes suddenly feel bad "for no reason".  Or find yourself half-way through a pint of ice cream before you had time to think about it. Your thoughts were not coming from its higher functions.

Or why sometimes you can predict a fight and come prepared with an argument and why you can go in and out of some situations feeling completely in control.  You were able to rationalize your reactions before you had a chance to feel threatened.

When we feel threatened, often we find ourselves reacting, and then trying to rationalize these decisions when it's already too late – in these situations, we can't rationalize our reactions because they were not rational!

In many painful situations, we find ourselves hurt by people under the influence of drugs or alcohol in an emotionally fueled outburst that feels unpredictably dangerous, yet so commonly routine we attribute it to being simply a character flaw of that individual.  But what we fail to apply in these situations is what the drugs are doing to peoples ability to think at a high level (often with the goal to avoid thinking about our feelings).  Intoxication isn't just dangerous because of its ability to reduce our social awareness and reward systems – it hijacks our ability to respond to our feelings.

Truth is these moments have nothing to do with self-control when you're too fucked up to care.

And in a very matter of fact, even without the chemical influence, in periods of extreme emotional distress, the neurological parts of this person that you know and love are not only cut off from you – they are cut off from themselves. And there is nothing can do in these situations to reel their brain into suddenly waking up to that part of themselves. It's simply not within them.

What we're unable to recognize in these situations is the underlying need that is driving these actions and how powerful of a concept that can be. And when the brain finds itself in a situation where it's unable to control its impulses for that need, it will not only look for the quickest solution to that problem, but it will sometimes stop at nothing until it gets it.  

What they probably need is rest. Which is, in reality, probably not the story they're telling themselves.  But it's the only thing you can offer someone in these moments.  A chance to reset back into their more logical side without feeling ashamed.

Pleiku, Vietnam meditation
Photo by Larm Rmah / Unsplash

***

In 2019, my brother tragically died by suicide.

We tend to use this language that deems this to be something criminal. He didn't commit anything. There was nothing done to accomplish a purpose. This wasn't a mistake, crime, or immoral act.

He grew up in a world of judgment and environments where the pressure to conform can feel stacked against you.

He found himself in a place where help was economically unattainable.

Yet we tend to perpetuate his life of decisions, as a criminal, sinful, or faulty.

I'd never blame my brother for not trying. He was sat in front of every type of treatment program that was available to someone with his economic profile. And because his cries for help often turned into terms of right or wrong, win or lose, fight or flight, his system could not rationalize one more attempt to look within.

I cannot even try to tell you what he may have been thinking in those last few moments, and my experiences with irrational behaviors and armchair-education tell me that it doesn't fucking matter.

What I can tell you is as soon as you frame depression as a battle, you're setting up winners and losers.

My view is, there was never anything to fight. With depression, no one wins or loses. We just accept or suffer. We manage our suffering, and if we can, we accept ourselves. It's when we can't accept things as they are or we avoid our thoughts that we start a fight.

Things are as they are. Looking out into the universe at night, we make no comparisons between right and wrong stars, nor between well and badly arranged constellations.

Alan Watts

Land Extended Pier Night
Photo by Ben White / Unsplash

Their logic didn't matter to them, so why does it matter to you?

You can't take time to explain something that was created by the mind of a miscalculating brain.

Human choices are affected by the way in which a question is phrased.  The questions you are asking yourself are probably not the same questions an irrational person is asking themselves.  And even if they are, the answers are undoubtedly threaded by influences you can never completely know.

You can try to add up as many of the known variables as possible but some of those are empty and negative values that are never going to add up in a way that you will be able to make sense of their triggers.

What could have happened in the last 24 hours? Was there something said that shouldn't have been said? Was this person showing signs of weakness or revealing vulnerabilities that could have predicted? Was there something they were struggling with that had changed? Or stayed the same for too long? Was there a person or possession missing from their life? Were they blackout drunk or strung out on drugs or trying to quit smoking or let go of fixation and just couldn't cope?

Where is the end of these questions?

This was a result of mental activity

As much as it hurts to say it, it doesn't even matter what they may have done to you in the process.  They were out of control.  They didn't think about how it would impact you.  It literally did not cross their mind.

Besides, what can you say to yourself that will make you feel better? You loved them so much you could have entered their mind and understood the story they told themselves?

Let's imagine you could have frozen time, entered their mind, and saw it from their eyes. Do you suppose you would have walked away from the situation with the same point of view? Would the thoughts, enough for them to let go, be enough for you?

Is that what it would take for you to let them go?

Of course it isn't.

I'll say it again because it needs to be repeated. You can't take time to explain something that was created by the mind of a miscalculating brain.

They may have been thinking, but they were not in contact with the whole parts of themselves.

frank
Photo by Olya Kuzovkina / Unsplash

You loved them so much you can't let it go.

And that's a wonderful thing for you to feel. And as much pain as that might bring to you, if you look behind the mask, you'll find the awe in anyone.

Think not about the stories they told themselves, but the influence they had on your story.

It's important to allow yourself to know what you're feeling.  It's important to explore those thoughts and feelings that seem difficult and necessary.  But try not to get lost in the ones that are confusing and hurtful.  Or hold yourself responsible for coming up with answers that person never could.

It's important to let go of your losses in a way they add up in a way that makes sense to you. And without the influence of what another person what was thinking.

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