Social Question

hominid's avatar

Do we judge ourselves by the content of our fantasies?

Asked by hominid (7347points) April 19th, 2015

Warning: I am struggling on how to word this question. Bear with me.

I was thinking of a Louis CK bit about thinking about giving up his seat on an airplane recently. Like most of his stuff, I find reasons to revisit it because it really touches on something real that very few people talk about.

It’s worth watching the clip because I’ll never do it justice. But he describes thinking he should give up his seat in first class to a soldier flying coach. He never does, but enjoys the fantasy and is aware that a part of him is proud of even having the thought.

Anyone with a meditation practice has had the experience of witnessing our thoughts and reactions to these in a way that is humiliating. We may work through feelings of anger and frustration by imagining what we could have done differently or what we may do in the future. We do all kinds of future simulations.

But Louie’s bit got me thinking about how we all view ourselves as good people. How much of our view of ourselves as decent people is built upon these types of fantasies of what we could do, and a pride in the fact that we can even think it? Many of us entertain hypothetical questions even here and declare what we would and wouldn’t do in a given scenario. How does this affect our image of ourselves and our egos?

If this makes little sense to people, it’s ok. Tell me to drink some more coffee and try the question again. I’m due for some more caffeine. :)

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12 Answers

canidmajor's avatar

@hominid: Your Q makes perfect sense to me, I’ll have to think a bit before answering. Your caffeine level was up to the task. :-)

longgone's avatar

Interesting. Reading your title, I thought of negative thoughts people might have, and I was about to answer in the affirmative. I’ve had thoughts that alarmed me, and I’ve definitely judged myself accordingly.

I have not had the same experience with positive thoughts, to my knowledge. That’s just it, though. When a thought has shocked me, I’ll placate myself by telling me it was only a thought, and not one I plan to ever act upon. I doubt I’d consciously make the same effort to differentiate between thoughts and action regarding ideas I like. If I was thinking about doing something considered “nice”, why tell myself I won’t be doing it? It’s important to feel good about ourselves, and we all perceive our feelings and ideas as something quite far away from reality.

In a way, this is related to something else I’ve been thinking about:
I belong to all manner of “circles”. I think I am more organized/smarter/more capable/prettier and less judgmental than many others. I think I am better at keeping my house clean, my finances balanced, my loved ones happy and my dogs well cared for…

I see lots of people who seem less good at living life. However: They don’t usually know so, and that gets me thinking. Do we have any idea what we are actually good at? Sure, there are lots of things I don’t do well, and I know that. Still, I imagine I am constantly overestimating myself. I’m happy in my circles, because my friends and family belong to the same ones. How likely is that, however, when you think about it? How many people compare themselves to me, every day, wondering why I can’t manage to stay in the circle they have created?

Love the clip!

Blackberry's avatar

This has definitely been true for me at times. It’s even worse when you actually do the thing you fantasized about doing. One of the few times I actually did help an old lady carry something, I felt like a god lol.

Earthbound_Misfit's avatar

I don’t recall having these feelings. I’ve thought about giving my seat up to someone who needs it more (and have done if no one beats me to it) but I’ve never prided myself on thinking about doing a good deed. When I was the person who got up and gave my seat to someone more needy, I felt pretty proud of myself.

Truthfully, I am with Louis on the idea that I wouldn’t do it. If I ever had a first-class seat I’d have had to pay through the nose for it so anyone else is on their own! Mean? Ahhh well!

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

Yes, but unlike Louis, I find that it leads to guilt and not self-induced applause. “Gee, I should have done that” is often the first thought at a too late date.

hominid's avatar

Thanks everyone.

@canidmajor – Interested in your response.

@longgone – You make an interesting distinction here between what we consider positive and negative thoughts. Are we more aware of negative thoughts about ourselves?
I’m not sure I follow the “circle” thing. Could you elaborate – or maybe it’s a new question.

@Blackberry: “One of the few times I actually did help an old lady carry something, I felt like a god lol.”

Interesting. It’s confirmation that all of those simulations about our potential behavior are true.

@Earthbound_Misfit – Thanks. I have an additional question brewing about pride. Maybe I’ll get to it later.

@Pied_Pfeffer: “Yes, but unlike Louis, I find that it leads to guilt and not self-induced applause. “Gee, I should have done that” is often the first thought at a too late date.”

I guess what I’m asking is if on some level this whole exchange with ourselves informs our sense of self of sends reinforcing signals that we are a “good person”.

hominid's avatar

@hominid: “I guess what I’m asking is if on some level this whole exchange with ourselves informs our sense of self of or sends reinforcing signals that we are a “good person”.”

It also has me thinking of our anger at injustice. We might say that on one level we feel anger at injustice. But how does feeling anger feel, and what does it tell us – if anything – about our “self”?

canidmajor's avatar

I have never felt pride at thinking about (for example) giving up my seat, but on occasion I have been ashamed when I didn’t do the thing which would seem, at the time, to be the good and selfless thing.
A while ago I figured out that behind the scenes (if you will) my zippy brain is madly processing input and information at amazing speeds and coming to conclusions that I can’t consciously analyze until later.
In the example that Louis CK gave, I probably would not have given up the seat, because I probably would have (subconsciously) concluded that the soldier was more concerned about getting to the destination, may have been living in much less luxurious conditions than an economy seat, etc etc all sorts of stuff.

The point of this being, if I feel guilty about not taking an action, I probably should.

And I haven’t really addressed the Q, have I? Sorry.
I sometimes judge myself based on the content of my fantasies, but not in those circumstances. If I fantasize about horrible things happening to someone I dislike intensely, then I judge myself harshly. If I fantasize about doing something lovely for someone, I feel good about myself because I have the intent of carrying out the action. If I don’t follow up by actually performing that action, then I judge myself harshly.

longgone's avatar

@hominid More aware of negative thoughts? This is complicated. We could be,

a) More likely to think about ourselves in a negative way or

b) Less likely to think about ourselves negatively, but more likely to remember any negative thoughts we do have.

It could very well be neither of those options. Our self-awareness has to be heavily influenced by our mood. Maybe that’s one of the traits of depression, too – removal of the rose-coloured glasses we usually use to look at our motives and evaluate our worth.

The circles thing confuses me, too. I’ve been thinking about it a lot, lately. Maybe I’ll stumble upon a clear way to phrase the questions I have, on that topic.

longgone's avatar

Thought of something:

Is there any research on whether our brain differentiates between what we do, and what we might do? If the older parts of the brain react to both these scenarios in the same way, that would explain our being motivated to “think nice thoughts”.

fluthernutter's avatar

@longgone I don’t think my brain is mistaking my thoughts from my actions. But just thinking good thoughts will set off dopamine shivers for me. So there’s definitely a hormonal reward system just for thinking thoughts.

Though maybe not necessarily good thoughts for everyone. I imagine evil people would get a buzz from thinking bad thoughts.

fluthernutter's avatar

Kind of a related story…

I was walking through a parking lot while texting with my friend about lost wallets. About how most people who lose their wallet don’t think someone will return it. Yet most people think they would return a wallet if they found it. My friend said it’s because people think more highly of themselves than other people. I replied that I would definitely return a wallet.

As I was texting him about this, I look down and find an envelope. It contained a gift certificate to a jewelry store for $200. I laugh and text my friend that some higher being is testing me.

I return the gift certificate, of course. What’s kind of crazy is that the jewelry store was on the same block as the place that I was already headed—three towns over.

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