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Emotional Neoteny... We all have it.

I just read this term this morning on a friends facebook homepage (Hi!)...

It's a fascinating twist on the concept of neoteny; the sexual maturation of an organism which is still in the larval or infant stage physically.

Emotional neoteny would then refer to beings who appear fully developed physically but still in the infant state emotionally. Late bloomers, childlike, or perhaps childish - depending on whether you're amused or irritated by them.

As an emotional "late bloomer" with a child who is emotionally childLIKE, I think I can really relate to this term (perhaps that's not a great thing to admit???).

Oddly enough, though, while I think many adults retain a lot of the pediatric emotions, especially people who have experienced trauma of some kind early in life (which impedes emotional development in that area, often leading to low self-esteem in that particular area), I had been of the belief that some people Id encountered throughout my life journey were beyond childish (in particular) responses.

I always admired people who were seemingly level headed, worked through their responses before reacting, weren't aggressive, or passive aggressive and had all-round good self-esteem.

The problem I had was, as I got to know these people I admired so much for being everything I thought I needed to be - the more I got to know them, that is - one by one they all disappointed; sooner or later, each of them over-reacted to situations I thought were "no big deal, really" either involving other people, or myself, and I felt disappointed.

Recently, as I saw this happen with a couple people I'd idolised for their emotional stability I suddenly realised I'd been extremely unfair to these people.

Many, many years ago, my mother said to me that I was highly idealistic and that was unfair to other people. With regard to her own self, she said my expectations of her as a mother were so high that she could nothing but disappoint me. She said I'd put her on a pedestal and the problem with pedestals was when people fall off them, they have such a long way to fall that it upsets everyone involved.

EVERYONE suffers from emotional neoteny to some degree or other. Some of us have a board full of buttons that need only nudging before we're over-reacting and tantruming on the floor like a two year old. Others only have a few buttons which hardly ever get pushed because they're very careful to avoid situations where those button are open and vulnerable, but when those buttons get pushed those people become as infantile in their response as anyone else.

I started out with many, many triggers for my emotional neoteny. Very slowly, I'm figuring out what they are and how to either work through my response (learn to not personalise everything said to me in a particular area) or to avoid situations which push my buttons.

The internet has provided some doozy situations where I've just not been able to meter my response to having my buttons pushed. I've pretty much stopped participating in forums except very occassionally, and then only in forums where I really don't personally know the people I'm interacting with; so I can be fairly sure they're not having a go at me personally (yes, I have a lot of work to do yet). I've recently, and for the second time, disengaged with all my personal friends on Twitter (so, if you're a personal friend and are still following me but I don't seem to be responding to anything you say, it's because I can't read it) because I find it too difficult to deal with loaded emotional situations via the 010101 system. I've deleted every blog I had besides this one.

Growing up is hard to do. I'm not sure the net helps people grow up as it seems to be a place where emotional neoteny is encouraged. Reading someone ranting is much more exciting than reading someone's rationalized and metered response. Emotions are often narrowed down to "like" and a variety of emoticons (which, let's face it, just can't possibly represent the full range of emotions people feel). The net is really very emotionally reductionist, and that's the issue toddlers face; they have a very reduced ability to fully express what they are feeling, which mostly just leads to frustration and tantrums.

And this is the world our children are encouraged to engage in. A world where everything is either LOL, PMSL, ROFL, :), :D, *like* or :(, :S, EPIC FAIL.

I think emotional neoteny might rapidly become epidemic and there will be far more people with full boards of buttons (like myself) to deal with and far fewer people with just a few carefully moderated buttons...

Comments

Harish said…
Hm... I feel it is true.
Clel said…
This is related to your post a few days ago, hey?

I think you're spot on, that it affects everyone - presumably scratching the scars of unattuned interactions with our parents/attachment figues, which happens to us all (and which we all kindly hand down). Hence our return to the overwhelming emotions (and over-the-top reactions), just like wounded children.

The net stuff is interesting. When I think of how I have developed as a person thanks to interactions on the net, when I really developed was my knowledge/attitudes (about parenting, birth, politics, whatever). But when I look at how I have grown as a person over the decades, it comes down to IRL interactions with my significant others, mostly the people I love (and clash with).

Also makes me take a bit step away from the net - to not seek shallow validation as a distraction from my real life (and I know I'm not the only one - as you quipped with 'validate me by liking my status update'), which sees me tapping away at keys when my kids are calling (or even seeking eye contact) or partner is trying to carry on a convo with me.

Said partner made a comment about this just the other day. Hmmm. Lightbulb moment, thanks.

And just out of interest, heard an interesting interview with a very senior english literature academic, and his views on literature university students 'these days'. He felt that the heavy reliance on net for short and shallow interactions (particularly fb and twitter) is really affecting these students' (supposedly the 'golden' arts students) ability to express themselves, *and* appreciate more subtle forms of expression.

Lots of food for thought, ta.
Sif said…
I thought you were actually going to refer to a different british academic, a woman - whose name I can remember now - who is very verbal about people using status updates on Facebook and Twitter to pretty say, "acknowledge me" the way toddlers need constants reassurance and acknowledgement of their existence and value. She feels that people are regressing emotionally because of an over-reliance on status updates and comments resulting from those to prop up their egos.

I think I felt the impact of this recently when I first left twitter but came back and added only some of my previous contacts. There were a couple of people who were pretty upset at not having been added back as well, and took it as a personal snub, even though I was still following those people on Facebook and commenting on their status update there and talking to them etc.

Also recently, I saw a friend being questioned by someone who thought she was ignoring them on Twitter. Turned out she was following their old account and hadn't realised they'd started a new account and added her there and she hadn't confirm. Even though this person was connected with her on Facebook already, they were feeling rejected because they weren't connected via Twitter as well.

It's all become so childish and frustrating and the etiquette is so complex now regarding this. People are basing their value on who has them as a friend on various networks, and not on who they interact with IN REAL LIFE.

A friendship can now be completely disintegrated because one person no longer follows another person on Twitter, despite years of actual real life connection. Frustrating to say the least.

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