Intellectualization Results From Blocked Childhood Trauma | Daniel Mackler

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From Daniel Mackler: “Intellectualization [is] when people use their intellect, their logic, their abstract reasoning to avoid having to deal with their feelings. You see this a lot in academics. I think about my time in college . . . so many of my professors talking and talking and talking and spinning out ideas and fancy words and thoughts, so many complex ideas, and I’d have to literally — just to be able to follow what they were saying — I would have to dissociate from my feelings to be able to make sense of it and follow the map of what they were creating. And when I think about it now, I realize [that] actually they were dissociated; if they weren’t dissociated, they couldn’t have done this. And actually all of this academic spinning and fancy talk and complex abstract ideas was a big defense against feeling anything. And I think it actually tells a lot about their childhood, their history — that they weren’t allowed to feel, they were blocked from their feelings.

This is what I’ve observed in people now in recent years who are very intellectualized — that they are quite split off from a deeper connection emotionally with themselves. And there was trauma in their lives — every single person I’ve seen who is like this — a history of painful trauma, rejection, violation, neglect; a world that didn’t allow them to emotionally be a full human being. But they were allowed to use their brains; they were allowed to be intellectual; they were allowed to have abstract reasoning and vocabulary and thought. This was something that was okay; the feelings, [the] connectedness with the truth of themselves, was not. They weren’t allowed to grieve, they weren’t allowed to cry, they weren’t allowed to be confrontational against the people who were blocking them. Often they were in worlds with parents who were also intellectualized. So that was allowed; the other parts were not. So a split happened, and they are reflecting that split. And often what I’ve seen [is] they can become very uncomfortable when people are cutting through the intellectualization and are just speaking truth, speaking emotional truth, having feelings can be very threatening to intellectualized people. It can actually make them become even more intellectualized, in that way, more defended.”

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42 COMMENTS

  1. Superb article. Intellectualization also covers extremely intelligent people from ‘dealing’. And if you are good at bullshit, the same. Even if you are a moron.
    Highly intelligent people choose to ‘forget’. Sometimes they cannot. Choose. In time it catches up with you.
    A lot of assholes are in the ‘x-intelligent, severely traumatized category. When I say that, I mean trauma that happens over and over and over. Not just one event, but multiple events, plus constant pressure/stress, from violently abusive family. Background, history. Abuse as incest, pedophilia, physical, mental, and sexual, emotional. Thank God we have xintelligence. Otherwise we would be long dead.
    But in all cases we are are all assholes to those we encounter. Even if we are having a breakdown. Not all ‘intellectualization’ is the product of the above mentioned. Usually they are assholes. 10 percent wear a mask. 90 percent like to weigh you down with rocks. As in arrogance. They Love to ‘babble’ because they feel insignificant. The 10 percent? There, you get the genious.

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  2. Could intellectualization be a way to intellectualize an unwillingness, or situational externally constained inability to express emotion, as an expression, a response to others using intellect instead of emotion?.

    Like when expressing anger, resentment, indignation, etc., is not appropiate to the rules of the place where they could otherwsie be expressed? Say a forum, or a university lecture, even the universitie’s water cooler.

    I’m just trying to be funny 🙂

    My question simplified is: What happens to intellectualization when recursion is applied to it?.

    Is that valid?, is it intellectualization of intellectualization? Is “avoid dealing with emotions” solely self generated or do the external constraints count for intellectualization to be correct or false in a given case?.

    Is it necessary to go to childhood experience or the anger to Obama’s health insurance reform can be expressed emotionally appropiately in all contexts?, thereby denying any benefit to intellectualization.

    Regards, just a fun and first principles comment. 🙂

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  3. Interesting. I think what you’re talking about is basically a form of institutionalization. Anyone who willingly works, or is forced, into the institution for a long enough time will exhibit some degree of dissociation. Think police, politicians, bureaucrats, soldiers, professors, ect. The institution is pervasive and has infiltrated every sector of life. It sterilizes all natural processes and forces people to shut down all natural feelings and intuition. We have institutionalized life itself to the point where it has become some mechanical process, and anything natural becomes “dirty”. This type of dissociation is likely common in factory and office workers as well, because most work places in America have adopted the streamlined institutional format for their business. It’s much more efficient when you don’t have to consider emotions and don’t need a sense of empathy, and can just tap into that ruthlessly intellectual side of yourself (But then of course you lose 50% of your intelligence by neglecting the natural and spontaneous side). So this institution is great for creating products enmass and streamlining the process, but then it creates a whole population of dissociated people who exploit others and the planet to get what they want, or at the very least they become so dry and rational that the greater side of life is neglected. Anyway good article and I’m surprised anyone noticed it, many people become institutionalized before they even realize it.

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        • And the ICD, which from what I’ve heard, is even more vague, inespecific and probably more harmfull when it comes to “psychiatry”…

          And over 35 “theories” in psychological/social interventions does not inspire confidence, at least to me, about the validty, correctness or utility of using any of them, let alone several.

          Regardless of good intentions, that can pave the way to hell, said the song…

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        • The DSM is largely dismissed by depth psychiatry. Most psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, and the like, dismiss the DSM in recent years. The folks who designed the DSM didn’t want it to be used the way it is currently being used, in fact, they warned against it. And the way it is used, is exactly what the man who wrote the article/made the video is talking about. The DSM divides a person into parts, and you just can’t do that and come to an accurate diagnosis. Human beings are so much more complex and dynamic, and using a DSM to categorize them is simply a way to deal with them intellectually without seeing them in their totality.

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  4. The idea that downplaying drama and vivid emotion is a survival skill seems quite valid.
    The idea that such dialing down can be so extensive so as to induce a dissociative unreality seems also like it could be correct, too, in more extreme cases of denial. Yet just attacking all people who can analyze and articulate can take the cause of anti-intellectualism to extremes: to the brink of chaos. Do you think you will only benefit from inducing chaos in other people’s lives? Chaos blows back on all, especially babies. Among those the over-intellectualized and those who over-dramatize raw emotions find their common victims.

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  5. This is clearly an opinion piece. I was actually disappointed when I read it. There was alot of missed opportunity for exploration of the primary concept that was largely overshadowed by the authors politics. It really could be summarized, “Don’t agree with me? Use logic? Then you’re obviously suppressing your childhood trauma and it has nothing to do with that you just might have a different perspective.”

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    • Intellectualization in the context here does not imply any & all use of logic or reason is an attempt to dissociate from emotion.

      All defense mechanisms serve an important purpose & most are effective at a certain time & place (and age).

      If I go through life swinging a hammer at every problem however, suffering will suffuse my world. For life is more than a long sequence of rusty nails. (If I start believing it is, please remind me: “Get off the cross, we need the wood.”)

      Denial is good if it allows you to function in wake of a tragedy. Denial is not helpful as a 20 year broken record “I don’t have a problem with alcohol. YOU’RE the one with a problem!”

      As for intellectualization, it resonates. For example, my fraught and lengthy journey to sobriety. I’d sit in treatment with my journal & pen, writing down every word the therapists said. I’d memorize lengthy passages of the “Big Book.” I’d read every non woo woo self help text & follow t hat up with open access journal articles. I’d do whatever I could in the “little grey cells” that I had left – anything but do “the work.” Next right action, new behaviors, all that jazz? AVERSIVE. Emotions like knives & I sit back down, open a book, listen to a lecture, think about it until I was so twisted around I just knew I finally had recovery between my teeth. But no actions sorta means no acceptance. Pain in the price of growth. Grow or go. I went. I’d come to in a nasty relapse baffled. Again, I’d put off treatment for as long as possible. Journaling, isolated, thinking, reading the latest literature on my DOC. Writing Byzantine rationales for my failure to my family.. And for the record, I grew up in a violent household of evangelical parents who did everything in their power to cure me of my taboo sexual preference, more sticks, few carrots. Life is challenging for a sensitive effeminate boy growing up in rural east TX in the 80’s & 90’s. Be that as it may, thank Jesus I had a mind into which I could retreat. Yes, where on finds themself on the “openness to experience” trait matters in this discussion. At least I think so.

      TLDR I cast a vote for the general idea that trauma can cultivate over-reliance on select defense mechanisms.

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  6. I don’t agree completely. A lot of extremely intelligent people are on the Autism Spectrum and it is not that they necessarily were not allowed to cry or express their feelings etc. But that they have trouble seeing that by not expressing their feelings they get more anxious. They often have a deficit in self awareness.

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  7. Hey there- the ability to step out of emotionally “hot” topics is a strength. Whether we come to those skills out of painful necessity or natural inclination, it is evidence of our human power to adapt.

    I don’t like that this article summary props up a simplistic narrative about intellectual people being ‘broken’ or something like that. We deserve both- to feel our feelings AND to think about them.

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  8. Find one litigation attorney who isnt an intellectualizer. My x wrote our marital settlement agreement. 10 years on hes fighting his own words with the courts permission. If someone says ‘I saw what happened and will represent either side’ just cut and run. Sadly our culture rewards so-called rugged individualism and American exceptionalism but ‘catching feelings’ is perceived to be weakness. Thankfully being intellectual in and of itself isnt a problem for those who were raised in healthy family systems.

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    • I learned early on that “intellectualization” is just one more coping measure, having its value and its drawbacks, just like every other coping measure. We all need coping measures, including denial, splitting, minimization, and intellectualization, in order to survive. There is nothing wrong with using any of them if they are working for you. The times we have problems is when we learn these measures early in life and come to believe they are our only options in certain situations. Becoming aware of the coping measures we choose and getting a broader range of options in any given situation is a valuable set of lessons. A lot of times, using intellectualization to “block childhood trauma” is the smartest thing to do. There are also times it can get in the way of moving forward. Just like any other coping measure. It is not good or bad in itself, it’s about how/when these coping measures are used that matters. And who is really in a position to judge that other than the person deciding how to “cope?”

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      • This gets to my biggest issue with the end of the video – it fails to make an accounting for healthy versus unhealthy forms of intellectualization. Like any strategy, it can be subject to the, “when you have a hammer everything looks like a nail,” syndrome that is endemic to human nature. We just tend to do what works and sometimes that results in us failing to recognize that what “works” is in fact suboptimal for many of the circumstances we apply it to.

        I like the premise of the article, the cleaned up transcription highlights some interesting insights that I could see applying to me and my life growing up. However it doesn’t leave room for how beneficial it is to apply academic language in various conversations because academic language isn’t merely socially constructed, it is also formulaically constructed so as to have a consistent methodology for how it can and should be interpreted. Language is inherently reductive, but informal language is even MORE reductive than academic language because informal language is specific to individual experience in a way that formal language, with all of its various requirements, simply can’t be. That might seem counter-intuitive, but when you don’t have to account for subjectivity as much because how language is constructed, it means that interpretation is going to be subject to less variation – at least as far as I understand it.

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    • Yes, there is anecdotal evidence that intellectualizing can get you tenured professoriship that puts you in a situation when you can dissociate. i.e. ignore explitcit or implicit, i.e. non verbal, criticisms about your intellectualization…

      🙂

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  9. Intellectualism was once esteemed as the ideal state of thinking that it is, valuing open-mindedness & having the highest regard for seeking the truth, whatever that may be, above all other “beliefs.” Now it is looked down upon and discarded. Intellectualism today is often lumped with being “woke” and intellectuals are called names like snowflakes. This is why we have a gigantic population of idiots who believe that truth is just a matter of opinion, whatever suits them and are comfortable with being told is the truth. This exalted dumbness is literally killing us, and now here we have this article which is total bovine manure.

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  10. This seems to while acknowledging that intellectualization by it self is a coping mechanism as a way to box off pain, but they are using the big 5 trait of intellect and openness to experience to try and characterize that as intellectualization in a cbt cognitive distortion way. I find this tries to get at one thing and then confuses it for another because some how they didn’t study well enough. Truth is people in society live more by myth and narrative than objective fact. To actually tear that story apart and show the various facets that drive it and how it’s structured in society, politically, economically, psychologically for example there are a lot of pieces but if you study enough of it across areas you do see an over arching signal amoungst the noise that shows roughly how human nature works. It’s just this guy is using their either low openess, poor teaching methods of professors, or just inability to study well and then trying to take all of these peoples experiences in researching their professional area and act like it’s nothing but a cognitive distortion. Omfg, Big 5 traits are not the same as cognitive distortions. And even if we follow your line of thinking, intellectualization at least adheres or ties to what’s real. A far cry away from what the rights hierarchical emotionalism often does. The biggest predictor of liberalism on the big 5 is also that of openness to experience, it breaks down to both intellect which predicts success in the sciences and a general openess that predicts success in the arts.

    These are not the same and also thank god for these openess traits otherwise you would have a smaller economy, these traits are why the blue states have a bigger gdp than the red states which are just more concientious and dutiful and more authoritarian in personality(another trait to learn about as it matches up to parenting style stats in the country)

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  11. How about the intellect raised in an environment nearly void of other intellects, who is ridiculed for having “book sense, but no common sense”? The person who is made to feel that their one and only strength is actually a weakness? It happens.

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  12. I am an intellectual and an INTJ on the MBTI. With people and in my work, I love to talk about complex ideas. However, make no mistake; I have a very rich and deep inner world. But I only share it with close family and friends. That’s just how I’m designed.

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  13. I once faulted my parents for their intellectualism and their emotional aloofness but thank God they didn’t have loud violent fights in front of me when I was a baby and while I was growing up as a teenager. That horror I subjected my own two young children to in the first half of my marriage before I did the deep work that was necessary to take responsibility for my own happiness, reign in my rage and fear, moderate and contextualize my feelings. I could blame my failures as a parent on my own parent’s excess intellectualism and their coldness, but instead, I am grateful for their restraint and temperance, which is better than the excessive emotion that I displayed in front of my children which scared the crap out of them.

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  14. I think conversations about intellectualisation as a strategy can be somewhat reductive. Intellectualisation can be used as a way to suppress and alienate unpleasant emotions, which is counter-productive. But I don’t think that’s an innate trait. It can also be used to process and connect to emotions, and to gain insight to take action, which I find can be quite useful.

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