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Self-Punishment

We are so often our own worst enemy, locking ourselves into humiliating habits of self-punishment and abuse. A great principle of common sense is that if you try something that doesn’t work for you, and you try it again and again and again and it still doesn’t work for you, then try something else. One way of defining a neurotic tape loop of thought and behavior is the tendency to do the same thing over and over while continuing to expect a different result than what you’ve been getting. Often the self-punishment is imposed because of perfectionism — we hold ourselves up to our model of perfection, find ourselves lacking and abuse ourselves with excessive restrictions or indulgences. Excess asceticism, galling attempts at self-discipline, often lead to their opposite — a self-destructive binge of some sort.

Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it, and this is especially true for relationship history and histories of neurotic self-abuse. Don’t do anything that compromises your inner dignity. Don’t hold yourself up to standards and harsh self-criticism that you wouldn’t impose on another person you cared about.

Take the occurrence of this card as permission to forgive yourself. Don’t punish yourself for having punished yourself, we’ve all done it and it is easier to deal with than the fallout of punishing others. If you find that you are criticizing your past performance and saying I should have done this, I should have done that… Stop! Take a deep breath, and stop shoulding on yourself. Past is past, it does no good to punish yourself. Focus on being impeccable in the present. For example, let’s say I wake up in an alley. I find that I’ve peed on myself and there’s a broken whiskey bottle lying near my face. I remember that the night before I was sharing a syringe of heroin with someone I knew had AIDS. Should I start punishing myself for these horrible mistakes? No, my best stance is the same as if I woke up in my own bed after a day of productive work. same as if I woke up in my own bed after a day of productive work. I need to focus on being impeccable, on making the best use of the life that remains to me, both for my own sake and for the sake of those around me. (For more on this stance which I call “existential impeccability” see The Way of the Warrior.)

Accept your shadow. Bring love, forgiveness and compassion to what you perceive as your flaws as well as those of others.

Self-punishment is like pinching yourself and exclaiming, “Oow! That hurts! I wish I could stop doing that!” You can stop, you can take off the shackles that were never locked and walk away. This is a propitious time to end the masochistic loops of self-punishment, allow yourself to live free of toxic perfectionism, allow yourself to try something new.

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