Card #312 – 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. 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.

For those of you willing to read some more. The following is a brief meditation on self-acceptance:

Self-acceptance cannot be postponed until you feel you are good enough, untill you have reached your ideal weight, idealized romantic relationship or other images of success. Even if you achieved such things you would need to keep the cyanide capsules close at hand because any of these things can be taken away. When will you be good enough to accept yourself? Some people don’t accept themselves until they are on their deathbeds, and even at the end many are filled with self-loathing and self-rejection.

Perfectionists hold themselves to standards they would not apply to others. But such severe self-criticism does not usually enhance performance or efficiency; more often it undermines these pursuits. By excessive self-criticism we lower our morale and self-esteem diminishing our enthusiasm for life. Self-acceptance is not the same as narcissistic grandiosity, it is simply recognizing yourself for being alive, for continuing to deal with the rigors of human incarnation, and for whatever else you are able to accomplish beyond that. You may be doing better than you think. Forget the sterilizing severity of perfectionism; self-acceptance is necessary to your wellbeing, the core from which you can be of service to the world.

Self-acceptance can be a moment-to-moment struggle, one of the most difficult and courageous of life missions. Self-rejection is an enemy of almost infinite form with its myriad masks and moods and self-medicating, self-sabotaging seductions. But you are the only self you’re going to get, and self-acceptance needs to be at your core. According to the I Ching, your primary obligation in life is to work on your relationship to yourself. Get that relationship right and your relationships to other people, to the creative process, to sex, time, money, body, career, collective, cosmos will be as good as they possibly can be. But neglect or reject any part of that relationship and your relation to all those things will be accordingly diminished and distorted. Stop reaching for that shiny, new, perfected, hypothetical future self. Summon the courage to work with who you are and where you find yourself right now. Nothing is closer to your core than self-acceptance.
See: Kill the Time Grid and Fire up Your Life
and Imagine Getting MoreRebelling from the Pain Body Matrix

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