Friday, November 23, 2012

Quitting the Self-Hate Habit

There's a theory of psychotherapy that operates under the assumption that all beliefs and actions serve purposes. Usually, these beliefs/actions were at one point adaptive to the environment one was in, but in other settings they prove maladaptive and ultimately cause various levels of distress to the individual and those around them. It's a particular useful approach to take when an individual holds onto a maladaptive belief/habit even when much of them knows it is harmful and wants to let it go. Under this thereotical framework, that belief/habit clearly serves some kind of purpose and the trick is to figure out what, exactly, that purpose is and then to help the client decide if they genuinely want to give up what the behavior brings them.

For me, I think I've narrowed much of my anxiety down to "I deserve to be punished." Worthlessness is a part of that, yes, but it's not that I believe no one cares for me or that I am absolutely devoid of value. Instead, it's that no one should care for me and no one should value me because I am bad and wrong and need to suffer for being bad and wrong.

I think that's why I fantasize about vicious suicides instead of just wishing I didn't exist so the pain would stop. Suicide is a way of telling myself "No matter how bad I am or how much I fail, I can always kill myself so people will know how sorry I really am." It's one of the reasons I think I get a masochistic thrill about being so open about my pain: you can see I'm unhappy and know how bad I feel about how wrong I am.

So what does having people know I feel bad accomplish? Some theories:

1. It minimizes the pain I cause because I feel bad about it. [In the way that when people acknowledge they're wrong things tend to hurt less than when they never apologize or admit fault <--- aka trying not to be my father]
2. It minimizes the need of others to punish me for my failures because I'm punishing myself. [<--- trying to avoid my father's wrath by preemptively assuming guilt so he won't feel any of it, causing him to have a violent meltdown]
3. Part of me believes that being so abusive to myself will help me not make similar mistakes in the future. [<--- common reason for anxiety/worry, part of perfectionism]
4. Minimizes disappointment in me by reducing expectations
5. Makes criticisms less painful because they're not as likely to surprise me/you can't pop a deflated balloon. [guess]

And, to a certain extent, much of this is true. It's harder/"not as needed" to hit a dog that's cowering with its tail between its legs acting ashamed than it is to hit a dog that's snarling or unaware of its behavior. In sports, the NCAA will reduce punishments for programs that punish themselves first. We relish seeing the arrogant/successful fall, but not those who have already fallen/are already suffering. Internal pain mitigates external pain, and, as a child, mitigating external pain was a significant priority.

But now, it's harming my performance. The pressure I put on myself, I put on my clients which reduces my ability to be patient and empathize. The anxiety I cause myself promotes procrastination and causes stress to my entire body, making sickness and fatigue much more likely. My need to distance myself from others make intimacy significantly difficult. And, interestingly, as my self-esteem rises, I direct more of my internal criticisms towards others (i.e. if I'm doing this and I'm terrible, surely you can do it too so stop failing).

I am tense, I am distant, I am unhappy, and my professional growth is being impeded if not undermined. And, truly, it's that last part that's fostering my desire for change: my own unhappiness is, obviously, necessary and appropriate [eyeroll at self] but when my behaviors hurt others then they obviously need to be changed.

I dunno. Self-hate is a difficult thing to give up. But I might be on the verge of convincing myself that I genuinely need to change. Here's hoping.

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