(TW: Self harm)
I did something stupid at work last week. Not a moral offense or a “worried about getting fired” level of stupidity, just something embarrassing. I worried about it for the rest of the afternoon. I cried a little that night. It was hanging over me all the next day.
I know this is a silly and melodramatic reaction, but it’s a problem I’ve been trying to deal with for my entire life. If I do anything embarrassing, shameful, or wrong, there’s no way for me to let it go. It nags at me beyond all reason, becoming proof of everything that is wrong with me, growing and growing until I’m convinced that I am irredeemable in every way.
Not that this is a unique problem. Entire religions are built around the concept of forgiveness – both of others, and of yourself. Every day, everywhere, people are working out their own ways to let go of whatever they’re ashamed of. Some of these approaches are wise, some of them are harmful.
For years, this is one of the reasons I cut myself. It was a kind of ceremony – a few minutes of pain, and then I felt like I had paid for whatever I did. If it crept back up in my mind, I could say, “No. I paid for that. It’s over.”
It’s been…let’s see…maybe a year and a half since I felt the need to take that approach. Therapy has helped me immensely there; I no longer feel the urge to make physical reparations for every little faux pas I commit. But that doesn’t mean the issue has been resolved completely. Nowadays, I just make myself suffer mentally until I feel like I’ve paid a fair price.
This generally means tearing into myself, repeating the most hurtful insults I can come up with, making myself relive the moment over and over. The duration of this depends on how badly I feel I screwed up. There’s no set formula or anything. It just lasts until I reach a point where I can say, “I paid for that. It’s over.”
I guess it’s an improvement over self-mutilation, but I feel like there’s still room to grow here. Ideally, I’d like to reach a point where I can just acknowledge that I screwed up and let it go – right then and there. Does anyone actually do that? I’m trying a combination of rational approaches and more generous self-talk at the moment: try to maintain a sense of perspective, try to cut myself some slack. But it’s hard, because that old urge to pay is still there. That old, deeply buried idea that you can’t be forgiven – not by anyone, including yourself – until you’ve suffered for what you did.
I see my therapist in two days. I’ll bring this subject up with her, if I remember and can work up the nerve. It just seems like there has to be a better way to deal with the fact that I’m human.