Beware self-flagellation

Here’s something that’s taken me a long time to be able to identify and an even longer time to express succinctly:

Very often, when we analyze our own mistakes, we stop short when we arrive at something that sounds like a moral failing.
  • Why am I playing video games and procrastinating all the time instead of doing work? Because I’m lazy. I’m a horrible person.
  • Why am I overeating even though I’m obese? Because I’m greedy. I’m a horrible person.
  • Why am I never able to trust my loved ones? Because I’m jealous. I’m a horrible person.
  • Why am I always late, tardy, unreliable? Because I’m selfish. I'm a horrible person.
  • Why do I get yell at my kids when I get home from work and the house is a mess? Because I'm angry. I'm a horrible person.

Do you see the pattern?

Technically, words like lazy, jealous, selfish, greedy, angry and so on are descriptive. They don't actually explain anything. When your child's teacher says "Ma'am, your son is lazy," it sounds like you didn't raise him right. Like there's something wrong with him.

In reality, there are multiple variables involved in something like laziness (or as I prefer to call it, task-aversion). A child who is averse to doing his homework may turn out to be surprisingly industrious when playing World of Warcraft.

The tickle isn't in the feather, it's created in the interaction between feather and skin.

The child isn't necessarily lazy, the aversion happens in the interaction between child and task.

Assumption: Man is intrinsically sinful and terrible.

If you find yourself engaging in behaviors that are sinful, it’s because you’re a sinful, terrible person. You’re a naughty child. You’re irresponsible. You’re selfish. You're a mean girl. That is WHO YOU ARE. Your parents were horrible, their parents were horrible. Man hands on misery to man, it deepens like a coastal shelf.

If you assume this to be true (or at least true for you), how is it going to make you feel? And what are you going to do about it?

From what I've seen and read, this usually makes people feel either…

  1. guilty and ashamed, or
  2. angry and resentful.

These seem to be two sides of the same coin, two opposite extremes. You might hate yourself or you might hate the world. Some people fluctuate between the two extremes back and forth– they feel guilty until they get sick of it, then they get angry and go a little crazy, then they feel guilty the next day…

To cope with this emotion, people often probably indulge in even more destructive behavior. I’m so ashamed that I’m fat, I need to eat. I’m so angry that I’m a smoker, I need to smoke.

In Games People Play, Eric Berne describes how, over time, people develop into specific roles that they play out in predictable scripts with one another. One of my favorite examples of this is “Every Facebook Argument Ever” which very beautifully captures the cycle of drama that happens on Facebook every single day.

What’s interesting is that this also happens in families, in workplaces, and most importantly– within ourselves.

Here’s an example of an unspoken fictional conversation inside a person’s head that you might relate to.

Maybe imagine it’s just Anger, Disgust and Fear teaming up against Sadness, and Joy is nowhere to be found:

A: “FUCK! You’re late for the meeting! Why didn’t you wake up earlier? I set an alarm for you and everything!”
B: “I’m sorry. I couldn’t sleep. I was tired. I don’t know. I’m just an irresponsible, terrible person.”
A: “OMG. We are so screwed. Look what you made us do. WTF.”
B: “I’m sorry, I won’t do it again.”
A: “It’s happened a thousand times already. Obviously you’re going to do it again.”
B: “…”
A: “Why do you do this? Why? How can we fix this?”
B: “I don’t know. I’ve tried everything. I’m just horrible.”
A: “Fuck. This is so embarrassing, shameful. I’m so angry. I need to drink, smoke, insult people on the Internet.”
B: “I’m sorry.”
A: “Don’t lie to me. You’re obviously not. You’re full of shit, just like everybody says. Pathetic.”
B: “…”

When you surface it, it becomes obvious that this is abusive language.

And it perpetuates a horrible cycle that just keeps going. It's not hard to imagine how, if this spirals further, you might fall into depression, and suicidal thoughts.

It’s so unpleasant that people do anything to escape or avoid it, and they don’t have the tools they need to confront it. The demons are too loud, and the victim is too weak and untrained to fight back.

In the absence of self-love we self-flagellate, which is unconscionably damaging. We become victims of broken homes INSIDE OUR OWN HEADS.

As long as this is the case, life cannot and will not get better.

A person who hates herself for smoking will not be able to quit smoking. A person who hates themselves for procrastinating will not be able to fix their problem by reading a bunch of “life hacks”.

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