Self-love, self-awareness, self-compassion were simply not “things” in my childhood. I grew up in the era of no seat belts, drinking water from a garden hose, running around town without supervision until the street lights came on.
Had the topic of self-love even come up, I would have been told I was being selfish, there are starving kids in China, and to “get over” myself.
However, I did, as a child, learn all about punishment.
Punishment in the form of “if you don’t clean your room, XXX is going to happen” or “if you don’t get good grades, you will NEVER get into college or get a job or have any sort of a decent life”.
When punishment is taught, in this way, to a child, it is vey easy to transition to “self” punishment later in life, as this is what is known, what is familiar.
I became an expert.
As I became an adult, went on to college, married and had kids, self-punishment became my norm, what I knew, what was familiar. The concept of self-love was as foreign to me as the idea of flying to the moon.
Punishment worked for me.
If my jeans became tight, I would punish myself with starvation and diet pills trying to bury my shame of not having the perfect body until I would explode under the pressure, eat a tub of ice cream, only to have the cycle repeat itself again and again.
If I didn’t receive a good grade in school, I would beat myself up with the internal dialog of “You are so stupid. You will never amount to anything.” As the shame of not doing “good enough” in college became too much to bear, I would, instead of studying harder for the next test, go to the bar and get drunk, ultimately achieving an even worse grade, allowing me to beat myself up even more.
Make no mistake, I fully believed all this was working for me. I graduated from college weighing less than I ever had. I believed I had succeeded, found happiness, even felt I was a step ahead others I knew my same age. Self-punishment was the key.
I married quickly to a man who fit right into my pattern of punishment. It was a relief in some ways. I no longer needed to spend my energy punishing myself as he was doing a fantastic job of it himself.
For years, I convinced myself I was the reason my marriage was so unhealthy. I deserved the abuse I was receiving, it was my fault we were struggling, if only I was better at XXX, everything would be okay and I would get my happily ever after.
The abuse was my punishment for the ‘bad’ choices I had made earlier in my life.
In my thirties, the idea of self-awareness became more popular and talked about. I was all over this idea…I had mastered it after all, right? I was the most self-aware person I knew. I was aware of all my faults and punished myself for them severely. This was my understanding of self-awareness, and it worked for me. It kept me in line with my abuser, it kept all my shame buried, it kept me safe. Safe from the truth that I was living a lie.
I would listen to others talk about how they had gotten a massage, or their nails done out of “self-love”. I scoffed and rolled my eyes thinking, knowing they had no idea what it meant to be self-aware or self-loving. They were being kind to themselves, didn’t they know they needed to be punishing themselves into perfection…
The global concept of ‘self-love’ grew and was becoming more mainstream. Even in the tiny, sheltered area I resided. I started hearing and reading more about it. Although I was captivated, I continued to hang on to my ingrained idea of punishment. I continued to punish myself, just in slightly gentler ways. Diet pills only, not starvation. Chocolate instead of alcohol.
In my early forties, after years of abuse, I chose divorce. I was later told by therapists and counselors, that my subconscious made this choice out of love. However, I knew and still know, divorce was my greatest act of self-punishment yet.
Now I could beat myself up with the responsibility of a failed marriage, of raising children from a broken home. I had yet to endure such a significant punishment and I was up for the challenge.
The next few years consisted of continuous court battles. I willingly placed myself in the middle of each brutally punishing one. The fights, the trying to prove who was right and who was wrong, the constant stress was exactly the punishment I felt I needed for all my past mistakes.
I would purposefully engage in a vicious argument with my abuser and then have a glass of wine, soak in a hot bath, get a massage, because I ‘knew’ all about self-love. I was self-aware. I had the perfect plan…the punishment came first, then an act of love.
I was pathologically addicted to punishments inflicted upon myself, by myself. I could not live without them.
Time moved on, as it seems to do, my ‘perfect’ plan for punishment followed by love started to fall apart.
I was doing all the right things, yet my life was still falling apart. I was punishing myself, but not getting the same high. My acts of self-love felt like feeble, degrading attempts. I wasn’t happy…you know, the kind of content, peaceful, happy you read about. The previous satisfaction I felt from the punishments was no longer present.
Every minute of my day was filled with stress and attempts at perfection and punishment. So much punishment.
I kept telling myself this was the way it worked but was no longer hypnotized by the story.
I fought the resistance by continuing to punish but withheld the act of love.
I hit rock bottom. My addiction had taken over my life. I felt shattered. A million pieces splayed over the universe, floating away so quickly into space, I could not catch them all fast enough before they were out of reach.
My so-called self-awareness had landed in a place of truth. I had no other choice but to realize, acknowledge, and admit that I could not hate myself happy.
I could not hate myself happy.
I had spent 48 years learning and perfecting the fine art of self-punishment and still, I could not hate myself happy.
I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know where to turn. I didn’t know how to stop this madness I had known my entire life.
I felt raw, exposed, vulnerable. I was delivering myself into a world I knew nothing about and I was terrified.
Self-punishment was familiar. Addiction to punishment had been my life. Hating myself was all I knew and now I needed to stop.
I could no longer hate myself happy…
(Find out what happened in Part Two of I Couldn’t Hate Myself Happy next week on 60 Seconds of Sunshine)
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