Am I punishing myself?

In April, when I first got the idea for this blog, I felt like I was waking up. I’d spent the previous seven months feeling increasingly bifurcated, utterly failing to make sense of the growing disconnect between my knowledge of how I wanted to live my life and my actual behavior. Finally, as I was looking back from my waking perspective, a thought came to me.

Am I punishing myself?

It was one of those thoughts that exemplifies what I never trusted about the psychoanalytic process. I always got the sense that people were too eager to accept facile explanations about their inner workings and motivations. I picture a person watching a backhoe dump dirt into a hole, and exclaiming “Oooooh, look at that! The dirt fit the hole perfectly! Amazing!” Just because it fits doesn’t mean that it means anything.

So when I get thoughts that have a whiff of the theatrically pleasing — like something out of the cathartic movie scene where the therapist leads the protagonist to a meltdown — I don’t trust it. Yet my distrust doesn’t invalidate the thought. That the explanation fits doesn’t necessarily mean anything, yet it also doesn’t necessarily not mean anything. So it’s worth examining.

In December I ended one of my oldest friendships. I felt at the time that I did the right thing, and I still feel that way. But just because I did the right thing doesn’t mean that I was blameless. I was part of the situation. I think that I could have set boundaries with my friend a year or two before we had the friendship-ending row. It’s possible that if I had said what was on my mind earlier, I could have redirected our interaction in a gradual way. By the time I recognized what was happening, and tried to change things, he could not accept what I was doing. And I could not accept that he would not listen to me. So I ended it.

I had faith that my relationships with his kids were independent enough of my relationship with him that I would be able to maintain them. Apparently my faith was unfounded. It seems that I’ve lost the whole family. This has caused me a great deal of pain since December. It’s a new flavor of pain. I can only think of one or two things that have cut me deeper.

Figuring out why I do things is always a murky proposition at best. To even attempt it I must presuppose that human actions are explicable, and the jury is still out on that one to say the least. And even if I make that assumption, then I must take a further leap of faith in supposing that I am capable of seeing myself clearly.

With that said: it seems clear in retrospect that, between December and March, I was trying to escape from the pain of my lost friendship and the horror of wondering if I was partially to blame for the loss. During this same period I experienced my greatest schism between desire and action. Occam’s razor says they’re connected. I think that I was surrendering my consciousness to consumption. I think I was trying to lose myself in an attempt to lose my pain.

Was I punishing myself? No, I don’t think so. That explanation doesn’t ring true, at least in the sense of directly harming myself. But if I felt bad about my relationship with my friend and, as a result, behaved in a way that indirectly caused me to feel at least that bad about my relationship with myself, then wasn’t that behavior functionally equivalent to punishing myself? Wasn’t it close enough to dispel equivocation?

I think that the answer may be “Yes” and that’s what’s been bugging me. I think that I acted in a way that was bad for me, and that amounts to punishing myself.

I’ve been trying to answer the question “Am I punishing myself?” since right around the time I started this blog. I haven’t definitively answered it, but ever since that first night I’ve known one thing: I do not deserve to be punished. So I’m not going to punish myself. I’ve been telling myself that ever since. I hope I never forget it.


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