Help me reprogram the self-punishing part of my brain
July 28, 2014 4:20 PM Subscribe
At the end of a project, regardless of how the rest of the world feels about it, I am almost always sad and angry at myself about how it went. Sometimes I imagine myself being punished for imperfections, e.g. by being attacked and beaten to death with pipes because of bugs in submitted code. Other times I project this unhappiness and anger onto other people, e.g. imagining that colleagues are disappointed in me, until they actually say outright that they are pleased with how something went.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (18 answers total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
I have always had a bit of a perfectionist streak, and in the past had a hard time dealing with less-than-outstanding performance. (Sobbing on the phone to my parents about a B- in college, for instance.)
As I've gotten older, I've developed more perspective on these issues, but they still seriously impede my ability to relax, since I am often feeling like I need to make up for these past failures by working more! harder! etc., or I'm just inhabiting a really unhappy mental place.
So at the moment for instance I should be making plans for a long-overdue vacation that I promised my husband we would take, but when I start to do so I am choked by feelings that I do not deserve this vacation, that I should take on more work and stay home in order to "make up for" some things I wasn't happy with in my last project.
This is especially irrational because a) the client on that project I want to "make up for" claims to be happy, and b) any future project I might take on would not be for that client anyway. So the only restitution involved would be to some sort of perfectionist deity of the protestant work ethic, or something.
To get some obvious points out of the way: I'm not suicidal or depressed. If I think objectively about how I feel about my life, it's good and I'm grateful for it. Lots of things are going well for me. I have a career I enjoy with good pay and lots of variety, I'm happily married and living in an area I like, I see friends as frequently as my introverted nature can really handle. I eat and sleep regularly, use no illegal drugs and alcohol in moderation. While I get less exercise than I probably should, that's largely a function of long work hours. I don't think I have low self-esteem overall: when I'm not in one of these moods, I am able to acknowledge various positive aspects of my skills and personality, and I know there is a reason that I keep getting new client work. I don't generally think I'm incompetent. I just... feel humiliated and furious after individual instances of work.
I know Metafilter well enough to know there will probably be some "get therapy!" replies, but that is not really what I'm looking for here. Therapy where I live is usually for people with genuine mental illnesses, and in any case I feel that this is something I ought to be able to deal with myself.
What I'm looking for is reading, meditation, and/or CBT-ish techniques that people have found helpful with dismantling this kind of thinking.