Pseudo-responsibility: “Beating Myself Up” as Denial
“I’m such a fool.”
“I can’t believe I did that (again). I’ll never forgive myself.”
“I’m so ashamed I’d like to crawl in a hole.”
“If I could slug myself, I would.”
Such is the language with which we “beat ourselves up,” after a relapse.
This does not sound, on the surface, like someone “in denial” of a problem. Not until you’ve heard it over and over again, from the same person, someone who has been doing and saying the same thing, for the same reason, time after seemingly endless time.
It turns out that “beating myself up” almost always is part of the problem, not part of the solution. Geneen Roth  spells this out poignantly for overeaters in Feeding the Hungry Heart. Show me a person beating himself up for something he or she did or didn’t do — he will show you a person who is going to do or not do that very same thing again.
Consider when we punish people. An infant soils its diapers and causes inconvenience, distasteful odors, perhaps, disgust. Do we punish the infant? Yet the same child, three or four years later, steals a cookie he was expressly told not to eat. Why do we punish him or her? Simply because we think she or he is old enough to at least begin learning to exercise choice and control.
The key here is the assumption that the perpetrator has control.
What is the First Step of all Twelve Step programs?—to admit I am “powerless” over the very behavior for which I have been punishing myself. In other words, the very fact I am punishing myself reveals that I am denying my powerlessness! I haven’t seen enough of my problem to admit I have lost control. I do not really believe that one important AA shoe fits me — that I “have lost the power of choice in drink.” No wonder I can’t solve what I can’t yet see.
And this is just the first level of denial.
A gory metaphor describes my profound denial of a deeper problem that controls me behavior:
compulsive, addictive, repetitive, impulsive, nonassertive, aggressive, self-defeating behavior of virtually all types. Anything we beat ourselves up over — each can be viewed as blood oozing from a wound. Why? Because virtually all such behavior appears to be triggered by painful feelings. Emotional pain is the wound, out of which the behavior flows. This can be true even if the pain originates in biochemistry, or even if such pain would not trigger craving in someone without addictive disease.
So beating myself up is a brilliant distraction from facing the pain which “One won’t hurt” or “F— it avoided in the first place!