How to Beat Yourself Up (the Fun Way): an Existential Kink practice by Carolyn Elliott

 We all know there are not-fun ways to beat ourselves up.

By “beating ourselves up” of course I mean feeling guilty, ashamed, and generally bad and wrong for a host of things that we do and do not do. We always have an underlying motivation for making ourselves feel bad.

It might seem like “feeling guilty” or “feeling bad” just spontaneously happens to you, but it doesn’t. It’s an unconscious choice, a strategy designed long ago by your child mind to get you something, namely, the approval of the people around you, whom you depended upon for your survival and security.

Your parents learned it long ago from their parents, and they passed it down to you in a rich chain of ancestral tradition. What might start out in childhood as feeling bad about not cleaning your room or earning good grades, blooms later in life into feeling bad about accidentally missing appointments, not replying promptly to text, not eating enough vegetables, and offending people.

The thing about guilt is that most of us continue to use it long after its value expires. There’s no automatic alarm bell that goes off when we become able to fend for ourselves that alerts us: “Now is the time to stop mirroring the emotional dysfunctions of your family; continuing to make yourself feel bad is your ‘sins’ will no longer garner the sympathy of your caretakers, it will only drain you with energy and eventually stop you of the world to live.” And if there was such an alarm, how could it possibly interrupt such an ingrained habit?

Here’s a way: make your cruel, self-sadistic “operating instructions” radically explicit.

Uncover your real values and commitments, the ones you actually already live by, the ones that actually govern your moment-to-moment actions and emotions, and fully, consciously embrace them, at least temporarily.


To fully, consciously embrace your sadistic “operating instructions” is to stop shaming your villainous sadistic aggression and instead to celebrate it.

This is how you can free up the psychic energy that’s currently bound up in your “operating instructions” and make room to choose new values to live by.

Here’s example “operating instructions” to get you started:

  • I will guilt myself for at least three hours if I offend or disappoint anyone for any reason
  • Feeling supported and safe is utterly forbidden, no matter what.
  • I must always find flaws with the people stupid enough to love me.
  • I am totally, 100% committed to doubting my own value and worth.
  • If I fail to meet any of my responsibilities, I will hate myself intensely.
  • I am utterly not allowed to feel total self-forgiveness. Feeling a little bit of self-forgiveness is OK, but feeling total self-forgiveness is not allowed, ever.
  • The more I reject my own work and being, the more I can get approval from authority figures.
  • I completely agree that my value is fully dependent upon other people‘s perception of me.
  • I decide to relentlessly shame and repress my aggressive and sexual feelings towards others so that I can only experience them as free-floating anxiety or depression.
  • I am 1000% committed to insulting myself whenever I fail at anything.
  • My deepest value is to feel bad about myself and to help my loved ones feel bad about themselves by relentlessly pointing out the ways they let me down.

Whew!! Fun, huh? So, what are yours?

Grab your journal and write out “the rules” of your day-to-day feelings and behavior in no uncertain terms, as if you were programming an android to have the same hangups and neuroses as you.

Next, try treating your list like “reverse psychology affirmations.” Read these affirmations in front of the mirror in the morning with great enthusiasm or with the Disney villain cackle every day for the next week and see what happens

Remember, the point of this exercise is never to bring yourself down. The point is to notice what inner sadistic prohibitions are already operating in you at a previously unconscious level and to make those prohibitions explicit and conscious by spelling them out, giving them your full conscious agreement, and savoring the extreme Villain-esque sadistic ridiculousness. When you make them totally explicit and experiment with consciously agreeing with them, you easily see how over-the-top gonzo nuts they are, and your heart just lets them go.


Take the sadistic operating instructions, “I am absolutely never allowed to feel good about… XYZ… (my worth, my body, my creativity, etc.)” Ridiculous, right?

You are totally allowed to feel good and loving and fabulous all the time, about every part of you and your life. But if you don’t already feel completely good about XYZ, then it’s a guarantee that there is indeed some major part of you that unconsciously already agrees and believes in the sadistic prohibition to not feel good about it.

So the trick is to make space and time to honor that sadistic part of you, to affirm the dictates of the Inner Villain in their full glory, to stop resisting them for a moment and instead to go along with them. When you do this, it’s as if you allow your unconscious shadow to finally complete a dance that it’s been trying to finish for years.


Our whole lives, our conscious minds have been resisting these prohibitions embedded in our unconscious by family, culture, karma etc. 

But we know that just insisting know I am allowed to feel good about my worth! I am totally allowed to feel beautiful and powerful! Doesn’t work for longer than a hot minute, or else everyone who ever tried affirmations would be a blissful saint by now. 

Instead, we must temporarily drop your argument with the inner sadistic prohibition, and instead play with giving it your full consent for a little bit of time. When fully consented to, when not resisted at all, the inner prohibitions lose their hold (because they are only kept in place by our resistance to them.)


With your consent, your previously unconscious sadistic prohibitions can resolve, thus emancipating the previously stuck energy in your psyche, which you are now free to put towards your creative endeavors.

Indeed, after you’ve succeeded in liberating some energy with this practice of “reverse psychology affirmations” – it’s a good idea to deliberately invest that energy in some new specific project.

From “Existential Kink: Unmask Your Shadow and Embrace Your Power” by Carolyn Elliott

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