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Personality Disorders

Ask Dr. Dombeck
Ask Dr. Dombeck
Psychotherapy and Mental Health Questions

Ritual Penance and Feelings of Worthlessness

For several years now I've been developing what I like to think of as my own private "religion" to enable me to cope better with negative emotions, especially intense shame. I've made up rituals to punish myself symbolically (such as wearing a dunce cap, whipping myself or making little effigies of myself and burning them) and I'm writing a set of "scriptures" enumerating my faults and reminding myself of my worthlessness. Much of the time I'm relatively happy, but little disappointments overwhelm me and leave me worried that I have no right to live. I feel that if I can make up a way to punish myself in advance, regularly, I can protect myself from being hurt by other people and take control of what's wrong with me. I wish I could stop feeling this way but haven't found a good way to avoid periodically getting overwhelmed by the feeling that I'm unlovable and obligated to avoid people. How can I know whether I'm objectively worthless and obligated to keep this fact in mind or whether these feelings are something I can and should try to overcome? I've tried a couple of different therapists, but I always worry my therapist finds me annoying and my problems ridiculous or too strange to be worth addressing, so I end up quitting.

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