Self-Punishment and How to Overcome It


Self-Punishment and How to Overcome It

Who is susceptible to self-punishment and how do we overcome it? Learn more about this common mental illness...

What is Self-Punishment?

Self-punishment can refer to many specific acts, but it generally means punishing oneself. In history, individuals used to whip themselves as a sign of penance and remorse. While we don’t see this type of self-punishment anymore, we do see people practice it in other ways.

Emotionally, people engage in self-punishment with negative self-talk and self-criticism. Sometimes it is done in front of others, but the majority of the time it is done in the privacy of your mind. When they feel the need to punish themselves, they may talk down to themselves or beat themselves up over past experiences. This can seriously and negatively affect a person’s confidence.

Self-punishment typically refers to emotional and mental abuse of oneself. However, many people eventually move to physically harming themselves; this is known as self-harm. Self-harm comes in the form of inflicting physical pain on the body to counteract negative feelings. Those who participate in self-harming activities must get the help that they deserve.

Who is Susceptible to Self-Punishment and How Do We Overcome It?

Why Do We Engage in Self-Punishment?

Why do individuals engage in self-punishment? People resort to emotional self-abuse because of adverse feelings. Prominently, feelings of guilt and shame lead people to self-punishment. By inflicting mental abuse upon themselves, individuals feel that they are paying for their crimes, so to speak. A heavy conscience can also be the reason for self-punishment.

When a person experiences a situation that elicits thoughts of guilt, they feel the need to repent. For example, your boss says only one person can take a day off at a time. You and a coworker have both asked off for different reasons. You want to go to the beach with friends, and she wants to go to her nephew’s first birthday. If you are rewarded the day, you may feel intense guilt that she will miss her nephew’s first birthday.

To combat these feelings, you may emotionally beat yourself up. You may intentionally have a horrible time at the beach by looking for all the negatives. Or you may continually criticise yourself with phrases such as, “I can’t believe I’ve done this”, “What makes me special?”, or “I should have…”.

Abundant punishment may unintentionally become a defence mechanism for many people. When approached with negative feelings, they may lash out with intense shame and self-retribution. You can find more articles about the different effects of self-inflicted punishment that may help you, as well.

Who Engages in Self-Punishment?

The people that engage in self-punishment are often people who experience a profuseness of self-doubt or low self-esteem. Individuals who have experienced consistent criticism from outside sources are also likely to experience this disciplinary action.

For instance, someone who encountered bullying in school may feel that they are not worthy of an easy life. They may intentionally isolate themselves from peers and family members as a way of showing their low value. When you have low self-esteem, combating self-punishing tendencies can be extremely difficult. You may have a hard time ignoring your inner voice.

Others that engage in this penalising behaviour are those that live with addictions and mental health disorders. Those that experience addictions may want to stop their typical behaviour, but feel that they are not ‘strong’ enough. Similarly, people with mental health disorders may want to heal from their symptoms, but they can’t do it alone. When these individuals fail to stop their impulses or symptoms, they may doubt themselves and even lash out at others.

Who is Susceptible to Self-Punishment and How Do We Overcome It?

How Do People Engage in Self-Punishment?

There are many examples of self-punishment. Below are just a handful of illustrations. It is crucial to remember that self-punishment comes in many different forms, but it comes from a place of guilt and shame.

— Those who live with substance use disorders will use self-punishment to combat guilt over struggles.

— Individuals isolate themselves from relationships and friendships because they do not feel worthy of love.

— Simply, refusing to ask for help.

— Choosing to avoid higher education because they doubt their ability to succeed.

— Not sticking to a budget because they feel they will never be financially secure.

— Those who cause unintentional physical harm to another may avoid happiness as a coping mechanism.

— An inner dialogue that sounds similar to: “I cant…” “I shouldn’t have…” “I’m not good enough…”

Who is Susceptible to Self-Punishment and How Do We Overcome It?

How Do We Overcome Self-Punishment?

Change Your Inner Dialogue

When you want to use phrases that cause you emotional harm, it lowers your confidence and faith in yourself. It is vital to treat yourself with kindness! Instead of using negative words and comments, try using affirmations and positivity. For illustrative purposes, find enjoyment in your own company.

By encouraging yourself to love yourself, you will boost your self-esteem and meet your emotional needs. Everyone wants to be treated with care, so treat yourself the same. A popular suggestion is to treat yourself as you would a friend. Most friends encourage and compliment each other. Make sure you do that with your inner dialogue.

Stay in Tune With Your Good Qualities

Comparably with your inner dialogue, remind yourself about all the good you have to offer! Focusing on the negatives and our shortcomings makes it is hard to remember our value. When you feel tempted to talk down to yourself or engage in self-punishment, begin listing the things that you have done right!

For example: Let’s say, your friend went out of their way to pick you up, and you were both late. Instead of beating yourself up over it, apologise and try recalling a time that you helped out a friend or bought a friend a meal.

By reminding yourself of your good qualities and niceties, you are less likely to feel unnecessary guilt. Another great habit is to write it down. Writing down the things you are grateful for and your good qualities can give you the chance to forgive yourself.

Consider Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

There are times when all the positive inner dialogue in the world cannot help you overcome self-punishment, and that is okay! Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is a tremendous asset to those that need encouragement and accountability. As a therapy patient, you will receive guided talks that can help you both understand the underlying reasons for self-punishment. Therapy also provides techniques that will help you overcome it.

Marie Miguel has been a writing and research expert for nearly a decade, covering a variety of health- related topics. Currently, she is contributing to the expansion and growth of a free online mental health resource with With an interest and dedication to addressing stigmas associated with mental health, she continues to specifically target subjects related to anxiety and depression.