Self-punishment, Why do we do it?

an image of a woman in an anxious state
This article was originally published on April 11th 2018.

This post is a part of my series looking into health and what we can do to keep ourselves healthy, while still enjoying life.

Studies have shown that we humans have a tendency to punish ourselves when we feel guilty. I know for definite that I have done this many a time. The problem is that although long harboured feelings of guilt can leave us with psychological scars, many acts of self-punishment can actually leave us with greater ones. Both physical and mental acts against one’s self can be considered self-punishment depending on context. Despite common opinion to the contrary, acts of self-punishment are carried out by people that have shown no signs of diagnosable mental illness.

People habitually set themselves goals, whether actively or in a more subconscious way. Effective Self-leadership requires us to set goals and standards of behaviour for ourselves, but punishing ourselves for not reaching them immediately is counterproductive. Guilt is an important emotion that lets us know that we have failed to live up to the standards we have set ourselves, we should be grateful for this as it is something we can learn from. If though, we punish ourselves, either physically or mentally, we can cause a far more damaging emotional state. Shame.

Shame quickly leads to feelings of worthlessness and can create a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure. The best way for people to cope with failure is to see it as a learning experience, a point from which to move forward. Thoughts of failure stem from a belief that we can do or be better, if this is the case we should reward ourselves for the self-awareness that we are destined for more.

I have recently been trying to view my own guilt, about mistakes I have made that have led to strains in my relationships, as an acknowledgement that I am able to fix any failure that I feel I have made.

If you have done all you are able to do, you should not feel an ounce of guilt for it. Stop punishing yourself for being human and reward yourself for seeing that you have room to grow.

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One response to “Self-punishment, Why do we do it?”

  1. tylerbelle avatar

    Thank you for sharing this series! I have definitely spent way too many hours punishing myself.

    Liked by 1 person

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