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5 Signs You Are Punishing Yourself (And How To Stop)

Self-punishment comes in many forms, and not everyone realizes they engage in self-punishing behavior until they start working on themselves.

Most of us know the classic signs: self-harm or physical self-injury, eating disorders, substance addiction. But there are far more subtle ways people resort to sabotaging themselves.

Sometimes, self-punishment is an attempt to establish control over your life, alleviate guilt, or reduce the impact of emotional pain. Other times, it's a way to hurt yourself before others have the opportunity to hurt you.

Regardless, in almost all cases, self-punishment creates both short-term and long-term problems. Here are some ways you might be perpetuating more emotional distress:

Refusing to Ask For Help

Do you think you need to do everything on your own? Do you hate relying on others, so you avoid doing it altogether?

Some people punish themselves by assuming they need to manage the weight of the world by themselves. They feel guilty asking for help, and they rarely accept their own limitations.

Refusing to ask for help can look like:

  • refusing to delegate or ask other people to do things for you

  • insisting you can manage everything on your own

  • packing your schedule with so many events/items that you persistently feel overwhelmed

  • lying, cheating, or otherwise scamming your way into finishing things for the sake of finishing them

  • failing to communicate needs even when people ask

  • having perfectionistic tendencies in most parts of your life

Lying About Your Feelings or Needs

Self-punishment can also look like presenting yourself much differently to the outside world compared to how you feel internally. Often, this dissonance comes from a profound place of shame.

This type of person often presents as happy and well-adjusted when around other people. They conceal their negative emotions and act as if they have everything figured out. Sometimes, they struggle to set boundaries because they are more concerned with pleasing others than taking care of themselves.

But those feelings and needs often become stronger and louder the more someone ignores them. To make matters worse, the person will then engage in self-punishing behaviors for simply having such desires in the first place.

Believing Your Negative Self-Talk

We all experience negative self-talk from time to time. As social creatures, we're prone to comparison and jealousy- it's rooted in our basic evolution.

But people with persistently low self-esteem struggle to distinguish their negative feelings or thoughts from reality. This self-criticism reads like a script: if they believe they are stupid, they assume they actually are stupid.

Of course, this is such an insidious form of self-punishment. If you're constantly combating self-doubt or self-blame, it's hard to enjoy a meaningful life. Your emotional well-being undoubtedly suffers.

Numbing Your Feelings

Substance use, disordered eating, problematic gambling- these all represent ways people aim to abuse pleasure to numb pain.

In the short term, these numbing behaviors work, especially if you struggle with anxiety or depression. But they don't actually help you overcome your symptoms- they simply put them on pause.

Keep in mind that we try to numb our feelings in more indirect ways. For example, zoning out in front of the TV, endlessly scrolling through social media, sleeping too much, and buying things you don't need online- these are all ways you might be engaging in self-punishment.

Allowing Your Feelings to Decide Your Next Move

Self-punishment can look like permitting your emotional distress to determine how you live your life. For example, if you feel angry, you might assume you have no choice but to yell at someone. Or, if you feel sad, the only reasonable response is to drown it out with ice cream.

Our feelings can be intense, but self-punishment looks like allowing them to dictate your every response. When this is your pattern in life, you often feel out-of-control and compulsive, as if you don't have a say in how you do things.

How to Stop Punishing Yourself

Suffering won't get you any closer to happiness or acceptance.

The more you punish yourself, the worse you will feel. We don't improve our lives by shaming ourselves- only through kindness and grace can you make those sustainable changes that matter most to you.

Here are some ways you can treat yourself better, no matter how uncomfortable you feel:

Identify When You Do It

Recognize when you engage in self-punishment. What events lead up to you hurting yourself? Is it a way to seek control? What triggers, if any, do you notice cause you to act out?

The more you can acknowledge these patterns, the more opportunity you give yourself to intervene and change your habits.

Seek Accountability and Support

While other people aren't responsible for our happiness, the right support can make a difference in helping us feel better about ourselves.

Try to spend time with people who make you feel good about yourself. If someone feels toxic in your life, consider how you can reestablish healthier boundaries for yourself.

Build a Foundation For Better Self-Esteem

Deciding to feel worthy often comes down to making a deliberate choice to take care of yourself. At first, this type of work may seem foreign or even ridiculous. After all, you've lived believing you need to self-punish yourself for the mistakes you make.

But how far has that approach really gotten you? If you're like most people, you only experience more pain, guilt, and shame the more you dislike yourself.

Better self-esteem is a lifelong journey, but it begins with proactive skills like:

  • validating yourself when you're having a hard time

  • stopping self-harm (inflicting physical pain on yourself)

  • remembering that you deserve love, compassion, and forgiveness

  • practicing healthier self-care when you feel stressed

  • trying to cope with painful feelings proactively

Seek Professional Support at Resurface Group

Self-punishment can be deeply ingrained, and it's a side effect of numerous mental health disorders. Furthermore, if you grew up in an environment where abuse was prevalent, you essentially had punishing behavior modeled to you. Untangling yourself from that mindset can be so challenging.

At Resurface Group, we help people take that first step toward more self-compassion, love, and acceptance. We are here to help you or your loved one.

Contact us today to learn more about our dynamic program.

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