o you punish yourself?
Growing up, I used to hear adults say things like, “his mamma needs to give him a whoopin’” when a child would act up in public. (Yes, I’m a recovering redneck from the south). They heavily criticized parents who don’t spank or otherwise hit their children. And that’s still the mindset today: to get kids to behave, we must hurt them physically.
Perhaps not coincidentally, the region I grew up in also has some of the highest rates of alcoholism in the United States and is commonly referred to as the Meth Capitol of the South.
For a long time, we have been telling ourselves this lie that if we make someone (or ourselves) suffer for doing something we didn’t want them (or ourselves) to do, that corrects the issue.
What we know for certain is that, of the adults we send to prison for their FIRST arrest, over 45% of them will be arrested again within three years of release. (Source: US Bureau of Justice Statistics: www.bjs.gov)
That means that when we make those who have broken the law for the FIRST TIME suffer, there is almost a 50/50 chance that they will continue to break laws. We actively turn one-time offenders into criminals.
But it starts at childhood. In 1975, the American Psychological Association passed a resolution stating that corporal (physical) punishment can, “instill hostility, rage and a sense of powerlessness without reducing the undesirable behavior.”
In other words, teaching our children that they will suffer if they misbehave doesn’t work. It actually teaches them that they are POWERLESS.
The lessons we learn from being punished as a child carry with us into adulthood. And it’s not just what your parents did – it’s cultural. If someone makes a big mistake at work, we fire them. If someone has a lapse in judgment in our relationship, we break up with them.
But worst of all, we do this to ourselves. We experience guilt, shame, and remorse over the things we’ve done that we’re not proud of. Everyone alive has uttered the words, “I’m kicking myself right now,” after having made a “mistake.”
Collectively, we identify someone who has made certain mistakes as “bad,” and then when an individual makes that mistake for the first time, they take on the identity pre-crafted for them by society. In other words, we’re programmed by society to switch into self-punishment mode the instant we realize that we’ve made a mistake.
This is what we do. We make ourselves suffer. We give away a little piece of our power every time we labor over the choices we’ve made and actions we’ve taken that we regret. And many of us literally inflict suffering upon our bodies – under-eating, over-eating, binging and purging, needles, toxic substances (including tobacco and alcohol), risky sexual behavior, and so on.
That’s not to say that every time someone has a drink or hooks up with someone who turns them on that they’re definitely participating in self-punishment. But it’s possible. And it’s something to look at.
Is there a way out of this endless cycle?
Yes, but it takes discipline and determination. If I wish to give up my pre-programmed self-punishment, I must commit to changing something I can control: my mind. It’s a daily practice of choosing to love myself when I feel compelled to judge or hate myself. I must love, forgive, and accept myself unconditionally, in advance. When I feel the guilt, shame, or fear I’m accustomed to make its approach, I must assertively redirect it into something positive. Then energy is already there, after all, so I might as well put it to good use. The intensity with which I regret can easily become the passion with which I love myself.
But it’s up to me. And it begins whenever I say so.
What ways of self-punishment are you ready to replace with unconditional self-love?