Self-punishment: Why Do We Hurt Ourselves?

Why do people hurt themselves? This question may seem absurd, but self-punishment and infliction is an act that resides in the psychological domain of a human being. The reason may vary according to person, but what is clear is that self-infliction is a form of repatriation of one’s self, based on the assessment of his actions.

The subject of self-punishment is simple. A person fails at something; therefore, he beats himself up, literally, and promises to do better, or he sins and falters against God’s word only to enact punishment on himself with the impression of penance. Nonetheless, the type of punishment inflicted is relative. Punishments can range from skipping a meal to depriving one’s self of a basic necessity, cutting, burning, and even whipping. Asides from that, self-punishment can take many forms, ranging from negative self-talk to overt self-injury”. Even positive behaviours such as exercise and healthy eating can also be used as punishment when taken to an extreme.


In retrospect, individuals are brought up differently. This discrepancy matters because of the ‘no pain, no gain’ mentality that life inadvertently offers. For them, execution must be accompanied by suffering. This psychology comes with three statements: “I deserve to suffer”, “Suffering will make me a better person”, and “I am supposed to suffer”.

People who go with the utterance of, “I deserve to suffer”, find themselves in a steady state of low esteem. Because of this, they constantly wallow in a state of depression and do nothing to pull themselves out, since their esteem is a huge contributor to the mood they feel. They are normally unmotivated, to seek help.

Those who tell themselves that “Suffering will make me a better person”, are often religious and cultural. They see their transgressions as an avenue of imposing some form of torture on themselves. An example of this is flagellation. Flagellation is “the disciplinary or devotional practice of beating with whips.” Only that, in this case, transgressors best themselves with whips as a form of confession. The mentality that comes with this is often coupled with a more destructive form of austere minimalism. That is, imitating the immaterialistic lifestyle of a religious person, in this case, Jesus. By practising this sort of self-punishment, people often let their guilt overshadow their┬áconsciousness, and then punish themselves for a sin committed.

The last comes under the words “I am supposed to suffer”. Here, people believe in a fair and just world, hence, suffering must occur; they assume they “must deserve it” or “endure it”. This group believes that suffering only comes as a prerequisite of living, and anything beyond that is non-conforming to the world’s order. This often sheds light on why some people tolerate bad conditions, and go through a dark tunnel, because eventually, the light will come. Nevertheless, we need to understand why people truly hurt themselves and their effects.


The thought of punishing one’s self is controversial. It emerges from a person’s inner conscience, encompassing what such an individual has been taught to practice. Here are some reasons for self-harm.

The first, is religion. A person is more comfortable with how he chooses to praise or appease a supreme being. Religious people often harm themselves as atonement for their sins. Also, they harm themselves or subject themselves to suffering to earn a position in heaven.

Second, is the elevation of self-worth. Arguably, these types of punishments are an “unconscious mechanism to make the person feel more worthy.” They want to wipe away the feeling of guilt and shame that appears to haunt them. One instance may be a man who has engaged in the act of masturbation. Since masturbation, too many, is a degrading act, and widely condemned by many, this man, burdened with the shame and guilt of forcing an erection for temporal pleasure may attach himself to a self-inflicted punishment.

Lastly, harming others. Many use self-punishment to guilt-trip others to surrender to their wants, or garner attention. A typical example is when a person harms himself because of a previous break-up he did not agree with, to solicit compassion from his ex. Another example is when a student fails, purposefully refusing to study to gain the attention of his unavailable parents.


This act may provide short term relief, self-satisfaction, and condemnation of a wrong act, however, the long term effects are fatal. Asides from physical lesions a victim may accrue, chronic self-harm is linked to borderline personality disorders, depression, and eating disorders. A victim will find himself in this deep hole of suffering and continue to dwell if help is not sought.


The next question we must address is how to say no to self-harm. Self-punishment is a way of establishing control over one’s self, whilst disregarding the fears that lurk within. A common way of preventing self-infliction is by understanding yourself. By doing this, you will confront your fears from a positive viewpoint. But, by understanding yourself, you are acknowledging that failures are inevitable and cannot be solved with infliction.

Another way to stop this is by seeking help from a counsellor. A counsellor is equipped is helping victims with negative emotions, feelings, and situations that beset them, tackling them in better ways. Also, you may need to tell someone of this obsession before it leads to impassable hurdles.

Furthermore, finding a distraction when the urge to self-harm surfaces can help. A distraction may involve a hobby or an activity you find solace in. It can also involve being optimistic about yourself; carrying positive feelings and viewing yourself as a person of worth.