Many of us tend to “beat ourselves up” when we make mistakes. This term varies for everyone, but the general behaviors include overthinking everything we said, wondering what we could have done differently, and tossing and turning all night.
In short, the typical self-punishing behaviors are emotional. However, the act of physical self-punishment, often called “self-harm,” is on the rise. This damaging action is described as inflicting physical pain on yourself to try to get rid of despair, guilt, or other negative feelings.
It’s more common in teens, but there’s no age restriction to self-punishment. No matter how young or old you are, harming yourself physically doesn’t stop at bodily damage. The effects spread to your mental health, impacting your present self and future you.
Stopping these compulsive behaviors can be challenging. If you learn about the impacts they have on your body and your future, you can overcome those obstacles and replace those actions with other, healthier alternatives.
1. Self-Punishment is Negative Self-Talk
We all have that irritating voice in our heads that says we’re not good enough, no one likes us, and spreads other negative lies. However, those who self-harm take this talk a step further and try to silence the voices with bodily punishment.
This behavior stems from guilt, shame, anger, and other emotions that are detrimental to your mental health. But instead of working through those feelings, or due to an inability to control your environment, you may self-harm as punishment.
You likely feel like nothing you do is enough, and you’re always putting yourself down or comparing yourself negatively to others. You may be a perfectionist and don’t feel as though you’re ever reaching your target. Or, you think things that happened to you are your fault because you misbehaved in the past.
These destructive thoughts impact your self-esteem, convincing you that it’s okay to hurt yourself or engage in other damaging behavior, like drug, alcohol, and sexual addictions. Then, you feel guilty about those activities you’ve done, and the cycle begins again.
2. The Mental Damage of Self-Harm Patterns
However your self-destructive behaviors show up, they’re all the consequence of your limiting beliefs that come from the negative self-talk in your head. You must learn how to shut those voices off through healthier methods.
The punishment you’re inflicting on yourself can be devastating to your mental health. Because you know self-harm is wrong, that short-term feeling of euphoria from the pain disappears and turns into despair, shame, and worthlessness. Over time, those feelings become chronic anxiety and depression.
But the physiological effects that happen in your body when you hurt yourself can be addictive. Your brain releases a specific chemical called dopamine, the “feel-good” hormone. It’s the same reaction you get from illicit drugs, and the fallout of this addiction can be just as damaging.
3. Replace the Dopamine Hit With Other Activities
Maybe you’re not at the “self-love” stage yet, and you still feel the need to punish yourself. There are plenty of ways to get the dopamine hit that comes with self-harm in a healthier, less mentally damaging way.
Eventually, to be wholly healthy, you’ll need to work on the realization that you don’t deserve punishment. But for now, let’s look at other activities you can do to replace physically harming yourself, like these alternatives:
- Hit the gym. Exercising provides a fast dopamine release comparable to illicit drugs but much better for your body.
- Take up baking as a hobby. The smell of fresh-baked goodies lowers stress and releases feel-good chemicals. You can always add cannabis to the recipe for an extra blood pressure reducer and relaxant.
- Listen to upbeat music. The saying “music tames the savage beast” has merit. It can change the neural pathways in your brain and get you moving — but it can also depress you, so be sure to pick “happy” music you enjoy.
Get plenty of sleep, eat a balanced diet, and consider talking to a cognitive behavior therapist. You know that your actions aren’t healthy, and getting help through positive lifestyle changes and learning strategies can increase how quickly you heal.
Self-harm damages your body and scars you for life, but the mental effects don’t have to be forever. Use this knowledge and the healthy alternatives to physical punishment to begin your journey to healing, starting now.