Self-Punishment: Why?

There is a gal whom at various recurring intervals throughout the past year I’ve heard say, “I really need to quit my night job.”


She still hasn’t.


A guy I dated wrestles with daily anxiety over his poorly-trained dog, but has never read a dog book or attended a training class.

(I hope he’s not reading.)

A mom I know believes her 2+ hour daily commute is literally destroying her health, but is not searching for alternatives.

A friend of mine has always hated living in LA, but has been here for four years.

road sign with graffiti dran to put man in gallows

Are we seeing a pattern here? A little punishment, perhaps?

You know these people, too.

Folks, I don’t know what’s going on and I am eaten away by this question:

Why do people punish themselves?

The armchair psychology answer is that we take what we think we deserve. Consciously or not. If deep-down we think we’re unworthy of happiness, we let all these little forms of punishment operate just beneath the hum of consciousness in order to eat away at our baseline level of joy.

But I’m dying to believe there’s more to it than that. There has to be more to it than that.

It’s so widespread that it leads to part of the reason I’m asking:

What if I’m doing something wrong?

I’m so fast to jump ship when I’m unhappy. I can’t count all the jobs I’ve had on two hands. I’ve changed living situations every 2-3 years. I quit. I leave. I wander.

Maybe I’m missing something. Maybe I should endure more? Why else would these mostly wonderful people I know put themselves through so much suffering?

Maybe I want to hear that I should stop vagabonding because I’m actually looking for an excuse to avoid the impending discomfort of living on the road for the next several months.

Could be that I’m trying to give credit to these punishers because I want to sabotage my quest for a writing career by making myself stay here in Los Angeles.

picture of the ocean MAlibu

Is it really so bad?

But I’m not there yet. I’m not quite able to believe that I’m doing something wrong by doing a little punishment here in order to avoid the greater punishment of pursuing an unfulfilling career.

So then the question still stands: What am I missing?


I just want to know: Have you noticed this? What do you think it means? Are you one of those people? Why? What is the purpose?

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