When we internalize or do not know how to deal with our feelings of pain, it sometimes causes us to turn against ourselves and become self-critical and self-hating. If this process reaches serious proportions, it plays a significant role in feelings of depression and worthlessness. Although there are many other causes, depression has traditionally been understood as being primarily due to anger directed against the self. It can lead to self-defeating, self-destructive and at times, even suicidal behaviours.
- Do you feel stuck in perpetual anger against yourself?
- Do you sometimes feel compelled to inflict physical harm on yourself?
- Do you find it difficult to believe that you are lovable and valuable?
- Do you often feel urges to punish yourself for your perceived failures?
- Do you cut yourself off from people who care about you?
- Do you instinctively turn against yourself in self-contempt when you feel embarrassed?
- Do you hate yourself for lacking control or being rejected?
- Do you call yourself names?
- Do you yell at yourself?
- Do you neglect your physical needs?
On the conscious level; you may know that this pattern of behaviour is not constructive but find that you still cannot seem to stop subconsciously beating yourself up. You are not alone. Self-punishment is prevalent because it is an all-purpose defence mechanism against the pains of life. And life is indeed full of pain. As humans, we have strong needs for connection, acceptance, success, and approval; but we are also faced with the reality that people sometimes hurt one another, and life does not always go according to our plans
When we feel emotional pain, we subconsciously build up a negative energy because we are wired to try to do something about it. This energy can be experienced internally as anger or even rage. This energy then motivates us to reach out to get comfort for our pain and it drives us to get back out there and try again to get what we want or need.
What if, however, we have been repeatedly and consistently shot down, betrayed, ignored, scorned or attacked for trying to get our needs met, or neglected when we have asked for comfort, or abused and rejected when we have tried to use our power? This is the point at which self-punishment comes in. When reaching out into the world no longer feels safe or helpful, we subconsciously take our anger and rage and turn it back onto ourselves.
We begin to believe, on the subconscious level, that ‘I am the problem. When I feel rejection or failure, it is my fault and I must punish myself.’ Our resulting self-attacking behaviours, therefore, do not reflect our desire to feel pain; much to the contrary, they are our hope for fixing the pain by sufficiently punishing its perceived cause – ourselves.
Instead of solving our problems, however, our self-attacks leave us beaten down and isolated. We become less connected to other people and increasingly imprisoned within our self-punishment. We become so familiar with our habit of attacking ourselves that it starts to feel like a permanent part of who we are. Trying to change it may even feel unsafe.
Our anger at ourselves might consume us and distract us from being present and engaged with our lives. Our relationships, our connections to our bodies, and our drives toward creative or professional development could get derailed or weighed down by this vice grip of continual need to self-punish. We can lose sight of what we truly want and need. When this happens; we are at risk for getting horribly off track and making poor choices, trying to escape by developing destructive habits with food, alcohol or drugs and then feeling even more reason to punish ourselves as we start to regret our behaviours, and might even end up feeling suicidal.
Self-directed anger is an anger that has more to do with self then it has with other people. It stems from an internal sense of dissatisfaction you have within yourself. This form of anger is often toxic and can cause a lot of internal turmoil and instability. It harms you and can also harm other people when it is directed at them out of frustration. However, some forms of self-directed anger can actually be helpful and productive. Let’s quickly have a look at each of these types of anger:
- Overwhelmed Anger: With this type of anger; you become overwhelmed with having too much to do, with having too little time, and often resulting in high levels of stress and anxiety. You feel as though you are unable to control events, people and/or circumstances and this makes you feel angry. This form of anger is often expressed through yelling at others or yourself.
- Behavioural Anger: Here you are feeling angry and frustrated with yourself for one or more reasons. You might, for example, be held back from something you want to do, be or have. As a result, you express your anger aggressively in the form of defiance, through trouble-making, or by causing physical harm to yourself or another person.
- Paranoid Anger: This type of anger is a result of paranoia. You are paranoid that something might happen. This might, for instance, arise from intimidation. And as a result, you become very defensive and try to protect yourself, which manifests in angry outbursts.
- Chronic Anger: Here you are constantly angry. You are angry just because! You are angry because it’s raining outside; you are angry because the sun is shining too much; you are angry because a chirping bird woke you up in the morning; you are angry because you forgot to buy some bread on your way home from work; you are angry because your spouse is annoyingly happy; you are angry because you did not get your favourite parking spot; etc.
- Self-Inflicted Anger: Here you are angry in order to punish yourself for something you did or failed to do. You might have for example made a mistake and as a result, you are angry at yourself. You might even go to great lengths to abuse yourself and possibly punish yourself because of this mistake.
- Constructive Anger: This is the only form of anger that makes sense. It’s actually the only form of anger that can help you make a positive difference in your life and in the lives of others. This form of anger is often expressed via protests. However, it can also be expressed in other ways. For instance, you might purposefully choose to be angry to get a point across to a customer service consultant. Or you might purposefully become angry to teach your kids a lesson. This is all a constructive and helpful form of anger that can benefit everyone concerned.
Once again; it’s important here to evaluate which types of anger have become a regular part of your life and ask yourself:
- How have I experienced each of these types of anger?
- Why have I experienced these types of anger?
- What specifically triggered these angry feelings? Why?
- How are these angry outbursts hurting me?
- What can I learn from my angry outbursts?
Managing your anger will become far easier and simpler once you understand and familiarize yourself with how anger tends to manifest in your life. You might of course not have all the answers right now to control your responses. However, with a little effort and time, you can eventually re-condition your mindset to begin responding to circumstances in far more positive and productive ways.
So how can you free yourself from your self-punishing tendencies? First of all, you need to recognize that your self-punishment may be so deeply entrenched that no amount of telling yourself to be nice to yourself is going to make much difference. In fact, it might cause you to be even more self-punishing when, in your usual self-attacking way, you get angry at yourself for failing to be nice to yourself!
Anger management hacks help but are not a lasting solution. For quick, easy and lasting results, you need to work on your anger from a subconscious level where all behaviour originates. All habitual behaviour – whether positive or negative – starts in your subconscious mind.
Many people struggle to deal with their anger issues and eventually fail and give up because they try their best to solve a subconscious problem with unconscious means; which never works. All behaviour is a result of your internal state which is affected by your thinking and emotional patterns.
To experience lasting change, you need to tackle your anger from its source. Toxic behaviour is a manifestation of a wounded soul. Once the soul is healed, behaviour always automatically changes to align with the new inner reality. If you’re battling chronic anger issues or are a victim of someone else’s toxic behaviour and need help; you can contact me here.