Getting a grip on self-punishment

Renly

MyPTSD Pro
I’ve really been struggling with managing self-punishment behaviors.

I recently learned that due to the long-term sexual/emotional/physical abuse I endured, I have been engaging in (very compulsive) traumatic re-enactments since the abuse ended up to now. Before I was married, it was never hard to find someone to hurt me… and after I was married, my SO filled that role. To my SO, it’s always just been a matter of sexual preferences. For all these years, I thought it was just a sexual preference for me as well, but since starting therapy, I’ve come to realize how messed up it all actually is for me and how far I’ve pushed the envelope in this area. I now realize that every time I engage in the re-enactment behaviors, I am harming myself both physically and psychologically. I never knew I had a problem or what I was doing was related to the abuse in any way until I started therapy, although looking back at it now I don’t know how I didn’t see it all these years.

I believe my self-punishment behaviors are primarily driven by shame, but there may also be some fear, helplessness, and the overall negative cognition that “I am bad” that also fuels it. Now that I am in therapy, repressed memories are resurfacing, so I am beginning to understand where all this “crazy” behavior is coming from.

I’ve begun to open up a tiny bit to my SO about my traumas and since then, he’s not wanting to engage with me anymore in the punishment acts that have been pretty standard for us for over a decade now. Part of me is grateful he’s trying to help me get better, but another part of me is very angry at him and still very compulsively driven to seek out punishment… it’s extremely hard to manage.

I now have very strong urges to find someone outside my marriage to hurt me, like I did before I was married (which I 100% absolutely do NOT want to do), but in the moment when I am so triggered it almost feels impossible to resist. And as awful as it sounds, its also very easy to find someone out there to punish me. I feel so out of control and I often feel very afraid of what I might do. The shame I have over these impulses is monumental. But the shame I feel that drives me to engage in the impulses is just as huge.

I have fought those urges successfully thus far and have not gone outside my marriage, but instead I am getting new urges to SH in other ways. Most recently, I burned myself with a lighter, despite fighting the urge for weeks now, which is something I’ve never done to myself before. The burning felt like some kind of compromise between my parts (who all felt very out of control in those moments)…I still punished myself but it didn’t hurt anyone else. My SO does not deserve for me to do something so terrible and hurt him.

I don’t know if it’s important to note that I sometimes engage in other forms of self-punishing behaviors (i.e. drinking excessive amounts of painful-to-swallow alcohol in very short periods of time until I’m sick and vomiting, or pushing myself beyond my limits in various other ways).

I am wondering if it may not be so much the method of punishment itself, but what’s driving the desire to punish myself?

I’m working hard on using coping skills, (which sometimes work) but I’m still very early into my healing journey and to be honest, who the heck (besides T) do I talk to about something like this?! Exercise (straight up running as fast as I can) has been the best coping skill so far, but when I’m triggered at night and not feeling safe to run around outside, I don’t know what to do. My SO is away on business for days/weeks at a time, so I’m home alone and left to my own devices…which doesn’t help.

I’m feeling very vulnerable posting this, I feel like an awful person, but I really need some support or advice if anyone has any. This is such a hard topic to talk about. Has anyone dealt with something similar? In what ways have you successfully reduced your desire (or compulsive need) to harm yourself as a form of punishment? And what helped best to reduce your engagement in the maladaptive SH behaviors?
 

Sideways

Moderator
Has anyone dealt with something similar?
Yes. Absolutely.
In what ways have you successfully reduced your desire (or compulsive need) to harm yourself as a form of punishment?
Reducing the need for punishment is slow. So, long term strategies and short term safety strategies.

Long term, I need to start feeding new beliefs about myself. When I want to punish myself, I need to do the opposite, so my brain has a chance to learn that the opposite (self care) is an appropriate response to distress.

Short term? Things I can do 'right now' instead. Like running. Like anything you can think of that treats your body with some degree of kindness.

Tbh, I couldn't have done it without telling my T (often I have to do this in writing, because of the shame - there's nothing for you to be ashamed of, but we feel it anyway, right?). I haven't always told them every last detail, but by the same measure, they've mostly dealt with this stuff before.

And I was always met with compassion. Always.
And what helped best to reduce your engagement in the maladaptive SH behaviors?
Honesty with myself about it. Like you're doing here.

Reminding myself how hard I've worked to heal, because I'll be fked if I'm gonna blow that by SHing when there's something else I can do to tide me over. Stay busy, keep myself too tired and busy to engage in the SHing stuff.

And strict rules (I need that!). Especially when I'm hitting crisis point. Like calling time out on using my phone - which is like a direct link to Punishment City.
Exercise (straight up running as fast as I can) has been the best coping skill so far, but when I’m triggered at night and not feeling safe to run around outside, I don’t know what to do.
Quite honestly, can you set aside some money and get a treadmill? And next time you're about to engage with SH, promise yourself you'll sign up with a local running club instead.

I do boxing and cycling. Same deal. It works well enough - better than most options for me.
 

Movingforward10

MyPTSD Pro
Low on words,but so much of what you write resonates.
That reenactment is quite addictive. Makes *feeling* something out of otherwise numbness.
Great therapy is helping you see things differently. And it will help with supporting you through this transition. It's hard removing a coping mechanisms when we're still building in healthier ones. Gets a bit rocky before we're out the other side. But you will get there. You have all this awareness about what is happening: and that's an amazing achievement in itself.
 

Renly

MyPTSD Pro
@Sideways thank you for taking the time to reply to me <3

Yes. Absolutely.
Thank you for this. I honestly feel so alone having and dealing with these behaviors.
Reducing the need for punishment is slow. So, long term strategies and short term safety strategies
This is what I figured and suspected. I know it's deeply ingrained in me.
Tbh, I couldn't have done it without telling my T (often I have to do this in writing, because of the shame - there's nothing for you to be ashamed of, but we feel it anyway, right?). I haven't always told them every last detail, but by the same measure, they've mostly dealt with this stuff before.
My T is aware of my punishing part, but I will have to share how things have been evolving as I haven't yet. The shame is on some other level, logic doesn't seem to help any. T has been amazing to me...it's just hard managing on my own when the urges strike, I don't want to reach out to her outside of therapy more than I already have.
And strict rules (I need that!). Especially when I'm hitting crisis point. Like calling time out on using my phone - which is like a direct link to Punishment City.
I will have to ponder this. I am so rebellious towards any strict rules I create for myself - sometimes I seem to operate almost unconsciously to how much I am rebelling until I look back later and then its like - oh shit, how did this even happen?! I have found I do better with some leeway - but figuring out how to do it in a healthy way is my new challenge. I too need to time out on my phone and put my car keys away.
can you set aside some money and get a treadmill? And next time you're about to engage with SH, promise yourself you'll sign up with a local running club instead.
Yes, this is actually a good idea. I actually HATE running...so joining a running club sounds like torture, maybe that can be my new punishment 😂
I do boxing and cycling.
I have done both of these in the past (just for fun), I think it may be something good to revisit now as a coping strategy.

THANK YOU for all your feedback.
 

Renly

MyPTSD Pro
Low on words,but so much of what you write resonates.
That reenactment is quite addictive. Makes *feeling* something out of otherwise numbness.
Great therapy is helping you see things differently. And it will help with supporting you through this transition. It's hard removing a coping mechanisms when we're still building in healthier ones. Gets a bit rocky before we're out the other side. But you will get there. You have all this awareness about what is happening: and that's an amazing achievement in itself.
Thank you for your reply @Movingforward10. The re-enactment behaviors ARE addictive and have been a go-to for me for so many years now. I know it's not going to change overnight, which feels like such a hard pill to swallow with my newfound awarenes. For me, it's less about giving me some feelings when I am numb and more about quieting down very huge and overwhelming negative emotions. Thank you for your support. I feel like I am definitely taking the first few steps in the right direction, it just feels scary.
 

Bigmess

Learning
You are not alone at all as this is also trend in my life that manifests in so many ways. Getting through this mess of complex punishment rituals that also feel good in one aspect or another all the same is difficult. The first things you can do is identify and isolate self limiting behavior that only serves to keep you lower overall in well being because it's so familiar. I say just familiar because often it's not even comfortable. This where journals and taking notes are going to be your best friends. I'm pretty obsessed with doing that but it's good thing to be because even if the trade off is always reminding you of things to do with yourself and what to try to advance on next you're also making progress at a much faster rate. It all depends on how intense you want to be with that, take it at your own pace. It would be a lot to explain here but personally the way I progress is not a straight line, I have a pretty complex system of stability, self comfort, and self punishment that is there until it isn't. The lines can also be very blurry, nothing is ever black and white. I just know what is too much in any direction of what I'm feeling, the smaller goals along the way are like different levels of daily stability to take a break with more comfort when I reach as I gather more information from there on what I want to do next..
 

arfie

MyPTSD Pro
i'm still tackling this in the alanon style. following the example of other members, i put myself at the top of the list of people i have harmed and am still working to make amends. i still abuse myself often enough to myself high on the "amends owed" list.

being gentle with myself remains quite a challenge. so what if i'm old, ugly and ill-mannered? 20 lashes with the self-powered whip! ! !
 

Bigmess

Learning
i'm still tackling this in the alanon style. following the example of other members, i put myself at the top of the list of people i have harmed and am still working to make amends. i still abuse myself often enough to myself high on the "amends owed" list.

being gentle with myself remains quite a challenge. so what if i'm old, ugly and ill-mannered? 20 lashes with the self-powered whip! ! !
You just brought up where I think many people get caught up, they go for the whip but there's another more gentle way that may also involve something else that's not easy. On top of this the person often doesn't know what to do besides the self whipping. Old and ugly can be rooted in perspective on a situation, ill mannered on the other hand may have more concrete meaning since we are all human and I'm sure there are many things we globally find disrepectful whatever the person neurotype may be. I would personally the hardest thing is when you mind yourself in a pool of mud and you can't see the land because it's too foggy to use an example. Everything is bleak, crappy, and disgusting. There's only one thing to do though is keep going with whatever options you got that have a possibility of taking you closer to stable ground.
 

arfie

MyPTSD Pro
There's only one thing to do though is keep going with whatever options you got that have a possibility of taking you closer to stable ground.

amen, i say unto thee, amen.
i go for small steps, big faith and lots of prayer.
i haven't stooped to writing miss manners yet.
 

Renly

MyPTSD Pro
Love all the processing for you @Renly. Comforting hugs if you want them. 🫂
Thank you @Defaultxlove I know I’m making progress so I just need to continue to be gentle with myself.

Getting through this mess of complex punishment rituals that also feel good in one aspect or another all the same is difficult.
That’s exactly what it is, too…a complex punishment ritual.

I say just familiar because often it's not even comfortable.
Agreed.

This where journals and taking notes are going to be your best friends.
I’ve been really focusing on writing throughout my therapy journey so far. It’s given me lots of new insights and I can look back and observe growth/set-backs, etc. I’ve also used writing as a coping skill to help me refrain from engaging in these compulsive behaviors. I’m glad it’s worked for you, too @Bigmess

i'm still tackling this in the alanon style. following the example of other members, i put myself at the top of the list of people i have harmed and am still working to make amends. i still abuse myself often enough to myself high on the "amends owed" list.
I really like this idea. I’ve never though about how much I’ve harmed myself, mostly because for all these years I didn’t know I was actually harming myself. But even in other ways that I’ve known I’ve been engaging in SH, that puts me pretty high up there on the list of people to make amends to…If not #1.

being gentle with myself remains quite a challenge. so what if i'm old, ugly and ill-mannered? 20 lashes with the self-powered whip! ! !
@arfie this made me smile!! Thank you for that! My self-powered whip is hot and ready!! 😂 But, I highly suspect you are not as old, ugly, and ill-mannered as you think you are 😉

the person often doesn't know what to do besides the self whipping
And even though I KNOW what else to do now, it doesn’t always work. And channeling those impulses somewhere else is a massive feat.

i go for small steps, big faith and lots of prayer.
This is right on the money.
 
Top