We may have been told that we are “too hard on ourselves,” or that we are “our own worst enemy.” These “diagnoses” do not offer us any insight into the psychodynamics of our self-punitive behavior. Why do we do this to ourselves? These self-criticisms and self-punishments are a method of self-victimization. Cara falls into this category.

As an adult, Cara makes decisions, which turn out to be painful for her in the end. She hurts herself, not because she enjoys the pain, she is not a masochist. Her choices are consistent with the way she perceives herself; she is now, and has always been, the victim of herself. She is relieving the pressure of the anger in her bloodstream and is in control of the “punishment.” She is making her pain happen at a time and place of her own choosing.

It is bad enough when others victimize us with blame through accusations of “negligence,” “stupidity” or “foolishness.” It is even worse when we make the mistake of taking their assessment of us at face value and agreeing with them that we are the author of our own distress. Some of us are so well “trained” to accept guilt, fault and responsibility that, when there is no one around to pin the rap on us, we do it to ourselves. We compound our pain and exacerbate it with fictitious guilt and unwarranted anger at ourselves. We are the victims of us.

It seems so illogical. There is no reason for it. Not a rational reason, anyway. Some “reasons” are not intellectual, they are emotional and are derived from the subjective attitudes that we have about ourselves. For instance, one “reason” we inflict blame upon ourselves is that we have learned pain is inevitable. So we beat them to the punch by blaming ourselves first. It hurts less that way. It is the lesser misery that we prefer, to the even worse pain of letting others punish us.

For people who feel that the victimization is the result of their “stupid” decisions or choices, self-inflicted pain is perceived as the appropriate “punishment” for their crimes of stupidity. This, too, is a payoff. They imagine that they have arranged for “justice to be served” through their well-deserved punishment. “I had it coming.” They have averted the guilt that they would have felt if they had failed to punish themselves. This way, their self-inflicted pain entitles them to feel morally superior to those who are not “strong” enough to mete out the self-punishment that they “deserve.”

The antidote to the choice between the greater pain and the lesser pain is the realization that there is a third choice, namely no pain at all. People who suffer from self-contempt imagine that they do not deserve happiness; all they deserve is pain and suffering. They prefer to bring it about themselves. Self-respecting people, however, feel that they deserve to be happy, no more and no less than anyone else. The issue of pain becomes irrelevant. The issue of who will inflict what upon whom does not arise.

For example, Cara was able to break the cycle of endless self-victimization by pushing her comfort zone. She saw that her self-victimization became more intense when she was angry. Instead of blaming herself as she “deserved,” she was able to make conscious, deliberate choices in the here and now. She chose to validate her anger as a legitimate response to a painful experience. She also chose to direct her anger at the person who provoked her instead of directing it against herself. She is now able to “sort it out.” She can say to herself, “Wait a minute, I didn’t do it, he did it. I’m angry at him and he is going to hear about it.” She did not feel ready yet to tell her friend  that she was angry with him, so she compromised. She wrote him an anger letter. She relieved the pressure of her pent up anger and managed it. That is a major accomplishment.