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Self Punishment: Obsessive Thinking

gavelObsessors often feel that they have “failed” to prevent the problem from happening. For them, this implies guilt and punishment. They are guilty of the fictional “crimes” of disappointment, displeasing, or irresponsibility. They have no one but themselves to blame. Their mistaken experience of guilt pushes them to punish themselves. They assume it will hurt less and they will have some control if they choose to control how or when to punish themselves.

This kind of thinking does not work and worse still it stops them of resolving the problem that faces them. As children, they learned that guilt leads to punishment and as adults they see to it that their own guilt is punished. They would feel “irresponsible” if they didn’t. Yet, they are now locked into a vicious cycle of guilt and punishment from which they do not see themselves as “deserving” to escape.

Obsessors do not torment themselves in this way because they enjoy it. They are not masochists. They are in pain and suffer from an underlying conviction that they are worthless, inferior and inadequate to cope. So they behave accordingly. But they hate it.

Underlying obsessive thinking is the fact that we are trying to predict the future. We are trying to solve a problem in the present to prevent disaster in the future. We are trying to come up with a plan to feel secure about some problem that may or may not happen tomorrow. In the mean time we are not living in the present. Our life is on hold until we find an acceptable solution to this potential problem.

We have set ourselves up. We cannot find an accurate plan for the future because it has not happened yet. When we do not have a plan we feel pain and this pain is too much to bear. So we act in ways to punish ourselves to teach ourselves a lesson for our “failure”. We cannot control the future. We can only live in the present. But when our worth as a person seems to be at stake, we cannot allow ourselves to have peace of mind until this ordeal is over. This is a prescription for anxiety, which frequently accompanies obsessive thinking and compounds our pain.

Some obsessive thinkers try to relive their distress by “fighting” their thoughts. They assume that their problem is a matter of willpower and they can end this line of thinking by simply saying to themselves, “Stop it this instant” or “I will not think this way anymore.” This approach does not make things better. It makes them worse. It sounds logical, but it is counter productive. It has the undesired effect of giving the obsessive thoughts more power and significance then they deserve.

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Self Punishment: Obsessive Thinking

Aaron Karmin

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APA Reference
Karmin, A. (2013). Self Punishment: Obsessive Thinking. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 18, 2019, from


Last updated: 6 Dec 2013
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