The shocking truth about self-punishment

hands of woman holding bars in jail

Here’s a provocative statement: most people don’t like themselves and this very probably includes you.

hands of woman holding bars in jailHow do I know that? Because, if you did, you would never treat yourself as badly as you do and the quality of your life and your relationships wouldn’t feel as disappointing as they sometimes do.

Non-love is a term I coined to describe behaviours that are deeply harmful and that damage every single area of our life from our relationship with ourselves to our relationship with others and all the choices and decisions we make on a moment by moment basis that either reinforce our beliefs or enable us to build a life where we finally stand tall in the world.

Having said that, this all depends to a large extent on whether you are inclined to be left-brained or right-brained.

Left or right-brained

In My Stroke of Insight, Jill Bolte Taylor explains that treating ourselves non-lovingly is universal. She goes on to say that we experience our life and express ourselves very differently depending on whether we’re coming from our left brain or our right brain.

When we are in our right brain we tend to be fully present. We are not burdened by the past or fearful about the future. We have a loving attitude and approach to life, we’re open to possibilities and we go forth with enthusiasm and excitement.

When we’re in our left brain, we are task-orientated, we communicate, understand, analyse and generally function effectively in the world.

However, the downside of the left brain is that it makes up stories and has a large capacity for stirring up drama and trauma which we then believe to be true. The left brain can also be mean, stubborn, cruel, judgemental, arrogant or sarcastic, both with ourselves and with others – all part of ‘Non-Love’.

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Non love part 1

The main problem with Non-Love Part 1 is that it stops us from standing tall in the world and, until we recognise the many ways we treat ourselves non-lovingly, there is no way we can do so. If we’re not friends with ourselves, we cannot be genuine friends to others.

Non-loving behaviours stem from limiting beliefs and thoughts that cause us pain and fear, and keep us separate from others. They cause us to be intolerant, impatient, critical, unkind and judgemental because that’s how we are with ourselves.

If you doubt this statement ask yourself when you last beat yourself up for not living up to your expectations of yourself, for being slow or clumsy, for messing up – again – and for just not being good or worthy enough. This is self-punishment.

And there’s more. Non-loving ways of treating ourselves include pretending to feel all right when we don’t so that others don’t feel uncomfortable, ignoring our inner voice and our intuitions, putting others ahead of our own needs and wants, and making ourselves feel small and undeserving of the good things in life, including love.

We stay in a job that kills our spirit because, we tell ourselves, we have a mortgage to pay. To make this bearable we tell ourselves we’re being realistic, responsible and reasonable.

Or we pretend to be an ‘innocent bystander’ in our relationships. We’re the ones who are thoughtful, reliable, open and honest while ‘they’ are causing the problem.

This is known as sabotaging yourself. Having said that, you probably don’t even realise how you’re creating the very circumstances you insist you don’t want!


One big clue as to whether or not we like and accept ourselves as we really are is the extent to which we need others to like and accept us, trust their judgement instead of our own and try to make ourselves acceptable to others – whatever the cost to ourselves.

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How far are you willing to go in an effort to fit in, to be liked and accepted by others – even when deep down you feel uncomfortable?

Standing tall in the world is a process that leads us towards genuinely getting to like ourselves as we really are, and not some socially acceptable version of how we think we should be or even how we believe other people would like us to be – the operative word being ‘believe’.

Sometimes that belief is based on fact and sometimes it isn’t.

That is why, although just the process of exploring your non-loving behaviours may make you feel uncomfortable, the rewards are simply unimaginable. As my life coach used to tell me: nobody dies of uncomfortable.

Beginning to identify the ways you treat yourself non-lovingly and introducing some changes, e.g. tentatively telling somebody how you really feel or asking for something you really need or want, is a huge step forward. But you need to be consistent and persevere even when there appears to be no change.

Acknowledging the good and bad

One particularly insidious non-loving behaviour is refusing to contemplate negative aspects of ourselves. We have developed a variety of psychological mechanisms to protect ourselves from unwelcome information, such as suppressing or projecting those negative traits onto other people.

However, learning to acknowledge and accept all aspects of ourselves has an important effect not only on our self-perception but also in the way we perceive others. Once we see the whole of ourselves and not just the bits and pieces that we consider acceptable, we will be able to accept our own humanity and, from there, it’s a small step towards accepting the humanity of others.

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This is the process that enables us to develop tolerance, patience, compassion, kindness and a non-judgmental approach both towards ourselves and others. How can we judge other people’s flaws when we’re flawed ourselves?

The more you get to like and believe in yourself, the more you will attract like-minded and like-hearted people, who no longer need to resort to manipulation and control to get what they want.

They simply ask for what they need knowing that they might get it, or they might not and, even then, they know that they will be able to handle it without getting angry, frustrated or resentful.

What these people have found is that, when they ask for what they need and want, they get more than they ever did before.

If you’re still in this place where you hope ‘they’ will fulfil your needs just because they love you and, therefore, ‘should’ know what they are without you having to explicitly ask for them – forget it. The crystal ball approach to relationships never works!

The good news is that treating ourselves non-lovingly is a habit and, although breaking the habits of a lifetime is not easy, you can do it.