Do we need to be punished first?


Often when I work with someone in my coaching practice, there comes a day where the question of punishment comes up….

The leftover, like moldy bread part of our childhood, in which we were a bad boy or a bad girl.

Or something like that.

It is fairly insidious, but we develop many actions and decisions from the thought that we may need to allow ourselves to be punished by circumstances, relationships, situations, jobs, strangers, etc…before we are rewarded or have what we want.

We may also just feel like Charlie Brown, nothing ever works out and we’re just punished for being who we are no matter what!

There seems to be a shared feeling of a “TO DO” list. Whether the list is for one day or its a list of tasks we must take on before we meet the goal to the detriment of joy.

It’s not to say we can or can’t have a list. It’s to say that our list shouldn’t control whether we allow ourselves joy or to veer off spontaneously from the list without guilt.

Guilt is punishment.

Worrying is punishment.

Having to climb a mountain before relaxing is punishment.

Hearing a voice in our head telling us what we do, think, or feel…OR “are” is not enough.

Actually having to do anything to prove our worth, who we are or what we do as good, excellent or deserving of something better is punishment.

As I said, it’s insidious.

The way to tell we’re in a punishment state of space:

  • Thoughts that won’t slow down, we feel we’re on the race track going toward some imaginary finish line.
  • We have anxiety or can’t sit still, we must be productive–busy–all the time.
  • We feel a heavy load on our shoulders that even when we try to relax it doesn’t go away.
  • We often feel we’re missing something.
  • A large sense of ominous fear colors our lives: our every move, as though something bad is going to happen…and we may not even know why.
  • There’s no joy to an accomplishment, there’s a feeling of having to get onto the next thing.
  • We may find things to purposely distract ourselves to enhance a feeling of guilt.

Any of this sound familiar?


How do we get away from something, which strangulates the joy, contentment and fulfillment we have inside…and sucks the life right out of us?

First: We need to get clear. What drives us?

When we have a long “to do” list that we must accomplish…asking ourselves WHY it’s so important is a good start.

How does it feel to think of all that self-induced pressure? What is the benefit? There’s always a benefit when it comes to the “stuff” we place on ourselves, it allows us to stay a victim to the circumstances in our lives. Why? It gives us excuses to keep us stuck; it as to why we’re not doing what we really want to do.

Second: We need to get clear. When did we start to feel we had to be punished to be rewarded?

The reason it’s important to know when that seed was planted is then we know where the concept developed, we can realize it’s not a fair assessment of who we are or what we do.

When we were kids and told if we receive straight A’s, we receive a trip to Disneyland, money, attention, etc…and somehow we made it a belief that if we work hard in every part of our life, we are rewarded.

Now, I’ve nothing against working hard toward a goal, but sometimes we work TOO hard, or we have an exaggerated sense of what we need to do, to be accepted, loved or rewarded.

We feel we deserve nothing, unless we’re punished first. And this applies to the large and small things in life…and to all that we do, because if there is a charge behind what we’re doing, as though we’re in a race with ourselves….then, it’s self-induced punishment.

There’s no invisible being who will punish us….we do it to ourselves.

Third: Recognize the looming feeling of disappointment.

Who will we disappoint if we do not accomplish the mountain climb? What will we not deserve, except punishment from disappointing ourselves or someone else? This can ruin our day, we can let it seep into a day where we’re exhausted and we need to relax, but the restlessness sits in us, the feeling we will disappoint.

Now what can we can we do with this information?

1. Clarity brings a change of thought and action. We can choose to know the roof will not cave in, if we don’t take the hard road.

2. Don’t distract. Simply enough, completely embody the decision to relax, say “no,” and with the same determination we climb mountains–fully embrace the decision to decide to do something else.

3. Practice self-compassion and kindness. In whatever form that is and if there is guilt surrounding that, shine the light of clarity on it…see what it says.

4. Let go. Release. Stop. Just stand still….opening our hands to receive, we must let go of what we hold onto that protects us from moving forth in our lives, into the unknown.

5. Do something we love everyday and watch the joy grow. There is no have to, except to breathe, eat and sleep. And well, brush our teeth.


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