The Dangerous Game of Punishing Yourself

I sat with my back to the drywall, my legs kissing the porcelain a few feet away. My skin felt cold against the floor tiles, my hair pulled back out of my face, staring. The toilet seat was up. My stomach was oily, full, angry.

Twenty minutes earlier, the search engine line of my computer had read, “how to make yourself throw up”. I scrolled the articles. Press your finger down on the back of your throat. Use a tooth brush. Feel empty. Easy, right?

I had known too many to count on two hands. New friends and old, those extremely close to me who wasted away for beauty, who binged and purged and tried so hard to fight it. I knew all about the not eating and about the eating too much. I knew about the stomach acid, the hair falling out, the breakouts and the pain. Yet, I also understood the appeal of the loose jeans.

So I just stared at the rim of the toilet and I waited.


One-half of me knew so much better. Knew I was better than this. Knew I couldn’t have gone through with it even if I tried. But the other half of me, for however short a time, craved the displeasure. Part of me thought I deserved it.

Why do we so willingly participate in what destroys us? It comes in all shapes and sizes. Skipping meals or throwing them up. Eating until we are sick. Lines and burns in skin, bottles and bags and the contents inside. Hopping from bed to bed, or hiding away for weeks, or putting on layers and layers of masks so no one can see.

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How did we ever get to this place? The answer is so simple—wild fires are never supposed to get out of hand. Hurricanes start with just a drop of rain.

We start with self-deprecation. All the ways we fall short start to stack up internally: our social anxiety, our lack of belonging, our crappy job, our broken family, our messy lives. We compare with everyone else, and they all seem to be doing just fine.

But it stems from there into more than just lustful comparisons and we look back to realize that we have begun to see ourselves as the sum of our inadequacies. We are our yellow teeth, our tiny salary, our joblessness, our loneliness, our number on the scale, or our broken dreams that never really got us anywhere.

If it isn’t our shortcomings, it’s our shame that lays the framework. A bad decision has left us wounded and scarred and unable to deal with the repercussions of emotional bondage, whether big or small. A crazy night out went awry. Friends were betrayed, people wronged, hearts broken. Lives shattered. You skipped your workout for the day, you were a bad friend, or you broke her heart. No matter the situation, we are haunted. And the conclusion is simple—we deserve the pain, the consequences, and the heavy baggage is our punishment.


In that moment, poised in thought on the ground in my college apartment bathroom, there was clarity. One, I knew that I was beating myself up. I had fallen short of being disciplined, had missed a goal. Two, I was ashamed at myself for not only my lack of self-control, but also for being in a place where I was staring at a toilet contemplating a worse resolution.

I had to make a choice.

The first decision was to hate myself. It sounds so harsh, but almost all of us are guilty of it. We preach things like self-love and self-acceptance, when in reality our minds are criminal when it comes to treating ourselves like trash. It starts out healthy, like most things. We push ourselves to become better. We hope to hold ourselves to a high standard. But it is a slick slope from high personal expectations to self-punishment and self-hatred.

I’m hard on myself sometimes, and that forces me to learn. I demand a lot from myself, and that creates results. These things are usually not bad. The thing is, though, that we often allow ourselves to be tainted by shame and guilt and reprimand when failure has a far better alternative.

The second decision was truth, grace, and forgiveness. All three words seem a little too much, letters strung together that probably fit better in the lines of a church service than in a situation that could actually apply to our lives today. But whether the words intimidate, or not, they sound much better than torture, shame, and hate.

You and I, we can all agree than knowing the truth, providing forgiveness, and passing on grace all sound pretty great. We consider ourselves good if we are honest, if we forgive, if we give someone else another chance. But when is the last time you did those things for yourself?

I don’t want us to just love ourselves in the way society is telling us to. They want us to buy some new clothes, take a vacation, take a hot bath, or go on a fancy date to somehow prove that we like the person that we are. But beautifying the outside or doing something you enjoy cannot make up for the fact that you loathe yourself. Learning to love yourself is a process from the inside out.

The truth is that we all are going to mess up. We all are going to fail and deserve to be punished for the ways we have done others wrong.

The grace is that even if we don’t necessarily deserve a second chance, we have been given one. And we have to decide to get back up when we fall down.

The forgiveness is that no matter what you have done, how dirty or ashamed you feel, how broken it seems your life is, or how much you wish things had gone differently, you are already forgiven. You are forgiven by God, you can be forgiven by your friends and family, and you now must forgive yourself.

That day, I chose to break the cycle. I chose to stop the dangerous game. I stood up, I turned out the lights, and I closed the door. But that doesn’t mean the war still wages. There are a lot of days that I lose. But that day, I won.

Today, stop punishing yourself.

Instead of shame, choose resolve.
Instead of guilt, choose to let go.
Instead of feeling inadequate, choose to let your failures inspire you.

Instead of deserving of a sentence, choose to walk free.

Showing 5 comments
  • njgrenfell

    Great article! Thanks!

  • Jess

    Thank you Meagan for sharing this article. I plan to print it out and put it up where I can see it.

  • Naijha Coleman

    Thank you so much. I am right now thinking about going back to hating myself and hurting myself because I feel as if I deserve it because I did something terribly wrong. Thank you do much for inspiring me to not hate myself but to also keep forgiving myself and letting my mistakes inspire me to work harder so therefore in the future, do great things. Thanks for helping me in these teen years of mine. 🙂 I’m also glad that you stopped hating yourself and punishing yourself. I totally know you made the right choice when you did stop hurting yourself. You are such an inspiration. 😉

  • speldrong7

    Legit. Thank you.

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