Psychological Self-Help

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1141
Miller, L. K. (1980). Principles of everyday behavior analysis
(2nd ed.), Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole. 
Self-punishment
Punishment is administering something hurtful immediately
following an unwanted behavior so it will stop. We all understand how
it works...and it works effectively if the punishment is immediate,
severe enough and administered consistently. Aversive control of
others permeates our culture: parents yell at and spank children,
society fines and imprisons law-breakers, schools give low grades and
fail students, employers threaten to fire workers, religions damn us for
sinning, governments go to war to kill others. Yet, it is a procedure so
fraught with difficulties and unpredictable consequences that many
people, including psychologists, think punishment should not be used
with others at all. Punishment may arouse fear and anger; it doesn't
teach any improved behavior and it may only suppress some behavior
while the punisher is watching. 
However, punishment can stop certain behaviors. Even watching
someone else be punished can have a powerful impact on our behavior
in the same situation for a long time. The questions are: can self-
punishment have a powerful influence on our own behavior? Does self-
administered punishment have bad consequences too? Surely not the
same feelings of fear and unfairness as when someone else is
punishing us. Unfortunately, science doesn't know yet what goes on in
our head in terms of attributions, self-instructions, and self-esteem
when we self-punish? Nor do we know the emotional or behavioral
consequences of self-punishment. 
Just as punishment of others is a common, "natural" response to a
hurt or insult, self-criticism and self-directed anger is a common
response to failure in some people. Just as psychologists don't know,
yet, the consequences of venting our anger caused by others, we don't
know if venting anger against ourselves is helpful or not. Clearly, some
great athletes and scholars are highly self-critical if they make a
mistake, but we don't know if that contributed to their greatness or
detracted from it. Prolonged self-hatred is extremely harmful, but what
about temporary and specific self-criticism? Does self-censure have
the same effects on our behavior as self-punishment? We don't know
but we know many people are self-critical (in the extreme they
become depressed). For now, each of us has to find out for ourselves
when self-hurt--physical and emotional--is harmful and when is it
helpful? (Actually, we probably adopt or reject this technique early in
childhood sans scientific data.) 
Purposes: Please note that this method deals only with self -
punishment. 
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