During middle school, I received a lot of emotional abuse which I also saw as a harsh means of discipline. Whenever I said anything wrong or did anything differently there were people there to make harsh comments. Part of their anger was habitual and part of it could have just been trying to fit in. If the lead bullies were saying these things it was better for everyone else to join them than to become a target. An alliance with the seemingly stronger party was a means of safety for my classmates. Unlearning some of this pseudo-discipline became helpful in later years to improve my mental health and to alleviate this burden.
I talk a lot about discipline because in years after my episodes I was fairly socially awkward and a lot of this came from having learned thought patterns of self-abuse from others as a means of self-discipline which I had to unlearn. I was looking for ways to change my behaviors so that I could be kinder and to socialize better with every one and this abusive self-discipline always seemed to be an automatic response in this effort. One of the most important things I had to realize in later years was that discipline was not supposed to be punitive.
After having spent years of getting harshly rebuked even after making the slightest of mistakes I had a tendency to provide self-punishments in my own internal monologue in the form of insults and sharp comments towards myself. Some might refer to this as negative self-talk. I was incredibly hard on myself in situations where I didn’t need to be and also projected this behavior onto others. I had the thought that in earlier years in order for me to be disciplined it required the sharp words of others to keep me in line. Also, in later years I was living in a bubble of fearing my emotions. Whenever I did or said anything wrong I had overly strong negative emotional reactions and it was incredibly painful to make mistakes.
Thinking more on discipline, I began drawing some parameters for my own well-being and realized the purpose of discipline is strictly educational. Some folks may believe that discipline needs to be painful in order to be effective but for myself, I’ve found the best modifier of behavior has been education and kindness. I found that many times in malpractices within discipline there is an element of retribution involved. Retribution in discipline caused me a lot of problems and I came to realize that discipline is strictly supposed to help not harm, otherwise it’s not discipline.
This element of retribution from the disciplinarian comes from feeling an emotional deficit. There’s a comparison that was made where someone else did something wrong but still felt better emotionally than the person who had been wronged therefore their emotions needed to be knocked down to the level of the person who had been done wrong. This type of abuse which gets mistaken for discipline only causes reciprocal abuse and interpersonal problems.
I originally thought I had to cause myself and others pain to get them to do the right things but after years of compounding my issues, I found I needed a more humane and also more effective way of changing behaviors. In times where I didn’t necessarily have my heart in the right place a part of it was from having a self-disciplinary method where I would say mean and painful things to myself after making mistakes. Doing this created a lot of pressure to succeed at everything I was doing. Having this pressure created stress and caused me to make more mistakes and also amplified my symptoms. This disciplinary method was also projected upon others when I thought they were out of line which got me in trouble from time to time.
I was struggling to do and say the right things because I was afraid of myself. I realized that living in fear of my own self-punishments was a type of prison that was restricting my actions. Fear is a great inhibitor and as long as I was doing things out of fear instead of love my life would not be lived as freely as it could be. When I switched my disciplinary methods to be educational as opposed to abusive and painful it helped improve my mental and emotional health. I had to unlearn all the harsh abuse I had received over the years from myself and others and make the realization that I didn’t need to hurt or harm myself emotionally, mentally or physically in order to do and say the right things. I also had to unlearn the cruelty that was labeled as discipline from times that came from pledging a fraternity.
I had to draw a line of realizing what is educational and what is cruelty, realizing that discipline is not a place for cruelty even though it is commonly found there. I learned the way others had been trying to discipline me through harm over the years by ways of emotional, physical, and verbal abuse was wrong and also was completely ineffective. When discipline was punitive and painful it caused more problems and compounded my issues as opposed to solving the original issue and making me a better person. When I started asking myself what do I need to say to myself to learn and to grow as a person, particularly in social situations, I found my emotional burden was lifted. When I treated myself with kindness and self-compassion I was able to solve interpersonal issues much more easily than otherwise.
Without the burden of fearing punishment every time I spoke, it became a lot easier to speak and I found it easier to say and do the right things socially. This decreased my social anxiety immensely. I still had awkward moments and a part of that was learning more about socialization but it became a lot easier to learn and to teach myself when I wasn’t living in fear.
Not living in fear gave me an allowance for mistakes and having this self-allowance for making mistakes loosened me up which helped give me space to think. Having this space to think improved my emotional well-being and my social interactions immensely.