In the back of my mind, I'm almost certain there are at least several individual English word that means to punish one's self. It doesn't have to be physical, necessarily, but it must be some kind of self-punishment. Are there such words? Clinical words are also accepted (i.e. psychological terminology).

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    StackExchange.. – user5531 Mar 18 '11 at 17:02
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    Asceticism is a form of self-denial, or voluntary suffering. It isn't always associated with guilt though. – Jason Orendorff Mar 18 '11 at 19:36
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    @Jason That's it! I think that was the word I was looking for! You must post that as an answer! – Wesley Mar 18 '11 at 19:38

Asceticism is a form of self-denial, or voluntary suffering, especially as a way of life. It isn't always associated with guilt though.

  • I do believe that was the word I was looking for! – Wesley Mar 18 '11 at 21:08
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    @WesleyDavid Your question is definitely not the proper question you wanted to ask then. There are plenty of gurus and sages who believe that asceticism is a path to happiness and self-fulfillment, and I definitely would not call being ascetic "self-flagellating." – Uticensis Mar 18 '11 at 21:24
  • @billare Hmmm, good point. Perhaps my cultural assumptions are to blame. – Wesley Mar 18 '11 at 21:43

I can only think of penance, contrition and such words.

  • +1: Hahaha. I was just about to answer "penance" when I got the "load new answer" banner. Sigh. C'est la vie. :) – kitukwfyer Mar 18 '11 at 4:42
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    +1 Penance sounds about right. Perhaps also mortification? – Tragicomic Mar 18 '11 at 8:39
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    Really? This gets more votes than masochism? – Adam Mar 18 '11 at 15:47
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    @Tragicomic You really should have posted mortification as an answer. It is by far the best answer to this question given thus far. – Uticensis Mar 18 '11 at 16:48
  • @advs89: masochism doesn't necessarily imply punishment. Consider S/M relationships, for instance. – user1579 Mar 18 '11 at 16:51

Masochism? Or masochistic tendencies?

  • +1: I was going to put this as my answer. A masochist would be the person who performs said action. But I definitely think masochism is the best answer to this question. – Adam Mar 18 '11 at 15:46
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    The only thing that prevents me from using this, is that a masochist seems (in my limited understanding) to like the punishment. I was thinking more along the lines of someone who was deeply sorry or self-loathing and punished one's self, not out of the desire for pleasure, but trying to atone for one's failures. Then again, it could be argued that deeply sorry people are trying to release themselves from guilt, and thus beating themselves up for a type of pleasure. – Wesley Mar 18 '11 at 19:42
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    That's a good point. It's not really punishment if you enjoy it. – Adam Mar 18 '11 at 20:27

Clinically, self-harm is grouped into different categories, but there doesn't seem to be one catch-all single-word term for it--just a collection of acronyms as outlined here from Wikipedia:

Self-harm (SH), also referred to as self-injury (SI), self-inflicted violence (SIV), Non-Suicidal Self Injury (NSSI) or self-injurious behaviour (SIB), refers to a spectrum of behaviours where demonstrable injury is self-inflicted. An example of self-harm/self-injury is cutting and is the second most common form of self-harm in the UK. The term self-mutilation is also sometimes used, although this phrase evokes connotations that some find worrisome, inaccurate, or offensive.

I've heard people who cut themselves referred to, nonclinically, as cutters. Of course, the more specific you get in terms of what harm is being done, the more choices there are for clinical terms describing that particular compulsion, e.g., bulimia, anorexia, trichotillomania, algolagnia, etc. Then there's the whole realm of body modification, and a host of other specific terms like scarification.

  • +1 for scarification. That could have some literary use. – Wesley Mar 18 '11 at 19:43
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    I think automutilation is another term for this. – SiggyF Mar 18 '11 at 20:26
  • @DiggyF Ooo! Good one. You're missing out on some upvotes by not using that as an answer. =) – Wesley Mar 18 '11 at 21:44

Maybe it is too extreme but suicide is also a kind of self-punishment.

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    Whoa, i think it's pretty debatable. – n0nChun Mar 18 '11 at 7:39
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    I can think up an example. The most known one is, perhaps, when Judas realized what he had done, he felt so guilty that he had to punish himself. The only one severe enough punishment for him was suicide. But of course it would be much harder for him to stay alive but that was not an option, I think – Edwin Ross Mar 18 '11 at 8:51
  • I think this is too specific. As you say, it's one kind, and it's going to upset a lot of people...As evidenced by the downvote and the fact that n0nChun's comment has 4 votes as of now... – kitukwfyer Mar 18 '11 at 14:49
  • It's true. Suicide is nothing if not self-punishment. Also, his example proves historically that it has been considered as such for a long time now. I think this hardly deserves a downvote. +1 to offset the -1. (even though it actually does more than offset it) – Adam Mar 18 '11 at 15:51
  • @Edwin Ross: suicide usually (but not always) is a form of self-punishment. However it's only a small subset of means of self-punishment, which makes this a poor answer to the question. – user1579 Mar 18 '11 at 16:54

You'd describe a person who believes that they are in need of self-punishment as penitent. I think that's more a state of mind than an actual act of self-punishment, though.

  • True, doesn't seem to quite fit. – Wesley Mar 18 '11 at 19:40

Playing off of Jason Orendorff's answer, the thesaurus entry for "Asceticism" gives some of these similar words:

  • Austerity
  • Aceration (hard word to find. From the word Acerate, meaning needle-like)
  • Perhaps "Stoicism" or "Stoic"

Masochism is the first that comes to mind, but I seem to remember the word misogynist him being used as an alternate definition but I can't find verification for it on any of the online dictionaries.I realize that misogynist is most recognized definition is the hatred of women but I seem to recall it being used in the context that you're referring to. Hope this helps.

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