Punishment is implementing a consequence that is unpleasant or painful to one person, or a group of people. Someone in authority usually imposes it. In the case of a child being punished, that authority figure is usually the caregiver. In a group of people, it could be a governmental organization like the prison system. The goal of punishment is to enforce discipline on a person or group of people. Some disciplines are in response to an action that was against a set of rules, while other punishments are imposed with no reason at all. Here you will find articles about different types and instances of punishment, whether they relate to children, adults or groups of individuals. You will also learn about the psychology behind punishment and why people punish others.
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Medically Reviewed By: Aaron Horn, LMFT, MA
The Role of Punishment
What’s the objective of punishment? The role of discipline in our society is to make sure that people abide by the rules. It’s about justice and fairness. Punishment, when it’s fair, works as a tactic to ensure that people align themselves with the rest of society. If they don’t, they face the consequences of our judicial system. If you break the law and it’s a heinous crime, you may serve time in prison. The prison system doesn’t necessarily create a system that teaches people to obey rules. Instead, it creates a cycle of re-imprisonment.
Why Do People Commit Crimes?
People commit crimes for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, an individual’s environment is the influence behind a crime. Maybe, they’re around other people who are committing crimes and there is peer pressure. Someone could be desperate to find a place that they belong and the group that accepts them is one that collectively engages in criminal activity. Other times, people try to succeed and find that they’re unable to make ends meet, so they turn to drug sales or stealing as a result of poverty. When people are in a position of systematic poverty, they’re often exposed to criminal acts that allow them to survive financially.
There are some forms of punishment that are more severe than others. Punishment can involve physical violence. Corporal punishment is physical punishment that’s intended to cause pain. It's often practiced on children and includes spanking, hitting or other physical methods. It’s also been used on adults in the prison system or those who were slaves. If corporal punishment goes too far, it becomes abuse. In the United States, child abuse is illegal. Parents who physically harm their children are subject to legal repercussions.
The Definition of Punishment
Punishment is defined as an unpleasant outcome that an authority figure determines to make a person’s behavior undesirable so that they won’t continue to engage in the practice due to fear of the result. Self-inflicted punishment exists in the form of self-harm or other damaging behaviors. It can also take place in religion. Flagellation is the act of beating with whips in order to “pay a penance.” It is a destructive behavior that has since been forbidden in most organized religion.
Historically some people punished themselves in the name of their religion. They were devout and believed that punishment could illustrate their dedication to religious practice. Meanwhile, they were hurting themselves and others, and it was unsafe. They punished themselves in a self-sacrificial way. Flagellation is a devotional practice where people beat themselves with whips to purify themselves. Some people understand it as driving away evil spirits from their bodies. It’s an act of cleansing themselves, but it’s also sadistic. Physical suffering also included floggings and other kinds of self-mutilation. In prehistoric times, people didn’t view these punishments are being cruel, but as a dedication to serving a higher power. Some of the punishments were people doling them out to others, while others were self-inflicted. They tended to be harsh, and typically unforgiving.
Punishment Can Be Dangerous
There are times when punishment can be dangerous or violent. It’s important to speak up if you feel that you’re being mistreated. Authority figures can impose abusive punishments, and you don’t have to tolerate being unfairly punished in the workplace or an academic environment. Just because someone has power, doesn’t give them the right to hurt you. If you feel that you’re the victim of unfair punishment or you’re in an abusive relationship where you are the victim of punishment, it’s important to seek help immediately. Don’t wait because the situation could escalate!
If you’re in a dangerous situation where you’re being punished, you can seek help. You don’t need to suffer if someone is abusing you. Abusive relationships are complicated to leave, but it’s possible if you work with a trained therapist. If you’ve been in an abusive relationship or are currently in one, a therapist can help provide you with resources and therapy. The counselors and therapists at BetterHelp are trained to help survivors of domestic violence. They will help you heal, so don’t be afraid to seek help and talk to one of the therapists in our network.