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Self-Punitiveness Schema

Updated: Mar 3, 2022

Individuals who experience excessive vigilance, restrictions, inhibition or achievement pressures may develop one or more of these four schemas: negativity/pessimism, unrelenting standards, emotional inhibition, and self-punitiveness.

We may all occasionally believe that someone, or even ourselves, should be punished for a wrongdoing, often as a form of making amends. If you have developed the punitiveness schema, you may experience an excessive expectation that people should be punished for making mistakes, not meeting moral standards, or failing to perform appropriately.

When activated, this schema may understandably trigger frustrations directed at ourselves or those around us, and may make us impatient, annoyed, guilty, ashamed, and excessively worried and anxious about imperfections or flawed behaviours. Forgiveness can be difficult to achieve. This schema is often related to a sense of staying in control and creating a predictable environment in which bad things are punished and good things rewarded; thus, letting us believe we can avoid bad things happening to us if we behave well. The true need behind this schema is to feel safe and whole despite our flaws; and to build distress tolerance about unpredictability of life.

Here are some questions to think about if you are considering whether the punitiveness schema resonates with you:

Do you feel people should be punished harshly for their mistakes?

Do you feel you deserve punishment for things you have done?

Do you sometimes feel like a bad person who should be punished?

Does the idea of punishment give you a sense of relief that amends can be made or that justice will prevail?

Do you find that people deserve a form of consequence or punishment regardless of the reasons for the mistake?

Do you categorise the world in right and wrong?

Do you think consequences or punishment are important for correcting behaviour?

If you generally answer no to most these questions, you are unlikely to have developed the punitiveness schema. If you think the punitiveness schema applies to you, start observing how it manifests in your daily life. Recognition is key to changing patterns that stop you from achieving your goals.

To find out more about your own personal schemas, book a consultation with psychologist Dr. Esslin Terrighena, please contact (852) 2521 4668 or

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