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As I started singing in opera practice yesterday, I was reminded of a guy I sat next to last year while rehearsing for The Carmina Burana. He was about 40-45, kind of chubby, and doesn’t seem to hear too well. It took a lot to get his attention for stuff.

To be honest, he sounded pretty good in my opinion. He was in tune pretty much all of the time, and seem to have practiced before hand. However, every time he hit a wrong note, he would smack himself across the cheek. It wasn’t like a little brush, but a big smack that made his cheeks turn red. That seemed like an exceptionally odd behavior for a grown man. Like, doesn’t it hurt? Plus, it’s not like that makes him suddenly sing the right note (well, maybe getting hit lets him focus better or something). It made me wonder how he acquired such a behavior.

Most likely, he was hit a lot as a kid and told by his parents that being hit was good for him. When that experience was repeated time and time again, he probably believed that getting hit in the face is the correct punishment for doing something wrong. As he grew up, either:

a) His parents stopped hitting him, but he believed that he should be hit, so he took on the task himself. This seems like an unlikely option to me as people don’t generally like to hit themselves, even if they believe they should.

b) His parents made him hit himself when he was growing up, as they were too tired/lazy to do it themselves. This also seems somewhat unlikely, as parents don’t generally tell kids to hit themselves. Plus, even if they did, kids don’t generally hit themselves even when told.

c) His parents hit him really hard when he was a kid and/or stayed mad at him for long periods of time. Therefore, as a way to avoid these confrontations that caused him aggravating pain, he beat his parents to it and did it himself. That way, his parents would be less mad at him, seeing how repentant he is. He would also be hit less hard & often since he’s doing it himself. Unfortunately, this is the explanation that seems the most likely out of the 3 here. As he grew up, it just sort of became a habit to hit himself when he did something wrong.

It could also possibly be from a wife, teacher, or some other authority figure. Although, the authority figure would seem like an unlikely candidate, unless he was in the military or something. That’s not too likely though considering the shape he’s in, which wouldn’t happen if he spent time in the military given how he hangs on to his habits.

Of course, this is pure speculation, but the logic seems pretty sound. Why else would anyone acquire a behavior that produces pain, if it didn’t at one time or another provide some sort of benefit? I can’t imagine anyone giving him some sort of reward for hitting himself, unless it was like approval or something for “doing the right thing” (which is really more an avoidance of being rejected). Therefore, the most likely conclusion is that he was trying to avoid further pain, leading to the analysis above.

I really hope I’m wrong, as that seems like an awful family to be in. If I ever meet him again, I’ll ask him about his family and see if I can figure it out!

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One Response to “The Guy Who Keeps Hitting Himself”

  1. Sean on November 7th, 2010 1:27 pm


    I was raised in a completely violence free household, and have rarely ever been hit by anyone. Still, I started slapping myself to stay awake on the road on long trips when I was 18. Since then I’ve occasionally slapped myself for motivation and focus. I do it especially when I consider my own behavior, usually procrastination, to be unacceptable. Doing it in public is something I can’t imagine, however, and I’d never hit anyone else (unless asked).

    Anyway I think it’s a kind of motivation that the human anatomy understands, and it might not be sinister at all.

    Cheers, Sean