What Does it Mean to Be ‘A Glutton for Punishment?’

Being “a glutton for punishment” is normally used in a derogatory manner or it could refer to someone who wants to elevate their own reputation by being seen as someone who endures much pain for the acceptance of others.

What Does it Mean to Be ‘A Glutton for Punishment?’

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the phrase “glutton for punishment” means “a person who enjoys things that other people dislike.” From a common individual’s perspective, this is a very odd term.

In this article, we are going to be doing an in-depth study on the concept of what it means to be “a glutton for punishment.”

A Glutton for Punishment

In addition to the definition given by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, there are other definitions that can help clear up this term a little better. The Collins Dictionary defines this phrase as “a person who keeps on doing something, which is unpleasant or difficult for them.”

Furthermore, the Free Dictionary defines “a glutton for punishment” as “someone who is eager for a burden or some sort of difficulty; someone willing to accept a difficult task.”

The Free Dictionary calls this phrase an idiom and gives an example of using this phrase, “Tom works too hard. He is a glutton for punishment” (Ibid.).

Thus, what it means to be “a glutton for punishment” is that a person eagerly takes on a burden or painful task because they want to take it on, or it can also mean someone who keeps on doing something that is painful for them.

What Is Gluttony?

Often, we think of the word “glutton,” it often makes us think of someone who is overindulging in food or wine, but we never think of someone as being a glutton for punishment.

The word “glutton” comes from the related Latin words of gluttus, which means extremely greedy and gluttires, which means to swallow.

Therefore, being a “glutton” means you overindulge to the point of being uncomfortable. As in the case of “a glutton for punishment,” the individual is overindulging in pain and agony.

While taking pain and continuing to do a hard task even though it is painful may sound admirable to some individuals, Tricia Christensen with Language Humanities makes a good point about being “a glutton for punishment.”

Christensen writes, “Being a glutton for punishment usually means that the person welcomes difficulties and may be accepting requests or tolerating difficult circumstances to please others. It is more other-motivated than self-motivated” (Ibid.).

From Christensen’s words, it gives us reason to question the motives behind one who is “a glutton for punishment.” She points to the idea that one who is “a glutton for punishment” is one who is undergoing pain or a difficult situation in order to please others.

Christensen brings out the information that being “a glutton for punishment” could be much more about seeking acceptance from others or looking “good” in front of others. This is an important aspect that we need to understand concerning this phrase.

The term “glutton” never relates to a good thing as it is mostly used as a derogatory term. In the same way, being “a glutton for punishment” is not a good mentality to take in life.

We should not actively seek out pain or difficult situations in order to be accepted by others or to be seen as more “brave,” “strong,” or “courageous.”

If we do a difficult task just to bring praise to ourselves, we are committing a sin. Pride causes us to want to seek out glory for ourselves, but we must resist this temptation.

Most often when we go through a painful time in life, we are not really “asking for it.” Situations such as loved ones dying, relationships ending, or terminal illnesses are all difficult times, but we did not actively seek these hard times out.

“A glutton for punishment” is seeking out difficult and painful situations in order to elevate oneself or to be seen in a certain way and accepted by others. It can become a risky business when a person actively seeks out danger in order to be a martyr or to inflict pain upon themselves.

While dying as a martyr is a great honor, as Christians, we should not actively seek out pain or martyrdom just to look a certain way to those we leave behind.

Martyrs are common within Christian history and in the present day, but we should not try to actively provoke or manipulate situations that will ultimately cause us to become a martyr.

Not So Serious Usages

As established, being “a glutton for punishment” is normally used in a derogatory manner or it could refer to someone who wants to elevate their own reputation by being seen as someone who endures much pain for the acceptance of others.

In addition to these usages of the phrase, there are other times this phrase is used in not so serious ways.

As an example, a person may be “a glutton for punishment” by sitting through a retelling of the same story their dad has told a million times because they know it makes their mom happy.

Another example could be a person may become “a glutton for punishment” if they choose to watch a movie they don’t preferably like because it would make their sibling happy.

The term “a glutton for punishment” can be used in a myriad of different ways, but the key is the context. Being “a glutton for punishment” is not always used in a derogatory manner because as demonstrated, it can be used in a positive light.

The term can also be used in a joking way, to which no ill-meaning is being conveyed to the other person.

Examining Your Motives

If you use the term “a glutton for punishment” or if you see yourself as “a glutton for punishment” it is best to examine your motives for making this statement about someone else or identifying as “a glutton for punishment.”

While it is common for individuals to use this phrase in the context of speaking about other people, it is best not to use this phrase to refer to someone else.

Using this phrase when talking to someone else could make them feel bad about themselves or it could be that we are seeing their actions with the wrong motives.

Just because a person endures a painful situation, or a difficult task does not mean they are “a glutton for punishment.” Furthermore, if we personally identify as “a glutton for punishment,” we need to strip that label off our backs.

We should never try to actively seek out painful experiences just to get praise and glory from others. When we behave in a manner consistent with “a glutton for punishment,” we are acting in pride, not love for God.

In everything we do, we need to be walking in the love of our Savior. Whenever we endure a painful situation, we should give glory to God because He is the one who got us through the difficult time.

In our own lives, it is crucial for us to examine ourselves and test our motives. If we are only enduring painful situations or taking on difficult tasks to obtain glory or acceptance for ourselves, we need to turn to God, confess, and repent.

There is no glory in being “a glutton for punishment” if we are actively seeking out pain to elevate our own status. All glory, praise, and worship belong to the One who endured all the pain in the world for us — Jesus Christ.

For further reading:

What Is the Sin of Gluttony and What Are its Consequences?

What Is the Significance of Food in the Christian Life?

What Are the Seven Deadly Sins? A Biblical Guide

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Robert Daly


Vivian Bricker loves Jesus, studying the Word of God, and helping others in their walk with Christ. She has earned a Bachelor of Arts and Master's degree in Christian Ministry with a deep academic emphasis in theology. Her favorite things to do are spending time with her family and friends, reading, and spending time outside. When she is not writing, she is embarking on other adventures.