Love Letters to Humans (no. 55) — on Punishment

Punishment: The relational fuckery of attempting to force, control, coerce, or manipulate someone (including yourself) into being different by making it painful, unpleasant, or impossible to exist as who they authentically are. (See also: abuse)

Regard, trust, and love grow and are chosen from a place of sovereignty. Control is the antithesis of love.

Not all connection is joyful. (Trauma bonding, co-dependence, and enmeshment can be very deep connection.) Abuse and punishment are ways to reinforce connection from a place of dependency and fear… wanting the carrot and avoiding the stick. Punishments and rewards are tools for controlling and manipulating behavior—our own and others’—and they are generally ineffective strategies for cultivating relational joy.

Punishment in our closest relationships might show up as: Reprimands • Emotional withdrawal • Dismissiveness • Withholding resources • Relentless criticism or disapproval • Name-calling • Shouting, yelling, or speaking harshly • Physical violence • Belittling or diminishment • Withholding emotional care • Threats of abandonment • Threats of violence • Retaliation for hurt feelings • Blame • Revenge • Isolation from support • Shunning • Shaming • Rejection

A little note: sometimes punishment and self-protection can look similar, like when we choose to disengage from an unhealthy dynamic. The difference lies in our intent: are we trying to change someone* by making life shittier for them unless they comply with our demands?

*We are “someone,” too.

We come by our relational fuckery honestly. We learn what we live. We are born into families, communities, and cultures that teach us to survive, achieve, and connect through external punishments and rewards.


We can learn new ways of connecting in sovereignty and relational joy. I want this for us.