Love Letters to Humans (no. 79) — on Punishment

Has being punished ever truly made you a better person? Has punishing someone else ever truly made you whole?

In punitive cultures and hierarchies of worthiness and contempt, we learn to relate to in ways that give us an illusion of safety and worthiness, but rarely bring us closer to the authenticity, integrity, relational joy, intimacy, and belonging we really want in our most important relationships.

We come by it honestly. Children learn what we live, and we were all children once.

I’m talking to those of us who were parented and educated through punishments and rewards based on our obedience and performance, who grew up in fear-based and punishment-based religious practices, who live in societies where “justice” systems focus on punishing the guilty and give little effort and care to restoring the harmed.

For us, it can be hard to imagine creating change in ourselves and the world in mutually nourishing ways.

We learned through experiencing and witnessing punishment that to influence others, get our needs met, and effect change in the world, the most effective strategies were coercion, manipulation, threats, and punishment.

Is punishment working the way you want it to? Is it working politically, in your organizations, in your communities, at home? Is it making you better? More whole? Is it restoring your relationships to harmony?

Punishment in our relationships might show up as: Reprimands • Emotional withdrawal • Dismissiveness • Withholding or restricting resources, support, or pleasure • 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 unless certain conditions are met


What would it look like to get your needs met, influence others, and create change in yourself and the world by relating in mutually caring, non-punitive ways?


Relationship is. Right relationship nourishes.