Sassy Psychologist: Allow for natural consequences: The best way to punish someone is to not punish them at all

In an ideal world where everyone is psychologically evolved, conflicts would be handled with compassion, great communication, and emotional intelligence.  Instead, sometimes our conflicts are a hot mess of passive aggression, miscommunication, and avoidance.  One of the things I notice is that when we are angry with one another, we attempt to use some form of active or passive (sometimes undeniably immature) punishment to let someone know they did something wrong.  Here are a few examples of what I mean: “My husband never shows me compassion so I will yell at him.” “My best friend never returns my texts messages so I won’t tell her about my dinner party this weekend.” “My neighbor changed their phone number and never told me about it, so I am no longer talking to them.”  Truth is, if you have ever used tactics like these, I’m not blaming you AT ALL.  When we get hurt, we sometimes fear our temper or losing a relationship or hurting someone.  Sometimes, these tactics seem easier than confrontation…and I get it.   

I’m here to say that you do not need to punish anyone, anymore!  There is another way.  Obviously, I’m a supporter of direct and open communication and I try to teach this to my clients as often as I can.  However, I am aware that sometimes, this goes nowhere for some clients.  As I said, I will always advocate for good communication and emotional expression but if you are still working on your communication skills or if the other person just won’t listen, you can start working through conflict with something called: allowing natural consequences. 

One of my clients often yells at her husband for not getting the kids to bed or bathing them on time.  How common is this type of conflict?  As you can imagine, VERY!  I asked her about what the consequences would be if she just let it happen…let the kids get bathed late and let them go to bed when daddy lays them to bed?  She responded with things like, “they’ll be tired and they’ll be late getting to school.”  I explained that the only way hubby will understand how important these things are is for husband to experience and suffer the natural consequences.  She realized that had been sheltering everyone, including hubby.  It was therefore important for her to let her husband make these mistakes and to let him suffer the negative natural consequences.

Allowing natural consequences to ensue is exponentially more effective than actively (or passively) punishing someone.  …and this can be applied to so many scenarios.  A) Kids won’t do their homework?  Let them.  They will then suffer the natural consequences of doing poorly in school.  B) Your adult son won’t cook dinner for himself when home alone?  Let him (not have dinner).  Hunger will teach him a lesson.  C) Your romantic partner never wants to go out, while you do?  Let them stay home while you make your plans.  There will be natural consequences here that will inevitably work well for you and your case.

I’m telling you that it’s time to stop punishing people and time to start working for yourself.  If someone does something you don’t like, it’s time to stop spitting fire at them and to start focus on you and what you want.  The best way to punish someone is to not punish them at all.  Discover what you like and what you want and then…simply…’do you’ to the best of your ability.  And without any effort - without you so much as even lifting a finger - the other party will, lovingly, get exactly what they have coming to them. 

Anna-Maria Tosco, or our Sassy Psychologist, has two masters degrees in the field of psychology and has studied and worked coast to coast. She has worked in both psychiatric and community settings in some of Montreal's most respected healthcare organizations and institutions, and has also given a variety of talks and workshops on neuroplasticity, meditation, and uncovering barriers to love.