How we change what others think, feel, believe and do
Sometimes when things do not go as we want them to go, we get angry. And when we get angry, we seek somebody to blame. And in doing so, we use language that punishes.
The essence of punishing language is that it seeks to make the other person feel shame, guilt or otherwise uncomfortable. It often implies that they have deliberately done wrong, transgressing agreements or social values.
Typical elements of punishing language include:
There's was no hot water for my shower because you took so long in there. I'll just have to freeze now, won't I?
You never tidy up after you. Are you that lazy?
Can you help her now? It'll be a nice change.
Don't worry. I'll do it. As usual.
Punishing language often assumes negative intent, that the punished person has done wrong because they intended to do wrong, that they are selfish and fundamentally bad. It casts the speaker as judge and jury, able (and even obliged) to condemn and punish the transgressor. As such, it calls on power and builds the status of the speaker by pushing the target down the social order.
Punishing language is often subtle and may be difficult to spot, although it is often felt before it is noticed. This may well be deliberate is it can be awkward to go back and challenge a statement after the conversation has moved on. Punishing language is often found in the tone, which makes challenges easier to reject.
Punishing language is very common in relationships which have gone stale and where contempt has replaced respect in certain areas. In this way it is similar to nagging as it takes the form of low-level abuse.