I was very sad to read that Bill and Melinda Gates decided to end their 27 year old marriage. It takes so much time and effort to build relationships and yet many people feel more comfortable ending it. While I am not too pro on marriages or against divorce. I am a strong advocate for respect and if that is not met in any relationship (marriage, live-in, open, boss-subordinate, client-consultant etc. these are just relationship labels we like to give to define and feel in control!)it is better to end it. Toxicity in any relationship is harmful and unhealthy for both individuals.
Nothing is more toxic then contempt in relationships. I have recently got aware of this feeling and it has opened up an entire new Pandora’s box for me. I am not sure if I was too arrogant to notice my own contempt, I just didn't have enough vocabulary or maybe I wasn't mature enough to understand it. However for 31 years I was feeling contempt however I would name it as hate, anger, resentment etc. The core feeling just alluded me. When I read about Contempt in “the four horsemen” of the relationships, it just dawned on me. I kept researching on it, observing myself and I felt that eureka of jigsaw puzzles fitting in together.
So what is Contempt?
Look at the below dialogues between an Indian couple who has been together for 15 years. They are both highly educated surgeons, rich, has a sprawling villa, few cars and two beautiful and proud teenagers.
Wife : “Oh good, you’re home… I’ve been home dealing with the kids all evening and I need some help.”
Husband : “Oh so do you want me to put my briefcase down and maybe take my jacket off first. Or directly jump in?”
Wife : “Well, if you’d like some dinner you’ll need to parent your children long enough for me to cook for you.”
Husband: “When are you going to learn to multi-task? I can get things done much faster than you. I also earn more than you”
Sarcasm, name-calling, blaming, insulting and many more things. Contempt is a mixture. It corrodes relationship from inside. It eats away the self-esteem of partners.
At the root of contempt is respect. When that is missing, we do everything to prove ourselves superior and pull down others. It is a power game. I want to hurl the meanest and worst insults so that I can dominate the other person.
It is a way to hide my desperation. Internally I am shouting, “I matter. I need respect”. It is a victim’s best friend. A victim is a person who doesn't want to take any responsibility for their feelings and to fulfill their needs. They think of themselves as entitled or ‘poor baby’. Others should come and fulfill their needs for them. When their needs are not met, such person will hurl contempt on others to feel a false sense of power. I have been like this for years. I still am. I am grateful for having a more emotionally intelligent wife to tolerate me and school me. However, I am resolved to take more responsibility of my feelings and needs.
Alas, I am realizing that no one gives respect. We earn it. Also, if I am not respected by others doesn't mean I cant respect myself! Expecting others to read my mind and fulfil my needs is only inviting misery and disappointments. Also, not everyone cares about respect the same as I do. There are times people are dealing with their own shit or are in bad mood and they hurt others. Sometimes they are just focused on the task at their hand. Many people have thick skin and they are not bothered at all what others think of them. Many people like me are sensitive. I absorb and imbibe fast. I have learned to not just accept this but also appreciate this for myself. It is a strength in so many ways. Yes, I may not survive courtroom or politics with that. However I can be great in a therapy or coaching room with this sensitivity. I am glad of this awareness and acceptance.
So, how do I take the reins of my respect in my hands?
To start with I have realized that I can do that by not reacting. My automatic reaction to disrespect only make me miserable. By staying quite even though burning from inside, I am greatly able to respect myself and stay in integrity. By drawing boundaries. By walking away from disrespect, I feel grounded and firm. Even a tiny, a micro action of this is super helpful. These micro-actions grows exponentially. And, I am writing this post-facto. I have done it several times if not all!
When I perceive a threat to my autonomy, choice. Even a slightest one, I start ruminating in contempt. It is part deterministic and part random. I can’t always control how I feel this. There are times when I spend hours or couple of days in such rumination. At times I just have to surrender and accept this feeling. As a Vipassana practitioner, my wish is to turn my focus on breathing and sensations as much as I can when I am in this ‘shit storm’!
Yes, I am getting aware that ‘treat everyone with respect’ had become a moral for me and not a value. I have chosen to treat everyone with respect. It is my value and not everyone else’s. I am getting ok with that. Also, I am getting aware of my hypocrisy. I would demand respect from everyone. Always. However have I always been respectful to everyone? Always? Definitely not. A huge scope of improvement there.
Now, what to do when I am unable to respect other person? How to avoid contempt in that case?
I have noticed that contempt arises when I don’t express my anger or upset. I bottle my feelings up. There are many reasons for this maybe there is a power hierarchy in office, or at home I just don't have energy to do difficult conversations. Maybe I am afraid to hurt other’s feelings and even at times I am too busy and focused on work to notice my feelings. In return these negative emotions color my viewpoint and affect all my interactions in my relationship. Contempt is built piece by piece as long-simmering negative thoughts about our partner are not addressed or accepted.
So, what is the way out of contempt?
- Don't shy away from expressing all your feelings especially anger. Find a healthy way to express it. Enough help available to see how we can express our feelings and needs without being a jerk
- Appreciation — When we are consumed by love all we see are others goodness similarly when we are consumed by contempt, all we see are others shortcomings. It is humane. In this tsunami of disrespectful thoughts , if you are able to find one pinch of goodness in the other person. Just one pinch. It is enough. No matter how much you hate others, there is definitely one very small pinch of goodness in everyone. Focusing on that changes perspective. Try it. It helps. Yes, you will not go and hug the other person immediately however it will help more than you would imagine
- Take responsibility for your need to be respected and to matter. Speak up for yourself. This helps in not bottling up of feelings. I have already shared about that above.
- Seek professional help if the toxicity continues for more than few months.
- Call it quits — Some relationships are never meant to be aligned. Doesn't mean that there is anything wrong with anyone. Both you and your partner deserve peace and happiness. Don’t be afraid to call it quits if there is too much toxicity over prolonged time.