I had always struggled to understand what is respect. There is a visceral understanding however I would never be able to put my finger to it. I think I am getting closer to understanding this need. The lightbulb lit for me when I got in touch with my contempt and the way I express contempt in my relationships. I learned about it in our group sessions of TA and NVC. That is why I love them. In these session relationships are a means for working on self!
Contempt, disdain, scorn are all literally the opposite of respect.
In my previous articles Biology of Contempt and Shame and Contempt Is Victim’s Best Friend!, I talk about it. I realized how much contempt I have for others many times. When I engage with others from this energy or if others engage with me from this energy there is not enough safety. Thus there are apprehensions in connecting and sharing. The relationship is not honest and intimate. People walk on egg shells around each other. There is a fear of getting insulted, getting snarky comments etc. All this creates a feeling and energy that I am not OK. I am not accepted as who I am. That is a very uncomfortable state to be in. No one likes that. It is threatening.
Respect is exactly the opposite. Acceptance. Accepting others as who they are in that moment. There is no deriding them as well as no glorifying them. Just the quality of acceptance. They are on their own journey as everyone else is. Thus where is the place for hierarchy ( deriding or glorifying) It is the quality that others matter for who they are and we all are equal. Yes, it is a very philosophical construct.
However, I have realized it is immensely useful to cultivate practical self-esteem. When I am truly respectful, I am also fearless, empowered and free. As a corollary, when I am threatened or fearful, I am disrespectful and cynical. And why not? I am trying to protect and save myself.
Switching gears, from NVC lens, respect is also a need. And thus it has the characteristic of being ephemeral. It comes and goes. However I have started realizing that I have various stories attached to this need of respect and thus I get stuck at it various times. That is the area of exploration for me.
Maybe the practical, cut throat and competitive world has no place for respect. It cares about survival and being fittest. But since when I have been part of such a narrative?! For me peace and liberation are more important than survival!
Nonetheless, in day to day life there are various times when others don’t accept me as who I am, I also dont like some people and thus there are conflicts. We try and put each other down. This is where I am trying to explore myself.
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At the core, my existence is a much-much larger phenomenon. My need for respect and mattering gets fulfilled in just the awe and wonder of my existence. I matter because I am here due to infinite many factors. Staying aware of this is good enough for mattering and meeting my need for respect! At the same time I don’t matter at all because there are far more factors than me as well. Thus humility is the other side of respect. Both invariably go together. I have experienced myself in an immense state of power and freedom when in touch with this. Being sure of this existential philosophy, being sure of my value, being sure of what do I bring on table is the starting point in meeting my need for respect. Let other’s insults and attack not shake this for me.
On similar lines, the external pursuit of respect is so futile. It is also a pursuit of ego! Expecting external respect grows like a weed into ego. Respect is that we are same, I matter, you matter. My needs matter and so does your needs. There is no hierarchy. And we can live together. Very quickly when this goes uncheck, it becomes as only I matter, only my needs matter. EGO. Thus respect which is desired from outside turns into ego very quickly. In a matter of seconds! This doesn’t mean we allow others to treat us in anyway. It just means that if you respect yourself how others treat you doesn’t matter.
At the last let me share some practical ways of dealing with disrespect in day to day life.
When someone is disrespecting you
Of course it is going to hurt. It will feel like an attack. Honor this feeling. Be alive to it. Accept it. Try to observe your sensations and develop mindful body awareness. The easiest way to run away from this is to attack the other person back or go numb/withdraw.
Remember when someone is disrespectful to you, they are reacting to their own insecurities. To their own threats just as you do several times. There is nothing personal about it. You are just an object for their reactions. Just as some people are objects of your reactions.
In growing this awareness my wish is to not judge others very quickly. I want to draw boundaries at that time if I am not able to stay calm. If I am calm, I want to quietly listen them out fully. Let them complete. I empathize with them and reflect back. Then developing the ability to discern their behavior from their identity. ‘He is angry right now’ and not ‘He is a jerk’
This will require to clearly identify your observations and to clearly tie them to what are your feelings and needs. Once we can do this we can standup for our needs. This is true emotional control. Now we can draw boundaries and not get consumed by their attack.
For me, I also wish to stay more in relationships rather than running away from my loved ones. For far too long, I have withdrawn and attack back. I maximize the bad behaviors of others and discount their ‘good behavior in my head. This does not serve me. Yes, If the disrespect is constant, toxic and impacting your mental health by all mean make different choices. However a lot of times it is not so bad for me. Respect and contempt keeps coming and going in all relationships. All humans feel that. It doesn’t make me useless. Understanding this is vital. Try and remember times when you have disrespected others!
This does not take away the fact that it makes me sad when I don’t get respect from others. However like all other feelings and needs even this is temporary. I am learning to live with my sadness rather than fight it. I mourn this need. I am accepting that the other is not respecting me at this moment. That is it. It soon passes. Our relationship is not limited by this momentary disrespect.
Earlier I used to struggle and demand respect from others through so many tactics of withdrawals and tantrums. I would get angry, contemptuous as if I have to prove the other person that I also matter. Such a futile attempt. Isn’t it? I am running away from reality in that moment. Is there really any need to prove anything to anyone? Yes, when there is a physical threat or threat to life by all means, I could prove to others. However that has almost never been the case. I react out of imaginary fears of getting insignificant and not being noticed etc.
Staying in this fire can help a lot of times. Expressing from ‘I positions’ is very important to navigate this fire. Expecting others to respect me is a very futile attempt. I am getting more and more aware that like my contempt for others is because I am threatened similarly others contempt for me is more about them than me!
Receiving respect from others is important because it helps us to feel safe and to express ourselves. Call this out clearly and don’t be afraid to walk away if this is consistently not met.
When you feel disrespect for others
I crave power, status when I am in threat. When I am thinking of survival. When I am worried about living. It is a natural human or living tendency. With power comes comparison. With comparison, respect is lost, Compassion is lost! Something is more valuable than other. Something matters more than another. This is the time to regulate.
Don’t expect others to be as mature as you are! So try and not to verbalize your disrespect. This is the first step. If you vomit your disrespect it is likely going to cost you!
Next, when this arise, I wish for you to accept it. It has come. There is no shame around it. Just that “At this moment I am filled with hate and contempt”. You can start to also observe your sensations and develop body awareness. However there is no curiosity or rush to get rid of these uncomfortable feelings and thoughts. Let the storm pass. This is like 80% work.
When calm, you can reflect on your needs and feelings. Come from a ‘I’ space. Also, rest. Take it to therapy, write about it. Write a letter to that person. Express it, externalize it, do some art and paint about it etc. and decide how you want to proceed in this relationship.
Your contempt will show you what you really value. You can model your life accordingly. So embrace it and not run away from it.
Disrespect, contempt are natural. It is not a conscious. I naturally like some people and I am averse to others. Just by their existence. Similarly based on our past, we are naturally inclined to respect someone and inherently be disrespectful to some. The only idea is to work on our perception of liking someone and being averse to others. Our perception of threat and survival. It is a deeply spiritual thing. Spiritual is working with unconscious!
Why is Respect important?
It would be clear however worth the repetition to remember that respect in your relationships builds feelings of trust, safety, and wellbeing. Respect doesn’t have to come naturally — it is something you learn. The starting point is to treat others the way you would want to be treated.
Being respected by important people in our lives growing up teaches us how to be respectful toward others. However the learning keeps happening throughout the life. You cant change your childhood however you can still learn to give and ask for respect in your relationships.