What to do when someone disrespects you
This blog will help you understand what you can do to take care of yourself when someone is disrespecting you.
I want to address the way it is to be in the position of being disrespected, because it’s often very uncomfortable and painful. Being disrespected or worse, bullied, is very challenging. It hurts emotionally and can tempt you to feel badly about yourself.
In order to understand how to respond to disrespect you need to understand how to think about weakness.
What is “weakness”?
If a part of the body is weak in an uncomplicated way, it means that there is an injury or insult of some kind and care is needed to replenish and heal. Then strength can be regained with use and intention. If a person seems emotionally weak, it is usually for a similar reason, that an injury or hurt has been sustained, and the person needs to emotionally heal.
Complications can occur. Injuries can have layers and be resistant to healing. Patterns of behavior or life experiences can create disappointment and chronic problems.
Emotional insecurity usually comes from getting hurt by another person without being able to experience repair of the hurt. The earlier in life we get hurt, the deeper the insecurity can reach. Sometimes this creates a dynamic that causes more hurt and more hurtful experiences to occur as the person experiences life.
Weakness is not a bad thing. Everyone has hurt and disappointment to cope with. People make mistakes and can learn from them. Problems arise when weakness is judged as bad. This leads to shame which is often an underlying factor in all of human insecurity.
Some people see insecurity as something hateful and bad as i mention in the last paragraph. They seek to wipe it out in themselves and to point it out to others who may exhibit feelings, body language, or expressions of insecurity. This is because they have also been hurt badly, but have found a way to try to feel better about themselves through never showing their insecurity. This strategy doesn’t end because it doesn’t work. This is how the bully gets created. They feel the same as their target, only they try to be the opposite, by being right all the time, never questioning or doubting, and judging others who seem “weak” to them.
In childhood and adolescence the best way to confront disrespect and bullying is for adults to get involved and set limits, in essence helping both sides of the problem.
In adulthood, it is “the adult within” that needs to learn how to cope with being disrespected by someone else. How can you engage in this process?
1. The first thing that’s needed is support. It may mean getting out of the situation you are in with the other person if that’s possible, until you can handle being around them in a different way.
Support means getting confirmation that you are a worthy person, worthy of respect and compassion.
Support does not mean getting endorsement for self destructive behavior. In essence support means respect. If you haven’t felt that in your life it may be a hard thing to comprehend.
Sometimes this kind of respect is found in psychotherapy. Sometimes friends or surrogate family can offer this kind of support. Sometimes it comes from a pet or a child who loves unconditionally.
What to do next
2. Once you feel more support in your life, you can begin to decide how to stand up to disrespect in your life. This can take a number of forms including confronting the situation head on. That means standing up for yourself and gaining the respect of the other person.
Often, when you learn how to address someone in an assertive way, without anger or judgement, coming from “I” statements, the person will notice that you are not who they thought you were and will actually begin to feel respect for you.
What you need to understand is that sometimes the other person may never be able to change how they see you. This is really sad for them but they may be so stuck in their own need to protect their fragile feelings of self worth that no matter what you do they will be a lost cause. They will continue to judge you and think badly of you. (There are a very few people who are so damaged they can hurt people intentionally and never feel anything. This blog is not going to help with people who are dangerous physically or so abusive they don’t have any shred of humanity left in them. For situations like this, the only thing to do is get away and seek safety).
How can you tell if someone falls into this category? You may have tried to talk to them about the problem, and they have been relentless in clinging to their negative opinion or oppressive behavior. You may have tried to get help from another source (HR at work for example) and the person persists in their behavior. It might be an abusive parent or spouse who continues to treat you badly no matter what you do.
Sometimes there is nothing to do but walk away, accepting that the other person in not going to change and that you are better off getting away from them. And actually, even if other people don’t see that in the person, usually they will over time, and will also want to get away. If not, then your work is to accept that and know that you are doing what is right for you.
How to get away from a disrespectful or abusive situation
This is not easy to do. You may be so stuck in anger and resentment that you don’t want to give up. You may feel ashamed and feel that the only way to earn respect is to get it from the very person or people who will never be able to give it to you. You may have the feeling you have wasted a lot of time trying to make the situation work and that’s hard to walk away from.
Sometimes it’s a juggling act–figuring out what you need to feel safe, and how much you can step into the risk of confrontation with a difficult person. Sometimes it’s good to push yourself but safety and your own security and well being needs to come first. It can be helpful to have a therapist or other safe person to talk this over with.
Here are some examples of what I am discussing. These examples are meant to illustrate my points. These points and are fiction, or are disguised to protect confidentiality.
A. A husband and wife are about ready to get a divorce. The husband feels that his wife is attacking him at every turn, criticizing him mercilessly. He’s done with this dynamic. He tries to talk to his wife and surprisingly, she agrees to go to couples counseling with him. They begin to talk about what is bothering them both, and the husband is able to hear what his wife has become frustrated about. He learns how to stand up for himself when he feels she is berating him and she finds herself really liking him when he is stronger with her. She learns how to express herself before the anger takes over. There is a positive outcome.
B. One professional has decided that another professional is unsure of herself and therefore not good enough to respect professionally. The disrespecting professional displays a condescending attitude openly in a group situation with other peers.
The person feeling disrespected tries to approach the other in private, and is met with even greater disrespect and condescension. What to do? 1. Consider the situation using the “inner adult” as much as possible. A group can be a good place to confront someone directly if it is set up for that purpose. But a leaderless group that is not set up as a therapy group may not be the right place for this kind of situation and could lead to more of the same. This can happen in any work situation, where the purpose of the group is to get work done and not to help people heal emotionally. 2. Decide how to reduce the toxic nature of this relationship. Avoid the person as much as possible. Find other allies and support (without trying to turn others against the offender.) Try to change the way you think about the offender, meaning that they are not as strong as they may want others to see them. Know that others also see this person’s flaws even if you never hear it directly from anyone. Stay away from gossip which could make you look bad. Foster self enhancing activities and direct away from toxic situations. Learn how to forgive yourself for mistakes or weaknesses you perceive in yourself. Remember that the disrespecting person is also hurt. He or she is not all bad.
C. Two women at work have fallen into a negative situation. One of the women seems to be trying to get others to gossip about the other woman. It started when one of the women had a problem and the other woman thought the problem was a weakness and judged it. What to do? In this case there was a partial improvement. The manager was able to help by being supportive and firm at the same time. The critical woman was able to stop her inappropriate behavior, although the two women were not going to ever like each other. It was a relief to everyone else in the unit who had been very uncomfortable over the conflict.
In summary, the things to do when you feel disrespected are:
1. Get support and find safety.
2. Learn how to sated up for yourself by strengthening your “inner adult” and assertiveness skills.
3. Learn how to foster compassion for yourself.
4. Learn how to walk away emotionally and physically if needed.