Several listeners have asked about handling disrespect, especially when it comes from your partner. And I get it:
Disrespect is a breeding ground for contempt. And contempt will sabotage any healthy relationship you have.
So, what do you do when you feel disrespected?
In today’s show, you’ll discover what you should do when you feel disrespected, the root cause of disrespect you probably haven’t considered, and how to turn disrespect into respect instead of letting it blossom into hate.
Show highlights include:
- The “thorn in your side” problem that blossoms into resentment and turns your relationship into a ticking time bomb (0:58)
- The “Four Horsemen” signs responsible for ruining all healthy relationships (and how to prevent falling victim to this poison) (2:03)
- Why having a lack of self-respect spells trouble for your relationship (even if you think you’re in a healthy relationship) (7:45)
- How to create self-respect doing nothing other than looking at adorable puppies (9:42)
- One question to ask yourself that instantly makes you realize you don’t need respect from others (19:20)
- The vicious self-fulfilling prophecy many men find themselves in that leads them down the road of being cheated on and heartbroken (23:40)
- Can’t land a promotion because your co-workers don’t respect you? Here are the 4 things you must do to win them over (27:20)
- Why toxic shame might be behind your lack of assertiveness (27:57)
- John Gottman’s #1 red flag that signals your relationship is doomed, which he discovered after studying relationships for 40+ years (31:37)
Does your neediness, fear, or insecurity sabotage your success with women? Do you feel you may be unlovable? For more than 15 years, I’ve helped thousands of people find confidence, fulfillment, and loving relationships. And I can help you, too. I’m therapist and life coach David Tian, Ph.D. I invite you to check out my free Masterclasses on dating and relationships at https://www.davidtianphd.com/masterclass/ now.
For more about David Tian, go here: https://www.davidtianphd.com/about/
Emotional Mastery is David Tian’s step-by-step system to transform, regulate, and control your emotions… so that you can master yourself, your interactions with others, and your relationships… and live a life worth living. Learn more here:
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Note: Scroll Below for Transcription
Welcome to the Masculine Psychology Podcast, where we answer key questions in relationships, attraction, success, and fulfillment. Now, here’s your host, world-renowned therapist and life coach, David Tian.
David: Welcome to the Masculine Psychology podcast. I’m David Tian, your host. In this episode, we will be diving into a topic that probably affects every man at some point in his life. The big question for today is, how do you handle disrespect, especially when it’s coming from your partner, but also when it’s coming from anyone in your life?
By the end of this episode, you’ll be walking away with the most effective approaches to dealing with disrespect from your partner, or your friends or your family, your coworkers, your boss, or even that random guy at the bar who’s had one too many. [00:50.4]
I chose this topic as a response or in response to listener questions and comments, and I get it, when you feel disrespected, it’s not just a minor irritation. It’s a thorn in your side. You start to build resentment. Maybe you’ve already felt this, like when you bottle it up, thinking you’re being the bigger person, and you repress it. Then, six months down the line, you explode and then you wonder why your relationship feels like a ticking time bomb. And it’s not just your romantic or intimate relationships that are at stake here. It’s your sense of control over your own life.
If you let these perceived instances of disrespect slide, then you’re worried that you’re essentially handing over the reins of your life to someone else. It’s like letting someone walk all over you and then thanking them for their foot massage they just got. It’s a slippery slope that from feeling disrespected to then feeling desperate and out of control, and it’s potentially even worse than most guys think, the people who are writing in to me think, so let’s bring in some science here, Dr. John Gottman. [01:59.3]
You’ve probably heard of him maybe through Malcolm Gladwell’s best-selling book, Blink. Gottman is the foremost researcher in the world on what causes a relationship to fail, and he’s identified what he calls the “Four Horsemen” and the worst Horseman is contempt.
The Four Horsemen, of course, are the signs that are signaling the apocalypse of any relationship, and the worst horseman, like I said, is contempt, and feeling disrespected is often a precursor or maybe a part of feeling contempt for your partner. Contempt requires a kind of disrespect. It’s like looking down on this person, and it being the worst of the Four Horsemen would make you think, right? It’s like putting a time bomb in the foundation of your relationship.
If that’s done enough, think about this. When you can’t handle perceived disrespect, I know that the fear and the worry is that if you can’t handle it, then you’re basically putting up a sign over your head that says, “Hey, come take advantage of me, I’m an easy target,” and you’re afraid that you could lose out on things you want in life, and that might be a promotion or a fulfilling relationship, or even just maybe your basic sense of dignity. [03:12.6]
So far, I’ve been setting the stage. We’ve gotten into why understanding and handling disrespect is so crucial for the success of your relationships, but also for your overall well-being, and now let’s get into some of the nitty gritty.
First off, let’s define the term. What does “disrespect” even mean? Looking it up in the dictionaries, I found disrespect is often cashed out in terms of the lack of respect. So, let’s get into respect. We have to define respect before we can understand disrespect. What does respect mean?
Looking at the Cambridge English dictionary, the first definition of respect is “admiration felt or shown for someone or something that you believe has good ideas or qualities.” You might hear someone say, “She’s a formidable figure who commands a great deal of respect,” and what they’re saying is she is someone who is greatly admired by others for her qualities or ideas. [04:09.5]
We notice something crucial here. The key word is “earned.” It’s like when you’re a new teacher in high school and you have to earn or gain the respect of your students. You can’t just walk in on day one, slam your books down on the desk and say, “You will respect me.” I mean, you could, but all you’d get is eye-rolls and covert TikTok mockery. Respect isn’t like a God-given right. It’s not like a free pass, and just because you hold a certain title, whether that’s husband or boyfriend or manager, or even father, that doesn’t mean people are obligated to respect you.
This gets to the second most common definition of respect, which I’ll get to later, but first, staying with that first definition, and, again, this is about admiration, admiration felt or shown, and admiration can’t be forced, can’t be demanded. Otherwise it wouldn’t be sincere, right? So, respect must be earned. If it’s not earned, what you get then isn’t real respect. It’s just compliance. It’s fake. [05:09.5]
And let’s face it, if you’re demanding respect, you’re already on shaky ground, because what you’re really demanding is that the other person disguise their true feelings to make you feel better about yourself, which is already a toxic boundary violation. You’re violating the boundaries of that other person, and that’s obviously not going to get genuine respect out of that. It’s more like an emotional manipulation or emotional blackmail, and let’s face it, is that the kind of relationship that you want, one built on blackmail or manipulation?
Okay, so if you concede that you don’t want to force somebody to pay lip service and pretend to respect you, and what you want is genuine, real respect, then how do you go and earn it? How do you get it? If you’re living a life of integrity, of authenticity, and if you’re the kind of person who sticks to his principles, then you’re going to naturally command respect from quality people. You won’t have to demand it because people will give it to you freely once they recognize who you are and what you’re about. [06:10.6]
Now, that might mean that people who are immature or not people of quality may not give you that respect, even though you’re living a life of integrity, etc., even though you’re worthy in your eyes of respect. Then the question is, why are you in this position where you’re trying to get somebody who you don’t, in a way, even respect? Because if you identify that they can’t see the quality in you, then why are you in the situation of begging for their respect?
Now we’re skipping ahead to the point about the objective. What’s the objective here? Based on the objective, you can work out a practical thing to do about it, but the question isn’t about respect anymore. Then it’s not about earning the respect. It’s about getting that objective, whether it’s getting your boss to notice you or that promotion, or establishing a deeper connection within your relationship, or getting a woman to invest more time and effort and attention in you and in the relationship. [07:08.7]
If you notice disrespect in that relationship, that’s a good sign or a symptom of something that’s gone wrong, but the thing to do about it will not come from hanging on to the question of respect or disrespect. The best thing to do is to figure out what the objective is, and then figure out, based on that objective, what the best thing to do or the most effective approach, practically speaking, is. But I’m jumping the gun here. I’m going to go into more detail about the objective and the practical how-tos about achieving the objective later on in this episode.
Let’s back up a little bit and look at this concept of self-respect, because part of what I’m picking up from these questions that I’m getting online about people disrespecting me is that the questioner seems really hurt by the disrespect, and that tells me that there’s a lack of self-respect. [08:00.5]
In other words, you don’t put much stock in your own opinion of yourself or you’re unable to see the quality in yourself and you’re looking to others to validate whether you’re worthy of respect, and when they deem you unworthy of respect through their disrespectful behavior or approach to you, then it hits you a lot harder since you don’t even respect yourself enough and you require that respect to be shown from others.
Before we get more into self-respect, I want to just summarize so far. This first definition of respect and disrespect here is about admiration, and admiration has to be earned. It’s not something you can or should demand from others. Real respect has to be freely given.
Okay, so now let’s dive deeper. If you’ve gotten to the point where you’re asking, “How do I make someone respect me?” there’s a more fundamental issue at play here. If you’re hung up on getting respect from someone else, it’s likely because you’re missing it from yourself, like you don’t trust your own judgment of your own worth, and it hits you so hard because you’re looking to others to validate whether you’re worthy of respect. [09:08.3]
Disrespect from others doesn’t hit you to the core, doesn’t pierce you to the core, if you already have a firm sense of self-esteem and self-respect. Self-esteem isn’t just feeling good about yourself. It’s not like a pat on the back or an empty affirmation. It’s about genuinely believing in your own self-worth, in your own worth, that you are enough. But here’s the kicker: respect or self-respect, just like all respect, has to be earned.
If it’s just a question of “Am I enough for love?” then even a newborn baby that has no abilities whatsoever or a cute puppy, or just any puppy, is worthy of love just because it exists. Hopefully, you can see or give assent to, at least theoretically or philosophically, the point that all human beings are enough for love, are worthy of love just because they exist. That’s a whole other argument and a whole other set of podcasts that I would do and I have done on love. [10:06.8]
But when it comes to respect, which is on the first definition of respect, admiration, it has to be earned. You actually have to earn your own self-respect and, interestingly, self-respect requires self-esteem, because self-esteem means that you care more about your own judgment of yourself than you do about anyone else’s judgment of you.
It also means that you can trust your own evaluations of quality, because if you can’t even trust your own judgment about whether you’re any good, then you’ll never actually be able to earn your own self-respect. You’re constantly looking for someone else to come and tell you whether you’re any good, and if you can’t even trust your own judgments of what quality is, or whether something is good or right, then that means that you’ve been looking to others to tell you what’s right or what’s good.
Yeah, a lot of people have grown up in a kind of passive mode, especially men who struggle with women have grown up with fear and worry about not getting the right answer, whatever that might be, because their consequences were being yelled at or disciplined in some way by the parents first and then, later, by the teacher or teachers and society or something like that. [11:13.8]
They have this fear of getting the answer wrong and this permeates their entire lives so that they don’t even trust their own judgment about whether they’re enough or worthy, or good or quality, and thus, they care more about what others think of them than of what they think of themselves. So, in order to actually develop self-respect, you have to first have self-esteem, and again, self-esteem means you care more about your own judgment of yourself than you do about others’ judgment of you.
Now, I learned this lesson about how important it is to trust your own judgment of quality or whether something is right many times in my teens and into college age. Here’s one example. My first year of university, I was in McGill University in Montreal, and I was hanging out with a bunch of other Chinese Canadians, I don’t know, maybe five or six or seven of them. [12:02.8]
We’d gotten into this discussion about Chinese dialects and they were convinced having grown up in Canada, where, this would’ve been the mid-90s, at the time, the Chinese community was disproportionately from Hong Kong. There were relatively few immigrants from Taiwan and even fewer from mainland China. If you walked around the Chinatowns in Canada in the mid-90s, all you would have heard, most of what you would have heard was Cantonese.
Now, my background is Taiwanese and I knew enough about the Chinese language in China to know that the vast majority of Chinese speakers in the mid-90s in the world spoke Mandarin and I was trying to convince them that Mandarin is, by far, the dialect that’s most spoken around the world, and they did not believe me. They were convinced that there were far more Cantonese speakers in the world than Mandarin speakers.
I realized at some point in this conversation, it was me against the rest of them, that it’s kind of pointless for me to continue putting any effort into trying to convince them of what I knew was a fact and they were going to figure it out at some point later, and that was their loss. They were going to walk around for another year, a few years or whatever, with this ignorance. [13:12.7]
So, I just took my foot off the pedal and I was just like, Okay, if you want to stay in your belief, your false belief, then by all means, go for it, and it’s like that with disrespect. If I know that I am worthy of respect and yet all these other people don’t respect me, that shouldn’t bother me that much. It really depends. Then you can think in a calm, detached manner, Hmm, what’s my objective here? In the example I gave, the objective was to have a good time in Downtown Montreal on the weekend during the school year and the last thing I wanted to do is debate with these idiots about something that I knew was a fact, so let’s go eat some more bagels.
Here’s another example that kind of stuck with me, because it was the first time that I had to deal with active disrespect, and by the way, disrespect is different in my mind from lack of respect. A lack of respect is that respect is like a plus and then disrespect is like a minus, and then lack of respect is just kind of zero or neutral, and we don’t often notice lack of respect. [14:10.0]
In the first definition of respect in terms of admiration, when you’re on the bus or the subway and there are always people, you’re not asking yourself whether you respect them or not. It doesn’t even matter. Disrespect is, like I said, active, right? It’s like you’re now clearly in the minus on that one in that person’s eyes.
The first time I can recall dealing with this kind of active, in-your-face kind of disrespect was I’d just gotten my driver’s license or maybe three or four months before this time, and I was sitting in a minivan at my friend’s house and I was in the driver’s seat of my friend’s parents’ minivan, and we were just going to drive to the mall or something like that. [14:52.6]
Suddenly, and I think there were at least three other people in the car from my church, these were all Chinese Canadians, and my oldest sister had developed this reputation for being a bad driver, in my view, because my parents sent her to a cheap driving school and she didn’t learn how to drive well. She didn’t get the inner game of driving.
After, I don’t know, a year or two of driving, she just started to get into the fear of driving and, eventually, she just stopped driving and this became a kind of thing that she got sort of made fun of at the church or whatever, in a kind of light-hearted way. These were all like relatively well-meaning kids.
I guess I got passed down that reputation for bad driving or something like that and these guys never got a chance or gave it a chance to see whether I could actually drive. But I had been sent to the best, the most expensive driving school in our little suburb, actually it was a pretty big suburb of Toronto, and I was a pretty good driver compared to my sister.
So, I was sitting in the driver’s seat and I was adjusting the mirrors, because I wasn’t the person who had just driven this car, right, so it was set for somebody else’s body, I assume the guy’s mom or something, so anyway, adjusting the mirrors and adjusting the seats and all this. I hadn’t yet put my seatbelt on, because you can’t adjust the seat very easily if your seatbelt is on, and then what they noticed was “Hey, look, he doesn’t even have a seatbelt on. Oh, wait,” and then, very rapidly, a sequence of insults or whatever and then they took the keys out of the ignition. [16:18.7]
And there I am sitting there in the driver’s seat ready to drive, for the very first time driving in front of these people, and they just took the keys out of the ignition and didn’t even give me a chance. I remember thinking that the things that they were saying were actually wrong, the sequence of adjustments to the driving seat and the window, the mirrors and all that, was wrong. They were looking at the wrong thing.
But then they just went with that and took the keys out of the ignition, and I remember feeling disrespected and feeling like I’m missing out, and feeling kind of wronged in the sense that they didn’t evaluate accurately or correctly, or fairly, and that was a great lesson for me, because that was one of the times when I realized, Huh, so much the worst for them. I’ll just sit in the back. It’s not like it’s fun to drive a minivan through suburban streets or anything. I was going to do this as kind of a favor and whatever. But, okay, I’ll sit in the back then. [17:16.5]
But I realized, Hmm, I have to believe in my own judgment and sometimes it’s so obvious that other people’s judgment is wrong—and then I could think of many times in high school, especially when I found myself in the position of trying to convince some other classmate that the way I’m answering this math question or science question is right, and that the way that person is doing it is wrong, and then realizing, after whatever minutes of tiring or frustrating explanations on my side to this person, Why am I putting all this energy in convincing this classmate that he’s got the wrong answer? He’ll find out, and all the worse for him because he’ll find out on the test when he gets it back. If you don’t believe me, that’s your problem, not mine. If you don’t respect me or my view, that’s your problem, not mine. [18:06.3]
No matter their physical strength, for many men, emotions are too much for them to handle. It’s why they can’t give women the deeper levels of emotional intimacy and connection that they crave. It’s why they fail to be the man that modern women desire most: a man with inner strength, a man who has mastered his emotions.
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Now, I’m willing and happy to take in any feedback, so I will sit and listen to what that viewpoint is and their arguments for it, and in that case, disrespect doesn’t enter the picture. Disrespect on that first definition of admiration doesn’t enter. I don’t even think about that, because then your ego is getting involved, right? Instead, I’m just trying to think of “What’s the right answer here?” [19:20.6]
Then the question should be cashed out is “Why do you care so much about what they think about you?” Now, for some guys, it’s so hard to even ask that question, because for decades of their lives, they’ve just been taking it as a “No duh, uh-huh” assumption that any woman who is attractive ought to make him feel this way, like that’s the reason why, because she’s attractive or some kind of alpha-male whatever, because they’d been intimidated for so many years of their lives. They’ve never stopped to ask the question, “Why do I give a damn?”
So, I’ll ask them this question instead. Run this thought experiment. Imagine if it were some homeless man on the street who comes up to you and starts foaming at the mouth or whatever and actively disrespecting you. Are you going to take it personally? This guy doesn’t even know you. He might even be off his meds and not even seeing you or whatever. He’s going through some psychosis or something. He’s hallucinating. So, you’re not going to take it personally, right? [20:10.8]
You might be kind of scared and you might have fear and you might want to defend yourself or get out of there, but the last thing you’re going to care about is whether you feel disrespected by this person, right? Because this person isn’t even, in your eyes, worthy of making you feel disrespected, in order to feel like and care about whether you’re disrespected and to be hurt by it. That means that you’ve given away some of your own self-esteem to this other person who can make you feel that way. Then the question is, why do you value this person’s opinion so much more than your own?
Now, in the example of my classmates who just didn’t believe the way or the solution that I was showing them to the math problem, that’s actually their loss, because I know that I’ve got the solution and I’ve worked it out. I trust my own judgment more than I trust theirs. [20:58.8]
Now, there are some times when you should trust the other person’s, and maybe that’s because that other person is an expert, and I have been on the expert side when the other person, who doesn’t know anything or what they’re talking about, resists and denies, and doesn’t take in good advice and appears unteachable or doesn’t learn well. If that’s you, then you should be careful about trusting your own judgment when that hasn’t been earned, and that’s the other side of it, a kind of grandiosity, a naive kind of grandiosity.
I don’t see that built into the questions that I’m getting. It’s more that, instead, they put themselves below the others. But there also is the danger of just puffing yourself up and that’s what I encountered over and over, people underestimating me and my views, and then I just realize, I shouldn’t put so much time and effort into convincing these people of the truth. They’ll figure it out, and if they don’t, they’ll suffer for it.
Okay, but in order to reach that place, that point when you trust your own judgment and you’ve earned it, you actually have to earn it. In the example of the driving abilities, I’ve earned it and I know that I’m a good driver because of all of these different evaluations I had to go through to get the license, and then the experience and so forth. [22:06.8]
I knew that I had the right answer for the math test because I’d done all the studying. I’d done all the practice tests and I’d worked this solution in many different ways, and I’ve listened to the other person explain and defend their approach and I’ve made this judgment. I have done enough of the preparation and homework to earn my own self-respect and self-esteem. So, when the other person disagrees with me or doesn’t see it my way, then I’m able to back off and not take it personally, and then I can ask the more practical question of “What’s the outcome that I want out of this?”
Okay, then in order to get to that point, you’ll need to have that self-respect and you’ll need to have that self-esteem. Then you should ask yourself, “What have I done to earn my own respect? Have I built a life of character, a set of accomplishments that I’m proud of? Have I done the homework? Have I done the hard work? Am I someone of quality in my own eyes?” [23:00.0]
When you look in the mirror, what do you see? Do you see a man who is honest, who is kind, who stands by his values, or who has even spent a lot of time thinking about his values and defending them, who has done the work to consider other values or the opposite side, the cons? Are you someone who is still clinging to other people’s judgments to tell you what to believe or who you are, who is unsure of your own self-worth and looking for others to validate you?
If you don’t respect yourself, you’re going to find it very hard to command respect from anyone else. You’ll constantly be looking outside of yourself for validation, for some sign that you’re worthy or good enough for respect. But let’s be clear, no amount of outside validation can fill that inner void, and this lack of self-respect has a big price.
When you don’t respect yourself, you end up attracting relationships and end up in situations that mirror to you this lack of your own self-respect. You end up accepting and get used to accepting less than you deserve. And why? Because, deep down, you don’t believe that you deserve better. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you don’t respect yourself, then others won’t either, and thus, the cycle continues. [24:13.3]
If you’re committed to improving yourself, to living a life of purpose, to being the kind of person you admire, then you’ll find that disrespect from others just doesn’t get to you like it used to. Why? Because you’ve got something that trumps their lack of respect for you. You put more stock in what you know, which is that you’ve earned your own self-respect. You respect yourself more than you respect other people’s opinions of you.
So, you don’t want to be affected or hurt by someone else disrespecting you or not respecting you? Then you’ve got to start by earning your own self-respect, and that’s not something anyone can just give you. You’ve got to go and earn it, obviously, and you’ve got to do it every single day. Let’s just let that sink in. The first step in commanding respect is to become someone that you yourself respect. [25:07.7]
Okay, let’s say you’ve looked inward and you’ve started working on earning your own self-respect. That’s a huge step. Now, let’s bring it back to the outside world. When you’re faced with a situation where you feel disrespected, what’s your objective? Ask yourself, “What am I trying to achieve here?”
Let’s say you’re in a romantic relationship and your partner says or does something that you find disrespectful. Ask yourself, ‘Is my objective here to deepen the intimacy and connection of my marriage or relationship, or is it just to be right?” because these two objectives often require very different strategies, and if your objective is to just be right, then it’s important for you to recognize that you’re prioritizing being right over prioritizing the relationship. Then you shouldn’t be so surprised when the relationship fails, but you have proven or shown that you are right, because you’ve gone into the combat zone with that objective. [26:04.6]
Or maybe it’s not in a romantic or intimate context. Maybe you’re, I don’t know, at an airport check-in counter and you’re trying to get a free upgrade. Your objective in this case isn’t to win the respect of the airline staff. If they respect you, but you don’t get the upgrade, then you have failed in your objective, so getting that respect is in the service of this objective, which is getting the upgrade.
When you focus on getting the upgrade, then respect isn’t the most important question here. It’s how do you get this upgrade? Then you won’t take it so personally, right? How do you get the upgrade? I don’t know, you look and act the part of someone who belongs in that first-class cabin, so if the staff member checks you in and upgrades you, you won’t get in trouble with his superiors, then you’ve got to charm them, because if they like you, there’s more likely a chance that they’ll upgrade you. Then, more importantly, the question is do they like you? Dress well. Show them you’re worth the free champagne and extra legroom, right? [26:57.7]
So, far more important here for the practical outcome is to get clear on the outcome, and then if that’s the case, respect is just secondary. If you have a clear objective, then you can come up with a clear practical strategy. These two different objectives here in a relationship or an intimate relationship versus getting an upgrade will necessitate different strategies.
What about at the workplace? Maybe you feel your coworkers or your boss don’t respect you. What’s your objective there? Is it to get a promotion? Is it to get ahead? If this requires their respect, then you’ve got to earn it. You’ve got to assert yourself effectively. You’re going to need to speak up in meetings. You’re going to need to take the lead in projects. You’re going to need to show them that you’re capable. [27:45.0]
However, and this is crucial, all of this assumes that you’ve already been going through something like the therapeutic process to address any toxic shame that might get in the way of you being assertive naturally. A lot of people think they’re not assertive because they think they’re just nice guys or team players, but often it’s because they have this underlayer of toxic shame that makes them feel like they’re not worthy of asserting themselves. If that’s you, working on your inner game, so to speak, is crucial before you can successfully apply any of these external tactics or skills. [28:19.7]
As you can see how you handle disrespect most effectively depends on your objectives. It’s not a one-size-fits-all kind of thing and it’s definitely not about blindly demanding the other person respect you in every context. It’s about smartly navigating your social world to achieve your desired goals or outcomes, and a lot of it is going to rely on you being able to assert yourself effectively.
In my course, Rock Solid Relationships, there’s an entire four-hour module on assertiveness and how to assert yourself. It’s very practical. I highly recommend, if you have any difficulty asserting yourself with other people, whether it’s in your relationship or at your workplace, or in social settings, I highly recommend that you learn how to assert yourself well. [29:05.7]
In the next episode, I’ll be going into more depth on how to assert yourself in the face of perceived disrespect, but my most in depth treatment of it is that four-plus-hour module in the course, Rock Solid Relationships.
The first definition and the most common sense of the terms “respect” and “disrespect” is that first definition, and that’s explained in terms of admiration. But there’s also another definition that a lot of people confuse with the first definition, and they just use respect and disrespect and blur these two definitions, and that’s why there’s so much confusion around this concept.
Okay, so the second definition that comes up in the Cambridge English dictionary is respect is “politeness, honor, and care shown towards someone or something that is considered important.” You hear this type of sense of the term or this definition. You can see this used in phrases like, “You should treat your parents with more respect,” or “She has no respect for other people’s property.” [30:08.5]
This sense of the term respect is about social norms or rules of decorum and common courtesy, and it’s far more prevalent in conservative or traditional societies. Now, there’s nothing wrong with these values, of course, but remember, they’re subjective and their relative. In a free democracy, you’re not bound to the social norms just because everyone around you thinks them, unless you choose to be bound by them. You have the right to disregard them if they don’t serve you or align with your own personal values.
This can also be explained in terms of boundaries and it’s partly the beauty of healthy boundaries. In healthy boundaries, you only take responsibility for your own feelings and actions, and you do not take responsibility for the feelings and actions of other adults. [30:54.7]
Now, you might say, “Okay, David, so should I force my spouse to honor these traditional values?” You could, but here’s the kicker: the respect you’ll receive won’t be genuine. It would just be lip service, and now we’re back to the problem that comes up when we use this term “respect” along the lines of the first definition. You have to earn respect and it has to be genuine in order to be meaningful.
But the second definition of respect, which is in terms of honoring or politeness or care, the second definition of respect is where we get the closest connection to one of John Gottman’s Four Horsemen that I mentioned at the beginning, contempt. John Gottman has been studying relationships for over 40 years and he sees contempt as the No. 1 red flag that a relationship is headed towards a dead end. When Gottman sees even a hint of contempt between partners, he recognizes this as, like, Whoa, okay, we’ve got a serious problem here. [31:56.1]
So, what does contempt look like? Imagine treating someone like they’re beneath you, hitting them with sarcastic jabs or mocking, or dishing out hostile humor, even subtle things like eye-rolling or sneering or name-calling. These are all big red flags of contempt. It’s like throwing emotional acid at someone. You’re not just disagreeing with them. You’re dissing their whole being saying, “I’m up here. And you? You’re way down there.” Contempt requires looking down on the other person.
Contempt is especially dangerous because it festers. It’s a culmination of negative judgments about your partner that have been brewing for a while. And what does it lead to? A destructive cycle of conflict that’s incredibly toxic. No issue can get solved when you’re sending this kind of message of “I’m disgusted by you, and oh, by the way, I also think I’m way better than you.” It makes a productive, loving connection or conversation basically impossible, so if you find contempt sneaking into your interactions, you need to get on that fast. [33:00.2]
Now, Gottman’s recommended antidote to contempt is to foster what he calls “a culture of fondness and admiration,” and here is where I think Gottman is weakest. His research is the best out there on identifying the problems, but his exercises only really work for couples who are already committed to making their relationship work, to sitting down and doing these boring exercises.
These exercises can’t save the relationship when two people already hate each other or there’s so much baggage that it’s already led to this point where there’s so much contempt when there wasn’t obviously to begin with. It’s not as if we all don’t know that fondness and admiration are great to have and feel a lot better than contempt, but if you force her to act as if she’s fond of him and act as if she admires him, when, in fact, she doesn’t, then all you’re getting is coerced fake respect. [33:53.2]
So, my recommendation is much more radical. Stop caring so much about whether you’re respected and focus instead more on what your objectives are in any given situation, because when you’re hyper-focused on whether you’re being respected, you miss out on what’s really important. For instance, I personally, rarely if ever, ask myself whether I respect someone, or whether they respect me. It’s just not a question that guides my actions or decisions.
I have a puppy and it’s not like I need to respect him to love him. He can’t do calculus. His table manners are atrocious. I’m picking up his poop every day, but I love the little guy to bits and he doesn’t need to do tricks in order for me to love him. I don’t need to focus on whether I respect him. He doesn’t need my respect in order for me to love him, not in the first sense of the term “respect.” But do I care about him? Yeah. But that’s very different from that first definition. [34:50.7]
In the second definition of respect, it’s just acting in a polite way, and for that to be genuine, you don’t actually need respect in the first sense. You don’t need admiration to care about someone. When it comes to someone I love, respect doesn’t even enter into the equation. I don’t need to admire someone in order to love them, and if I love them, then respect in the sense of that second definition, in terms of being polite and caring for them, that will get taken care of automatically.
So, focusing on respect is the wrong thing to focus on, if what you want is to be respected. If it’s the first definition of respect that you want, to be admired, then you’ve got to go and earn it, and if it’s the second where someone is caring about you, then respect is the wrong thing to focus on there and it’s going to be more about the connection that you feel, the intimacy or love.
Stop hanging your self-worth on whether you feel respected by others and start focusing instead on the quality of your interactions, the objectives that you want to achieve in that situation or in that interaction, and how you feel about yourself. Have you earned your own self-respect? [36:03.2]
In the next episode, I’ll be diving deeper into the practical how-tos of assertiveness, and how assertiveness and practicing it can help you get more respect, command more respect. But for now, let’s recap what we’ve covered so far.
We kicked things off by laying down the two foundational definitions of respect, the first being an admiration that must be earned, and the second being the type of honor and politeness that can often be rooted in social norms, and that if it isn’t there, it’s a sign that maybe this relationship is doomed, because it’s a sign of contempt.
We also discussed how your objective in any given situation should guide your response in that focusing on whether you’re respected or not isn’t helpful to figuring out what to do.
Now let’s address the elephant in the room, so to speak. If you let the perceived disrespect fester, it won’t just go away on its own. This isn’t a self-resolving issue. It’s a thorn that keeps digging deeper. Your resentment builds, sabotaging your relationship, undermining your self-esteem and turning your life into a series of battles, both internal and external, and life is too short for that kind of constant conflict. This is a sort of fast track to unhappiness and underachievement, and you don’t want that. [37:18.4]
But don’t worry. We’re going to roll up our sleeves in the next episode and dive even deeper into this topic, where I’ll share some actionable steps on how you can earn respect in the moment and in life overall, so tune in next time as we tackle this pivotal aspect of human interactions.
All right, that wraps it up for this episode. Thank you so much for listening. If you have any questions or any comments, please, I’d love to get feedback, let me know. Put it in the comments here or send me an email and message me. I’d love to get your feedback on what you thought of this episode, and if this helped you in any way, please share it with anyone else who you think could benefit from it.
Thanks so much for listening. I look forward to welcoming you to the next episode. Until then, David Tian, signing out. [38:00.5]
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