I wonder if you ever feel as if someone has spoken to you disrespectfully or put you down and you didn’t really know how to respond? I think this happens a lot in working environments and even with friends and family. (I am not necessarily talking about the extreme examples experienced as domestic abuse here). It can take us off guard even when the person concerned has done it time and time again. If you are the kind of person who does not like confrontation or perhaps has a gentle personality, you may find that people perceive this as weakness.
Unfortunately some people don’t like to see weakness in others – perhaps because it reminds them of their own weakness. They don’t like to acknowledge their own fear that is triggered when they feel vulnerable. It can also pass the bully by that a gentle person isn’t the same thing as a weak person. In fact is can be the opposite – a sign of strength.
So...how do we deal with the person who is disrespectful towards us? This may seem like a complex question to answer in many situations. However, there are some principles worth taking on board that could help and make it more straight forward.
Carl Rogers, the founder of Client Centred Therapy believed that for the counselling process to be effective there needs to be certain conditions present. He named six which he deemed to be the ‘necessary and sufficient conditions for therapeutic change’. Out of these six, three have become understood as the ‘core conditions’ – known upside down and inside out by person centred therapists. These are unconditional positive regard, congruence and empathy. There is much that could be and has been written about each of these and their effectiveness within the therapeutic relationship.
Rogers also believed these conditions encompassed ‘a way of being’ which he held to be potentially effective even within governments and between countries for the improvement and development of the human race. Now, take these conditions into a situation where you are being victimised and I would like to suggest that unless you are applying them to yourself as well, your perpetrator would see this as an invitation to continue, if they do not hold these values themselves.
So, what can be done here? I believe applying these elements to ourselves is essential. This could arguably be summarised as self-respect. Being congruent, having empathy for your own predicament and an unconditional positive regard for yourself (although possibly controversial, very different from narcissism) – can enable you to see where your boundaries need to be. It could also help you decipher what you need to do to ensure others treat you in a level way. Inner change, more often than not, pre-empts outer change.
The practicalities of what you need to do may or may not be quite complex. At work, for example, you may need to instigate a complaints procedure. However,whatever the case, the inner strength needed can come from holding yourself within this frame of reference.
To have this attitude towards ourselves can be quite a challenge for many of us. However, if you can work towards this, at least to some degree, it is likely to bring about some confusion – or even clarity – in your persecutor. They will see their words falling off you with little or no effect or they will witness you standing your ground with confident assertiveness.
Obviously, in many scenarios there can be things at stake. You may need help in deciding the best way to approach a situation. However, the underlying strength to do it and the boundaries needed to help keep you safe comes, I believe, from a fundamental ‘way of being’ that not only respects others, but also respects yourself.