Respect, Disrespect, and Self-Respect

When we possess true self-respect, no one can make us feel disrespected

A client of mine, Jill, complained that she was feeling disrespected by her husband, Jack. Indeed, he often mocked her and spoke to her sarcastically. He also had difficulty expressing his affection and appreciation for her. He had been raised in a family whose members had been notoriously disrespectful to one another.

To improve their marriage, Jack has to do his part to become a more considerate person. But Jill has an issue here, as well. She could easily feel disrespected. She too had been raised in a family where the parents had been lacking in their respect for their children. In addition, her siblings had often been mean and mocking toward one another.

There would be no point in either of them blaming parents or siblings for their current difficulties. With insight, Jack and Jill can live happily together.

They both have to understand that, deep within their psyche, they have a lingering emotional attachment to the feeling of being treated with disrespect. This means they are each quick to feel unworthy or devalued in themselves. They are also prepared unconsciously to keep replaying and recycling that painful feeling in their relationship with each other. They are fine and good people, but this emotional weak-spot was causing a lot of suffering.

We are compelled to keep feeling any negative emotions that are unresolved in our psyche, no matter how painful that is. Often, we act out these negative emotions with our loved ones. Jack, when he was being inconsiderate toward Jill, unconsciously identified with her feeling of being devalued. In this way, he was reliving the old pain of his childhood indirectly through her. Meanwhile, Jill, when on the receiving end of his unkind treatment, felt the pain directly. Whether the old pain was being felt directly or indirectly didn’t really matter. What mattered is that they were both reliving the unresolved hurt of their past.

When these inner dynamics are made conscious, there’s no need for us to suffer in this way. (This is another story—but it’s a tragedy that these fundamentals of unconscious functioning are not being taught in our educational institutions.)

They both need to become aware of their tendency to slip into feelings of being disrespected, which includes feeling marginalized, rejected, criticized, and unworthy. This all means that they both lack self-respect: Jack takes himself for granted and Jill takes herself for granted. Deep down, they harbor much self-doubt about their value or importance. In other words, they were sensitive to feeling disrespected because they each lacked self-respect. It was that inner lack of respect that made them susceptible to the feeling of being disrespected by others. This means they could feel the pain of disrespect even when the other person was not intending to disrespect them.

When we possess true self-respect, no one can make us feel disrespected.

Unresolved negative emotions persist in the human psyche and produce most of our suffering. We often fool ourselves into thinking we suffer because of someone else’s inconsiderate behavior toward us. We are so reluctant to see how, in our psyche, we participate and collude in the many varieties of suffering that life has to offer.