When we are disrespected by others, it’s easy to take that disrespect personally and to feel powerless in knowing how to cultivate a respectful relationship dynamic.
The Theology of The Body reminds us that, because we are created in the image and likeness of God, we have a right to expect to be loved and respected. In his book, Love and Responsibility, St John Paul put forth what he called “the personalistic norm.” The personalistic norm means that every human being has a right be treated like a person, not a thing. Each person has a God-given right to be loved and respected–no matter what. The reason we feel shocked when we are treated poorly is that God built into each person a sense of this divinely given right to be treated as his sons and daughters. We don’t claim that dignity on our own. God gave it to us as his gift.
Likewise, when we’re treated in a manner that offends our dignity as persons, we have a similarly God-given right to address that offense–as long as we remember that the person who offended us has the right to be treated like a person too. To do this effectively, we need to understand the difference between setting boundaries and being defensive.When we’re defensive, we forget that the offender is a person. We get our back up and we lash out, “How dare you do that to me you jerk!” It’s an understandable–but still inappropriate– reaction. Setting a graceful boundary in the face of disrespect means not tolerating the disrespect while also not taking it personally. Instead of lashing out, we can say something like, “I can tell your frustrated, but please don’t treat me like your enemy. How can we deal with this together?”
Let’s take a look at some practical steps for dealing with disrespect:
1. Pause and Pray–When you are offended or hurt by someone, resist the temptation to react. Take a moment to pause and pray. Ask yourself, “What are you upset about, specifically?” In other words, rather than reacting to what the other person says or does, ask yourself what it means to you that they treated you that way. For instance, instead of saying, “How dare you talk to me that way!” Say, “When you talk to me that way, it feels really disrespectful. Could you say that again?” Pausing and praying allows you to identify and address the actual offense, instead of adding more fuel to the fire.
2. Stop “Shoulding” on Yourself–Too many people buy into the lie that they “shouldn’t have” to tell other people that they are feeling were hurt because they “should just know.” People are not mind-readers. If someone has hurt you, tell them, clearly and directly what the problem is, and what you need them to do to correct it. For instance, if someone ignores a request you’ve made in the hopes you’ll just forget about it, you might say, “I was really hurt that you chose to ignore me and not do the thing I asked. I need you to tell me, specifically, when and how you’re going to follow through.” Don’t accept vague, non-answers. It’s ok to press for a specific how and when. Holding someone accountable for fulfilling their promises is not being a “pest” or a “nag,” it is simply respecting Jesus’ admonition that yes should mean yes and no should mean no. Don’t say you “shouldn’t” have to hold others accountable. Pray for the grace and courage you need to teach others to treat you with the dignity worthy of a son or daughter of God.
3. Follow Words with Actions–Sometimes people aren’t willing to respond to your concerns no matter how clear you are about your needs. If your attempts to speak up have failed, more words will not help. You’ll need to have a back-up plan to address the problem unilaterally. In this case, setting boundaries means finding ways to scale back the relationship because the person is demonstrating that they can’t be trusted with the level of intimacy that you have attempted to allow them to have. This means asking yourself, “In what contexts or interactions is this person able to treat me appropriately?” and then limiting your relationship to those types of interactions. If and when the other person complains about the actions you’ve taken, say, “I’d love to get back to normal, but first, we really need to work through X first.” As long as your intention is to work for the good of the relationship, you have every right to scale the relationship back to the point that it is healthy and build out from there.
If you would like more direct support for dealing with disrespect, reach out to us at CatholicCounselors.com/Services.