Find Out What It Means To Me!

Yes, you are welcome for this little earworm, but I think that this is such an important word that we might be using the wrong way, so I wanted us all to have a little chat about it.

Let’s start with the meaning of the word – what do you think of when you hear the word RESPECT? I would LOVE to hear your definition in the comments, because we learn so much from each other. Most people that I have talked to think of it as one person showing deference to an authority figure. That seems to be a pretty common application in our western, American culture.

It also seems interesting that when I hear how the word is being used, it is often a person (often in authority) reminding or demanding someone else of their duty to respect them because of their status or position.

This is a parody of insisting on respect that is funny but also, is pretty accurate for those who are insisting on positional authority to demand deference. We’re not in a feudal land state any longer…

(P.S. I don’t inherently have issues with police officers that are trauma-informed and anti-racist – no baiting about policing, m’kay?)

One of my favorite sources for sound neuroscience and child development is the late Dr. Karyn Purvis.

My own lens from this life of mine always wondered how Dr. Purvis could reconcile the call for respect with the other principles of TBRI; after all, TBRI is relational, attachment-focused, and trauma-informed – this feels a lot about enforcing compliance.

And then, one day, it clicked into place for me.

I realized there is a necessity to disconnect disrespect from disobedience. When we conflate the two, we can get into some really difficult and dangerous power dynamics that aren’t really helpful or healthy. When we insist that someone obeys, we are stating that we are in charge of what they do and they need to comply with our instructions; and there are certain situations in which that is appropriate, but if that positional authority is all we have to rely on, we set up an Authoritarian system, and, if we are honest, that system is more prone to grow decisions made out of a posture of compliance and fear than from respect.

Compliance is an empty goal. Connection, trust, and relationship can’t grow in places where compliance is the highest value because the bending or breaking of the will is more important than the growth of the person’s authentic self.

I know some of you may be saying, “but how do we get people to do things if we don’t insist on obedience and compliance?” and if your focus is the task and not a healthy relationship, then it is true – my math doesn’t add up. It really does depend on what is your ultimate goal. But I also know that there is something else that helps people to do things that they don’t want to.

Yup. Respect. But not based on fear or coercion.

Instead, I’m referring to the mutual appreciation of human dignity between two people. That understanding that the person in front of me is deserving of unconditional positive regard, even if I don’t accept their actions as appropriate.

This means I can respect them as fellow human beings, even if I don’t like their actions or enjoy being around their person. It means I affirm their ability to make their own choices. It means that I can extend kindness. It means that I affirm that they are as precious and meaningful to the world as I am.

It also means that this is what I expect from my fellow human being. I have choice and control over myself. I have autonomy. I hold authority over my person and I deserve unconditional positive regard as well.

When we engage in this kind of interaction, we are positioning ourselves as equals, both respecting each other as human beings and making choices that affirm our dignity and regard for each other.

I don’t know why this all seems so counter-cultural in our current society, but I think it probably has deep roots in a long history of dehumanizing and oppressing women, children, and people of color and treating them as “less than.” Don’t worry; I’ll save that for another post. But we sure do use language that is about controlling other people (i.e., “make him do it,” “I’m your superior,” etc), and it is in many facets of our daily life.

Now, for those of you that come from a Christian faith tradition, I do want to point out that we do see that in Luke 10, Jesus is totally on board with this version of respect, as well. If you will recall, he was asked that question about the most important commandments and what he affirmed is the command to “Love God with heart, mind, body, and soul” and “to love your neighbor as yourself.”

Seems pretty mutual to me.

So how do we get this wrong? Well, there are a couple of things that stand out to me right away.

  • Low Self-Worth. If we don’t have a great level of regard for ourselves, we’re going to have a hard time truly valuing the authentic self of someone else.
  • Fear. If we are driven by fear ourselves, we’re going to see that as having more power than relationship.
  • Scarcity Mindset. If we don’t believe that there is enough positive regard, love, grace, and mercy to go around, then we will be reluctant to give it to others.

The good news is that we don’t have to stay in spaces that don’t let us connect to others in healthy ways. We can seek healing and receive a fuller existence. It is hard work, and it does cost us our comfort, but the payoff is pretty great; how would you like to be able to be so secure in your healthy, authentic self that you weren’t experiencing fear and scarcity but instead wholeness and relationship?

Kinda like what Jesus said was the most important, huh?

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If you have read this and recognize you are ready to take a step forward, my coaching services can:

  • Provide a pathway to connecting to others in healthier and more appropriate ways.
  • Get you “unstuck” in your process of trying to lead a child to a place you haven’t been.
  • Help you begin to live without the burden of lies and fear.
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  • Respect to me means caring about someone/something as though it’s yours. If you borrow something from me, I expect you to return it to me in the same condition I gave it to you. That’s respecting my stuff. Respecting me is along the same lines, treat me with care. Using the life script from TBRI “Try again with respect” got me into a lot of trouble as a parent. Whenever I said that phrase (even in a playful voice), It became about compliance or a battle of the wills. I find it works better if I state specifically what I actions I want to see. For example, “Sure you can *xyz* but first, can you ask me with a please (or without cussing or without rolling your eyes).” Defining exactly what it is that I think is or isn’t respectful, helps our relationship have healthy boundaries. This also allows me to have a conversation with my son about how when he does *xyz* I feel *xyz*… which puts distance/disconnection between us. This helps him understand that respect is not about compliance but relationship.

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