The Pursuit of Respect: How to Foster Respect in Our Relationships - Skylark Counselling

The key to our thoughts and actions being in alignment with our values is defining them. The second key to support others to value us, is defining the actions expected and being in alignment with our explicit expectations and stated consequences.  

Respect is often the foundation of all our values: 

  • We utilize respect as a feeling: I feel disrespected. 
  • As a consequence: If you do this, I won’t respect you
  • And as a boundary: Don’t do this, if you respect me.  

Respect is usually framed externally, meaning it’s directed towards those around us as opposed to ourselves. I.e. “Am I being respected?” and often not, “How can I facilitate respect to others? To myself?” Before we understand the full nature of respect and its importance to us, we need to understand what a value is and isn’t.  

What is a value? 

  • A value is a belief that shapes our lives. A value is a prioritized goal for ourselves or for others, and a lens through which we see the world, particularly when in conflict. 
  • Our strongest values are due to a repetitive action of the value in our brain’s developmental years. This is not necessarily stating that if we value generosity, this means our parents weren’t generous. It means, that an authority figure was so generous, we consistently saw the benefit of generosity and the detriments of not being generous. 
  • Values are deceivingly interdependent: they are mostly aimed at the way people treat us. As per above; “Am I being respected?” versus “How can I facilitate respect to others? To myself? “ 
  • Often people believe that context doesn’t matter. For example, loyalty should be present during every situation, regardless of people around you, how difficult it is, and as long as our relationship stands.  
  • Values are generational and founded in societal perspective. This means that our parents may define respect differently than we do, and younger generations will likely define it differently as well. For a lot of our older generational folks, respect was and is, obedience. “If you respect me as a parent, you’ll do what I tell you.”  

What Values Aren’t 

  • A value is not necessarily something that our behaviours are in alignment with – this by definition, is integrity. Integrity means acting in alignment with our values, and it is possible to hold something in high regard and seek it in others, yet not portray it yourself.  
  • A value is not a promise, a value is not a certainty of predictable behaviour, and a value does not convey our worth. A value is a North Star, a vision of what we want, guiding us throughout a variety of contexts and situations to the best of our ability.  
  • A value is an expectation of others, and not necessarily an expectation of ourselves.  

For example, most folks say that they value honesty, generosity, courage, and respect.  

  • That being said, what is honesty? Is it omitting things that aren’t necessary to the relationship? Is it full transparency about the past, present and future? 
  • What is generosity? Is it going to an event even if you don’t want to? Is it spending your last dollar on someone else rather than yourself? Is generosity defined by ability, effort, or reciprocity? 
  • What is courage? Is it the ability to not be afraid, or is it the ability to be afraid and do it anyways to prioritize another value?  
  • And my favorite, what is respect…. 

Google’s definition of respect generally boils it down into admiration and appreciation. To recognize the worth of a person or thing.  

Julie Pham’s Business book, the 7 Forms of Respect: Procedure, punctuality, information, candor, consideration, acknowledgement, and attention digs deeper into the expansion of this expectation we have in professional settings.  

Other scholars dictate that the greatest form of respect is listening. That people feel respected when they feel heard and understood. Others say it’s when people give you courtesy and consideration.  

Respect for property is taking good care of things, and prioritizing them so they last a long time. 

Respect in health care is often defined by 1) acknowledging patient autonomy in their health choices 2) required to protect those when in diminished autonomy.  

It’s clear that now in society, we don’t have a standardized definition of respect, therefore, we are all using this word to communicate with, yet have different expectations of it.  

Three important points about respect:   

  1. It’s clear that respect is an umbrella, that there are qualities to respect: Authenticity, humility, being responsive, empathy, confidence, active listening, kindness, resilience, integrity, patience, and gratitude.   
  1. We are parallel processing what respect means to us, meaning: Both sides of the fence are re-defining and new to figuring out what respect means. When in conflict, all parties are processing how to define respect for themselves, that’s why we often struggle to communicate what respect really means for us.  
  1. Most people ARE on the same page when it comes to defining disrespect.  

Disrespect: Criticism, stonewalling, lying, put downs, pressuring others, disloyalty, and threats to end the relationship. Exploitation without gratitude. Dismissive behaviours to an outright disregard for one’s contributions, i.e. disregard towards someone’s feelings, opinions and/or hard work.  

This is a common pattern in today’s relationships: We know what we DON’T want, but we are challenged to specifically define what we DO want.  

Jumping back up to the first statement in this article: The key to being in alignment with our values is defining them. The key for others to value us, is defining the actions expected and being in alignment with our explicit expectations and stated consequences.  

What specifically are you looking for when it comes to respect? We need to be able to explicitly state what actions are needed to facilitate the feeling of being respected.  

  1. Selecting what primary characteristic you are looking for under the umbrella of respect: Acknowledgement, information, authenticity, humility, kindness, patience? 
  1. Instead of saying  “I feel disrespected when you do XYZ”, state what you DO want. “I would feel more appreciated/seen/understood if you told me details about what was said behind my back.” 
  1. What relationship are you struggling with? Friendship, romantic, familial, and professional respect all look different. How do you define respect in each.  
  1. Use behaviours when asking for respect. Instead of stating “I need you to respect me” try saying “I’m needing more patience from you when XYZ happens.” 
  1. The more specific the better. If you’re looking for more patience, what does patience look like? If you’re looking for more kindness, what does kindness look like?  
  1. Asking how other people define respect is helpful to your building your own definition. For example, asking your partner how they see respect, will be helpful to explain to them how your definition is similar or different.  

How can our behaviours be more in alignment with our expectations for others:  

  1. How are you leading with respect in your relationships (romantic, friendship, familial, professional)? What characteristics do you embody to highlight your respect for others? 
  1. Do you know the definition of respect of others around you? How can you facilitate their self-awareness with their definition of respect? 
  1. More importantly, how are you respecting yourself in these relationships? (romantic, friendship, familial, professional)? 
  1. When you feel disrespected, what was the primary intention of the other person? How can this intention shift how you feel? 
  1. How can you minimize barriers to people respecting you? If someone highly values punctuality, how can you be on time? If someone highly values empathy, how can you be more empathic?  

How can our behaviours be more in alignment with our stated consequences: 

  1. What happens when someone violates your request for respect? Is this a reasonable consequence?  
  1. Are you consistent with this consequence?  
  1. Is this consequence founded by the desire for justice or punishment? Is that what you want the relationship to be? 
  1. Is this consequence founded by the desire for self-worth? How can you build your self-worth in other ways? 

Solidifying our vision of respect:  

  1. Who taught you about disrespect? Was it romantic disrespect, friendship disrespect, familial disrespect or professional disrespect? What characteristics did they highlight? 
  1. Who taught you how to be respectful and what characteristics did/do they highlight? 
  1. What characteristics of respect do you do regularly?  
  1. What characteristics of respect do you need to work on? 
  1. How can you forgive yourself for being disrespectful in the past? In the future? 

We can help you answer these important questions, as it’s a lot to unpack when exploring how to foster respect throughout our lives.  Remembering that respect is a guiding value for us to strive for, meaning we aren’t perfect, and neither are our counterparts. Counselling can be pivotal in determining where our lines are for maintaining relationships, being happy, and using respect as a tool to gain more independence, self-worth and direction in our lives.  

Danielle (She/Her) is a Registered Clinical Counsellor operating in Vancouver, BC, with Skylark Counselling Clinic on the unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh Nations. She has worked in the counselling field for the last 10 years, supervising practicum students and teaching Master’s level classes on anger management, trauma, and counselling skills. At Skylark, Danielle provides counselling services and serves as a Clinical Director.

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