What is respect?

Respect is one of the main pillars of any relationship. Whether we are talking about interpersonal, couple or work relationships, respect is the engine that makes people build things together, feel dignified and valuable, live in harmony.

Respecting someone means respecting their beliefs and values, acknowledging them, accepting them, even if you disagree with them. It means having the patience to listen to them, to try to understand them without judging or criticizing them. We all want to be listened to, respected, accepted for who we are, for our individuality.

Respect means, in fact, accepting our differences. Understanding the fact that our opinions, our worldview and our lifeview, the way we choose to live, is not an absolute truth that everyone should follow. It represents only our subjective perception that was formed as a result of the way we were raised, of our education and experiences.

When we try to intrude our views upon others at any price or we try to convince others that we are right or that they should do like us, we don’t show respect, but intolerance. Each person makes their existence according to their personality structure, their ideas and needs. Even if we have the impression that we know better, when we require a person to follow our path or change their beliefs, we actually convey to them that we don’t accept them as they are, that we disregard or minimize their abilities. We don’t like to be judged, but we judge others, because we don’t accept their right to be as they wish to be. To respect others means to understand that our freedom ends where their freedom begins and that every person has the right to live as they please, as long as they don’t harm others.

But before we respect others, we have to respect ourselves, just as before we can show others love, we have to love ourselves. Self-respect helps us build and maintain healthy and beautiful relationships in our lives. When we respect ourselves, we can no longer accept to be treated with disrespect by others, we can no longer tolerate compromises, self-renunciations, abuses, humiliations, offenses.

People who don’t respect and love themselves, who don’t think they are valuable and important, who don’t think they "deserve" or they "can", are somehow people who will find it easier to “surrender” to others, to put their destiny in other people’s hands, becoming dependent on others because they don’t trust themselves or because they haven’t given themselves the chance to discover themselves and develop their abilities and talents. Maybe they will attract in their life exactly those people who confirm their "prophecies" - that they can’t, that they aren’t worthy. Maybe they will "bear their cross" in abusive and toxic relationships, not believing they can live differently.

Self-respect starts with seemingly small aspects, but those aspects make a difference. It means being honest with yourself and others, having the courage to see yourself as you are instead of distorting the reality and sinking into self-deception and delusions, it means to confront your less pleasant aspects, to accept them or to try to change them. It means to enjoy your achievements and to give yourself credit for everything you have managed to achieve, for all the obstacles you have overcome. It means not hurting yourself, looking instead for the path to your highest good. It means to assume your mistakes, to learn from them, to take responsibility for your life. To trust yourself and, even if you still have to work on this, to be on your side even when you fall, when you make mistakes. To not judge yourself too harshly, to not condemn yourself. To get up, to shake it off and move on. Self-respect means honoring your body by paying attention to its needs, the way you eat, exercise, sleep, relax; to nourish your mind with quality information, to seek to develop yourself constantly, to make plans and goals, to make a step every day towards the fulfillment of your dreams.

In a couple relationship, respect is reflected in the way you treat your partner every day of your life. When your partner humiliates you, disrespects you, speaks badly to you, abuses you one way or another, manipulates you, emotionally blackmails you, but occasionally makes nice gestures to soften you up, it does not mean he/she respects you. Respect is shown every day, not only on vacations or holidays. Therefore, in a couple relationship, respect means, among others, the following:

- to listen to your partner, pay attention to their needs, desires and concerns;

- not trying to change them to better meet your expectations, but accepting them as they are;

- to be willing to respect their personal time and space and to communicate to them what are your limits and boundaries;

- to assume your share of responsibility for the way the relationship looks like, instead of blaming your partner;

- to be willing to communicate honestly;

- to accept their interests, passions, desires and respect their individual freedom;

- to encourage and support them;

- to talk to them nicely, even if they "annoy you" - your emotions and the way you express them are your responsibility, not your partner's. If you can’t speak using a calm or neutral tone, leave the room for a few moments before you say or do something reckless;

- not making false promises;

- to show your partner appreciation and gratitude, not only for what they do, but also for what they are;

- to directly communicate your grievances, instead of discussing them with others;

- to be willing to acknowledge if you have made a mistake and say you’re sorry (I’m not referring to repeated mistakes, intentional mistakes for which you hope you will "get away with it" if you ask for forgiveness, which in this case is not sincere and means nothing);

- to be willing to make an effort to solve the conflicts that arise - when quarrels and conflicts arise between partners, they often escalate because each one wants to impose their point of view, to be right. From a minor matter things can escalate to reproaches, reminiscing about other past mistakes and, unfortunately, even offenses or other more serious matters.

When there are differences of opinion you show respect to your partner if you openly communicate what bothers you (without blaming them), you allow them to express their point of view and seek to reach a solution or consensus. It’s normal to say what’s displeasing you and what is the solution from your point of view, but you also have to consider that your partner may disagree with it. Don’t try to manipulate them, to victimize, to emotionally blackmail them or make a scene. Don't offend them and don't sulk for days. Listen to them and try to see things from their perspective. If a consensus can’t be reached, all those manipulation strategies sooner or later will end up ruining the relationship.

One issue I want to point out here is that just as we learn about love from our parents or those who took care of us when we were children, the same way we learn about respect. A parent who respects their child, trusts their abilities and potential and helps develop them, showing them the path to independence and autonomy. They don’t see their child as their own extension, but as an autonomous human being who has the right to make their own choices and decisions. A parent who respects their child won’t try to interfere in their adult decisions, won’t intrude in their life and won’t use emotional blackmail to determine them to fulfill their expectations or selfish interests, but will support and encourage them as much as they can.

Children are neither toys nor private property - they should be neither our slaves nor our masters. The greatest respect you can show to a child is to accept him in his individuality, perhaps completely different from what you would expect, and to refer to him as a person who, in order to become "great", he needs to be recognized and accepted for what he is, encouraged and supported, guided with love and attention, but free to make his own mistakes.

One other aspect I would like to point out here - in our society, the idea that you have to respect and love your parents no matter how they treated you, is still applauded. But I come and say that you can’t force anyone to love and respect those who have hurt, humiliated, abused them, broken their wings or spirit, because, yes, unfortunately, there are parents who do nothing but take from their children, take out their frustrations and pains on them, use them, mistreat them. A parent who has truly accomplished their mission will always be respected and loved by their child, in a natural way, without feeling any "obligation" or constraint  in this regard.

Respect, however is defined by each one of us, can’t be forced, but won. In essence, it’s a noble feeling that reminds us to be human, and for others to earn our respect, we must, first of all, give them this chance, put aside for a few moments our prejudices and beliefs and try to see others beyond them.

Dr. Ursula Sandner




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