Many of my clients don’t think about how they sabotage their relationships by disrespecting themselves. Rather, they prefer to blame their partners for the way they are being treated and are resigned to feeling angry, hopeless, depressed and powerless. But they are not being honest with themselves and you aren’t either if this is you! Only you are responsible for your own actions, beliefs and feelings and believe me, we have an enormous amount of power in relationships to affect the way people respond to us. We teach people how to treat us by how we think about, feel about and behave towards ourselves. This article is the second in my series on “Losing Yourself in Relationship” (see my previous posting).
One way to really lose your individuality in relationship is by not disputing others misinformed beliefs about who you are, allowing them to define you and what you are capable of. We let their assumptions about us go unchecked usually because we have some fear that if we dispute what it is they are saying, they won’t want to be with us. Baloney! You do yourself a great disservice in the guise of not rocking the boat. If there isn’t room for the truth of who you really are in the relationship then you most likely don’t want to keep that relationship going. You want to be in the company of someone who wants to support your greatness, not someone who feels threatened by it. Be suspicious of any role the world seems to want to cast you in. That will always be about someone else’s needs and wants and not necessarily yours. Raise your eyes above the fray to a higher vision of who you really are.
Some of my clients seem to merge into their partners by allowing their partner to control them-they become invisible. For example, one woman I see constantly defers to men in her life to decide what they will do, where they will eat that night and whether or not they will be sexually intimate. She has a belief that this is what relationships are about! If she tries to let her partner know what she would enjoy, he will complain, throw a tantrum and make it impossible to stay relational. Instead of identifying this as a childhood tantrum, she gives in to him, but with a lot of resentment and later…. rage. She hasn’t fully appreciated that she is in a relationship with a child, and yes, that really can be frustrating for an adult!
This is just the tip of the lack of respect iceberg. Allowing others to interrupt you all the time in conversation or to minimize what you say as somehow not important, comparing you to someone else and what they do. Understand that the comparison is irrelevant; you are not they, you are you! It’s a no-win situation anytime someone attempts to compare you to someone else-you never come out of it as an equal partner. Another way you may disrespect yourself is by not acting in accordance with your own beliefs and values. For example, if you value personal integrity, being honest and following through with what you say you’re going to do, yet with your partner you allow them to slide when they promise things but don’t deliver, how do you start to feel? Are you angry, resentful, feeling discounted, a little hopeless? You bet. Part of you says that if you bring it up, they will only start a fight objecting to how you are the problem because of your “neediness” (see that switch tactic?) or “unreasonable requests”. You say you “pick your battles” but inside, you are angry and feel slighted, maybe even confused because of the neat switch they did making YOU the problem! That’s called manipulation and there are many good manipulators out there, so beware. I’ll talk more about that later.
When partners don’t honor your time and are late for dates or appointments, this shows immense disrespect for you. They will keep you waiting and create excuses for why it happened phrasing it in ways that make it seem that they simply just didn’t have a choice, when they actually did. (By the way, the choice they did have was to leave early if there was traffic, or not take the phone call if someone called them at the last minute. We always have a choice!) It’s disrespectful when people hold back and don’t engage with you when you finally do get to spend time with them-they’re just not present, thinking of work or somewhere else distracted.
It is highly disrespectful when partners have two sets of rules in the relationship-one for them and one for you. What this says is, “I don’t have to abide by your rules. I’m better than you are-remember that!” Also, “Your needs aren’t as important as mine are.” The truth is, you are both equals and you deserve to feel happy and safe..
It’s disrespectful when people lie to you. They may lie overtly or they may lie to you by simply not telling you everything-by omission. It’s disrespectful when people keep secrets. What it says in fact is “You don’t deserve me telling you the truth.” “You are not worth me being on time for and you are not worth paying attention to.”
It’s disrespectful to you if someone threatens you to get what he or she wants. It’s especially disrespectful and illegal (assault) if someone is physically abusive to you, hitting, punching, slapping, pulling hair, poking and touching you in ways you don’t want to be touched. Only you have the right to control and respect your body and if you are not doing that, thinking “Well I have to give them what they want otherwise they will leave”, then you disrespect yourself and place them in a “better than” position. (BTW, if someone ever puts you in a position like that where if you say “no” to him or her they would leave-let them! You don’t want to be with them anyway! Just don’t forget to give them my contact information on the way out!) Your needs are equally important as theirs are, no matter what! If you don’t know what your needs are that’s probably a big red flag telling you that you have a pattern of letting others figure that out for you.
When you disrespect yourself in a relationship and don’t set good boundaries, your self-esteem is impacted big time. If you allow the relationship to continue in an atmosphere that does not feel safe (emotionally, physically, intellectually or spiritually) feelings of depression, anxiety, anger and even rage may start to build up inside you needlessly. Some people let these emotions get the better of them and they will try to self medicate with drugs, sex or alcohol or other behavioral compulsions, i.e. working out all the time, working too much, etc.
Our emotional, intellectual, physical and spiritual boundaries need to be honored in order for us to be the authentic individuals we are. After all, isn’t it an authentic partner that we want to be in relationship with? Asserting these boundaries is a real sign of self-respect. When we honor ourselves and our needs we feel relaxed and free in the world, to be truly who we are. We can start to feel real happiness and strength- that CORE OF OUR BEING quality (mentioned in the previous post “Losing Yourself in Relationship”). If you are not at that place yet I have to ask, what are you waiting for? Call me. You can learn how to start teaching the world to treat you with the respect you so deserve!
Elisa M. Thomas MA LMFT (910) 446-3697