Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Teaching others to respect me

Most of us don't realize that we are all teachers. I can think of many instances where someone has provided a lesson for me, most likely without even being aware of it. These lessons may be very subtle, almost below the surface of awareness.

I know that I learned a lot of lessons from the alcoholic. I found that I lost respect for my wife because of the drinking. I reacted in negative ways. I became so obsessed with getting her to change that I forgot about the person that she was. I was obsessed with her problem and also forgot about myself.

It wasn't until coming to Al-Anon and going to open AA meetings that I learned the difference between hating the disease and not the alcoholic. Both programs taught me about having respect for others. I learned that everyone has the right to be their own person – no matter what their problems are or how they decide to manage their lives.

I think that is how I began to see that in order for others to respect me, I have to respect myself. I've learned in the program to look at myself and to be aware of my actions and behaviors. I've learned not to control others but to let them go so that they can be their own person.

My actions and not reactions are what help others to respect me. I've learned to keep healthy boundaries but not show hate or contempt for another. I realized after being in Al-Anon that all the years that I spent in anger, disdain, and contempt really did nothing to help either of us.

However, there are times when I think that people in my life take me for granted, tune me out, or disregard my feelings. I know that these are sensitive areas for me. And that if I don't pay attention to the feelings, I will start to slip.

I suspect that the roots of this behavior began early on in my relationship with others. So what did I do early on? I put up with things in order to keep the peace, make a good impression, avoid confrontation, and generally get along in childhood and in my marriage. And so the people in my life learned what I would and would not tolerate and what to expect from me.

It doesn't take long for these "lessons" that I taught to become deeply ingrained. And then that leads to my complaints: "Why does everyone always take me for granted? I'm tired of being the "responsible" one. Can't anyone take me seriously? Doesn't my time matter? Don't I matter?"

So what's the solution? What can I do if I'm unhappy with how others treat me? I needed a new "lesson plan". And that's where the steps and traditions come in. So here's what I decided:
  • It wasn't very productive to beat myself up over what I did in the past. I need to be gentle with myself. Screw guilt! I reacted before because I didn't really know how to react. I was just trying to survive. In the present, I can develop new behaviors.
  • I can look at what I have been tolerating and make some boundaries that I want others to respect. I need to enforce those boundaries.
  • I need to make it clear to others what my own needs, wants and dreams are. I need to decide what the new "messages" are that I want to send.
  • I have the right to speak up when my feelings get stepped on. If I want to be treated well, I have to make an effort to explain what I need, rather than pulling back and struggling with frustration. It is up to me to provide enough information to others so that they know where I stand and what my boundaries are.
  • It doesn't accomplish anything for me to feel helpless or like a victim. That just leads to blame, resentment and rescue attempts that make me feel bad.
I think that the biggest help to me has been keeping my emotions in balance and not being afraid to ask for what I need. By getting more in touch with what I feel, the good and the bad, I have gotten in touch with what I need in a relationship with others. It just feels much better to do that than to vent and complain.


  1. Thanks Syd. I relate to this share I had a difficult experience recently that sent me on a spin of obsession. The tools you laid down really helped me out.

  2. i am working on this. i need to ask for what i need, but before i do i need to figure out the difference between a want and a need.
    i am also learning that it is ok to want something.
    for me the frustration is with me thinking that it is ridiculously obvious what is needed and why my family doesn't see it and demands that i "ask" directly for what it is takes a huge amount of humility, that sometimes i just don't have.
    you know like the baby has a poopy diaper it is 5 minutes to dinner and the kids are at the gate screaming for attention. "A" is sitting there watching TV and Wes is on the computer. you can smell the diaper. i am scrambling to get dinner done and now there i am thinking, why don't they get up and help with the kids? duh?!?
    i have to say someone change the diaper and someone play with haley. i mean it takes me being in a great space to have the humility to ask and be ok with it. because it is not that big of a deal, but i make it one. great post.

  3. I am pretty good with boundries and letting people know where they are. I get hung up with the expectation that if I tell you where they are that you will respect them. Expectations always get me inot trouble. Good post as usual Syd. Thanks. jeNN

  4. SYD!!! I love this post. I can relate so much. When my feelings were getting hurt I used to withdraw or get angry.

    Now if I feel uncomfortable with the way I am being treated I express myself. And you know what? It's working miracles. Especially with my husband.

  5. Great post, Syd! You've offered some awesome advice that I'm definitely going use. Thank you so much for writing this... I think a lot of people will really benefit from reading it.

  6. Syd
    I've never commented before on your blog but I read it almost daily and have found you to be so wise and observant and such a good example of using the program to get better. I've only been attending meetings for about a year and need all of the guidance I can get - thank you for yours.

  7. Great post, it's stuff I am working on right now.

  8. I hate to admit it, but I can still fall back into that place where if someone is not respecting my boundaries, I remain silent and don't speak up for myself.

    When I realize I am doing this and can get balanced enough to say how I'm feeling in an appropriate way, then I feel so much better about myself and things tend to work out.

    Great post. Very helpful.


  9. Great article, great perspectives.


    Blessings and aloha...

  10. I can set boundries, I can express where it offends me but I can't control others disrespect of my boundries. Sometimes I can deal with the backlash better than others. Depends on the situation. I took a spin around the trust train a couple months ago that have me on edge again but i'll find my way through and try again. It's hard being sober and looking at everything with absolute honesty but I wouldn't do it any other way now. You inspire me to always investigate myself. Tammy

  11. Great post, thanks. No guilt, definitely; and respecting oneself, absolutely.

  12. Syd Syd Syd....we got the puppy Kimba!!!! I have not felt this kind of joy in a long time!

  13. Syd this post goes to the heart of low self-esteem and the failure to assert ourselves, the waiting to be noticed and appreciated -- as well as all the other points you made.

    For me it is not about just setting boundaries but knowing we have the right to assert ourselves, to be forceful or make demands in appropriate ways. A doormat is an unlovely thing.

    Now I am going to race over and look at pics of Kimba

  14. it all boils down to communication, doesn't it. reading this it makes me wonder at what point i thought (and started acting on) that either withdrawing or shouting would get me what i want... i shake my head...

  15. Learning to be responsible for myself, rather than blindly reacting and blaming, has been a great tool for staying sane in a sometimes crazy-making world. You did a fine job of identifying just how to go about doing that. I'm glad you're practicing a good program.

  16. Thanks Syd, I am working with this very issue at the moment and it was great to read your experiences so clearly expressed. Your post has given me the little nudge I needed not to close off and put up all those barriers but to see the person I love as separate from their disease and keep the focus on my actions and feelings.I always find it a little nerve wracking when I take on new and healthier ways of being even when I have so many great experiences of the benefits they bring. Many thanks.


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