Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Teaching respect

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. 'the right to be their own person - no matter what their problems are...' that is something that very often gets lost, from both sides of the coin. thanks for pointing this out to me.

  2. Loved this Syd! I also expected people to "read my mind" and got angry when they couldn't. I've learned to ask for what I need. It is never too late to change our thinking.

  3. One thing that my husband said he learned from me was that "you teach people how to treat you."

    Essentially, others look to us for directives on how we wish to be treated. I had met my husband after a decade + of being a doormat. I was looking to be the change I wanted to see in my life. Apparently it made an impression on him.

    However, I'm lazy. Over the years I have found that instead of standing up for myself and demanding respect, I will often practice avoidance. This is most common in my professional life. I have a tendency to be a people pleaser there more than anywhere else. I think it stems from not wanting to rock the professional boat and jeopordize my career.

    But I'm working on it.

  4. These are such hard things for most of us to do. I am not sure why. But it is. Thank you for reminding us that it's good to take care of ourselves because otherwise, we cannot take care of others.

  5. I found just what I needed here today. I'm new to your blog and am finding it very helpful

    I stuffed all my anger, not knowing what to do with it and having only seen anger expressed in a destructive way and it seethed from me in bitterness and resentment. But anger always finds a way out and it seethed from me in bitterness and resentment.

    Outcome: my husband (sober 3 years, not in recovery)of 32 years left me. He quit drinking but neither of us recovered. I'm now in Al Anon, and find your blog along with some others inspiring.


  6. Good post, Syd. One thing I've become aware of too is that I often just assume that someone knows how I feel, or what I'm thinking when actually they have no idea. I need to communicate these thoughts to others so they can react accordingly.

  7. Some good lessons here, Syd. Thank you.

  8. Good one, Syd. Number one, unspoken expectations are resentments just waiting to happen. So unfair of us and to us. Number two, respect for other human beings is mandatory. The fact that they are human beings makes it so. I don't know why this is hard to understand, but it seems to be. I guess we just get so focused on ourselves we forget we are NOT the center of the universe. lol thanks

  9. "Going along to get along" caused me a lot of unhappiness in my marriage. I was gobsmacked when I realised to what extent I was choking down my thoughts and feelings. It never works for me to do this. Great post.

  10. hi Syd...sometimes I get boundaries confused with expectations and want too much...Glad you're well and still posting and sharing...God bless

  11. This really echoes in me... and I do agree with all that you say...Thanks for posting this and remind me of what matters... Empathy and non violent communication can only occur when our needs are heard...


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