Lives there a person who has never heard the phrase “You have to earn my respect!”? Do you have any idea what a load of rubbish that is? Respect is an entitlement, not something you have to earn.
I addressed this topic back in April on my general blog, A View from the Other Side, and this is what I said back then:
Do you think people should earn your respect? Really? Why?
When I was growing up, respect was not something you earned. Respect was freely given, in fact, it was considered an entitlement. It was DISrespect that had to be earned. Now, if you think I’m full of crap on this, put on your thinking cap and follow along with me.
In a circumstance in which respect is not freely accorded to others, disrespect reigns. When you respect the rights and feelings of others, you don’t do things that might infringe on those rights or impinge on their feelings: you don’t cut in front of them in line, you don’t cut them off on the highway, you don’t interrupt when they are speaking, you don’t insult their politics or religious inclinations, you don’t assault their ears with loud cell-phone conversations, or impair their breathing with your second hand smoke—and they don’t do the same to you.
Common courtesy and manners, the lubricant that oils the wheels of social interaction, are based on simple respect for the feelings and rights of others. When respect is absent, disrespect reigns…and when you behave disrespectfully, you invite others to behave towards you in the same way.
Speaking altruistically, you must give respect to get respect and a society that values pleasant social interaction must be based on the simple tenet that we must all respect each other if we are to avoid conflict and make progress.
But there is another, more practical and less esoteric reason that respect must be freely given rather than earned: the sheer impossibility of doing so.
You see, there are billions of people on this planet and even if you live an insular life in a small town, you are going to meet quite a few of them. And each person is going to be different, have different mores and beliefs and feelings…and each one will have different criteria for earning respect. Moreover, those criteria will not be tattooed on their foreheads, nor will they thoughtfully hand you a list of them…in fact, if asked, they will likely be hard pressed to even articulate what it takes for you to earn their respect. And if they really thought about it diligently, it is most likely that one of the critical criteria would be that you show respect to them.
You are no different. You have some kind of nebulous concept rattling around in the back of your brain that defines what it means to earn your respect. And you hold countless numbers of complete strangers to this amorphous, undefined criteria in order to “earn” your respect, without telling them or even being able to articulate it yourself. This is grossly unfair. It is setting a standard to which you expect others to measure up without ever telling them what the standard is. It virtually guarantees failure on the part of others and virtually guarantees you a conscience-free pass to be rude and disrespectful to the majority of people you meet! I mean, if they don’t earn your respect, why should you treat them respectfully?
This attitude is the most basic underpinning of bullying. If you don’t respect someone because you believe they have to earn your respect and you have made it impossible for them to do by creating an impossible and/or invisible set of standards, then you don’t need to respect their rights or their feelings, do you? If you further create some gates that a person must pass through in order to even try to earn your respect—like they must be straight, or Christian, or politically conservative, or a certain race or ethnicity or gender—you further create a situation that you feel absolutely justified in not respecting those who are unable to pass through those gates. If they can’t jump through the hoops and avoid the obstacles you have set up, then you feel perfectly justified in disrespecting them.
When you consider that there are potentially billions of people doing this, that if you meet 100 people in the course of a week, each one of them may be doing this to you, you may begin to see how this cannot work as a way of life. If you meet 100 people and each of them has a different criteria for having their respect earned and none of them are willing to tell you what you must do to “earn” their respect, you are basically screwed. It is a hit or miss situation where “earning” someone’s respect is accidental rather than by design or intent. It is, with rare exception, impossible.
But it goes even deeper than this. Consider for a moment: what kind of a person truly believes that his respect is so rare a commodity that others must earn it? What kind of a person has so little respect within his heart that he must dole it out only to those who are willing to abase themselves to “earn” it? If you think of yourself as a “good person,” what are you doing withholding that most basic entitlement of humans, the right to be respected simply because they exist?
That’s right—we all have basic human rights—and the right to be respected is one of them. We earn DISrespect when we have done something worthy of it, but respect is your birthright. And to expect others to earn your respect is tantamount to saying that you are entitled to withhold from them a right that came with their first breath, setting yourself as a superior being above those from whom you withhold your respect. It speaks ill of your character, and reflects badly upon your moral fibre.
Many of us have bought into the notion that respect must be earned out of ignorance and lack of critical thinking. We aren’t really bullies and we deplore the lack of common courtesy we are subjected to in daily life. Curiously, while we take the position that strangers must earn our respect, we fully expect those strangers to treat us with the respect and courtesy we have made no effort to “earn” from them. It’s a one-way street in our minds—others should treat us with respect but they must earn ours—and we don’t even realize it!
If you take the time to really think about it, you have to come to the conclusion that respect simply cannot be earned. No one person is sufficiently intuitive and simultaneously fluid of personality that they can divine and appropriately react to an infinite, and infinitely changing, set of demands. You cannot please all of the people all of the time—and when it comes to earning respect, you cannot even know what all of the people think you need to do.
If you want to be respected, there is a simple way to achieve that: respect others. Respect their feelings, their rights, their existence. Give them respect as a matter of course and only withhold it when a specific person has done a specific thing that is worthy of withdrawing it. Set the bar high—determine that taking your respect away from a person is a serious thing, not to be taken lightly or in response to something small, like disagreeing with you politically. In fact, to my way of thinking, it is only demonstrating an ingrained lack of respect for others that warrants the withdrawal of my respect.
You might consider this the next time you think another person should earn your respect rather than you giving it freely and giving him a chance to earn your disrespect instead.
Narcissists do this. They believe that their respect has to be earned and thereby create a set up to justify treating other people like crap. When you don’t respect someone, you don’t feel obligated to have a caution for their feelings or even their rights. When you believe others have to earn your respect, you have created a world in which you don’t have to respect anybody until and unless they earn it from you, as if you have the right to disrespect everyone on the planet until they bow to your expectations…a pretty narcissistic attitude, to my way of thinking.
Many years ago, when I was struggling with my NHusband’s gaslighting and manipulative ways, my therapist gave me some invaluable advice: when the words and the behaviour don’t match, believe the behaviour because it is so much easier to lie with words than with deeds. And so you look at how people treat you, how they act: people who respect you will treat you as an Equal and they won’t try to manipulate you by taking a Superior or Subordinate position with you. Anyone who assumes a Superior or Subordinate position with you is treating you without respect…and when you assume a Superior or Subordinate position, you are doing the same.
A good part of what is wrong with the world today is as a result of rampant disrespect. What is wrong with our relationships with our FOO is, at its core, a lack of respect being shown to us by them. Some women are simply incapable of loving their children—love is an emotion that we cannot will—but even those women are capable of respecting their children and their rights and their feelings. They cannot choose to love us…love operates independent of our conscious choice…but they can choose to respect us.
By their very nature, narcissists are disrespectful of others. But they are not necessarily disrespectful of everyone—my NexH and my MNM both had people they admired, people they looked up to and wanted to be like. Admittedly, all of their idols were powerful, wealthy people who, for the most part, they did not personally know, but the fact remains that they did not disrespect these people even though these people had not earned their respect through any direct or conscious means. In truth, there is nothing personal in a narcissist’s disrespect of you, at least in the beginning, because that disrespect is pretty much universal: even if the narcissist doesn’t know you, s/he disrespects you…it is the default condition of the narcissist.
A narcissist disrespects anyone and everyone he does not perceive as worthy of being his role model. That means most family members (exceptions might be made for a family member who has achieved that which the narcissist wishes to achieve: fame, wealth, power—but the narcissist could just as easily be so envious that s/he despises and disrespects him or her) and virtually everyone the narcissist knows well.
The narcissist doesn’t really know what respect is. While we know that respect is part of the Equal/Equal transaction, the Narcissist sees it as a situation in which the respected person is a Superior, not just in a transaction but in life, and the narcissist is a subordinate. Respect, to the narcissist, has nothing to do with equality and everything to do with being willingly subordinate to the idol the narcissist wishes to emulate. But there is nothing selfless in this subordination: the narcissist expects to find ways to profit by her emulation and admiration, whether it is clues as to how to be more attractive to men (my NM used to copy Marilyn Monroe, right down to the bleached hair, halter dress and fake beauty mark) or to become rich and powerful (or at least to make others think you are—my NexH went to his 20th high school reunion dressed in a 3-piece suit complete with watch chain and rented a Lincoln Continental from the airport…no mundane Chevy and sport shirt and slacks for him!).
Narcissists demand respect from others—or try to con others into thinking they should be respected—without being willing to give respect to others. They demand that we earn respect from them without telling us how to go about doing that…because they don’t know. And if you are thinking this is a set-up you are right, that is exactly what it is.
Because the narcissistic view of respect is such that, in order to “respect” you, the narcissist would have to believe you were better than s/he is…and that is never going to happen. The people the narcissist respects are people whom the narcissist not only admires and wishes to emulate but people whose feet of clay—their human failings—the narcissist has not yet found or acknowledged. And so you have an NM who raises an NDaughter or NSon who may well respect their NM, ignoring (or even admiring) her faults, doing her bidding, defending her and in doing so, defending themselves. NM may even come to admire one of her Nchildren, assuming the child achieves highly in an area NM finds worthy: Charlie’s brother became a millionaire through some pretty shifty means but their NM didn’t care about how he got his money: Alvin became a millionaire and she explained away and excused his boorishness, rudeness, and bullying behaviours with “He’s a millionaire. Millionaires are like that.” Alvin did not respect Charlie and neither did their NM, they both bullied and insulted him behind his back and, on occasion, even to his face. You don’t treat people you respect that way.
Bottom line is, narcissists cannot respect anyone they deem beneath them and narcissists deem everyone beneath them except the select few they wish to emulate. Earning respect is virtually impossible even in the best of circumstances but with a narcissist, it is quite impossible: they will never let you.
Respect is something you are entitled to, just like the air you breathe. The idea that you have to earn respect is as ludicrous as the idea that you have to earn your air, that someone has the right to withhold it from you until you figure out what you have to do to earn it…and they get to change the rules as they go along.
You don’t have to earn anybody's respect and people who withhold respect from you and expect you to jump through hoops like a trained dog to “earn” it aren’t going to give it to you, no matter how many hoops you jump through—the fact of your willingness to abase yourself in order to earn their approval and respect will, automatically, render you unworthy. And while being denied air for four minutes will kill you and being denied respect will not, respect is no less an entitlement and anyone who tells you differently has a selfishly irrational and manipulative view of the subject.
If a person doesn’t respect you, it says volumes more about her than is does about you…and none of it good.
Next: The two sides of “Attention Seeking”
It is difficult to deal with a narcissist when you are a grown, independent, fully functioning adult. The children of narcissists have an especially difficult burden, for they lack the knowledge, power, and resources to deal with their narcissistic parents without becoming their victims. Whether cast into the role of Scapegoat or Golden Child, the Narcissist's Child never truly receives that to which all children are entitled: a parent's unconditional love. Start by reading the 46 memories--it all began there.