Today’s Our Land Series post was authored by the introspective and compassionate author Yvonne, of Inquiring Parent (and book Drawings in Sand). Yvonne is the amazing woman who taught me that the difference between self esteem and self compassion is actually not only significant, but is super important. Yvonne practices what she preaches, and documents the process in a way that is inspiring and relatable. If you don’t know her, please check out her websites.
Our Land: Feeling Respected
Respect is good. We know that. We love when people respect us – it feels wonderful.
In an ideal world, everyone would respect each other and Finding Ninee’s Our Land series is a great way to work towards that ideal. Working towards it is also the purpose of my Inquiring Parent blog, the reason I wrote my novel, and what motivates me to get out of bed most mornings (that and making my daughters’ packed lunches!).
Stressful beliefs about respect
However, we run into trouble when we think our ideal should be happening and it isn’t, when we have thoughts like these:
People should respect each other.
They should respect me.
Children should respect their elders.
I want respect.
People should respect my child.
These thoughts are so universally believed, that you might not think of them as causing stress. However, I will explain…
Why apparently “positive” thoughts can be stressful
In his e-book Letting Go, Leo Babauta, writes, “Holding onto our ideals of how everyone should act – which isn’t reality – is what causes our anger, frustration, stress, disappointment.”
Byron Katie, founder of the process, The Work puts it even more simply. She says, “When you argue with reality, it hurts.”
“But, but…” I hear you say. “If I don’t want people to respect me, they never will.”
I can relate to that. Yet the more I think I need respect, the less I feel I have it. The more I think I need respect, the more I’ll whine and wheedle and manipulate to try to get it. (Now, really, why would people respect me when I do that?)
Several years ago, my daughter had a teacher who did a bit of shouting. My daughter didn’t like her, and nor did I – though she’d never been other than polite to me, and saved her shouting for the classroom. I believed she should respect the children more.
One morning I noticed that I spoke differently to her than to the other teachers. I wasn’t as friendly, didn’t smile as much. I wondered if other people did that too, and it was partly why she felt so grumpy?
I wondered when it all began. Perhaps as a child she was left out; perhaps she thought: “Nobody listens to me. Nobody cares.” Perhaps now she went into school each day determined to be different, but feeling terrified she couldn’t. Or maybe she woke up dreading the kids’ behaviour. Almost certainly she didn’t feel respected.
Of course, I don’t know what she actually thought, but the point is her beliefs drove her, just as everybody’s do. How do I react when I think I’m not getting respect? Sometimes I’ve shouted; I’ve been defensive. And yet, I thought she should behave differently! What a crazy world it is!
How questioning our beliefs can help
If holding onto an ideal causes stress, then letting go brings relief. That sounds simple enough, but for most of us, trying to let go can feel like a huge challenge. My experience is that trying is what causes our difficulty. It’s as if some part of us clings tighter, the more we want to change. (If this seems hard to grasp, remember trying is synonymous with struggling.) When we stop struggling and instead just open to the possibility of change, then somehow it happens.
One way to open is by questioning stressful beliefs. There are many ways to do this, and I often use the process I mentioned earlier, The Work (which did change my life by the way.) Rather than telling you about this, it will be more effective to take you through an example.
A few weeks ago, a friend rang up. She’d been to a meeting and was furious with a guy she thought hadn’t respected her. Although she felt annoyed, she also wanted to let that go.
With The Work instead of try to change beliefs or think positive thoughts, we look for what’s true in any situation. Afterwards, you’ll usually find that your thoughts do change, but it’s not always instant, so a belief might reappear. If that happens, it doesn’t mean the process hasn’t worked, and it doesn’t mean you’ve done it wrong. (You can’t.)
All it means is that the thought came into your mind again. How you then react is far more important than whether or not a thought reappears. Even then, if you react in your old way, but realise you’ve done it – that’s fine too. It’s part of the process of becoming more aware. The goal is never to force change, but to grow in awareness.
This is, perhaps, an unusual way to think in a world where we are constantly reminded to “think positive,” “step up to the plate,” or any other slogans our culture uses to try to force change. In my experience, while the changes that occur after an inquiry may initially seem small, they are natural and lasting.
Inquiry in Action
Let’s go back to my friend. She’s been hanging on that phone for a while.
She’s annoyed, and she believes, “I need him to respect me.”
I ask her, “Is that true?” (The first question of The Work.)
“Yes,” she says. “It is damned well true. He intimidated me. He said…”
Notice she is no longer doing the process, but back in the story that caused her so much stress. When you do The Work, it doesn’t matter whether you answer yes or no to that first question – just so long as you stop there.
I remind my friend of this, and then ask the second question: “You need him to respect you. Can you absolutely know it’s true?”
She sighs. “No. I can’t totally know that’s true.”
“And how do you react when you think this thought?” (The third question.)
She laughs. “It try to justify it and look for evidence to prove it. I feel angry with him. I remember things I’ve heard about him being rude to other people, and I expect him to the same with me. So before I even meet him, I’m expecting him not to respect me.”
My friend pauses. Then she says, “I probably don’t hear all of what he says because I’m so busy listening to my own thoughts, to things like: ‘He doesn’t respect me. He’s rude.’ I suppose I don’t respect him.”
The last question of The Work is, “Who would you be without the thought?”
As my friend talked, I started to think about my own reactions when I believed someone didn’t respect me. Times with my children came to mind. If realised that if I think they should respect me when it seems they aren’t, I feel hurt and defensive. Without the thought, I wonder if something is bothering them. I realise that their behaviour doesn’t mean anything about me.
With the thought – it’s personal. Without the thought – it’s not.
My friend realised much the same.
Turning stressful beliefs around
The last part of The Work is to turn the original thought around. First you do this to its opposite, and then to yourself. This might sound as if you are blaming yourself, and if you try to do the turnarounds without going through the rest of the process first, it can feel as if you are. But, somehow, after you’ve answered the 4 questions, the turnarounds generally feel good!
When we believe something, even if it’s stressful, our lovely human brains look for evidence to back our belief. If feels familiar, even if it hurts. Finding reasons why the turnarounds could be as true or truer than the original thought helps the mind to loosen its grip on that belief. Again, we don’t try to make ourselves believe something new, we just allow the changes to happen as they do.
The first turnaround my friend found was to the opposite:
I don’t need him to respect me.
She looked for three reasons this was true.
My friend realised that she didn’t need this man to respect her because:
She got through the meeting okay.
Her thoughts and beliefs create her fear, not what he does.
The encounter led her to look at this belief.
A similar turnaround would be:
I need him not to respect me.
This was true because:
When he didn’t respect her, she realised the way she’d not listened to him.
She realised she could cope with that situation, and so she felt stronger.
Sometimes when we do a turnaround we will see reasons it is true that applies not just in the situation we are dealing with, but other times too. So it’s fine to look more widely. My friend noticed other times she’d thought she needed respect, and saw these times had made her feel stronger. This reminded me of the few unfavourable ratings my novel had, and how much stronger I feel knowing I can cope with those!
So yes, we needed those people not to respect us.
Keeping that wider perspective, let’s look at the last two turnarounds.
I need me to respect people.
I feel happier when I respect people.
I show them how to treat me.
When I respect myself, I am more confident and so I probably garner respect.
I need me to respect me.
Because I’m the one I live with every moment.
Isn’t it funny how we expect everyone else to do this for us, and don’t realise that the respect we most need is our own?
It’s okay to get respect from others
Using this process does not mean we let other people walk all over us, or that we have to empathise with them and forget our own needs. This morning our house had a few “bears” in it. When one of them snarled at me for the third time, I noticed I was feeling a little irritated. I also remembered that snapping back has not yet been effective, so instead I said, “You feel rushed and would rather not be back at school. It’s okay to feel that way, and I don’t deserve to be snapped at because of it.”
Guess what? The snarling stopped.
If I want to change the world, let it begin with me.
Yvonne is awesome, right? Here’s some more about her:
About her blog Inquiring Parent: The aim is to encourage others to grow in compassion. That includes self-compassion! If there’s one thing I am passionate about it is spreading compassion, and including ourselves in that.
Perhaps I feel so passionate about it because for much of my life I didn’t treat myself with kindness. I judged myself constantly and didn’t measure up. I thought I wasn’t good enough. As a teen and young woman, I thought I was too shy, too stupid, and just generally too everything. I also hated myself for how I tried to deal with those feelings of inadequacy – by avoiding them, getting defensive and sometimes by drowning them.
Please also check out her author blog: Yvonne Spence.