I Don’t Demand Respect Because I’m Upset; I Demand Respect Because I Deserve It


At some point in my life, probably in college, I decided that I was going to (mostly; when I’m not too scared to speak up; when I can think of the words to say, etc.) stop taking shit from people. So, online, I often say things like, “Actually, I wasn’t asking for advice, thanks!” and “Please don’t use that word in my comments section” and “This is a serious post where I’m asking friends for advice about apartment-hunting; please don’t derail it with inside jokes I don’t get.” You know, standard Captain Awkward-type stuff.

I won’t mince words about it: this is really, really hard to do.

I’m sure I make it seem easy; people often tell me how confident and extroverted I apparently am (I am neither of these things). Every time I make these calm, polite, rather friendly comments, I want to shrivel up in a hole. But you know, it’s absolutely worth it. Because now it’s been a few years in which I’ve been creating a social environment that I find comforting, supportive, and fun, whereas before I had to deal with even my closest friends constantly doing things that I found disrespectful or that conflicted with what I was trying to accomplish by interacting with them in the first place.

And a lot of the time, my worst fears do not come true. People do not belittle and insult me for having the gall to ask them to treat me a little differently. They often politely apologize or acknowledge what I said, and the conversation continues productively and enjoyably

But not always. Sometimes people resist and start defending what they did, as though their interpretation of the events must automatically supersede mine in my own virtual space. And what often happens at this point is that the person completely ignores what I’m telling them and starts to produce drivel like this: “I can see that you’re upset.” “You’re angry at me. I get it.” “You’re very upset about this.” “Wow, you seem to have a thin skin.” “You need to grow a thicker skin.”

First of all, unless you know me very, very well, you know nothing of my emotional state unless I explain it to you. Strong opinions do not necessarily stem from strong emotions. Or, the strong emotions that originally prompted them may have died down a long time ago. Most of the time when I’m writing or having a serious conversation, my mood is very calm and focused; that’s how I work best and that’s the mood that writing usually puts me in. Whatever you did that I considered disrespectful and called you out for was a blip on the radar, and the blip was one of annoyance, not hurt or anger.

It is incredibly patronizing when someone I don’t even know presumes to know how I feel and then conveys this assumption to me, not even as a question or a check-in, but as a statement of fact. “You’re very upset about this.” “You need to calm down, this isn’t such a big deal.”

Nobody gets to label my emotions for me. Only I get to do that.

If you’re honestly concerned that you’ve upset someone and want to find out if your suspicions are accurate, you can say, “I’m sorry, did I upset you?” But chances are, they’ve already given you all the information you need to know. If they’ve said, “Please don’t do this thing, I find it disrespectful,” then you need to either agree to stop doing the thing or leave the interaction.

When you think you’ve upset someone, it’s understandable to immediately want to smooth things over and make them stop being upset at you. But the best you can do is apologize and stop doing the thing, not turn a conversation that was originally about something else into a conversation about You’re Upset With Me What Do I Have To Do To Make You Stop Being Upset.

I understand that my emotional states are of immense fascination to everyone I interact with, so it’s only natural that people will try to derail otherwise-productive conversations to discuss them. However, what would make a lot more sense would be if people would either apologize for doing something I felt was disrespectful and continue with the conversation, or decline to apologize and leave the conversation.

And I understand that makes complete sense that some things I consider disrespectful are not things that other people consider disrespectful. They may feel so confused about why I find those things disrespectful that they don’t think they should have to avoid doing those things to me. That’s fine. But in that case, we’re not going to interact. Nobody has a right to interact with me. Your free speech does not extend to being granted an audience by any particular person. If we cannot agree on how we are going to treat each other, then we are not obligated to interact in any casual setting, like my personal Facebook page or my Gmail inbox.

Second, notice how the comments about emotional state are almost always inherently dismissive. “You’re upset, therefore your opinion about what I said or did and your request that I behave differently is invalid.” Insert your favorite synonym for poop here to describe how I feel about this tactic.

Even if I had the thinnest skin in the world, so thin that it is literally an atom in thickness, which is biologically impossible because cells are bigger than that, that doesn’t matter. You can decide that I am too easily upset for you to be able to comfortably interact with me, and you can stop interacting with me. Or you can decide that interacting with me is worth the added consideration required to not upset me, and you can make those considerations. Those are your two options. Telling me that my emotions are wrong and I need to stop having them is not one of the options.

(For the record, I have known people to have taken that first option with me, although, again, the issue isn’t so much that I’m easily upset as that I have very high standards for what I am willing to accept from people. Of course, it’s always a little sad to lose someone as a friend or acquaintance. But that’s what’s best for both of us. I don’t have to deal with them doing the thing that I don’t like, and they don’t have to deal with getting called out for doing things I don’t like. Perfect.)

It’s notable that none of these grow-a-thicker-skin evangelists are ever any good at telling their would-be converts how this can be accomplished. “Grow a thicker skin!” “You’re too sensitive!” Okay, that’s nice. Now what? Are there special creams for this? A medical procedure? Daily toning exercises? Anything?

No. Because they don’t really care about anyone’s mental health and wellbeing. They’re uncomfortable at being called out for their words and actions, which is understandable because being called out sucks. But rather than sitting with that discomfort and seeing where it’s really coming from, they assume that the problem is necessarily with the other person and their particular skin thickness or lack thereof.

Remember, too, that “thin skin” and “thick skin” are relative terms. There is no skin thickness measuring device. If you think my skin is thin, it may be because it really is, or it may be because you’ve been raised not to consider how your words and actions affect others.

Finally, here’s the crux of the issue. Some people think that anyone who asks them to stop doing something because they find that thing inappropriate/disrespectful is obviously upset.  Why are people like me and my friends so forthright with you when you disrespect us, if not because we can’t mentally handle it? Why would we demand respect, if not because not receiving respect makes us have emotional breakdowns?

Here’s why: because we deserve it.

I deserve not to have people treat me like a pathetic little child who desperately needs their help by offering me unsolicited, patronizing advice. I deserve not to have people demean my gender, sexual orientation, or ethnicity with slurs that promote the norm that it’s okay to demean those identities. I deserve not to have people make jokes out of my pain when I’m feeling honest and open enough to share it with them. I deserve not to have every profile photo I put on Facebook plastered with comments from random men I am not even friends with about my appearance. Interacting with me is not a right granted to you simply because you exist and possess a computer. It’s something you get to do only if I decide that interacting with you is worthwhile for me, and feeling respected is a major component of that. I deserve not to exist for the entertainment of others.

And because I deserve respect in these ways and more, I will tell people–first cheerfully and with smiley emoticons, and then more insistently but still presuming good faith when they ignore me, and finally bluntly and coldly–when they are doing something that I consider disrespectful. My emotions have nothing to do with it.

Whatever twitch of annoyance I feel at the actual thing fades quickly, and I know what it means for an emotion to fade quickly because I have ones that don’t. I have misery that sinks in my gut for hours, days, weeks, years. I have anger–the productive kind, not the destructive kind–that burns for months as I work on projects and fight my battles. I have joy, too, though it’s usually a bit shorter-lived. But not as short-lived as the annoyance I feel at an asshole online. That joy can go on for a few hours or days, and few people see it. Since joy is often a rare resource in my life, I conserve it as much as possible.

But none of that is any of your business until I choose to tell you about it.

Comments

  1. Glenn Charles says

    I’m sorry. Since you couldn’t guess why, you’ve voiced what I haven’t said, generally. Being a man, I’ve confined my expressions of personal emotions in such circumstances to “Fuck off and die”–social acceptability, don’t ya know. Or making it absolutely impossible for someone to ever contact me again. As far as the Facebook thing goes, fortunately with my shellgame with FB personalities anyone who was trying that is lost. The worst part about people trying to contact me through that (particularly women) is that my first assumption is that someone is trying to take advantage of me; I’m positive I’m not attractive, so someone wants something. I’m making a remark because I don’t think I’ve done this and I hope I haven’t–because I’ve had it very consistently done through my life, and long before so-called social media existed.

  2. Dunc says

    I think you’re being too generous here. People who use these sorts of tactics usually know exactly what they’re doing, and are doing it quite deliberately. It’s straight-up passive-aggressive bullying, pure and simple.

    • says

      I think you’re being too generous here.

      People tell me that all the time. But I’d rather be wrong in this direction than in the opposite direction, and this blog post is more useful and productive than a “you’re just a bully and you’re bullying me on purpose” blog post.

      The reason is that this blog post takes away plausible deniability, as do many of my other pieces along these lines. Someone pulls this move, I show them this post, and they have to answer to it. They have to either agree that they were wrong, or they keep arguing against my own feelings and interpretations and boundaries, and make it abundantly clear to the audience that they’re mean people who care more about being right than about treating others well.

      So, when I write these posts, just like when I write all those “this is how you interact with people without creeping them out” posts, I’m being strategic. No, of course I don’t believe that everyone is, deep-down, a good person who doesn’t realize they’re doing anything wrong. Some do, some don’t. Doesn’t make a huge difference where my point is concerned.

    • says

      Most people who use them, yes, but I for one appreciate her generosity in this. Not everyone is great at communicating at all times.
      Her kindness is useful for anyone whose anxiety interferes with their communication skills.

      Using myself as an example. My brain sometimes makes assumptions, without my active knowledge or consent, I have to actively fight against acting on those assumptions even if I sometimes can’t stop them being made. I mostly succeed, but not always.

      The relevant part works thusly: If I’ve done something wrong and need to be called out of it, then my brain assumes the person I’ve wrong must be mad at me. I will speak as though that person *is* mad, presumptive terminologies the works, because that’s what I perceive as true.
      This is not an attempt at belittlement, but a reaction based on terror-addled brain presuming a poor emotional state of the other person, a terrifying prospect.
      It is irrational, but it’s not always a conscious assumption, sometimes it feels like an observation.
      So I acknowledge it as if it were an observation of reality, and speak as if it were making sure I were recognizing someones expressed hurt so as to validate them.

      I don’t know why my brain does that, but I do know I’ve met other anxiety sufferers who have very similar problems.
      For people like me it’s not a tactic for anything, it’s a misinterpretation of reality which messes up our communication. If we make a mistake that puts us in the hot seat then we might make another mistake because of the hot seat we’re in. It is the cycle of anxiety.
      I’m grateful there is leeway for my mistakes.

  3. rilian says

    Most of my friends are atheists, but I have this one friend who is a christian, and while with a group of atheists he’ll say things about his religion, and when we respond with what we actually think, ie pointing out what we see to be logical contradictions in his claims, he says that we are “mean” and that we shouldn’t say those things because it hurts his feelings. I’ve told him that if he’s going to get upset by engaging in debate about his religion, he should *stop* bringing up his religion in conversations with us, but for some reason that’s not an acceptable solution to him. He’ll also often say critical things like “atheists are immoral” or “it’s terrible to be an atheist” and yet responds with frownie faces if I tell him right back that it’s terrible to be a christian or that his god is immoral.

    So this post made me think of this because I told him it doesn’t make sense for him to get upset when we disagree with him, and he always says “my feelings are legitimate.”. So I want some other people’s input on this. Am I doing something wrong here? How should I respond when he asserts his religious beliefs as if they are undeniably true? How should I respond when he attacks me for not being a christian?

    • Robert B. says

      You have a right to defend yourself, I think. I try not to tell people how they should respond to abuse, it strikes me as victim-blamey.

      But if you’re looking for different options to try… if retaliation isn’t working, you might try just calling him out on the behavior with no counterattack. “That’s an awful thing to say, and it’s not true.” Something like that. Or maybe, “Please stop bringing up religion. It always ends in hurt feelings.”

  4. Ysanne says

    If they’ve said, “Please don’t do this thing, I find it disrespectful,” then you need to either agree to stop doing the thing or leave the interaction.

    You’re missing possibility number 3: They disagree with your reading of the situation — that the thing they’re doing is disrespectful to you — and are trying to discuss the matter: They see potential for a misunderstanding on either side, and want to clear up the situation for whoever that is before deciding whether they want to stop whatever they’re doing or interacting with you.
    I’d consider this a sign of caring about the friendship, much more so than instant “submit or leave” decisions.

    • Sophia, Michelin-starred General of the First Mediterranean Iron Chef Batallion says

      They disagree with your reading of the situation — that the thing they’re doing is disrespectful to you — and are trying to discuss the matter

      Yeah, that’s the problem right there. It doesn’t really matter if you disagree with their feelings, you can’t argue someone out of the way they feel. That’s where option 2 comes in.
      I mean if it’s something you don’t understand you can ask why, but trying to argue that what you’re doing shouldn’t cause someone else to feel badly is doing exactly what the OP argues against – telling someone how they should be feeling. Not cool.

      Sure, genuine misunderstandings happen. Those can be fixed easily by determining the exact cause of the pain, which isn’t always a conversation people hurt by something you just did will be able or willing to have. Thing is, even once the source is clear, you’re still faced with options one and two. Stop doing the thing and respect the emotional complexities of your conversational partner, or walk away.

      • Axxyaan says

        Yeah, that’s the problem right there. It doesn’t really matter if you disagree with their feelings, you can’t argue someone out of the way they feel. That’s where option 2 comes in.

        But she doesn’t expresses a feeling, she expresses a judgement. If she would have said she doesn’t like to be treated this way or that it makes her uncomfortable, I would have completely agreed with you. But she doesn’t do that, she expresses a judgement and one that rather clearly puts blame on the other.

        If you need silence in order so you can study, while someone else is playing the piano, you can express your desire for silence or you can tell how disrespectful you find it that someone plays the piano (while you want to study). Guess which option is more likely to get the other to cooperate and which is more likely to get the other defensive and start arguing?

        • Sophia, Michelin-starred General of the First Mediterranean Iron Chef Batallion says

          Sure, asking someone to stop doing something that hurts you is a judgment. That doesn’t change the fact that that person is hurting you, and that their behaviour is the immediate cause. Sometimes blame is perfectly valid. It sucks to be called out on crappy behaviour – that’s right up there in the OP – but it doesn’t excuse the behaviour in the first place and… well, that’s the whole point of this post. Calling out crappy behaviour is not crappy behaviour in itself, especially since words and actions cause everyone to feel differently.

          To clarify – we’re not talking “you insulted my religion and therefore you are a poop”, we’re talking stuff like slurs, epithets, triggering phrases and behaviours and stuff that is specifically targeted to that person or their identity. Heck, even if we were and someone was so shattered by their worldview being shaken that they experienced significant emotional pain, you don’t get to keep on causing that pain if they ask you to stop. To continue a harmful behaviour after being asked to stop is pretty much the definition of abuse. And no, you don’t get to decide what harmful is for someone else.

      • Ysanne says

        Axxyaan has it right: It’s not about wanting to talk anyone out of their feelings. It’s about wanting to go through what just happened, to compare perspectives and figure out why one of the parties ended up feeling disrespected. (I’m assuming here that it wasn’t caused deliberately.)
        The way most of the blog post is worded, it’s an implicit assumption that the offended-feeling party has a vastly superior understanding of the interaction than the unintentionally offending one; so much so that even trying to understand and work out the issue right then and there is considered insolent: “it’s your fault, own up to your obvious insensitive mistake and apologise straight away.”
        This is not the way I see my relationship with people I consider friends. We both get the benefit of the doubt and deserve respect; their feelings and perspective in a given situation are just valid as mine.

  5. rapiddominance says

    Nobody gets to label my emotions for me. Only I get to do that.

    Even my psychotherapist, educated as he is, doesn’t LABEL my emotions. He steers me gently in directions I need to go to understand how I feel and why.

    If they’ve said, “Please don’t do this thing, I find it disrespectful,” then you need to either agree to stop doing the thing or leave the interaction.

    But what if the person (me, for example) responds, “What is it about what I did that you found disrespectufl?” I’m not asking this to be slick or anything like that, but if that question is answered it could be helpful for the person not to make SIMILAR mistakes in the future.

    I deserve not to exist for the entertainment of others.

    To me, this is the most powerful sentence in your post. (Not that my opinion is particularly important)

    Scott Morgan

    • says

      Even my psychotherapist, educated as he is, doesn’t LABEL my emotions. He steers me gently in directions I need to go to understand how I feel and why.

      Yeah, especially in cognitive-behavioral therapy, the idea is to try to help people label their own emotions (for the purpose of figuring out how their thoughts help cause them). If someone is having a lot of trouble, we might say something like, “It sounds to me like you might be feeling angry about this. What do you think?” Not just like, “You’re angry.” That’s presumptuous.

      But what if the person (me, for example) responds, “What is it about what I did that you found disrespectufl?”

      That would be appropriate following an apology and a while later, perhaps the next day, when neither person’s emotions are still running high. If you ask it immediately, it sort of sounds like that “just stop being upset” response I talked about. And the person who’s line you’ve crossed probably won’t be willing to give you a calm, reasoned explanation at the moment.

      • rapiddominance says

        Thanks for the response and especially for answering my question. I agree the apology should come first (along with compliance) and that its best to ask my proposed question LATER.

        Miri, I think this is the first time I’ve ever commented on your blog but I’ve read a number of your posts. I’m a christian who suffers with severe depression and I want to tell you that you not only write interesting, enjoyable pieces but you also show a kind heart as well. Thank you very much for that.

        Scott

  6. Lisa DoLittle says

    “Even if I had the thinnest skin in the world, so thin that it is literally an atom in thickness, which is biologically impossible because cells are bigger than that”…..sentences like these sum up the banality of these tiresome blogs. You should really get outdoors and take up a healthy exercise or sport. Reading a bit of this (it is much too grating to read it all the way through) it is just about me me me me and me. You say you want people to respect you, not to belittle, patronize, disrespect or insult you, and then you proceed to bitch about everyone else. I suspect they are just humoring you.

  7. Shari says

    Miri, thanks for the post. I am extremely sensitive about a some things……..and really bloody insensitive about the rest of the world, in general. Mostly because I don’t ‘get that far’ out of my own stresses and brain and what not to consider what’s happening with others at a deeper level. Yes, that means i can spend a fair amount of time pulling my foot out my mouth and working out why my words were hurtful. I appreciate your post because it’s a lesson in a smarter, faster way to patch up misunderstandings – and avoid a few!! There’s a good book out there called (i think) “The Art of the Humble Question” and I think it touches on some of what you have written.

    Appreciate your work, as always.

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  1. […] I Don’t Demand Respect Because I’m Upset; I Demand Respect Because I Deserve It–”At some point in my life, probably in college, I decided that I was going to (mostly; when I’m not too scared to speak up; when I can think of the words to say, etc.) stop taking shit from people.” […]