What Respect Really Means

For many of our clients, there is little experiential connection with the concept of respect, because it feels contrived, obligatory or simply nonexistent—often from childhood. Predominantly, they don’t feel privy to getting any of its benefits, as it seems only to be for others, primarily “elders” or those in authority positions. Far too often the lack of genuinely feeling respected, honored by others authentically, can lead to lifetimes of never respecting oneself and therefore not having the grounding to be able to adequately respect others.

Our job as therapists, then, is to help clients realize that respect—in its truest form—is not contrived and is not hierarchical. In fact, to be genuine and grounded it needs to be mutual, shared symmetrically. To have high esteem for someone and that is unreturned by that person, it becomes at some point, meaningless for both. For example, if a child adores his father who is admissive or abusive towards his child, the adoration becomes unfulfilling and may, in fact, turn into resentment or despair. Respect needs to come from a place of authenticity and symmetrical balance to have any true validity.

Respect needs to come from a place of authenticity and symmetrical balance to have any true validity.

Respect is more than a noun; it is also a verb. It is action. The Latin origin of the word is ‘respectare,’ which means to look back or look again. To reconsider. The realization that respect cannot be demanded or coerced in any meaningful way opens the possibility to a surprising new awareness of another person we thought we knew well, but upon intentional reconsideration, we find something wonderful we may have never noticed before.

Challenge your clients to take the next opportunity to “look again” at the person they most take for granted or get annoyed by, themselves first, or maybe a spouse or family member, a neighbor or coworker, and try assisting them to look through a lens of respect that can filter out the negatives enough to find one new positive perspective they may not have seen in the same way before. This may take some practice, but the more chances we take on this new path of interpersonal discovery, the more we may be delightfully surprised.

RFT Book Cover


Respect-Focused Therapy (RFT) is a foundation on which all modalities and techniques used in therapy can be strongly grounded, in order to produce sound, effective outcomes. This approach offers clients the opportunity to gain experiential understanding of being respected, possibly for the first time, from the therapeutic relationship and then be able to heal old wounds by creating more respect for self and others in the therapeutic process.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s