In a recent blog, John Sommers-Flanagan, quoted Adler:
“An incalculable amount of tension and useless effort would be spared in this world if we realized that cooperation and love can never be won by force.” (Adler, 1931, p. 132).
It seems to be obvious on first glance that “force” can never win over the spirit of love or cooperation. Yet, the evidence that entangles our world and everyday lives demonstrates how intensely we as human beings try to hold on to the erroneous belief that we can “make” people love and respect us.
This tends to get us in a lot of trouble. We see this all the time, particularly in the lives of our clients. Couples who have to engage in an argument to its last breath in order to be proven right, adolescents who engage in risky behaviors such as using drugs or running away in order to get parental attention, or the parents who demand respect from their children through intimidation, if not abuse.
The core issue here, as I see it, is that we tend to treat respect as an asymmetrical phenomenon. That is, there is often an assumption that one person deserves or receives more respect than the other. Therefore, the relationship remains static in its inequality (i.e. a male dominates a sexual relationship or a power struggle is ongoing because there is always competition for who should be the winner for the most respect).
When one steps back to consider this dilemma, the obvious conclusion is that the premise of necessary inequality is false. Parents, teachers, employers, law enforcers, and even therapists can easily fall into the trap of assuming that authority means demanding more respect than one in that position must give to those under such authority.
This way of thinking is toxic, particularly as the concept extends beyond clear lines of established authority or power. The common good of all evaporates when others are belittled, marginalized, or discriminated against.
As therapists, I believe that we have a critical responsibility to demonstrate and advocate for genuine and equitable conveyed expressions of respect in the therapy room and beyond. To do so requires our diligent exercise in practicing for the good of all.
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.