What to Do When People Treat You with Disrespect

Last Updated: 30 Sep 2019

I used to feel hurt when people invalidated my feelings, crossed my boundaries, and treated me like I didn’t matter. I’ve learned to reframe my experiences and not take things personally anymore. It’s their problem—not mine!

A group of female friends laugh together over coffee.

A Hard Truth

Did you know that no one can disrespect you?

That’s right! No one can disrespect us. When we feel disrespected, what is actually happening is that we take their words or actions personally and we choose to feel disrespected. We assign to our response feelings like invalidation or disrespect. In actuality, we are not. I will tell you why.

You’ve probably heard it before, but it is absolutely true: People’s actions are a reflection of the person they are. They are projecting their behavior onto us.

Learning to not take things personally is so important to our mental well-being and happiness. And when we think people are being disrespectful, invalidating, or rejecting, that is when we are taking their behaviors personally and we make their behaviors about us. Their behaviors are not about us. It may feel like people are acting a certain way because of us, but the way people act is always because of them.

Reframing “Disrespect” for Clarity

When we feel disrespected, this is our cue to start reframing the situation for clarity and perspective. Instead of taking things personally and feeling bad about ourselves, we need to change our thinking to find perspective, objectivity, and clarity.

I used to feel disrespected all the time, like I didn’t matter, and people put me last or trampled my boundaries. We can feel very low cultivate a lot of negative thinking about ourselves when we have this perspective. This is not good for perpetuating a solid sense of self, healthy self-esteem, or positive self-image.

We need to protect ourselves from the emotional hurt and invalidation. What I have found is that when I am able to not take hurtful actions personally and instead reframe the experience, it helps me cope with the ways people can be unaware or hurtful.

Not having the situation be about me makes it easier to maintain perspective, distance, and detachment. How do you do this? Instead of claiming disrespect, detach from that idea and reframe the situation in terms of how the disrespectful person was behaving. Your thought process is no longer, “They were disrespectful to me, which hurt my feelings!” Instead, it’s, “They were being rude,” “They were acting like a jerk,” “They were being insensitive,” or even “They were being disrespectful” (and here’s the important part) “…but that is a poor reflection of them and not hurtful to me.” Again, the key here is, “that is not hurtful to me.”

It All Comes Back to Boundaries

The most important dynamic in human behavior and healthy relationships is creating and maintaining boundaries, in my opinion. Boundaries allow clarity, perspective, and detachment because they keep us in a safe space and separated from what crosses our boundaries and creates hurt or anger.

About the author
Debbie Jacobs is an advocate, writer, and healing specialist living in Alexandria, Virginia. She lived most of her adult life with a diagnosis of depression and anxiety, and then was diagnosed with bipolar. She speaks out on how self-improvement is life improvement and believes we all can live happy lives by making positive changes to ourselves. Her influences are Louise Hay, Napoleon Hill, Les Brown, and Tony Robbins. She does positivity life coaching and is in the process of writing her first book on her healing process of accomplishing positive thinking, positive effective coping skills, and healthy self-esteem—what she calls “freedom and happiness.” She shares her work to motivate, inspire, and help others make positive changes to themselves for their freedom and happiness, too.
  1. So in other words the people in my family who are all rude to me,(I will now try to omit the word disrespectful), they all have there issues. But why am I the one who most experiences it the most amongst all of the family members??!

  2. These articles seem to be just what I need at the most opportune time!

  3. I’m glad that later in the article Ms. Jacobs pointed out that we don’t have to take every slight personally and can attribute the other person’s disrespect as their problem, not ours. While I was reading the article I kept feeling like she was saying that we should not feel anything or not take ANYthing personally even when we really HAD been disrespected ( the other person had been disrespectful); that I was wrong for ever feeling anything when my boundaries were crossed or someone was disrespectful. I can be very slow on the uptake and realize only when the incident is an hour or more behind me that the other person had been disrespectful, had argued with me, had crossed my boundaries, had asked a personal question… you get the idea. I’m not sure if I very often take these incidents personally; I think I still can’t always identify a feeling, but what I do remember is that most often I realize that the other person has done something I don’t like and then I recognize anger. For instance: one time upper-management at our apartments declared a mandatory meeting for all tenants at which one of upper-management whom I had told that the new flooring they had chosen was slippery and especially so when wet. This manager talked around about it and denied that it was at all slippery. I hadn’t realized it during the meeting, at which I pointed out something I thought was important, but he contradicted me; denied my lived experience. Eventually I realized he’d argued with me an became angry that he would do that. (I later was told by others that he does that often enough.) Is anger at the person ‘taking it personally? I don’t remember feeling hurt…
    Another incident I remember very clearly was having some fragments of a memory come back to me, arranged a joint therapy session with me, my therapist and my mother during which I told her what my father had done to me. Her immediate reaction was to gasp and hurry over to hug me. I didn’t like being hugged, she wasn’t trustworthy, but a few weeks later she informed me, ” I’ve decided that didn’t happen.” I don’t remember feeling hurt, but sometime later was angry again because she refused to believe me. I don’t think that’s taking things personally, is it? In either instance, I don’t remember feeling hurt; just angry after the fact. In retrospect I believe both were argumentative and disrespectful but in retrospect I only took it as not believing my own experience and having crossed my boundaries.
    Does anyone else have delayed realizations like me?. How have other readers handled things like this? Am I in the minority feeling anger when this stuff is pulled on me?

  4. This is a great article. I struggle with emotional boundaries a lot. This makes sense and is very helpful. Thank you for posting.

  5. Thanks for the insight. Hope to incorporate this in my life.

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