An Air Conditioner and Self Respect

A few weeks ago, my partner and I had a conversation about where we thought the new window air conditioner should go.  The electrician was coming in a few days, and we needed to make a choice.  We talked about options and easily agreed on a location.

The evening before the electrician was coming, my partner asked me: "Where are we going to put the air conditioner?"  I looked at him pensively and said: "Didn't we decide that already?"  This reply annoyed him and he replied: "Why can't you just answer the question?  Why do you always have to answer my question with another question?"  Suddenly, we were arguing.  The subject was no longer the air conditioner.  The subject was now my lack of respect for his question.  We were no longer on the same team.

Why didn't I just answer the question?  Because I didn't feel safe.  His question triggered my own self doubt, and in this vulnerable state of being, I subconsciously tried to protect myself by retreating—by not answering the question.  Subconsciously, I felt disrespected by him and fell into my own state of "self-disrespect," and from there my reaction disrespected him.

Why didn't he just reply with, "Yeah. I know.  I forgot.  Can you remind me?"  Because he didn't feel safe. My reply triggered his own feelings of shame for not remembering.  In this vulnerable state of being, he subconsciously tried to protect himself by lashing out—by making me wrong instead.  Subconsciously, he felt disrespected by me and fell into a deeper state of "self-disrespect," and from there his reaction disrespected me.

This may seem silly, but substitute another subject from your own personal or professional life, and haven't you also experienced similar conversations, that turn unexpectedly into confusing misunderstandings and arguments?

Why does this happen?  Here's what I've been witnessing in my own life and the lives of my clients and the people around me:

#1 We are unaware of our own (subconscious) self-disrespect patterns.
#2 We don't know how to have respectful compassion for our own vulnerabilities.
#3 We assume that the disrespect we are feeling is caused by someone else, so we throw up a wall and disconnect to protect ourselves.

How can we shift it?  Here's what I've been working with in my own life and with my clients:

#1 Become aware of when we feel "emotional discomfort" of some kind, and recognize this as a sign that our own self-disrespect button has been pushed (whether pushed by someone else or not).
#2 Get present to our own fear or shame or other version of pain, have compassion for ourselves, and choose to be vulnerable, without needing to be disrespectful or belittling of ourselves.
#3 Reconnect, by respectfully asking for understanding and compassion and sometimes also forgiveness.

My partner and I applied this ourselves, in the situation about the air conditioner.  We chose to rewind and replay it.  Here's about how it went:

"Hey, I know we talked about this but, honestly, I forgot where we decided to put the air conditioner.  Can you remind me?"

"Sure. We decided to put it in the window by the garage in the living room.  Is that still good with you?"

"Yeah. Great. I'll make a note for the electrician."

"Perfect.  Thanks!"

From fear and doubt, to compassion.  From shame and blame, to self-respect.  From fighting and disconnection, to connection.  Happily back on the same team.

We each have very specific ways in which we disrespect ourselves. Listen for what you want to blame others for, and you will find your own pattern of self-disrespect.  Once you become present to it, you can choose to "be" self-respected instead (and respectful of others' vulnerabilities, as well) and stay connected.