As a southern, Christian woman, I grew up with a lot of religious teachings about how to handle disrespect from other people.
Those of us who grew up in Christian homes know all the Bible verses around this topic, so I won’t recite them here. For the non-religious folks, the basic idea that was taught to us was that it was always best to turn the other cheek. After all, that’s what Jesus taught.
I’m not saying I disagree with what the Bible says. In fact, I’m not going to get into what’s Biblical or unBiblical in this blog at all. What I do want to talk about is what an utter travesty it is that, in the name of being “godly,” many of us, especially women, were raised never learning about boundaries, self-respect, and standing up for ourselves.
I can call to mind literally hundreds of sermons I heard about turning the other cheek or giving my tunic when someone takes my cloak. What I can’t remember is a single sermon about my worth as a person — not my worth according to God (because we heard about that a lot) but my worth as a human being who exists with other human beings. I don’t recall hearing about how I deserve to be treated right by the people around me. I don’t remember being told how to stand up for myself or put people in their place who meet me with disrespect, cruelty, or even violence. Turn the other cheek is not an effective strategy for keeping myself mentally, emotionally, and physically safe. In fact, it mostly just puts a big sign on my forehead that I’m an easy target. A doormat.
God didn’t put my precious, eternal spirit into a human form for me to allow people to disrespect and abuse it. He didn’t make me to be a doormat.
And honestly, I don’t care one bit what versus you can quote to tell me otherwise.
I am a mom now. I love my children more than I can possibly bear. I want them to be kind, gentle people. I want them to avoid unnecessary conflict in their lives because conflict hurts the soul. But I will tell you this: it would absolutely crush my heart to see them allow someone to cause them harm.
I will never ask my children to endure unkindness and disrespect. I will never teach them that it is appropriate or acceptable to set aside their self-worth, dignity, and self-respect in the name of “being kind.” And you know what else? I don’t think God wants us to do that, either. If He is a loving father as the Bible teaches, I don’t see how He could.
»I could go into a deep discussion about how Jesus allowed himself to be beaten and crucified without fighting back, and how I don’t believe the God of all creation actually expects us humans to be able to do the same … but that’s a discussion for another day. «
So, if I would never wish for my children to let other people use and abuse them, why would I put that burden on myself?
Why would I hold on to a religious dogma that serves only to turn me into a walking “kick me” sign instead of choosing to stand up for myself? For my worth? For my inalienable right to dignity and respect?
The answer is: I wouldn’t. I won’t. I absolutely fucking will not.
So, I here’s what I do instead:
#1. I always begin with kindness.
When I go into interactions with other people, my default state of mind is one of kindness and respect. I will always lead with the intent to cultivate goodness between myself and others. But …
#2. After that, I match energies.
I invite anyone who interacts with me to pick their player. They can have the version of me who is kind and compassionate, or they can have the version of me who is ready to scrap. Whichever version of me they get is entirely based on how they choose to treat me. If they decide to return my kindness with kindness, with mutual respect and dignity (even if we disagree), we will continue in a loop of goodness and positive regard. But if they decide to return my kindness with cruelty, disrespect, malice or contempt, they will get that right back in return. I have my limits — there is only so far that I am willing to take my unkindness (and that’s what sets me apart from truly bad people), but I will never be afraid to get down in the mud if that’s where they want to take it.
Sweet, kind, beautiful soul, I encourage you to do the same. I am begging you to let go of whatever dogma, indoctrination, or guilt that has led you to believe you are not allowed to stand up for yourself or others. I implore you to remember your endless, incalculable worth. Please understand that you betray yourself when you allow other people to disrespect you.
Lead with kindness. Put goodness into the world. Pour yourself into the people who return your goodness to you. And then, when met with wicked people who pedal in disrespect, you meet them right where they are. Match energies. Clap back. Insist on being treated how you deserve. Teach people how to treat you.
You are worth at least that, dear one.
Amber Wardell is a doctor of psychology and author who speaks on women’s issues related to marriage, motherhood, and mental health. Subscribe to the free newsletter to get exclusive content delivered to your inbox and to never miss an upload.