Steve Ater, Psy.D. – The Boundary Doc

The Three Kinds of Respect

We often talk about desiring “respect” but very often don’t know exactly what we mean by that word. I identify three types of respect and I find it useful in my own life to know what they each are and to understand which type I’m talking about in any given circumstance.

These different types of respect describe fundamentally different relationships and therefore different they have boundary expectations associated with them.

Once we know the different types, we also make use boundary skills to keep them appropriately separate in different situations or to define and describe how they overlap (i.e. more than one type of respect granted a person at one time).

The three types of respect are; the Respect of Personhood, the Respect of Authority and the Respect of Honor. Let’s look at each in turn…



1. The Respect of Personhood – This is the respect due all persons simply for being persons.

This is respect we choose to give all people. To uphold their human dignity and honor them as autonomous individuals of innate worth. Ideally, the Respect of Personhood is automatic, is granted to all persons, and cannot be withdrawn.



2. The Respect of Authority – This is the respect due a person based on a position they hold or role in which they serve.

This type of respect is given irrespective of our assessment of the individual. It is based on their holding a position that commands a certain deference. Interactions with a parent, teacher, police officer, CEO, President, work supervisor, etc. are all situations in which Respect of Authority is appropriate and should be assumed. However, this does not mean that Respect of Authority has no limits. Persons who abuse their authority can, and should, have the Respect of Authority removed, along with taking steps to have them removed from the authoritative role.



3.The Respect of Honor -This is the respect due a person based on a history of demonstrating love, skill, responsibility, compassion, or other positive qualities.

This respect is never assumed, it can only be granted. A spouse, mentor, spiritual leader, inspirational figure, a responsible and competent organizational leader, a trustworthy friend – these all may be persons to whom we choose to grant the Respect of Honor. When we grant someone the Respect of Honor we are are recognizing their excellence in some quality or qualities and tend to defer to them within these areas of excellence (but not generally outside those areas of excellence). Respect of Honor involves a great deal of trust and much hurt can be done if they abuse that trust. As such, we must all take responsibility to choose carefully those who will be granted the Respect of Honor and be prepared to withdraw it if the trust given appears to be undeserved.

What’s the boundary angle on all this? Each type of respect defines a kind of relationship with the other person. Boundaries differ depending on the nature of the relationship.

How do you think the boundaries, or role expectations, might be different for each of these types of relationships?

Steve Ater, Psy.D.
The Boundary Doc

8 Responses to “The Three Kinds of Respect”

  • Sherrie Koehler Miller says:

    “Persons who abuse their authority can, and should, have the Respect of Authority removed, along with taking steps to have them removed from the authoritative role.” I’d like to see you expand on that thought, Dr. Ater. It seems a bit broad.
    I can see respectfully appealing to an authority in the event of unjust treatment and then “going over their head” if they don’t respond. For example if I felt my boss was being unfair to me, I would respectfully go to my boss or ask for a change. But I would not excuse myself from professional respect for my boss. until such time as (even if my “whistle blowing helped bring it about) as my boss were removed from that position, or I quit my job. Likewise, if I didn’t like a thing the President did, and I thought he/she were just a plain evil person who did evil things morning noon and night, I would still give the President the basic respect due that office until such time I had the joy of seeing that person removed from office. Certain persons in my life are in unchangeable (by me) positions of authority. If that person were abusive in some way, I can give such an authority figure a degree of respect while respectfully removing myself out of their reach to harm me, once they overstep reasonable boundaries that I have set..
    There are certain obvious exceptions; such as danger of physical or real emotional harm such as fear tactics, true verbal abuse, breaking of trust by things like theft and outright lies and substance abuse in one’s presence. Such persons recuse themselves by breaking the bonds of trust and protection and will answer for that.
    On the flip side I need to avoid the temptation to say, ” You looked at me cross-eyed or were “not fair” in some way. Therefore I declare, you are not my (insert authority position here) any more and never will be again. I should rather, perhaps work my way up the chain of command and see where the buck truly stops first. Another example: If my mother-in law (a great lady by the way- just an example) pulls rank on me and bosses me around a bit, (even unjustly) I might take one for the team out of honor and respect for her because of her position. She also might indeed know something I do not. She does not have to earn my honor because it is due her position, not her character. Now if I agree to do this I have no right to play the martyr but rather enjoy the fact that giving respect raises up both the giver and the receiver. So could you expand on what you mean when you say to withdraw respect in that manner? I’m enjoying this series a great deal. Thanks.

  • dr8r says:

    Thanks for the comment, Sherrie. You made several interesting and valuable points. I think I should have gone into more detail in this particular post, that would probably have helped it seem clearer, but I was happy to have a shorter post for a change!

    You included the answer right in your comment. You wrote, “there are certain obvious exceptions; such as danger of physical or real emotional harm such as fear tactics, true verbal abuse, breaking of trust by things like theft and outright lies and substance abuse in one’s presence. Such persons recuse themselves by breaking the bonds of trust and protection and will answer for that.” These are the sorts of things that I was referring to when I said, “Persons who abuse their authority can, and should, have the Respect of Authority removed, along with taking steps to have them removed from the authoritative role.”

    In a (hopefully) soon coming post I plan to define the difference between a Boundary Trespass and a Boundary Violation. A Boundary Trespass is what you refer to when you say “you looked at me cross-eyed or were “not fair” in some way.” These are the normal everyday disagreements and problems. When a Boundary Violation occurs it rises to the level of abuse (abuse is the term I used in the post). This may involve violence or threats of violence, serious breaches of the law or accepted morality, harassment, extortion or bribery, persistent lying and deception, or other actions designed harm or control another person.

    There is nothing in the Human Boundaries model that is intended to support disrespecting an authority or ignoring authority without very good cause and without going through an appropriate process to fix the problem first (as you allude to).

    I think when I get that post on Boundary Trespass and Boundary Violation up, and then another one describing the four available responses to a Boundary Trespass or Violation (Accept, Reject, Negotiate, Leave), this will seem much more clear and comprehensive. This is the problem I face in trying to explain an entire model in blog format, you get it all piecemeal and sometimes things don’t make sense piecemeal.

    Is this a satisfying answer? Let me know if I didn’t answer your question well enough.

    Thanks again for your comment!

    Steve Ater, Psy.D.

  • Sherrie Koehler Miller says:

    Thank you, that was a helpful answer. Some of those available responses are painful to deal with, but necessary. I realize there are layers. I just needed a little clarification with that one in particular. In relating to my young adult children, I have to wrestle with this issue a great deal and I have to continually re-assess myself. I am realizing there are times when I have been guilty of boundary trespass and even what I consider violations, (and have been on the receiving end). I would be interested in your take (probably will be in those future blogs) on good ways to make ammends and begin healing in relationships where this has happened. Enjoying your blog very much and looking forward to the book.

  • Jocelyn says:

    Yes Dr8r I’m also looking forward to your book! I’ve had problems with authority before, it leaves me in a tough position. I usually bend for authority, a few years back I finally stood up for myself. I was physically and verbally assaulted by an authority figure (I will leave it there for anonymity purposes) But I attempted to stand up for myself to the best of my ability…I told this person “You are not allowed to talk to me that way” I cannot imagine what got into this person….other than the power getting the best of this person. But my issues with respecting people in places of authority “got the best of me” so I didn’t report it. I wish I had. I’ve heard other horror stories similar to mine where they were essentially treated like garbage by this person. Okay jumping back onto the topic (sorry for that rant). I cannot stand it when people trespass or violate my boundaries especially when they are verbalized. I’ve lost a lot of friendships because of a lack of strong boundaries.

    • dr8r says:

      Jocelyn, many people struggle with understanding that they have a right to stick up for themselves. Often because we were taught as children that we didn’t have that right. Learning to “know,” “set,” and “defend” our boundaries is hard work — and each of these three steps is more challenging than the previous. Keep practicing each step and you’ll get better at it all the time. Soon you’ll be able to do it confidently. Once you can do it confidently most of those little boundary trespasses will hardly bother you any more because you’ll know exactly how to deal with them.

  • Jocelyn says:

    unfortunately I believe the time is not correct for our postings. For example it is 12:37pm and my last post says 6:35pm….not sure if that’s something you can fix….

  • Brad says:

    This post was very helpful to me. I’ve been asking various people in my life what they mean when they say “respect” (the idea that always pops into my head first when that word is used is the distant aspect of the second kind listed here, so I dislike that word in general) but they keep using the word in the definition, and otherwise seem at a loss to explain it coherently, which is extremely unhelpful to me. I was under the impression respect shown to a parent, a position not “earned” in the traditional sense of the word, was different than respect shown to a person in the military or a policeman or a boss, etc., whose positions were actually earned, in the traditional sense. If you’re still keeping track of this blog (your last post was in the middle of last year), I’d like to ask you to explain how one might show respect to a parent who seems to think it necessary to mock, belittle, and otherwise put down at every opportunity their, admittedly grown, child. The parent in question sees a lack of respect directed at them, which angers them, but when they behave in that way toward the child it’s hard for that child to show the parent what they define as “respect.” I hope that you see this, and that you can help.

  • […] Three Types of Respect Dr. Steven Ater to the rescue. He wrote about The Three Types of Respect here. I’ve provided my take on the first two […]

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