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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 Ideally, the Respect of Personhood is automatic, is granted to all persons, and cannot be withdrawn.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