Can you recall hearing that taunting chant of the nursery rhyme, “I’m the king of the castle, and you’re the dirty rascal.”
Attaining the highest position on the playground equipment ensured an elevation of status. To hold the position of king demonstrated domination and public gloating of your reigning moment – or was it all just a harmless children’s game?
We could argue that the game roles frequently change and that children grow out of childish ‘I’m better than you’ thinking. Yet, when I mention the rhyme to adults, the response is sometimes a shuddering intake of breath.
I recall intervening when I overheard my young daughters being invited to join the game and I introduced a different way of playing. Hearing one child chant happily, “I’m the king of the castle,” followed by a playmate confidently responding, “My turn now,” sounded like children learning healthy relationship skills.
I often listen to clients who feel dominated, diminished, and disempowered by contemptuous partners, family members, inlaws, or colleagues. I'm glad I encouraged the group of young children on the playground, that day, to express their self-worth with healthy interactions.
Recently, a friend asked me, “You’re sounding angry – why?” He knew I wasn’t angry at him, and I knew what he had observed was true. I felt a seething, escalating reaction to an ongoing social interaction with someone attempting to discredit my leadership. I now recognise it as being an intentional attempt to diminish my personhood because their inappropriate behaviour had been challenged. They wanted to make me wrong, so they could appear right. Being aware of my emotional triggers, I've learned how to de-escalate unhelpful emotions and restore my well-being; mind, body and soul. This person was not going to disempower my self-worth!
What are the commonalities of contempt, scorn and gaslighting?
#1 Denial of personal responsibility for unacceptable behaviour
Contempt, scorn and gaslighting all express. “I’m right, and you’re wrong.”
#2 Assertion of Superiority
Contempt, scorn and gaslighting all express, “I’m better than you, and you are lesser than me.”
#3 Blame shifting
Contempt, scorn and gaslighting all express, “It’s your fault that …”
#4 Entitlement to bully and dominate
Contempt, scorn and gaslighting all express, “I will treat you how I want to, whether you like it or not.”
Few experiences have a negative emotional impact as when we’re feeling mistreated, scorned, disrespected, or made fun of.
Let’s call it what it is – emotional and mental abuse!
Some of the feedback received when talking with people about their experience of emotional abuse is:
‘I feel like my life has been sucked dry and have become a doormat for them to step on.'
’I realise I have been naively stupid to believe they will change.’
'I start to doubt my ability to make decisions and am always second guessing.’
‘When something does not go as they wanted, I am told it was my fault..’
‘ I don’t recognise they manipulated me to do something until it is too late to back down.’
‘I thought I was required to turn the other cheek like I was taught in Sunday school.’
Why do we allow it? What are the unresolved issues we may have in our own lives that cause us to put up with contemptuous behaviour?
These questions are difficult to process, but for others to show us respect, we must respect ourselves.
No one wants to be the frog in the pot of cold water, slowly reaching boiling point when someone turns on the heat. Jump out while you can!
How do you manage people with contemptuous personalities?
1) Maintain an emotional distance from their negativity. It may not be possible to ignore them, but confronting their inappropriate behaviour may only challenge them to escalate their hostility.
2) Do not succumb to self-blame. A person’s behaviour reflects them, not you. Do not allow their disrespect of you to undermine your self-worth.
3) Take care of yourself physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Prioritising self-care helps you feel better equipped to handle any challenging situation.
4) Invest in personal development programmes. Talk to a therapist to gain strategies to manage the situation constructively and positively.
Remember, you are worthy, intelligent, and deserving of respect. No one has permission to make you feel otherwise.
Live your life - it's yours to live.
Trish: Life Coach & Counsellor