‘I feel disrespected a lot by people in my life. Am I expecting too much from them?’

Tell Me About It: Starting with intention of offering respect to others can lead to friendship

PROBLEM: I’m female and in my 40s. I’m single, so maybe friendships are more important to me than to people in couples or with families. I find I feel disrespected a lot by a variety of people in my life and am often hurt, disappointed and left feeling drained by the way I’m treated. I realise I’m the common denominator in all these failed friendships and familial relationships.

I wonder sometimes if I expect too much from people, but surely if I’m upset, there’s something wrong. How do I know if I’m just overly sensitive? I do have two exceptionally good friends, so it’s not everyone in my life. But life is very quiet.

So, am I wrong not to make an effort with people who obviously don’t respect me?

ADVICE: It is good that you are questioning what is happening to you and that you are seeking to change your situation and while you cannot dictate how other people behave you probably have more power in your relationships than you currently exercise. As a single person, friendships are hugely important, and the first thing is to acknowledge this. However, deep friendships will be few in number and will take time to nurture and grow. You have two of these so already have knowledge and skills in this area and it is worth analysing these so that you can put what makes them successful into practice more.

Firstly, though, it is worth looking at those people that you are disappointed in and, as you include your family in the list, it is worth taking your early attachments into account. Our blueprint for feeling safe and secure in relationships is often the relationships we have with our guardians and, if this is shaky or insecure, we may struggle with any intimate relationships later in life. It sounds as though you approach friendships with caution, some level of pessimism and an expectation of disrespect. If this is the case, then that may be one reason for a similar level of scepticism from those who are connected to you resulting in mutual disapproval.

Respect is a word that is worth looking at. We usually only use it when we feel that we are not getting it and we rarely go out with the intention of offering respect to others. It might mean having the intention of positive regard or consideration for the other person, and maybe giving them a second chance. This would mean that you would go beyond the first encounter and try to reach a little further into where someone is at – in return they might also offer you the same option and both of you will have moved slightly beyond acquaintance.

You have two good friendships and if you look at how they grew you will probably find that you each put effort and time into the relationship; that you both allowed some vulnerability in that you opened up to each other and you both consciously cared for and showed you cared for each other. If you are to do this with another person, you first have to believe that they are worth it, and you have to find something in them that you like and admire. This should not be too difficult as most people have a store of good characteristics if someone took the time to investigate them. And that is the second point – you will need to spend time and invest time in that person. The difficulty is that you may have self-commentary (thoughts) that tells you the other person doesn’t care or thinks badly of you and if you act on these thoughts, you will push the other person away before they get to reject you (in your version of them). Good friendships and relationships involve taking a risk (of rejection) but most of us take these risks because we know the result can be so very worthwhile.

It might help to find an activity that includes people you might like, eg, if you are sporty, then you will likely like others who are into sport, as this creates an automatic common ground. So, find something that you like and commit to doing it regularly and be open and generous in your attitude to the others in that group. It will take time for a friendship to develop so do not give up too early or too easily. If you are brave, you will ask your two close friends for advice and feedback on how to make more connections with other people, and then you should act on what they say as you know they have your best interests at heart.

Loneliness is a very human experience; it is so profound that it forces us to reach out to others and we need social groups in order to reach our potential (not to mention happiness). Take this seriously for yourself, acknowledge your loneliness and trust your instinct to connect with people so that your life is better and richer. Start with offering respect to those around you and commit to the long haul of deep friendship.