Contempt is harmful to any relationship. It can surface in anything from familial relationships, professional relationships, friendships, and even in romantic relationships. What exactly is contempt and how can you prevent it from damaging your relationships and your personal wellness?

Contempt is defined by Merriam Webster as “the act of despising” or the “lack of respect or reverence for something”. Contempt can look differently, depending on the situation and the individual but it is typically recognized from coming from a position of power or a somewhat relative position of superiority. Everything from sarcasm, derogatory comments, cynicism, and eye rolling are all versions of contempt.

It is important to note that the individual who uses contempt may not be in a recognizable position of power but they are typically in a position of power in the situation. It very well may be a boss to an employee but it also may be a co workers speaking to another co worker who is new to the office. It may be a sibling speaking to another sibling who didn’t make the honor role. It can sneak into various dynamics of a relationship, but there is typically always a power differential between the two parties.

If you are looking to fix contempt within a relationship, it is important to participate in some self-reflection an understand what form the contempt is taking place. This may take the form of actual aggression, passive aggression, sarcasm, or even negative body language like eye rolling.

The next step is to replace the contemptuous behavior with direct communication. This includes identifying your complaint or your dissatisfaction and learning to utilize the power of genuine communication. It can be helpful to state how the behavior you are responding to makes you feel and offer suggestions as to how your partner, friend or co worker can correct this behavior. It is important to note that direct communication is only effective when you are calm, and not emotionally over charged.

Setting up an environment that is based on direct communication can help minimize the use of contempt from both parties. It can also be helpful to share direct compliments, positive traits, or encouragement on the regular. This will help solidify a foundation of love and respect within the relationship. Then when you need to express any criticism, it can be received understanding that there is a solid foundation of respect within the relationship. Think of this as setting up a culture of appreciation that will be a basis of any difficult or uncomfortable conversations that may need to take place in the future.

In relationships where contempt has a history, it may take some extra effort to heal from the pain caused by the contempt. This may take place through honest and open dialogue or through the process of beginning to build a culture of appreciation. A psychologist is an excellent third party to help navigate this healing process and providing you will tools and support to change the culture of your relationship. To book in a time to speak to a psychologist call us on (02) 6262 6157 or book an appointment online.

Related reading:

Dealing with Defensiveness: Why they do it and How to deal with it
Communication Styles to Improve Relationships
Arguments: Is being “right” really worth it?

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