In my work with couples over the years I’ve come to recognize contempt fairly quickly. Contempt can come across as irritability, annoyance, disgust or lack of respect. It feels like someone is telling you in a thousand ways that you’re stupid or really hard for them to be around.
Regardless of the message of contempt, the impact of it is always detrimental. It never feels good to be on the other side of contempt—for any reason. Contempt has a way of pulling people down emotionally. When someone is speaking contemptuously toward me I can — almost without fail — feel his or her annoyance and disdain. Needless to say, it does not feel good to be on the receiving side of that energy.
If you happen to be the one being spoken to with contempt, address it. There’s no reason for anyone to speak to you like that—even if you screwed up. Tell the person you don’t like the way they’re speaking to you and ask them to speak to you directly about what’s bothering them. If you let contempt go by, the disdain will grow.
If you’re the one feeling contempt toward another person, stop and ask yourself what’s going on. Often the energy of contempt creeps in when people aren’t speaking about what’s bothering them. Stop judging others and instead speak to them directly about what’s not working for you.
If there isn’t anything specific that’s bothering you, contempt can also be a product of your upbringing. If your parents were often judgmental of others, that judgmental energy can easily get passed down from one generation to another. In some instances, contempt and irritability can also be a sign of depression.
Regardless of the reason, if you feel yourself speaking to others with that energy of contempt stop it. Get off your high horse, clean up your energy and take contempt out of your life. Contempt is toxic to relationships. I don’t care if you’re talking to your children, partner, employee or friend—remove contempt from the conversation.
CHALLENGE: If you’re struggling with the energy of contempt, work on it by first getting conscious. Watch how you speak about people in general. Do you often have that edge to your comments? When people make mistakes do you often think about how stupid they are for making them? Do you have little tolerance for the humanness of others? Pay attention to your energy, comments and thoughts about people and clean them up. Remember that you too are imperfect, not because you’re stupid, but because you’re human.