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How to...respond to disrespect: ‘Never wrestle with pigs. You both get dirty and the pig likes it’

Did a stranger skip the queue? Has someone who should be helping ignored you? Is a friend always late? Or maybe a loved one is taking you for granted

Disrespect - it can come from complete strangers or close friends. Partners, parents, children, colleagues, friends and strangers can sometimes make us feel disregarded. And we can do it to them too.

Did a stranger skip the queue? Has someone who should be helping ignored you? Is a friend always late? Or maybe a loved one is taking you for granted. Any behaviour that makes you feel ‘less than’ can feel like disrespect.

Blame game

If someone has been disrespectful, blaming them won’t achieve much. Expect that discussion to escalate into a ‘He said/she said’ dumpster fire.

Instead, tell them how their behaviour made you feel, says Ciaran Coyle, a counsellor and psychotherapist with


“You could say, ‘When you did that, it made me feel this way’. You are not blaming the person for their behaviour, you’re not saying you did this or that. You’re saying, ‘I felt disrespected, or angry or not heard,’ says Coyle. “It’s how you feel, and no one can take that away from you.”

Calling it out

If you feel disrespected, calling it out can be hard. Irish people in particular can have a hard time being direct. We can opt to be oblique or to stew rather than be upfront. This can be down to a discomfort around confrontation, or a fear of being disliked.

“You can never control how someone will respond, their interpretation or their opinion. You can only control your own behaviour,” says Coyle. “It’s about delivering what you want to say in an empathetic way that can diffuse the situation. But it’s important that you are not trying to mind the other person’s feelings,” he says.

“It happens a lot in communication – we think, ‘How are they going to respond?’, so we don’t say anything and then we internalise things and maybe we build up resentment towards them. That’s why it’s good to get things out” says Coyle.

“Make it a priority to acknowledge your feelings and emotions and say, ‘I have to be open here’. You are honouring yourself. You are hearing their side, but you are saying, ‘I’m important here as well.’” You are showing you have boundaries.


If the other person tries to interrupt or speak over you – try to keep calm, says Coyle. “You can tell them you want to hear what they have to say, but you’d appreciate it if they could let you finish first because mutual respect is important.”

Go high

If they don’t respond well to you calling out their disrespect, that’s on them. You can only control yourself.

“Try to stay regulated and balanced and intentional with your words,” says Coyle. “Take a pause before responding, just to breathe and think.”

“When we respond from emotion, we are more likely to say something we don’t want to say,” says Coyle. “Detach yourself from their comments if you can. Your restraint shows growth on your part.”

It’s not about winning

If someone disrespects you, there are many ways to come out on top – and they are not all about winning a verbal joust, says Coyle.

You can use non-verbal clues to indicate your feelings too. “It could be a shake of the head, or by stepping away. This is about your healing and your peace and it’s not about winning a fight. You might decide journaling about the experience will work best for you.”

Wrestling pigs

Some people thrive on conflict – maybe that’s why they disrespected you in the first place. Don’t take the bait.

“Is this person willing to engage in a respectful conversation? Because if they are not, there is no point in getting into it with them because they will try to pull you more and more into their logic,” says Coyle.

As the famous quote says, “Never wrestle with pigs. You both get dirty and the pig likes it”.

“Some people will be able to say, ‘I was wrong’. Others are not at that point in their lives where they can be introspective of their own behaviour. In that case, it’s definitely not worth getting into it. It’s better to walk away.”

Joanne Hunt

Joanne Hunt

Joanne Hunt, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about homes and property, lifestyle, and personal finance