Patronize: 1 (often as adj. patronizing) treat with an apparent kindness that betrays a feeling of superiority: 1 treat condescendingly, condescend to, look down on, talk down to, put down, treat like a child, treat with disdain. Treat with an apparent kindness that betrays a feeling of superiority.”“She’s a good-hearted girl,” he said in a patronizing voice”

Synonyms: treat condescendingly, condescend to, look down on, talk down to, put down, treat like a child, treat with disdain; condescending, disdainful, supercilious, superior, imperious, scornful, contemptuous. informal: uppity, high and mighty. “Your patronizing mother just told me how “adequate” my dress is”.


Can be messy, challenging and difficult for those of us from backgrounds of drama, trauma and dysfunction.

Especially when we’ve not been able to get the help we need to learn to identify and resolve our family patterns AND our own patterns that contribute to the-dance-that-never-ends.

One of the issues we can find ourselves dealing with is situations in which those who consciously, or unconsciously, have themselves on a pedestal or see themselves as having all the answers.

There are few people in my life that still think it’s ok to talk to me like I’m a child and a stupid one at that.

And for a long time I tried to be “assertive”. I tried using the standard formula for communication taught in assertiveness classes that goes something like this:

  1. I feel (disrespected and insulted)
  2. when (you speak to me as though I’m a child)
  3. I’d like (to ask you to be mindful of this and stop giving me those “good girl” pats on the head sort of pep talks)

And here’s what I’ve discovered.

This works with those who already have done their own work or already have a healthy sense of self.

In these situations with these types of people it is so totally ok to say something like this. They get it. They don’t take it personally. They don’t “react” in anger. They don’t accuse me of attacking them.

They are able to respond with something like:

Oh my gosh…I had no clue I was doing that but yes! I can totally see that I’ve done that! Please forgive me and do let me know if I cross that line again! 

On the other hand…

There are those who are unable to separate themselves from what others think, say, feel and do and take these sorts of conversations as a personal attack.

It might go something like this:

WHAT???? I haven’t done a god damned thing to you. What about the time you…..How dare you attack me like this. You need to take a look at your own shit. I’m not standing for this. Well….”I” am fine with the way I am and if you don’t like it you know where you can get off ….

See what I mean?

So what are our options when others are patronizing to us?

First Scenario

Well – in the first scenario these folks are willing to respect your feelings so you just go right ahead and be your beautiful, gorgeous assertive self!

(NOTE: being respectful of our feelings is a whole lot different than being responsible for our feelings. We are each responsible for our own feelings and getting our needs met or as in this case – learning what to do when others won’t be respectful of our feelings and how we change our actions instead of trying to change their behavior)

Second Scenario

In this situation – we usually will know from experience that any attempt to assert ourselves or act in a manner that would meet our emotional needs (emotional needs: to feel safe, loved, respected, attached, included and so on) will likely result in a replay of the last time we tried to do such thing:

WHAT???? I haven’t done a god damned thing to you. What about the time you…..How dare you attack me like this. You need to take a look at your own shit. I’m not standing for this. Well….”I” am fine with the way I am and if you don’t like it you know where you can get off ….

So what’s the “empowering solution”? (empowering solution: the things we can do for ourselves by ourselves without needing anyone to do anything with us or for us).

The answer to this is often not the one we want to hear because we often don’t want to consider the idea that in order for us to feel loved and wanted there isn’t something we can do to get them to “understand”….

We’ve been trained up to believe that if we can figure out what to do differently or do things just right, say the right thing that somehow we will suddenly and magically matter to them.

And this….

Is part of the challenge of the journey.

Realizing that we are not responsible for how others behave; the things they do and say AND there is nothing we can do “right enough” to suddenly be “good enough” for them to love us and let us feel loved.

So when they start with their little jabs, the nitpicking, the patronizing and patting on the head, the good girl, good boy and good job stuff that leaves us feeling inadequate….

We can realize what is happening and choose to cut the conversation short and move on.

We can practice doing for them what they can’t do for us…

Accepting them as they are without trying to change what they do or who they are while still protecting ourselves from their barbs that break us.

The Practice

The short version…

Recognize those relationships where we feel “less than” and “not good enough”. If it is a relationship where you typically feel like you need a shower (or a drink) after engaging with this person – that is good clue that this is a person who is not emotionally available and it’s time to stop trying to meet your need for emotional connection with someone who can’t connect emotionally.

Start practicing disconnecting and disentangling yourself from this person. In other words – this is how we teach people how to treat us. And it doesn’t require us escalating things to a 12 on a scale of 1-10. Simply notice that something has been said that leaves you feeling “off”. Maybe its the urge to curl up in a corner, maybe it’s shame, maybe it’s that “I feel like a little kid” thing that survivors of bad things often experience. Choosing to disconnect, disengage and emotionally separate ourselves from the situation when they are being disrespectful, talking down or talking above us is far more effective than vs fueling the fire for another fight or feeling like we have to stay while they beat us up emotionally.

Practice being mindfully and respectfully engaged with them when they are being respectful. Very often the advice we get when dealing with difficult people in our lives is to “cut them off” if they won’t “shape up”. I’ve never found that to be helpful as a first line of defense although I do find it helpful when there are no or few “good feeling” engagements. I don’t condone staying in abusive situations or trying to work it out with people who are incapable of working things out. Instead of doing to them what they are doing to us (I’m better than you and I know it) we can focus on simply being “present” with them when they ARE being respectful.

In other words again – you are going to teach people how to treat you by what you choose to stick around for.

You leave, instead of arguing, fighting or getting defensive – when they are talking down to you, are critical or otherwise condescending to you. Just quietly excuse yourself. Come up with a sudden thing you have to do or place you have to go. No explanations. Just say “good to see you” – and leave the situation.

You engage when they are sharing their stuff, things are mutual, pleasant enough and you feel good/ok being there.

This is “personal empowerment”.

Learning how to resolve things for ourselves without needing anyone to change anything for us to find ways to meet our own emotional needs and deal with our emotional wounds.

This is not an overnight thing.

This is part of the healing journey; learning how to heal ourselves and our relationships without needing others to change, do anything for us or even “with” us.

This is the Journey.

This is The Practice.

Doing the learning and then doing the actions that can help us learn to do things differently and have different results.

Final Note

Oftentimes we are so focussed on surviving and navigating a world that feels unfriendly, relationships that are hurtful or confusing that we can only see what’s going on around us and happening to us. The other part of this journey? Is learning to see our own patterns of dysfunction and how these patterns cause others pain. It is important for us to learn to see the things in others that are also in us because if we can see a “fault” in someone else then it’s often a fault in us as well.








%d bloggers like this: