There is an old adage of needing to respect yourself before others can respect you. While it might not be entirely true, it does beg the question, how do you respect yourself?
Self-respect isn’t as fluctuating and dependent on outside factors as self-esteem, but it still has plenty of influences, from our childhood experiences and employment status to self-stigma. And not even all of these factors are under our control. However, you can still enhance your self-respect by accepting yourself, setting boundaries and practicing positive self-talk, to name a few.
In this article, I’ll take a look at what self-respect is, where it comes from, and most importantly, how to start respecting yourself more.
What is self-respect?
The discussion around self-respect is a minefield of differing opinions and definitions. Some people think that self-respect means dressing in a modest, non-revealing way, while others say that bowing to the generally patriarchal idea of “modesty” shows a lack of self-respect.
There’s a popular saying about having to respect yourself before others can respect you. I remember hearing a similar sentiment in high school, but in recent years, this idea has become somewhat ingrained in hustle culture.
The popular credo states that "I’d rather work for myself 24/7 than slave 9-5", which equates self-respect to both independence and productivity.
At the other end of the spectrum, some theories characterize self-respect as an inherently social construct. Sociologist Richard Sennett argues in his 2003 book Respect in a World of Inequality that people can only respect themselves when they feel respected by others, while philosopher Jean Hampton posits that social institutions play a key role in constructing our sense of self-worth.
Self-respect is similar to concepts like self-esteem and confidence, yet slightly different. Harvard’s professor of psychology, Ellen J. Langer, writes:
To esteem anything is to evaluate it positively and hold it in high regard, but evaluation gets us into trouble because while we sometimes win, we also sometimes lose. To respect something, on the other hand, is to accept it.Ellen J. Langer
Essentially, self-respect isn’t dependent on our successes and failures, it just is, while self-esteem can fluctuate between good and bad days.
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Where does self-respect come from?
Just like there seems to be no specific definition of self-respect, there is no single source. Rather, like most things human, it’s an amalgamation of our experiences. Let’s take a look at how different things can influence our self-respect throughout our lifespan.
What studies say about self-respect
There are multiple studies that show how self-respect is formed. For example, a 2017 Turkish study reports that childhood trauma experiences like emotional, sexual or physical abuse and physical or emotional neglect decrease self-respect in young adulthood.
According to a 2010 article, forgiveness in marital relationships can play an important role in enhancing or diminishing self-respect. After a betrayal, forgiveness can bolster self-respect and self-concept clarity if the perpetrator has shown that the victim will be safe and valued in a continued relationship. Otherwise, the victim's self-respect is diminished.
In the elderly population, self-respect is dependent on the “ability to keep fear of frailty at a distance’’, according to a 2013 study. This is achieved through having sufficient bodily resources for security and opportunities, structures that promote security and opportunities, feeling valuable in relation to the outside world, and choosing gratitude instead of worries.
What stimulates self-respect?
Another study from 2013 reports that long-term unemployed people struggle to maintain self-respect. Workfare projects that introduce them to voluntary work can support them in regaining their self-respect, through four main avenues:
- Feeling respected through their newfound status.
- Enjoying a craft.
- Being able to perform in less stressful working environments.
- Taking pride in the meaning bestowed by voluntary work.
However, all these paths contain new threats to self-respect, mainly through the emotional labor that people have to perform as a volunteer.
A 2016 Korean study reports that in middle-aged people, working out and other health promotion behaviors improve both self-respect and life satisfaction.
The results of a 2015 study on the “why try” effect found that self-stigma diminishes self-respect. The “why try” effect is a consequence of self-stigmatizing or applying certain stereotypes of mental illness to oneself. It’s the sense of futility coming from a sense of unworthiness or incapability of achieving personal goals.
There are plenty of factors that can affect self-respect, so professor Langer’s theory of self-respect being something unshakeable doesn’t seem to hold up.
Yet in a way, it does. None of the factors cited above influences self-respect to be high one day and low the next. Rather, they provide a long-term increase or decrease, while self-esteem can be dependent on smaller successes and failures, and fluctuate from day to day.
How to respect yourself more
As we have seen, there are many things that go into our self-respect and not all of them are under our control, at least, not entirely. You can’t control whether childhood trauma happens to you, but you can seek help in adulthood.
However, there are still smaller and simpler things you can do to learn how to respect yourself. Here are 5 tips on how to bolster your self-respect.
1. Forgive yourself
It’s hard to respect someone when we haven’t forgiven them, and this rule applies to our relationships with ourselves, too.
When you’re hung up on past transgressions, real or imagined, or beating yourself up for every mistake, it’s pretty difficult to respect yourself.
Take a moment to consider the things you still feel guilty about and make amends. If you’ve hurt someone, take steps to make it right. But if nobody’s suffering from your mistakes except you, forgive yourself and give yourself permission to let go and move on.
2. Take care of yourself and your space
It’s easy to wallow in self-pity or self-hatred if you’re surrounded by mess and haven’t taken a shower in three days.
Take care of these basic three things:
- Physical activity
Another thing to take care of is to try to keep your space (be it your desk, room, or apartment) generally clean and organized. Even if there is no one around to see you, taking care of yourself and your home will help you feel better about yourself.
3. Accept yourself
Respect often starts with acceptance. While there might still be things you’d like to improve about yourself, accepting yourself means that you realize your intrinsic value.
Accepting yourself means recognizing that you’re human with all your quirks and flaws and differentiating between the motives behind the changes or improvements you’d like to make. Consider these two scenarios:
- Person A wants to run a 4-minute mile because that sounds cool as hell and they want to see if they can do it.
- Person B hates running, but they want to run 30 miles a week to lose weight because their body doesn’t look like an Instagram model.
When looking at the two examples, person A has probably accepted themselves. They want to see if they can go the extra mile (in 4 minutes), but only for the heck of it. Person B's self-acceptance is dependent on achieving an elusive goal.
4. Set boundaries
Setting boundaries means that you value your time and energy. Setting boundaries might mean not reading or responding to work emails after hours or asking your coworkers or superiors not to contact you on days off barring an emergency.
You can set boundaries in your personal life as well, for example declining an invitation for drinks with friends for no other reason than you’re tired, or refusing to do more than your share of agreed-upon housework.
Setting boundaries is one of the most efficient ways to show the world that you respect yourself. If you need more help in this area, here's an article of ours with 5 tips on how to set boundaries.
5. Check and change your self-talk
How do you talk to other people you respect? Respectfully, I would imagine. But how do you talk to yourself?
If the answer isn’t “respectfully”, then you might need to change your tone. Look out for overly critical self-talk, or any insults you might be throwing at yourself.
When you catch yourself in the act of bashing yourself, try talking to yourself the way you talk to your friends, loved ones, or any respected figure in your life. Is your self-criticism constructive? Are you being kind and sincere? Is the negative self-talk helping in any way?
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Self-respect is hard to define and perhaps harder to achieve, as not all of the influencing factors are under our control. However, there are still things you can do to respect yourself: it starts with forgiving and accepting yourself. Simple things like taking care of yourself and your surroundings, and more difficult things like setting boundaries and changing your self-talk, can make a world of difference in your self-respect.
What do you think? Do you respect yourself as much as you respect others? Or are you finding it hard to take a break from being your own worst critic? I'd love to hear about your experiences in the comments below!