In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, I explained how you can improve your self-esteem by increasing self-confidence. In this post, I explain how to increase the other main component of self-esteem: self-respect.
Fundamentally, self-respect means valuing yourself and believing that you’re worthy of living and of being happy. Self-respect allows you to take care of yourself and pursue your values. You feel you deserve to be alive and thrive in life, and are free to pursue your highest values and enjoy them without feeling guilty. From working toward a satisfying career, engaging in hobbies you enjoy, or pursuing a healthy romantic relationship, going after values comes from the belief that you are worthy of having and enjoying them.
Most everyone has some self-respect or else they would quickly die. Even the acts of eating and clothing yourself require some sense of self-worthiness, otherwise, why would you bother?
People who lack self-respect often feel guilty, because everything they get (money, love, admiration), even things that they’ve earned, they don’t feel they deserve. They feel like they have done something wrong when they accept these things. They’re also more susceptible to allowing others to abuse them, because they don’t feel they’re worthy of being treated humanely and respectfully.
A primary reason for a lack of self-respect comes from being taught since we were young to put others first and yourself last, that others are more important than you, and that to be a good and moral person means to sacrifice yourself, your values, your time, and your energy for others.
With this belief, how could you ever pursue and enjoy your values? Someone else will always be in need of something, and by this principle, it would be your obligation to fulfill it.
Most people, however, are mixed. They do some things for themselves and at other times they put others first.
But how do you know when to do for yourself and when to do for others? Where do you draw the line? And is the idea that others are more important than you and should come first even valid?
I believe not. I think that we’re all equal in the sense that we all deserve to pursue our values, goals, and dreams, and be as happy and fulfilled as possible.
Developing self-respect requires that you first value yourself, and realize that it’s not only okay to do that, but it’s required for psychological health and happiness. It’s okay to pursue your values, goals, dreams, and interests, because that’s how human beings survive and thrive in life.
Your pursuit of values does not stop or inhibit others from doing the same. The only thing that can stop anyone from pursuing values and enjoying their achievement is self-sacrifice and valuing others above themselves. This doesn’t mean you can’t help others in your life that you value and feel deserve your help. It only means that you don’t make them more important than you, or value them higher than yourself.
Self-respect and the pursuit of your values also don’t require walking over others. People who lie, cheat, steal, and stab others in the back to get what they want are not valuing or respecting themselves—not if they want to live and thrive for the long-term.
For example, a bank robber may get loot in the short-term, but he’s putting his life and others’ lives in danger, risking getting caught and thrown in jail, is always on the run looking over his shoulder, and he’ll never earn psychological health or happiness. He’s acting self-destructively not self-respectively.
To have self-respect, you have to pursue values that are rational, and that will sustain your life and happiness for the long-term, not just the next day, week, or year.
Another major thing that eats away self-respect for many people is the idea of Original Sin (or any secular version). This concept says that you are morally bad and tainted from birth, and that you have to atone just for being alive. Nothing could be more damaging to your sense of self-worth. This concept must be challenged and completely rejected if you’re to have self-respect.
If you feel guilty for pursuing and enjoying your values and goals, or for asserting your needs and sticking up for yourself, ask yourself if that guilt is earned or unearned. Did you actually do anything immoral to earn that guilt? Or did you just choose something you loved and worked really hard to get it? If it’s the latter, you have nothing to feel guilty about and every reason to be proud of yourself and enjoy what you’ve earned. If someone tries to make you feel guilty for these things, ask them what justifies their accusation? What evidence do they have that proves pursuing your values (and respecting others’ right to do the same) is wrong or immoral?
If you’re confident that respecting yourself and going after your values and goals is good, right, moral, and healthy, then no one can make you feel guilty for it or take advantage of you. You’ll be able to respect yourself and your right to happiness, and toss any naysayer off like a feather.