Holding yourself in high regard is – we’re often told – a good thing. Women with high self-esteem seem to move through life with a confident glow of self-appreciation. We’re urged by self-improvement books and life coaches to develop our self-esteem so that we handle our relationships, careers and aspirations better. Yet it’s self-respect that is the true key to success – and your sense of your own worth.
What exactly is self-respect? Self-respect is based on acceptance of who you are. If you have self-respect, you take stock of yourself in a ‘protective way’. ‘A person with self-respect simply likes herself,’ wrote US psychology professor Ellen Langer in Psychology Today. ‘Self-respect doesn’t depend on success, because there are always failures to contend with. It’s also not a result of comparing ourselves with others, because there is always someone better in some way than us. With self-respect, we like ourselves because of who we are, not because of what we can or cannot do.’
Here’s how to rediscover self-respect
1 Examine your core values. Whether they come from your parents, mentors, movies or books, what do you consider to be key moral qualities today? What might you need to do or change to be truer to them? Writing these down can help clarify them, says Durban life coach Cathy Yuill. Self-examination may be painful but if you can manage it, and find the courage to change even a little, you’ll grow and reach a new level of self-respect.
2 Reassess your relationships. Ask yourself, are you in this relationship to find yourself? If so, you still need to clarify your own values and needs. Are you in it to lose yourself? Then you have a problem understanding your needs. Either way, you don’t have enough self-respect. Return to step 1 above. But start with self-acceptance. ‘Acceptance does not imply approval; it is simply owning and being responsible for your whole being, the bad as well as the good,’ says Dr Elizabeth Gong-Guy, director of UCLA Student Psychological Services. If you have self-respect and know what you want, says Nelspruit psychologist Tembeni Mhlongo, you won’t expect others to provide it, or open yourself to dependency and abuse. ‘You need to say: this is me, and those are other people. And I may love them but they are not me. That is having healthy respect for them and self-respect.’
3 Guard your self-respect. Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi said: ‘They cannot take away our self-respect if we do not give it to them.’ Choose actions based on an ethical centre, and you won’t allow anyone to compromise your dignity and self-respect, says Chris Karcher, author of Relationships Of Grace (Adams King). ‘Choice is key.’
4 Act in line with your values. Integrity and self-respect involve choosing ethics without personal benefit, even though everyone may be doing something else or no-one else will know, says Karcher. This applies to everything – from having an extra drink you know you can’t handle or sleeping with someone when you don’t really want to, to inflating your sales figures, siphoning off company cash or pulling a Lindsay by flashing your crotch to amuse your pals or cause a sensation in public.
5 Tune in to your inner voice. When you’re struggling with an issue, take a few quiet minutes to pause, reflect and listen for inner guidance, says Karcher. Regularly setting aside 10 to 20 minutes a day to meditate, do deep breathing or read an inspirational book can put you in touch with that voice, she says.
6 Respect your boundaries. This is integral to self-respect, says Yuill. ‘Self-respect is about where you position yourself as a human being, and includes honouring and caring for yourself.’ If you’re interrupted, sidelined, overburdened or abused, learn to assert yourself calmly but firmly or get out, she says. Always treat yourself well, whether with a regular day off or a periodic massage. As Clint Eastwood said: ‘Respect your efforts, respect yourself. When you have both firmly under your belt, that’s real power.’