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Practicing Self-Respect: 3 Habits to build a Healthy Self-Image



A therapist I used to go to a few years ago had one question he would always ask me multiple times. Almost any problem I brought to him, he would wind it back and ask me this question. Miraculously, it still often surprised me. But, I must admit, it usually helped me find my way forward. What’s the question you ask?

“Would that raise your self-respect or lower it?”

Deceitfully simple isn’t it? But is it really?

This question appeared in almost any situation I ran into where I didn’t know how to proceed. The same was true for each moment I looked back on previous emotional situations.

All along, self-respect has been with me and in you too. It is a quiet voice guiding us to better choices and a deep sense of contentment and internal harmony. It took me some time to learn to listen to this voice, but my life has been happier and easier to navigate ever since.

What is Self-Respect, and why is it so important?

Self-respect is a tool we have for creating peace and satisfaction in our lives. It’s an internal measurement that lets us look at our choices in the context of our conscience, values, and ideals.

By treating self-respect as a guiding voice in your head, you learn to act according to your ideal view of yourself. A self that will push you to make decisions that you will be content with as well as add to you general sense of pride and contentment.

“The natural result of consistently acting in a way that earns your own approval” as Maharani Gayathri Devi said in her in her biography. In other words, when you act out of self-respect, you build self-respect.

Inversely, if you repeatedly make choices that you cannot respect, your image of yourself will depreciate. And so will the way you treat yourself and allow others to treat you. When you have little respect for yourself, you devalue what you feel you deserve.

Self-Esteem vs. Self-Respect

If you are wondering, if self esteem is the same as self respect; You may be right to an extent. People often throw the two around interchangeably, but are they the same?

Both self-esteem and self-respect describe a feeling, the same feeling- that is the feeling of confidence in who you are and what you’re worth. It’s a feeling of understanding and appreciating yourself.

When your self-respect (or self-esteem) is low, you’re likely to act out of line with your values, view and treat yourself negatively, and cause yourself and others pain and insecurity. But when this feeling is high, you get the opposite. You are more likely to be confident in your abilities, proud of your accomplishments, and better equipped to advocate for yourself.

But that’s where the definition of self-esteem ends. On the other hand, in my personal opinion self-respect goes on to describe the act of building that feeling.

It is something you feel, but it’s also something you do. So when you act out of self-respect, the natural result is that you will feel respected.

What does Self-Respect actually look like?

Self-respect, very much like a goal statement, is a means that guides you to a happier life. But in contrast to a tangible goal statement, self-respect is a little less tangible but no less real. Imagine it as a sort of internal GPS that tells you whether your choices are getting you “nearer” or “further” in your search for a you that you admire. When you’re facing a tough choice, but you have a gut feeling telling you which is the “right” call, the chances are that’s your sense of self-respect speaking to you. It’s saying, “I’m getting warmer! This is the decision the best version of me would make, so that’s what I should do.”

On the flip-side, when you look back on a moment in your life and regret your actions, that is probably your self-respect speaking up also. In this case, it’s saying, “No, I am getting further away”. That was not acting in line with my ideal self. That was me acting like someone I don’t respect very much, and now I feel less respect for myself.” If you are thinking the obvious Yes, self respect is very much intertwined with your conscious. Lets break it down, your conscious is your learnt and imbibed values that you hold for yourself, it tells you what is right and wrong. Self respect is the feeling you have when you adhere to these standards for yourself. If you act in accordance with your values, you feel good about yourself and your self respect increases and vice versa.

3 habits to Practice Self-Respect

I’ve said that self-respect is not only something you have but something you do to keep it. Everyone wants to respect oneself, so here are three simple daily habits you can practice to help you move toward a life of self-respect.

1. Work for Your Own Approval

The only way that self-respect can work is from the inside out.

It’s not some “outside-in”, “fake it till you make it” ordeal. This kind of confidence builds from deep within by listening to yourself for guidance. That is what makes it such a healthy and powerful thing.

But that also means that no one else can give it to you. You cannot build self-respect by chasing the approval of others. Even if you can get it, their validation will not translate into much appreciation for yourself.

What people respect are principles, integrity, and healthy confidence. And those things can only come from following your compass. Chasing the respect of others makes it harder to get

Work to earn your own approval first, and ignore what you think others will admire. Instead, focus only on becoming a person you can respect more and more. And strangely enough, this will almost always earn the healthy respect from others anyway.

On the flip side, depending solely on extrinsic approval will be jolting in situations where you do not get the approval of others.

2. The Golden Rule

Nearly every language, culture, or philosophy in history has arrived at some form of the same idea- Treat others the way you want to be treated.

It’s a great lesson in empathy. Every time we follow it, we come one step closer to a world where we all treat each other better. But let’s not forget, equally important is an offshoot of that rule- Treat yourself the way you want to be treated.

Consider how you treat others when you intend to be kind, respectful, or loving. Do you always treat yourself the same way? Because too often, the answer is a “NO.”

But why are we so quick to discount the same for ourselves?

Remember, to have respect for yourself, you need to show yourself repect . You deserve every bit as much kindness as everybody else. And you need to be the first person to show it to yourself.

When you ignore your wants and needs, you also open the door for others to mistreat you. If you constantly put yourself down or treat yourself as undeserving, it won’t seem that weird to you when a toxic friend, family member, or boss does it. So mind the way to talk to yourself!

Self-respect is valuable not just for the more positive self-image it gives you but because healthy self-respect can send you warning signals when others mistreat you. It tells you when something isn’t right and when it’s time to advocate for yourself.

3. Ask the Question

Remember the question from the beginning of this article that my therapist asked me to revisit?

“Will this raise my self-respect or lower it?”

The question is deceptively simple yet immensely impactful.

Every choice you make, and every action you take can raise or lower your respect for yourself. Choices are key when it comes to happiness. So think about which way you want to pull the lever.

When you feel stuck at any point in your life, great or small, not sure which way to go, let self-respect help point the way. Take the road that most closely fits your values, and you’ll arrive at a greater sense of self-worth every time.

And that’s a wrap folks. Easier said than done, isn’t it? Yes, but with mindfulness, intent and practice, self respect and consecutively self esteem can be achieved. Stay tuned for next week’s blog post which explores the topic of validation both from ourselves (more importantly) and others.

References:

  1. Dowling. (2020). 12 ways to show yourself respect. MBG Mindfulness. https://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-20165/12-ways-to-show-yourself-respect-and-teach-others-to-do-the-same.html

  2. Gepp. (2022). How to regain your self respect and why it matters. Psych Central. https://psychcentral.com/blog/how-to-improve-self-respect

By: Shreya Royan

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