When you were young, you were probably taught to respect others, especially people like parents and teachers but also your peers. Were you ever taught to respect yourself?
In case you weren’t, here’s Self-Respect 101.
What is Self-Respect?
You know what respect means when it comes to other people but what does it mean to respect yourself?
There’s a concept in philosophy and ethics called “autonomy” or “personhood.” Autonomy is the ability to make one‘s own decisions and function without intervention from others. Personhood simply means that you are a human. Everyone has personhood regardless of their abilities. However, people have differing levels of autonomy. For example, a child in school, a retired individual, and someone serving a term in prison all have the same degree of personhood, but they all have different levels of autonomy.
The basic level of respect that you should show to everyone is an acknowledgment of that individual’s personhood. The additional respect that you show some individuals is an acknowledgment of their specific level of autonomy.
So, what does all of this mean for you?
What Does it Mean to Respect Yourself?
For one thing, it means that no matter where you are in your life, you deserve a certain level of respect based on your basic personhood.
Next, it means that you deserve a certain level of respect based on your position in life in addition to the respect that you deserve because of your personhood.
It also means that you don’t deserve unlimited respect. People who believe that they deserve more respect than they do have unrealistic perspectives of themselves but perhaps more importantly are likely to get themselves into trouble by thinking that they require, deserve, or are capable of things that are beyond them.
What Do You Do with Self-Respect?
Once you have determined what kind of respect you deserve you can do two things. You can develop a sense of respect for yourself and you can demand a sense of respect from those around you.
Having a sense of self-respect for yourself means that you accept that you deserve certain things. Some of these are things that you deserve because of your personhood, like a place to live, enough to eat, and healthy (or at least safe) relationships with other people.
These are often things that you supply to yourself but may withhold if you have low self-respect. For example, you may carry on in an unhealthy relationship because you don’t think that you deserve a healthy relationship, but everyone deserves better than an unhealthy relationship by virtue of their personhood.
Some of these things are things that you deserve because of the role that you play in the larger world. This primarily social resources but they are sometimes material resources controlled by people who control your autonomy in some circumstance or degree.
This could mean parents, bosses, teachers, &c. At your work you deserve to demand the resources, material or otherwise, to fulfill your role within the organization. As a student or a child, you deserve to demand the resources - material or otherwise - to learn, grow, and develop as a person.
How is Self-Respect Important?
Self-respect plays a number of important roles. For one thing, it helps promote your physical and emotional health. As discussed above, low self-respect can lead you to withhold basic needs from yourself if you think that you don’t deserve them.
Self-respect plays another important role as well. It helps you to realize your full potential. If low self-respect is preventing you from demanding the resources that you need and deserve, then developing a stronger sense of self-esteem can help you to secure the resources that you need to do your best.
This can lead to a cycle of increasing self-esteem, demanding the resources that you need to fulfill your role, fulfilling your role well, landing in a new role, and increasing self-esteem.
Self-respect essentially means knowing what you stand for and what your values are at the same time accepting that your strengths and weaknesses make you who you are.
This is an inner quality that takes time to develop. Just take the first step, trust the process, and you'll get there eventually.