Last Updated on
“If you want others to respect you, the best thing you can do is to respect yourself. Only then, only through self-respect, will you force the others to respect you”, wrote Dostoyevsky. The words of the Russian writer resonate with a Confucius advice: “Respect yourself and the others will respect you.”
Respect is an important value in most societies. It not only facilitates coexistence, but also demonstrates consideration towards the others. Therefore, since childhood they teach us to respect the others. Our parents teach us to respect adults and other children, they tell us when our words or actions can harm them and, if we disrespect them, they encourage us – sometimes even force us – to ask for forgiveness. However, there is a great neglect in that equation: the respect for oneself.
In many cases that constant outward projection can make us forget the most important person in our life: ourselves. When we’re educated not to bother the others, little by little it grows the belief that our ideas, feelings and needs are not so important, valuable or worthy of being taken into account. As a result, it is quite common for us to end up disrespecting ourselves, speaking to us hard and even humiliating words.
However, a study conducted at the University of Chicago revealed that there is a link between attitudes of acceptance and respect for oneself and attitudes of acceptance and respect for others. Therefore, this research suggests that if we educate children to respect themselves, the respect for the others will come almost automatically.
Sacrificing self-love on the altar of self-esteem
Centuries ago, self-love was a central concept in the ideas of philosophers like Aristotle. For them, the respect for oneself was based on the ability to think and behave in such a way as to promote our autonomy, independence, self-control and tenacity.
Unfortunately, the psychology has neglected enormously this concept, promoting the importance of self-esteem in its place. Self-help books and personal growth gurus are obsessed with self-esteem, but in reality self-love may be the key to achieving the mental serenity we seek. Both concepts seem very similar, but have basic fundamental differences.
First of all, we must start from the fact that self-esteem always implies a form of judgment, which means that sometimes we will win, but others will lose. Self-esteem is an introjected measure of the value that others recognize to us. In fact, the word derives from the Latin aestumare, which means evaluating, judging and appreciating. Respecting something, on the contrary, involves accepting it, without judgments of value.
Of course, it is important to have also a good self-esteem, but this only means that we care about ourselves, which also means that if we make huge mistakes or fail to meet our expectations and those of the others, we might stop liking ourselves and suffer a lowering of self-esteem.
Self-love, on the other hand, does not depend so much on errors or success, because is not the direct result of the confrontation with the others. Self-love implies the acceptance beyond our limits and errors.
In fact, even people with a great self-esteem are trapped in a framework of judgment, while those who develop self-love are less likely to be influenced by the opinions of the others, be a victim of manipulation and feel guilty.
You can do a little test to know your level of self-esteem and self-love. Imagine for a moment that someone congratulates you on the results you have achieved in a project. What is your first reaction? If you feel euphoric, this probably means that you have doubts about your abilities and that you depend very much on the point of view of the others.
Obviously, it is normal that we feel flattered and even happy when someone congratulates us and recognize our work, but if we see that our mood varies according to the opinions of the others, we will have a serious problem of self-love.
Self-love is the basis of assertiveness
The psychologists of the University of Kiel, in Germany, state that one of the fundamental pillars of assertiveness is self-love. These researchers recruited 643 people who completed a series of tests with which they evaluated self-love, self-confidence, self-esteem, self-acceptance, the perceived competence and assertiveness. People also had to respond to how they would act in hypothetical situations where their rights and dignity were violated.
The psychologists have thus discovered that self-love was the best predictor of assertiveness. They also found that people who respected each other chose more assertive solutions to resolve conflicts, while those who thought only of having “the right not to be trampled”, but in fact did not respect themselves, tended to adopt more aggressive coping strategies.
In reality, the respect for oneself does not simply imply the claim of our rights, it is the belief that we are people who are as valuable as the others. The respect towards oneself always generates a virtuous circle that allows us to react much better to circumstances.
The signs of lack of self-love
Self-love is the belief that we have the same fundamental rights as others, it means recognizing that we are worthy of being loved and taken into consideration, feeling compassion for ourselves. However, there are subtle signs that may indicate that we do not respect ourselves enough, such as:
– We apply ourselves degrading labels, especially when we make mistakes or we do not live up to our expectations. These labels do not help us to grow, but on the contrary they turn into beliefs that limit us and make us feel bad.
– We treat ourselves with extreme hardness, without leaving room for indulgence, to the point that we end up destroying ourselves. Instead of being a little more compassionate, as we would be with a friend, we treat ourselves badly.
– We continually prioritize the needs of the others before ours because we believe we are less important, to the point that we virtually forget of ourselves.
– We believe we are less valuable than the others and deserve less than they do, so we often do not claim our rights.
– We remain silent for fear of disturbing the others, preferring to bite our tongue rather than give up a situation that causes us discomfort and malaise.
The 3 fundamental points for developing self-love
“The worst loneliness is to not be comfortable with yourself” said Mark Twain. Instead of repeating empty sentences that will have a minimal impact on the idea that you already have of yourself, it is necessary to do a deeper psychological work that lays the foundation for a solid self-respect. In this regard, it is essential to start with these 3 convictions:
1. Assume you have the same rights as the others and therefore you must treat yourself with the same compassion, affection and respect.
2. Understand that you are worth as much as the other people who share their life with you, therefore, you deserve that your needs are also taken into account.
3. Be aware of your weaknesses and errors, so that they do not affect the relationship you have with yourself.
What do you gain by respecting yourself?
- You are true to your needs, desires and values, so you don’t allow others to trample them.
- You feel you have the right to say “no” when something goes against your interests or needs, drawing reasonable limits to protect you.
- You feel empowered and have more confidence in you, so you are more likely to follow your dreams and achieve your goals.
- You will feel more satisfied with your life, which will be reflected in your interpersonal relationships.
- You will be better able to take care of yourself, avoiding falling into self-injurious and harmful behaviors.
Last but not least, remember that respecting oneself implies not only respecting our dreams, needs, values and illusions but also our own limits, fears and failures. Treating us with kindness and tolerance comes through being aware of our limitations and love ourselves in spite of everything.
Renger, D. (2017) Believing in one’s equal rights: Self-respect as a predictor of assertiveness. Self and Identity; 17: 1-21.
Roland, C. E. & Foxx, R. M. (2003) Self-respect: A neglected concept. Philosophical Psychology; 16(2): 247-288.
Sheerer, E. T. (1957) The relationship of self-acceptance and self-respect to acceptance of and respect for others. Pastoral Psychology; 8(2): 35-42.