Self-respect is a primary virtue. Paul Kurtz suggests that self -respect is a moral virtue that “when properly developed…enable individuals to pursue lives of creative and joyful exuberance” (1997). We need self respect. It is a foundational asset necessary for success. Yet, new wave positivity has diminished the meaning of self respect, suggesting all it means is to feel good about ourselves. This new definition is woefully lacking. By taking action away from the word, it loses its self molding power. We can feel good with a mantra and deceitfully blind ourselves to notable imperfections. Perhaps, this is where self-confidence and self-respect part ways.
Self-confidence where we are ill-prepared is a recipe for failure. We believe we have skills, talents and knowledge that we don’t have. Positive mantras may boost self-confidence. Martin Seligman expressed concern over the self-esteem movement for exactly these reasons. He wrote, “the skills of becoming happy turn out to be almost entirely different from the skills of not being sad, not being anxious, or not being angry.” His point was that pushing self-esteem and self-confidence may relieve a person from discomforting emotions without helping them develop the skills and accomplish the things that make life better.
Seligman continues, “self-esteem is just a meter that reads out the state of a system. It is not an end in itself. When you are doing well in school or work, when you are doing well with the people you love, when you are doing well in play the meter will register high. When you are doing badly it will register low. Self-esteem seems only to be a symptom, a correlate, of how well a person is doing in the real world” (2011).
Seligman’s concerns were that we would prioritize feeling good about ourselves over doing good for ourselves. Hidden demon to these popular teachings is that you can fail and still feel good about yourselves. Which is fine to a point, until our false boosting of confidence and respect interferes with healthy motivations to change our lives. We shouldn’t drape ourselves in lies, giving ourselves, “I am a great person pep talk” and then engage in shameless abuse of our partner and children.
Self-Respect and Self Confidence
In conclusion, Seligman summarizes that, “depression and violence both come from this misbegotten concern (that) valuing how our young people feel about themselves more highly than how we value how well they are doing in the world” (2011). This is where self-respect enters the picture. Self-respect dictates where we place our confidence. Self-respect is having confidence in our ability to manage challenging waters without sacrificing personal values. Michael E. Thase MD and Susan S. Lang simply put it “knowing that you can always respond in your best interest is the essence of self-worth and self-respect.”
We sadly sacrifice true self respect for an imitation. We often are so worried about belonging and acceptance that we don’t even know what we value. For many, their sense of personal worth is completely dependent on external factors. Hence self-respect is lost from the start.
David A. Schulz, Stanley F. Rodgers suggest that true self-respect “is rooted in a deeper understanding of ourselves.” When self-respect is placed in this deeper understanding of ourself then “we have the freedom to stand over and against the community whenever something in our value system tells us it is necessary to do so” (1974).
Self respect is pride and confidence in yourself; a feeling that you are behaving with honor, in line with your personal values.
Imperfection and Self-Respect
Self respect is a core motivator of action, directed toward goal fulfillment. We express confidence in our self-efficacy. These inner beliefs spring forth in actions. A person with self-confidence is not conceded or victims of self deceit. We can have self respect and remain humble. This is where many get it wrong. Perhaps, they have a difficult time envisioning confidence without the illusion of vulnerability and imperfection.
Kurtz taught that “and so those who do not falter need self-confidence and self-assurance if they are to see their dreams and hopes come true. Though they may have inner doubts, they exude self-confidence and have high self-esteem. They do not allow their self-doubts or lack of self-respect to consume them” (1997).
Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander suggest that owning imperfections creates self respect. They wrote a key to self and relationship development is seeing that, “the ‘stumbling blocks’ that stand in your way are part of you.” They advise that this path “calls for courage and compassion.” However, they encourage, among the rewards of this perspective is “self-respect…” (2002).
David Ricoh wrote that self respect is an object we can target for personal work. He suggests that we should enhance an “evolving sense of self respect and respect for others with all their diverse virtues and vices” (2006). Self-respect is never perfected. We always must confront fears of insufficiency. However, we don’t let those fears consume our self-respect. We lift our head, believe in ourself, and stumble forward, even when we are not completely confident in where the next step will land.
Self Respect More Than a Mantra
The thoughts we recite, churn in our minds impact feelings. Whether we recite self-glorifying mantras or ruminate over worries, the thoughts influence the flow of chemicals, creating a different feeling experience. What we think matters. But what should we think and how do we direct our thoughts? Thoughts, feelings and behaviors are the foundations of experience. All three need to be in balance, integrated into life, and connecting sources to others.
Stuart Smalley: “You are a good guy; people like you.”~Stuart Smiley
Many modern agents of happiness suggest we should only think positive thoughts. I don’t prescribe these theories of positive thinking. Disrupting emotions and thoughts have purpose, motivate action, and draw attention to important threats in the environment. I have learned to recognize negative thoughts, investigate their purpose and only then challenge, replace or accept.
Showing Self Respect By How We Live
We may start building hope through positive mantras. If we are stuck in self-deprecating ruts of depression, inaction and self-loathing; flood your mind with encouragement—recite whatever motivates. But when healthy lust for a flourishing life returns, growth requires more than kind self-talk. Words are fruitless if we fail to act.
The benefits of self-praise plateaus when feeling good smothers motivating emotions that ignite action. An injection of heroin feels good to some, creating feelings of security; but fails to propel the user to develop connections that create security. The addict slinks into self-absorbed state of ecstasy ignoring the world. Feeling good doesn’t stand on its own. Positive speech plays a significant role in how we feel and how we feel plays a role in how we live. But self-determined action is the next step, taking us beyond thought into real life, blessing the future.
“If we are stuck in self-deprecating ruts of depression, inaction and self-loathing; flood your mind with encouragement—recite whatever motivates.”~T. Franklin Murphy
Living a Self Respecting Life
We seek simple solutions to complex problems—thought is a simple solution. We stumble upon a small insight, hoping to transform our complex existence. A solid foundation requires more than a single brick. If you desire self-respect then build a self-respecting life though healthy action, with behaviors in congruence with ethics.
We can’t stuff our mouths with junk, engage in unhealthy behaviors, act rudely to others, and then fool ourselves into self-respect. The chasm of difference between action and desires can’t be crossed with simple soul-relieving lies or greatness. Our actions and thoughts conflict.
Self-respect demands healthy values, acknowledging strengths and weaknesses, and working to be better. True self-respect requires integrity—embracing values and living according to those values. Self-respect comes from living a life we respect!
Kurtz, Paul (1997). The Courage to Become: The Virtues of Humanism. Praeger; First Edition.
Ricoh, David (2006). The Five Things We Cannot Change: And the Happiness We Find by Embracing Them.
Seligman, Martin E. P. (2011). Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life. Vintage; Reprint edition.
Schulz, David A.; Rodgers, Stanley F. (1974). Marriage, the Family, and Personal Fulfillment. Prentice-Hall.
Thase, Michael E. ; Lang, Susan S. Lang
Zander, Rosamund Stone; Zander, Benjamin (2002). The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life. Penguin Books; Reprint edition