Have We Forgotten the Value of Self-Respect?

Written by on March 28, 2016 in Personal Accountability, Self-Care

“People with high self-esteem are the most desired and desirable people in society” … or so goes one of the endless quotations praising the virtues of self-esteem.

If the number of books and articles written on the subject is any indication, our culture must agree that self-esteem is just about the best thing since the invention of selfies.

Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration but you get the idea. And, for the record, it’s not my intention to bash self-esteem in this post, after all, there’s a lot to be said for genuinely liking yourself.

What I do want to talk about today is taking a closer look at the basis for cultivating those good feelings by exploring another trait that has been effectively overshadowed by self-esteem, and that is self-respect.

Respect your efforts, respect yourself. Self-respect leads to self-discipline. When you have both firmly under your belt, that’s real power.
~Clint Eastwood

Self-Esteem vs. Self-Respect

The lines between self-respect and self-esteem have become so blurred that if you run a search online for self-respect you’ll actually come up with far more hits referencing self-esteem, many of them covering all the bases by using both terms interchangeably.

Because the two concepts seem similar in nature, where I’m going with this may seem like little more than wordplay, but hang in there with me because the differences between the two traits are crucial and have a lot to do with your attitude and values.

In fact, to the way in which you live your entire life.

Self-Esteem is Based on What You Think About Yourself

Self-esteem is a psychological concept based on appreciating one’s own worth and importance, and at least some esteem tends to be auto-generated through feel-good activities and exercises and repeating positive statements affirming one’s self-worth.

The basic message seems to be that you’re a winner just for showing up.

If you can replace limiting beliefs such as guilt and shame with a sufficient amount of positive thinking your level of self-esteem will rise to an even greater height and your life will improve proportionately.

Psychologists who dispute society’s chronic emphasis on self-esteem are quick to point out that a high level of self-esteem in itself won’t make you a better person or even successful.

In fact, many career criminals have very healthy self-esteem. The infamous psychopath Charley Manson is often used as the poster boy to illustrate this hypothesis.

Extreme, no question, but you have to admit it does conjure up a pretty effective visual.

Self-Respect is Based on Reality 

Self-respect, on the other hand, focuses on honesty, values, humility, confidence and having a healthy sense of one’s own dignity and integrity.

Others may show their respect for you, but you cannot get self-respect from others it comes from within you and is not contingent upon external influences such as success or achievement.

This is because there will always be challenges and failures to contend with, just as there will always be someone who is more knowledgeable or accomplished.

Our sense of worth and self-respect begins at birth and continues to evolve throughout our lives, but the foundation is forged in childhood.

If, as children, we were treated with love and respected for being our authentic selves then chances are good that as adults our level of self-respect will be healthy and strong.

On the other hand, if we were constantly ridiculed for mistakes, overprotected or undervalued, or never taught that choices come with consequences, it’s not difficult to see how we may struggle with self-respect when faced with the real world as adults.

People who have self-respect:

  • Accept and never apologize for who they are.
  • Don’t settle for unhealthy or unfulfilling relationships.
  • Don’t compare themselves to others.
  • Have healthy personal boundaries and are able to say “no” without guilt.
  • Won’t compromise their values to “fit in”.
  • Do not depend upon the acceptance or praise of others to validate their self-worth.
  • Take full responsibility for the consequences of their choices and actions.
  • Are honest with themselves.
  • Have a healthy level of confidence and belief in their abilities.
Self-esteem involves convincing yourself that you are better than you are. Self-respect involves building your character so that you become as good as you are capable of.
~Stuart Schneiderman

Closing Thoughts

The great thing about self-respect is no one can take it away from you and it frees you from the expectations of others.

It not only enhances your confidence, emotional resilience and sense of well-being but awakens your senses to the endless possibilities in life.

When you can learn to become comfortable in your own skin and honor the fact that what makes you unique is enough, you will experience a level of inner peace and joy you never thought possible.

Will you be the passenger or the driver in your life journey?
About Marquita A. Herald

Marquita HeraldMarquita is an author, resilience coach and the chief evangelist at Emotionally Resilient Living. She’s also an unapologetic workaholic who loves red wine, rock n’ roll, road trips (and car dancing!), peanut butter cookies and (especially) a dog named Lucy.

She’s saddened and frustrated by excuses and cruelty and believes authentic compassion is the most powerful force in the world.

To learn more about Marquita and the mission of Emotionally Resilient Living Start Here

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  1. Psychic Nest says:

    Hi Marquita,

    You made some excellent points on this post. Many times self esteem is considered as egoism and it is when we lose self respect. Honoring your individuality is one thing but thinking that you are above everyone else, it is when you cross the line.

    The part that scares me is that there are people out there who take articles, words and thoughts about self esteem and twist them all around so as to make egoism sound natural.

    I love what you wrote and it puts a smile on my face because you make things clear. Every time I visit your site, I find a new gem to read. Thank you!

    Psychic Nest recently posted…How to Survive Being an EmpathMy Profile

  2. Welcome Manu and thank you for sharing such thoughtful insights on this subject!

  3. I love this article, and I have to share with you something. I thought about this entire subject, and it intrigued me a little bit. As a motivational speaker I always focused on helping others have more confidence in themselves to achieve greatness, but I never compared this two concepts like this. So, after some brainstorming, I am sharing my opinion with you and your beautiful readers.
    Self-esteem is what gets you started. You are totally true, it comes from inside. What makes you trust in your own abilities. When you have self-esteem, you are capable to give the best out of you, because you trust in your own powers. Self-esteem is like a joy, an energy, a starter.
    Self-respect, on the other hand, is the product you get from doing great work, with your career, character, love life, social life etc. It’s your own acknowledgement that you didn’t lived for scraps. That you meant something, you changed something, you loved someone. Self-respect takes discipline, hard work and never ending dedication.

    If we were a tree, self-confidence was the seed from which we grew, and self-respect was the fruit that we made.
    Manu Cornel Ilie recently posted…Communication is the key part for any kind of relationshipMy Profile

  4. Joyce Hansen says:

    Marquita thank you for writing such a thoughtful and insightful article. There is really little else to say in additional to the wonderful comments already posted here.
    Joyce Hansen recently posted…10 brain reasons for delaying a decisionMy Profile

  5. Great question Suzie, and the reality is we see people every single day who have healthy esteem but exhibit little in the way of self-respect. The example I used of career criminal Charlie Manson was certainly an extreme case, but look at the celebrity tabloids or even the daily news and you’ll find plenty of examples. Thanks so much for sharing and contributing to the conversation!

  6. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts and contribute to the conversation, Susan. I agree there is great value in taking advantage of professional guidance, but I’ll be honest in that I am a big believer in personal accountability. You can’t truly own your life until you take responsibility for it, and that means doing the work to understand who you are and what makes you tick. While others can help, if we can’t (or won’t) take the time to become more self-aware, chances are slim others will be able to make a lasting impact. Thanks again! 🙂

  7. So glad you found value in the post Beverley and thank you for your very thoughtful insights, always appreciated!

  8. Suzie Cheel says:

    What a powerful post Marty and made we stop and thing and reread. Food for thought and to reflect on, I was interested in your comment about your research for this project. Especially the major focus on Self- esteem. Without self respect do we have self-love, self esteem?
    Suzie Cheel recently posted…April Heart Whisper Oracle Card ReadingMy Profile

  9. Susan Ekins says:

    I didn’t realize there is a difference between self-esteem and self-respect, so your post taught me something new. I agree that our self-respect is affected by our childhood upbringing. It is worth the effort to further develop it through counselling, coaching, or other means so we can be the best we can.

  10. Thanks for this post, Marquita, as the distinctions between self-esteem and self-respect are clearly key to understanding ourselves and how we are in the world. The 0-7 biography cycle is when we learn by mirroring the world around us and often we take on erroneous beliefs about our worth, which follow us through into adulthood. Knowing yourself and respecting who you are, I believe is part of the human journey. Each age and each stage of life is meant to have us explore ourselves in relation to the world around us and to nurture the person we choose to become. When I look back at myself as a young girl, I do not even recognize that person as being who I am today, and yet, I know that all of the experiences and “work” that I did to transform myself and become more fully who I am result from that starting place. I’ve also heard that self-esteem is based on external parameters as you mention, and that self-love, which I believe aligns with self-respect, is something that comes from within. Enjoyed the post! Thank you.
    Beverley Golden recently posted…Hippie: Think Values Not LifestyleMy Profile

  11. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Jeannette. There’s no question that when one’s childhood is less than healthy it can be challenging to develop self-esteem or self-respect for that matter. Fortunately, anything can be learned and I’m glad you were able to find your way to a healthier level of self-worth.

  12. Jeannette Paladino says:

    Marquita – I grew up with low self-esteem because of how I was treated in childhood. It’s difficult to separate self-esteem from self-respect but I’d say that experience and introspection have enabled me to see the value in myself so I do have self-esteem now but it took a long time to get there.
    Jeannette Paladino recently posted…Inc. 500 Ratchets Up Social Media EngagementMy Profile

  13. Glad you found the post thought provoking Donna. As someone who has always rebelled against labels, I confess it was a bit challenging to tackle a topic like this because in one sense it really does seem like word play. But as I mentioned in the article, my intention is to encourage readers to focus on the behaviors associated with the concepts more than worrying about which label they apply. Thanks for sharing and contributing to the conversation!

  14. Hi Marquita,

    What an interesting view Self Esteem vs Self Respect. You have brought to light the difference between the two. I guess I have bee using the word Esteem when I really mean Respect. Not that is etched in my mind and I thank you for that.

    I can see clearly now how all the talk about self esteem doesn’t mention respect of self and all you listed above about those who have self respect. You know I will spread this one around because so many people, as I, need this clarification.

    Thanks a million,

    Donna Merrill recently posted…Build Momentum And Ride The WaveMy Profile

  15. Excellent points Erica and you are so right! The better we feel about ourselves, the less we need external validation. But to get to that point requires learning to be true to ourselves and that brings us full circle to respect. It goes back to that old saying, “If you’re looking for that one person who can really make a difference in your life, look in the mirror.” Thanks for sharing and contributing to the conversation. 🙂

  16. Well said, Sabrina. Not to go too far off track, but as someone who experienced bullying firsthand when I was in school, I could help but draw a parallel when I was researching this topic because so much of that bad behavior is caused by peer pressure and the desperate need to belong at any cost. It’s far easier to dodge that kind of thinking when you respect yourself. Thanks for sharing and contributing to the conversation. 🙂

  17. Excellent points Ken. I’m glad you enjoyed the post and appreciate your taking time to share your thoughts.

  18. Erica says:

    Thanks for clarifying the difference between the two. I like the focus on self-respect because that is a focus based on action. You can’t see how someone feels about themselves. But you can see how they treat themselves as well as others. I’ve noticed in the past that a lot of women who seem to possess confidence will treat themselves without respect. And I’ve always secretly suspected that type of behavior had to be linked to low-esteem. I would imagine that someone lacking confidence would do better by focusing first on altering behavior before adjusting the way they feel. And as self-respect improves, self-esteem will hopefully follow.
    Erica recently posted…10 Brilliantly Fun Ways to Reclaim Your HealthMy Profile

  19. Thank you for clarifying the difference between Self-esteem and self-respect. Instead of parents looking to bring up a child with good self-esteem, it’s better to show them that we (as parents) have self-respect for ourselves and in turn, will show them that they should be respectful of themselves. Respecting oneself is so important. You live with you 24 / 7. Thank you for sharing.
    Sabrina Quairoli recently posted…Homemade Sausage Ragù RecipeMy Profile

  20. Ken Dowell says:

    You have very clearly described the difference between self-esteem and self-respect. The thing that makes me uncomfortable with those who focus on self-esteem is that it just sometimes isn’t justified. Self-esteem can be a very surface value. You can develop self esteem by making a lot of money or by having a very attractive physical appearance. It can all seem very shallow. Self-respect, on the other hand, as you’ve described it, gets below the surface and has a more genuine feel about it.

  21. Thank you Ramona for your thoughtful comment, and especially your kind words. I’m so pleased you found value in the article and love the insights you’ve shared! 🙂

  22. Thanks for letting me know you found value in the post Dave. 🙂 It is a challenging topic because so much information out there effectively blends the two concepts, but for me, the dividing line is that self-esteem relies on external validation while self-respect comes from within and not only builds confidence it frees you from the expectations of others and society in general. On a day-to-day basis this may seem trivial, but if you’re going through a major change or dealing with adversity, the difference can have a huge impact on how you manage these life altering events.

  23. Marquita, thank you for a superb blog post! I recently had an animated conversation with a friend (a minister researching for a Sunday talk) about this very topic. She was animated in sharing pretty much all that you’ve shared here. As she spoke, I took it all in, nodding my head in agreement. That self-respect is far more vital than any notion of self-esteem makes a world of sense.

    Self-esteem, it seems to me, is often at the mercy of the wind. If others respond favorably to “Miss Y,” her self-esteem goes up. If others give Miss Y a dirty look or say unkind things, she’s a basket case until she manages to convince herself that she really is “a good and worthwhile person.” She may ask her friends to help her in the convincing. I expect that we have all been there.

    [As you point out, some criminals have high self-esteem. If they happen to be narcissists or downright amoral, they probably are not at the mercy of anything except, perhaps, their pride.]

    Self-respect, on the other hand, is not so much the wind-blown leaf of the tree as it is the bottom trunk or roots of the tree. Barring a natural disaster (trauma) that might uproot the tree, it is solid in what it is and needs no agreement from other trees. And, of course, this is metaphor. Trees cannot replant their roots, but people can recover from trauma with a new-found level of dignity.

    If one grows up in an abusive environment, development of healthy self-respect may be difficult, but it can be done. The desire to learn and grow helps the maturation process. Also, what you call “authentic compassion” truly is a potent force, as you say. Self-compassion is part of the potent force and helps self-respect to grow.

    Again, Marquita, thank you for this excellent post. I hope you get it published elsewhere too.
    Ramona McKean recently posted…Omy K’s Story, the Healing Power of PurposeMy Profile

  24. Dave says:

    I must admit that I am one of those that see the two words, self-esteem and self-respect, and interchange them without thinking twice. You have put an end to that habit, in the best way possible 🙂

    I can see now where self-esteem is certainly a worthwhile character trait to adopt given it is pointed in the right direction. But, I can also see where it also seems more like you pulling the wool over your own eyes. I see the ideal of self-respect as a much healthier trait to embrace and cultivate in our lives.

    You’ve done a fantastic job of not only delineating the differences between self-esteem and self-respect. But, you’ve also given some great ways to work on improving self-respect through the bullet list you provide. Well done, Marty, as always! Thanks for sharing 🙂
    Dave recently posted…Politically Correct – Part IIMy Profile

  25. I’m so pleased you enjoyed the article Doreen! It sounds like you have a wonderful family that instilled some very important life lessons. Thanks for sharing and contributing to the conversation. 🙂

  26. Yea, you know I almost didn’t share that tidbit about Manson, but while researching this article I came across the analogy in 3 separate pieces so finally decided to include it. As I said, extreme, but it definitely creates a strong visual. Glad you found value in the article Rose and thanks for contributing to the conversation. 🙂

  27. Thanks for your kind words Mark, and I’m so glad you found value in the article. I think it’s an important area that is all too often overlooked. Always appreciate your thoughtful insights and sharing. 🙂

  28. I love this post, Marty, as it reminds me of my upbringing.

    My father held a tremendous level of self-respect, and through his words and actions, taught me the same. I am so grateful for the example he set for me, as it encouraged me to be strong and self-reliant. And the example my mother set for me taught me how to love people and love myself. I salute them both!
    Doreen Pendgracs recently posted…embark on a northern safari to ChurchillMy Profile

  29. What a great sentence, “The great thing about self-respect is no one can take it away from you and it frees you from the expectations of others.”
    I can see where, in today’s world, there would be a huge disconnect between esteem and respect–meaning people just aren’t getting the difference between the two.
    The Manson illustration is harsh, but sure does make the point!
    Self-respect is the whole Man in the Mirror idea–can I look in that glass at myself and like what I see?

  30. Mark says:

    So very well said as usual M!

    And I really love both the quotes Joan Didion, in your image and the one from Stuart Schniderman.

    And as you readily point out, for whatever reasons, “self respect” does seem to often to a back seat, to it’s far more socially appealing cousin, “self esteem.”

    And I’m not really sure why that is, because clearly, given the choice, as far as I’m concerned, it’s best we continually work on developing our “self respect.”

    But that seems to offer the most long lasting, life long benefits, not just the superficiality of some short term, feel good emotional therapy!

    Thanks as always M, for articulating the seemingly complex and just boiling it down, so it’s not only simple to understand, but practical enough to apply!
    Mark recently posted…How And Why Savvy Small Business Owners Constantly Seek To Eliminate Costly Middle Man Expenses!My Profile

  31. Couldn’t agree more Donna. In fact, I came across some interesting opinions voiced by psychologists about the concept of self-esteem and more than a few referred to it as “nonsense”. I wouldn’t go that far, but I do believe that we can end up doing more harm than good when we take anything to extremes. Thanks so much for stopping by and contributing to the conversation. 🙂

  32. Thank you so much for sharing your story Phoenicia. I noticed throughout your writing you refer to your need to bolster self-esteem, but based on your comment it sounds to me like you could really use a bit more self-respect. As you pointed out yourself, referenced self-esteem is enhanced by the encouragement (validation) of others. Self-respect, on the other hand, comes from within you. Try to look at it this way – no matter how many people tell you that you are a great person or how much success you may have, if YOU don’t believe in your value, you are still going to struggle with self-esteem because the need to have others continually confirm your worth will only stop when you no longer need external validation.

  33. I certainly agree with you about the early childhood issue Lenie. I clearly recall the many times at our family gatherings when were shuffled outside to entertain ourselves and at dinner set well away from everyone else at the “kids” table. I do believe that, regardless of age or upbringing, if one becomes aware of the value of self-respect they can learn to cultivate it quite effectively. I grew up in a highly dysfunctional atmosphere, was bullied throughout school and experienced more than a few stumbling blocks when I finally escaped. I became aware of the value of self-respect in conjunction with my early efforts to learn more about resilience and just learning to embrace the notion that my worth is not dependent upon the opinions or validation of others was life altering. Thanks so much for contributing to the conversation Lenie, always appreciated!

  34. Glad you found the article thought provoking Jeri. I’ll be very honest, doing research for this piece was quite frustrating. Even when I went to my usual source for scientific research studies the list came up with 90% “Self-Esteem” with barely a mention of self-respect. I did, however, find several good articles by coaches and psychologists. Here’s a link to one in case you’d like to check it out. https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/199911/self-esteem-vs-self-respect

  35. Donna Janke says:

    I like the way you describe what self-respect is. It sounds like a solid, healthful sense of self and integrity. Self-esteem without self-respect seems kind of empty and shallow to me.
    Donna Janke recently posted…Azuero Peninsula Southeast BeachesMy Profile

  36. Phoenicia says:

    Thought provoking article Marquita.

    I have struggled with issues of low self-esteem. To he honest I did not have much to begin with so on facing ridicule at senior school, I was completely and utterly vulnerable. Up until this point I had been somewhat sheltered and sensitive but was able to manage in a comfortable, safe environment.

    Through the years, I have worked on my self-esteem – some strategies worked, others did not. It really does start from a young age and it is crucial that the respect and love comes from within. Children have to be told they are beautiful and special because when another child or adult tells them otherwise, they will question themselves.

    I have had to forgive myself for not speaking up when I should have, for not protecting myself from those who tried to belittle me.

    Writing this has been quite therapeutic.
    Phoenicia recently posted…How confident are you in saying no?My Profile

  37. lenie says:

    Marquita, I think many of the children of today have a greater chance of self-respect than we did. If, as you state, self-respect starts at birth then I know when I was growing up, and to some extent when our own children were, kids were not seen as little people with thoughts and feelings of their own.
    I see such a change in our own grandchildren. They are listened to and what they have to say is respected. They are no longer told to ‘go outside and play while the grownups talk’. This difference took some getting used to but I must admit, I rather like it now.
    lenie recently posted…Earth Day Awareness Leads April SalesMy Profile

  38. Jeri says:

    Becoming as good as a person is capable of is a lifelong endeavor that’s for sure. If we’re changing we’re not settling. I’ve been thinking a lot about self-esteem lately and how various people struggle with it. Maybe I should be looking more into self-respect as the term I’m looking for. Ages ago, I decided I better like myself because we are the one person we can’t get away from 😉 Mostly, that’s been a good path to put my life on.
    Jeri recently posted…#AuthorInterview: Julie OlsenMy Profile