- It’s easier to respect others if you respect yourself.
- Self-respect helps you make decisions in your own best interests, as well as stand up for others.
- Self-respect is made up of the same forms of respect we give other people—considering, empathising, admiring—but applied to ourselves.
- You can consider your own innate human worth, dignity and rights.
- You can empathise with your own past experiences, and understand how you got to where you are.
- You can take pride in our qualities, achievements and relationships.
- You can maintain your respect when people challenge it by reaffirming your rights, reaching out for support, and standing up for the rights of others.
You’ll respect others more if you respect yourself
We talk a lot about respecting other people, but it’s easier to both give and expect respect if you first respect yourself.
With self-respect, you’re more likely to:
- Make decisions that are in your best interests: Having self-respect gives you the conviction to look after yourself, making it less likely that you’ll go along with something that you don’t agree with and are not proud of—when you don’t need to kiss that person, you don't need to drink that drink, you don’t need to send that nude, if you don’t want to.
- Call out disrespectful behaviour and norms: Respect is influenced by our culture and social norms. If you respect yourself, and believe others are entitled to the same respect, then you are more likely to call out disrespectful behaviour and norms.
If you know a bunch of guys trolling girls on social media, self-respect can give you the inner resolve to call that out. If your girlfriend is telling everyone about going through her boyfriend’s phone, self-respect can help you to decide to call that out.
Social norms change when we stand up for what we think is acceptable or unacceptable, and self-respect gives you confidence because you believe in that you are entitled to be treated a certain way, and that other people are too.
But what does it mean to respect yourself?
Is it considering your own rights? Empathising with your own experiences? Admiring your own accomplishments?
The short answer is yes, it’s all the same forms of respect—simply applied to yourself.
Considering your own rights
The first step in developing self-respect is to recognise that, as a human being, you are worthy of other people’s respect for your basic freedoms and rights. Other people don’t have to like or admire you, but they should always consider your rights and restrain themselves from moving the line on you.
You don’t need to develop this level of self-respect; it’s not something you need to earn or build up to. It’s like a light that you can just switch on by accepting that it’s true, that it’s a commitment we made as a society decades ago when we signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Having this level of self-respect should give you a basic sense of confidence, self-worth, and dignity.
Empathising with your own experiences
The second step in developing self-respect is building a better understanding of who you are and where you come from. What experiences have shaped you in your life? What relationships and circumstances? What opportunities and limitations?
And what do you think is the essentially true part of you - the part of you that would be the same regardless of your outer world? How does that core part of you affect the way you engage with the world?
It doesn’t matter whether any of these answers make you feel good or bad about yourself. What’s important is that you can see the river of experiences that brought you to this point, that you can understand who you are and where you come from, and that you can empathise with yourself.
This level of respect could give you all sorts of feelings, from calm or appreciation through to a hunger to make a change.
Finally, the cherry on the top of self-respect is to consider everything about yourself that you can be proud of.
One of the most dangerous things we do is compare ourselves to others. We are often aware of our own flaws or failures, and we look at other people who seem to be so much better, happier, more successful than us. Sometimes this inspires us, or teaches us, but sometimes it eats away at our own self-worth.
A third step in building self-respect is to turn away from other people for a little while and just look at ourselves, consider ourselves honestly, but with appreciation.
What about yourself can you honestly feel proud of? Could it be personal qualities? Your sense of humour, kindness, humility, courage, intelligence, strength, speed or resilience?
Could it be achievements, however small? A gift you gave, a favour you did, a story you wrote, a beat you made, a test you passed or an award you won?
Could it be relationships? Your bonds with friends, family, partners, community?
Any of these can be a source of pride, and with that you can admire yourself. Not like totally worship yourself or anything—settle down—but you can have honest pride in something well done.
Having this type of self-respect can make you feel brighter, braver and stronger.
Can’t think of anything?
Get your friends to write down what they think you should be proud of. Sometimes the people around us see us more clearly than we see ourselves.
How do you maintain self-respect when it is being challenged?
We’ve said you are entitled to basic self-respect—meaning the consideration of your individual rights and freedoms—just by being a person. And beyond that are optional extras—empathising with yourself, and taking pride in your qualities and achievements.
But what if other people don’t agree with you? How do you maintain self-respect if other people say you’re not worthy of rights, empathy or admiration?
Here are three suggestions:
1. Reaffirm to yourself that we are all entitled to basic respect
Our community recognises the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—meaning we all agree to give each other basic personal respect, end of discussion. Nobody can take that away from you, or declare you unworthy. You might not be able to change their minds, but reaffirm for yourself that you are right and they are wrong.
2. Recruit supporters and allies
If somebody wants to rob you of your basic humanity, that’s bad. If you declare your own worth and value, if you stand up for your own self-respect, most people will back down.
But if the other person responds by doubling down and denying you that respect, then the best advice is to get support. Don’t confront a situation like that on your own. Recruit friends, family, bystanders or community members, or call on professionals like school staff, Headspace, 1800-RESPECT, or the police.
These people might not be able to help you solve all your problems straight away, but at the very least they can help confirm for you that you are indeed worthy of respect, and that the other person is wrong to deny you that, and help you figure out a plan of action that works for you.
3. Stand up for others
One effective way to reinforce your own self-respect is to stand up for the respect of others.
Respect is a universal value; it is made stronger and more valuable the more people recognize and participate in it.
So standing up for the respect and rights of others - showing your commitment to our shared humanity – can help reinforce your own self-respect.