Practical Self-Respect: 3 Habits for Building a Healthy Self-Image

A therapist I worked with for a few years had one question he would always ask me. Almost any problem I brought to him, he would ask it. Miraculously, it still often surprised me. But, perhaps even more miraculously, it usually helped me find my way forward. The question?

“Would that raise your self-respect or lower it?”

This question appeared in almost any situation I ran into where I didn’t know how to proceed. The same was true for each moment I looked back on, trying to unpack why I felt like shit about it.

All along, self-respect has been with me. It is a quiet voice guiding me to better choices and a deep sense of contentment and internal harmony. It took me quite some time to learn to listen to this voice, but my life has been happier and easier to navigate ever since.

Here’s how it works, so you can start to hear it, too.

What is Self-Respect, and Why Is It So Important?

Self-respect is a tool we have for creating peace and satisfaction in our lives. It’s an internal heuristic that lets us look at our choices in the context of our conscience, values, and ideals. 

By treating self-respect as a guiding voice in your head, you learn to act according to your ideal view of yourself.

The natural result of consistently acting in a way that earns your own approval is that you start to hold yourself in higher regard. In other words, when you act out of self-respect, you build self-respect.

When this feeling burns intensely at your core, it leads you down a course of treating yourself well and building a life that makes you feel happy and healthy.

Inversely, if you repeatedly make choices that you cannot respect, your image of yourself will depreciate. And so will the way you treat yourself and allow others to treat you. When you have little respect for yourself, you devalue what you feel you deserve.

Self-Esteem vs. Self-Respect

There’s a similar term you may associate with self-respect: self-esteem. People often throw the two around interchangeably, but are they the same?

Both self-esteem and self-respect describe a feeling, the same feeling. That is the feeling of calm confidence in who you are and what you’re worth. It’s a feeling of understanding and appreciating yourself.

When your self-respect (or self-esteem) is low, you’re likely to act out of line with your values, view (and treat) yourself negatively, and cause others pain or discomfort due to insecurity. But when this feeling is high, you get the opposite. You are more likely to be confident in your abilities, proud of your accomplishments, and better equipped to advocate for yourself.

But that’s where the definition of self-esteem ends. On the other hand, self-respect goes on to describe the act of building that feeling.

It is something you feel, but it’s also something you do. So when you act out of self-respect, the natural result is that you will feel self-respect. And that’s why it’s the term we’re focusing on here. It’s not just the state we want to reach but how we’ll get there.

What Does Self-Respect Look Like in Practice?

Self-respect, very much like a personal mission statement, is a tool that uses your values to guide you to a happier life. In contrast to a mission statement that takes upfront work to distill into a sort of physical “artifact,” self-respect is a little less tangible but no less real. 

Imagine a sort of internal meter that tells you whether your choices are getting you “hotter” or “colder” in the search for a you that you admire. Almost like some kind of thermo-type meter, someone should come up with a name for that. Anyway…

When you’re facing a tough choice, but you have a gut feeling telling you which is the “right” call, the chances are that’s your sense of self-respect speaking to you. It’s saying, “I’m getting warmer! This is the decision the best version of me would make, so that’s what I should do.”

On the flip-side, when you look back on a moment in your life and regret your actions, that is probably your self-respect speaking up also. In this case, it’s saying, “Nope, getting colder. That was not acting in line with my ideal self. That was me acting like someone I don’t respect very much, and now I feel less respect for myself.”

Practical self-respect means listening to this internal thermo-meter (seriously, I think we could be onto something here) and learning to follow its guidance.

When you reach a fork in the road, take the path that you would respect yourself more for taking. And don’t be afraid to look back, from time to time, on an uncomfortable moment you’re not proud of, and ask if self-respect didn’t have a lesson there for you to learn about yourself.

How to Practice Self-Respect (3 Everyday Habits)

I’ve said that self-respect is not only something you have but something you do. So let’s get into how you do it.

Here are three simple daily habits you can practice to help you move toward a life of deep, lasting self-respect.

Work for Your Own Approval

The only way that self-respect can work is from the inside out.

It’s not some outside-in, “fake it till you make it” kind of ordeal. This kind of confidence builds from deep within by listening to yourself for guidance. That is its strength. That is what makes it such a healthy and powerful thing.

But that also means that no one else can give it to you. You cannot build self-respect (or any form of respect) by chasing the approval of others. Even if you can get it, their validation will not translate into much appreciation for yourself.

What people respect are principles, integrity, and healthy confidence. And those things can only come from following your compass. Chasing the respect of others makes it harder to get

Work to earn your own approval first, and ignore what you think others will admire. Instead, focus only on becoming a person you can respect more and more. And strangely enough, this will almost always garner healthy respect from others anyway.

Remember the (Entire) Golden Rule 

The golden rule. Nearly every language, culture, or philosophy in history has arrived at some form of the idea: Treat others the way you want to be treated. 

It’s a great lesson in empathy. Every time we follow it, we come one step closer to a world where we all treat each other better. But let’s not forget its equally important and oft-missed corollary:

The Golden Rule, Corollary 1 – Treat yourself the way you want to be treated.

Consider how you treat others when you intend to be kind, respectful, or loving. Do you always treat yourself the same way? Because too often, the answer is a quick “NOPE.”

self-respect quotes treat yourself the way you want to be treated

It’s a great thing to put a high premium on the happiness of another person. But why are we so quick to discount the same for ourselves?

Remember, to have respect for yourself, you need to show respect for yourself. You deserve every bit as much love as everybody else. And you need to be the first person to show it to yourself.

When you ignore your wants and needs in this way, you also open the door for others to mistreat you. Because if you constantly put yourself down or treat yourself as undeserving, it won’t seem that weird to you when a toxic friend, family member, or boss does it. 

Self-respect is valuable not just for the more positive self-image it gives you but because healthy self-respect can send you warning signals when others mistreat you. It tells you when something isn’t right and when it’s time to advocate for yourself and say, “No.” 

Ask the Question

Remember the question from the beginning of this article that I keep needing to revisit for myself:

“Will this raise my self-respect or lower it?”

The question is deceptively simple and immensely impactful. It has shown me the way through more situations than I can count. 

Every choice you make, and every action you take can raise or lower your respect for yourself. Choices are everything when it comes to lasting happiness. So think about which way you want to pull that lever.

Remember, what you respect is what you value. And this question is a shortcut to using your values as a guide. It separates the feelings of the present moment from the cool brilliance of your core beliefs. 

When you feel stuck at any point in your life, great or small, not sure which way to go, let self-respect help point the way. Take the road that most closely fits your values, and you’ll arrive at a greater sense of self-worth every time.

Remember, in order to have respect for yourself, you need to consistently show respect for yourself. You deserve every bit as much love as everybody else. And you need to be the first person to show it to yourself.

When you ignore your own wants and needs in this way, you open the door for others to mistreat you, too. Because if you constantly put yourself down, or treat yourself as undeserving, it won’t seem that weird to you when a toxic friend, family member, or boss does it. 

Self-respect is valuable not just for the more positive self-image it gives you, but because healthy self-respect can give you warning signals when you are being mistreated. It tells you when something isn’t right, when it’s time to advocate for yourself and say, “No.” 

3. Ask the Question

Remember the question from the very beginning of this post, the one that I’ve needed to be reminded of so many times:

“Will this raise my self-respect, or lower it?”

The question is deceptively simple, and immensely effective. It has shown me the way through more situations than I can count. 

Every choice you make and every action you take can either raise or lower your respect for yourself. Choices are everything when it comes to lasting happiness. So think about which way you want to pull that lever.

Remember, what you respect is what you value. And this question is a shortcut to using your values as a guide. It separates the feelings of the present moment from the cool brilliance of your core beliefs. 

When you feel stuck at any point in your life, great or small, not sure which way to go, let self-respect help point the way. Take the road that most closely fits your values, and you’ll arrive at a greater sense of self worth every time.

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Hey, I’m Sam. I created this blog to explore big ideas, both old and new, about building a better life. My mission is to evolve the conversation about personal growth and have fun doing it.

7 thoughts on “Practical Self-Respect: 3 Habits for Building a Healthy Self-Image”

  1. When I read your blog it is definitely how I feel. Especially this blog on building self respect. As I said I feel this way and never really had words to describe it. Your words make a difference. Thanks for publishing them on this blog

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