Self-Respect: The Secret Sauce for Confidence, Compassion, and Contentment

Self-respect is a quiet force that often weaves its way through your entire day. It influences how you think about yourself, how you treat others, and your decisions. Learning to see it and appreciate its role as a guide is a gateway to a healthier and more positive state of mind.

Poor self-respect can lead to unhealthy choices and wounded relationships. But fortunately, we’re not left to the elements on this one. Self-respect is not a mysterious force of nature. It is the words, choices, and actions you take each day. Approaching these consciously and compassionately can lead to greater respect for yourself and all those who get the opportunity to be around you.

What Is Self-Respect?

Self-respect is a single term describing two separate but closely interrelated concepts. The first is the amount and type of respect you show yourself through your words and actions. The second is the amount and type of respect you feel for yourself internally, primarily as a result of those words and actions.

For instance, taking good care of yourself, exercising, dressing well, or setting clear boundaries with others are examples of acting with self-respect. These are actions you would take toward someone you want to be happy and well – in other words, someone you respect.

Similarly, believing you are worthy of love, appreciating your strengths, and accepting your mistakes are examples of feeling self-respect. When you have a more positive relationship with yourself, you can navigate potentially tricky situations in a more self-loving way.

Self-Respect Vs. Self-Esteem and Self-Confidence

It’s easy to mix up self-respect with similar ideas like self-esteem or self-confidence — all three terms concern how you view and treat yourself to varying degrees.

Self-esteem is the largely internal process of how you view yourself. High self-esteem typically means an appreciation for your accomplishments and characteristics. Conversely, low self-esteem involves a more negative self-image.

Self-confidence is the most outward of the three terms and mainly concerns how you present yourself to the world. For example, highly confident people are more likely to feel assured in their decision-making or comfortable with their appearance.

Self-respect is a blend of the other two terms. Remember, it is a matter of both how you treat yourself and how you view yourself, which are closely connected. How you lead your life influences how you see yourself, and vice versa, in a continuous cycle.

Whether outward or inward, thought or action, the core of these ideas is quite similar. We’re mainly focusing on self-respect today because it is the broadest of the three, but you can easily substitute self-esteem and self-confidence in many parts of the conversation.

Why Is Self-Respect so Important?

The positive impacts of self-respect are far-reaching and can affect your life in surprising ways. While mental health is a core focus of self-respect, it also directly influences your interactions with others and the path you take toward accomplishments and goals. 

Maintaining Mental Health

Building self-esteem is, first and foremost, a mental health concern. When you have high self-respect, you are more likely to take good care of yourself, act in your best interest, and have more positive self-talk.

Feeling and acting respectfully toward yourself makes you feel good and makes you more consciously aware of your best qualities. 

On the other hand, low self-esteem can be detrimental to mental health in several ways. For instance, when you have a negative image of yourself, you’re more likely to hold yourself to unreasonable standards or accept unkind treatment from others. In addition, those with low self-confidence are also more prone to negative self-talk and a harsh inner critic.

Building Healthy Relationships

Healthy relationships with others stem from a healthy relationship with yourself.

When you know how to treat yourself lovingly and ensure your needs are met, offering the same to others is easier. Self-respect often means filling your own cup first. Then, you can stand on stable footing as you show kindness and compassion to the people around you.

Low self-esteem is a common culprit behind one person’s mistreatment of another. When you see yourself in a negative light, there can be a subconscious urge to be unkind to others to cope. Insecure behavior can be incredibly corrosive to otherwise healthy relationships.

By building your self-worth, you set yourself up for more positive interactions with others, who will undoubtedly feel the radiant glow of your positive self-esteem.

Long-Term Goals, Success, and Fulfillment

Achieving long-term goals may not be your primary motivation for developing self-respect, but the two have a strong correlation.

Self-respect is a significant ingredient in achieving a major personal or professional goal. Simply put, believing you can accomplish something and are worthy of the rewards is a huge determinant of whether you will succeed. There’s a reason we make such a point of telling kids to believe in themselves: it makes a difference.

Of course, there is a difference between self-confidence and entitlement. Self-respect isn’t telling yourself that you deserve a particular achievement “just because.” Instead, it means believing you can put in the work and are worthy  of claiming the fruits of that labor. 

Self-respect also indirectly influences success and achievement. Having a healthy relationship with yourself goes hand in hand with things like taking care of your body, making room for your emotions, and getting plenty of rest. These things, in turn, all make it easier to move forward on the big, difficult things in life that take the most time and energy.

Self-Respect in Action

One helpful way to invite greater self-respect into your life is to think of it like a guide.

Imagine an internal compass that tells you whether your choices are getting you “hotter” or “colder” in the search for a version of you that you love and appreciate.

When you face a tough choice but have a gut feeling telling you which is really the “right” call, that’s often your sense of self-respect trying to guide you. It’s saying, “I’m getting warmer! This is what the best version of me would do, so that’s what I should do.”

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

Acting out of self-respect means learning to listen to this internal compass and follow its guidance.

Tips for Developing Self-Respect

Remember that self-respect is two things. It is both a way in which you can act and also how you feel about yourself. And one naturally flows into the other. Treating yourself well naturally helps you to feel good about yourself over time. 

In other words, to improve your self-respect, you need to practice it. 

Below are a few simple strategies for practicing self-respect. Integrate these into your day as simple habits, and watch them gradually boost your confidence and make you feel stronger compassion toward yourself.

Start Small

Like many pursuits that can transform your life, self-respect isn’t something you want to race through overnight. It takes patience to make gradual changes that build into a massive impact over time. That’s why it’s great to start small.

Little adjustments toward acting like a person you love will build momentum and lead to more significant changes down the road.

For instance, how you dress is often a low-hanging fruit for building self-respect. The clothes you wear help to tell yourself and the world the story of who you are. Getting dressed in your office clothes on a day you’re working from home reminds you what a focused go-getter you are. Alternatively, trying out a daring new fashion, or even a snazzy summer outfit, helps your outward image reflect who you feel you are inside.

Gradual adjustments can build into sweeping changes in how you view and feel about yourself. All it takes is one small step at a time.

Ask a Simple Question

Life often presents you with a difficult situation, obstacle, or dilemma. From professional struggles to relationship tensions or existential crises, it’s never easy to determine what to do in these moments. Next time you encounter a major debacle like this, try asking yourself a simple question:

“Which choice (or choices) would increase my self-respect, and which would lower it?”

This deceptively simple tactic is a powerful way of tapping into your intuition to guide you. By looking at self-respect before you do something rather than after, you allow your internal compass to show you the way. 

Most often, the result of this technique is making a choice that you do feel content with after the fact. Then, as these moments add up, you slowly build a life with fewer regrets and greater self-respect and contentment. 

Remember the Golden Rule

Throughout history, almost every worldwide culture, religion, and philosophy has arrived at some version of the golden rule: treat others the way you want to be treated.

It’s a simple but potent idea – if you wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of particular words or actions, it’s usually best not to subject others to them. 

What if we extend this idea and introduce a new variant of the golden rule? Treat yourself the way you want to be treated. It may sound silly – of course we should do that, why wouldn’t we? Yet many of us struggle, constantly violating this rule and lowering our self-respect.

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

Consider how you speak to yourself after a misstep, such as missing a work deadline. If a friend talked to you the same way, would it seem harsh, unkind, or even cruel? If so, that may be a good moment to remind yourself of this golden rule – treat yourself the way you want to be treated. Act toward yourself with the same compassion you would offer a friend you love unconditionally.

Common Misconceptions About Self-Respect

As valuable as self-respect can be to a happy, healthy life, there are a few ways that misunderstanding it can negatively impact you.

These pernicious ideas about healthy self-respect often surround it somehow being harmful to others. The same misconceptions tend to surround self-esteem and self-confidence as well. 

Let’s take a brief moment to understand where these ideas come from, why we don’t need them, and how they can get in the way of a positive relationship with yourself.

“I Don’t Want to Be Arrogant, Cocky, etc.”

Most people can quickly bring to mind someone they think has excessive confidence or self-esteem. This person is assertive, always sure they’re right, and proud of their accomplishments to the point of bragging. If that’s what high self-respect is, it’s no wonder many of us would want to steer clear of it.

Fortunately for us, that’s not healthy self-respect. It’s the opposite.

Often, those who lack self-esteem on the inside act with external overconfidence. Arrogance is inherently insecure. It is a mark of those lacking self-acceptance and attempting to fill it from the outside in with external validation and praise.

Self-respect and healthy self-confidence, on the other hand, work from the inside out. By focusing on your relationship with yourself first, you won’t need to chase a positive self-image at others’ expense.

“It Sounds Selfish.”

For many, treating oneself well and fostering a compassionate inner voice doesn’t come naturally. The result is often a view that self-respect is somehow unkind to others. Like you’d be taking something away from someone else by doing what’s right for yourself.

You know those ten-minute safety talks you ignore every time you board a plane? There is one incredibly valuable bit of wisdom in those talks that you may have missed. And that is the recommendation to put on your own oxygen mask before attempting to help others.

Why do the flight crew say that? Is the point that you should save only yourself in an emergency, and forget about everyone else? Of course not.

If you help others with their masks before your own, there’s a chance you could run out of air and be no help to anyone. Instead, if you take a quick moment to secure your own oxygen, you will be safer and more able to help others in need after.

Self-respect works the same way. Making sure you are safe and secure first does not mean throwing the concerns of others to the wind. On the contrary, it gives everyone involved a better chance of getting everything they need.

Respect Yo’ Self!

You may not consciously think of self-respect often, but it significantly affects your thoughts and decisions throughout the day. Much like confidence and self-esteem, it combines your inner world with how you interact with the world around you.

Healthy self-respect is associated with improved mental health, better decision-making, and confidently navigating life’s most challenging moments. Understanding this quiet-but-powerful force and its role in your life is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself for your mental health, relationships, goals, and beyond.

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Hey, I’m Sam. I created Smarter and Harder 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.

8 thoughts on “Self-Respect: The Secret Sauce for Confidence, Compassion, and Contentment”

  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

  2. Learning to respect myself is my new path in life. I was always told to treat others the way I want to be treated but never to treat myself in any kind of way. I was raised to neglect my own needs. Now I take back control of my own internal happiness. Thank you I need to learn all these tips and more,


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