Many of our societies are concerned with matters of self-esteem. Self-respect, on the other hand, may hold the key to getting the peace of mind we seek. “Esteem” means to hold something in high regard. “Respect” means to accept it, even if it’s not perfect. With self-respect, we like ourselves because of who we are – not because of what we can or cannot do…
And no one knows this better than writer Joan Didion.
Today, it is perhaps her beautiful essay “On Self-Respect,” in the pitch-perfect Slouching Towards Bethlehem, which is the most powerful writing on the subject. Its brilliance will stop you dead over and over again; such is Joan Didion’s ability to analyze a person, a place or a concept and then articulate her thoughts.
She describes the phenomenon of self-respect as follows:
Without it, one eventually discovers the final turn of the screw: one runs away to find oneself, and finds no one at home… To live without self-respect is to lie awake some night, beyond the reach of warm milk, phenobarbital, and the sleeping hand on the coverlet, counting up the sins of commission and omission, the trusts betrayed, the promises subtly broken, the gifts irrevocably wasted through sloth or cowardice or carelessness. However long we postpone it, we eventually lie down alone in that notoriously uncomfortable bed, the one we make ourselves. Whether or not we sleep in it depends, of course, on whether or not we respect ourselves.
Sometimes self-respect is called “moral strength.” Sometimes “character.” Sometimes “nerve.” Either way, to have the sense of one’s self-worth is potentially to have everything. Having self-respect is to be able to love. With no self-respect, Joan Didion argues, we secretly hate ourselves and cannot understand those who would choose to love us. We feel pressured to live out other peoples’ false notions of us. But ask yourself this: what is more important to you – having other people like you or liking yourself? Exactly.
According to Joan Didion’s teachings, how can we learn to respect ourselves more?
Well, you can start by asking yourself this question: What do I need to do, and what do I need to NOT do, to be able to really look honestly at myself and be okay with who I see? That’s a good gauge. If there’s plenty that you’d like to change, then that’s okay. In fact, it’s normal. But check these pointers out and see if you can’t start living with more self-respect.
Become Aware Of Your Self-Respect Level
If you’re feeling low on self-respect, then ask yourself the following: What parts of my behavior have contributed to my feeling this way? What can I do differently next time so that I respect myself more?
Really Get To Know Yourself
The more you understand about yourself, the more you’ll appreciate your own unique qualities. Discover your principles, your personality, and your talents – we’ve all got them! Set your own standards, don’t live by somebody else’s!
You have to be able to forgive yourself for past mistakes. Admit that what you did was wrong, apologize if necessary, and work on moving forward to becoming the person you want to be. You are a human. You have flaws, but you’re bigger than them.
Learn How To Handle Criticism
Nobody is perfect – get over it! If someone you trust gives you constructive feedback, it’s important to really listen to the things they are telling you and use the feedback for self-improvement. They’ve probably got your best interests at heart.
Teach Others How To Treat You
The next time you say “yes” to someone when you really want to say “no,” be aware that you might be teaching the person that it’s okay to treat you this way. If someone disrespects you, stand up for yourself, and teach that person to treat you differently.
With these tips in mind, let’s stop pandering to other people’s approval and start developing our own standards. It’s not about being rude, abrasive, or pig-headed – it’s about giving ourselves a sense of self-worth and being respected as a human being!
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