What is Self-Respect?

What is self-respect? It's the ability to live true to yourself. Let me define self respect and why it is an essential ingredient for mental health.

WHAT IS SELF-RESPECT? In my profession, I see lots of people who feel broken. Some have been struggling for years with depression, anxiety, bipolar, etc…. but others are broken because they are afraid to be themselves. I wish I had a magic wand or even a magic pill, anything to make it easier for people to push back the blinds, stop hiding, and live true to themselves. I see self-respect as just that. Not hiding. Imagine the freedom that can come with self-respect. Let me define self-respect better for you.

Aretha Franklin: R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Although this post is written for all of you out there to encourage you to stop and reassess; it is dedicated to Aretha Franklin who just recently died. Her song, Respect, became a battle cry for African Americans and the woman’s rights movement, for everyone who felt marginalized and wanted to be respected. This song reminded people that respect was OK to ask for and helped several generations feel brave.

What is self-respect?What is self-respect? It's the ability to live true to yourself. Let me define self respect and why it is an essential ingredient for mental health.

Let me define self-respect by using some similar words that come to mind: acceptance, love, openness, confidence, resiliency, truth, wellness, values, dignity, bravery, choice.


The dictionary defines self-respect as:

1 : a proper respect for oneself as a human being. 2 : regard for one’s own standing or position.

What words would you add?


Self-respect is not entitlement, self-serving, selfishness, or narcissism.

How do you define self-respect?

Is it the same as self-confidence? Self-esteem? I don’t think so. I think the terms are related like siblings but they aren’t identical twins.


Respect means valuing your own needs. Valuing yourself. Valuing your inner being and everything that you encompass. This doesn’t mean that you value yourself to the exclusion of others, but at least equal to others.

Self-respect doesn’t even mean loving everything about yourself. We all have things we wish we could change and ways we wish we were different. Self-respect means that we continue to try to do better, love ourselves despite the things we wish were different, and live true to ourselves.

How to live trueWhat is self-respect? It's the ability to live true to yourself. Let me define self respect and why it is an essential ingredient for mental health.

Self-respect requires being in touch with one’s feelings constantly where I don’t always think self-confidence requires the same. In order for self-respect to remain intact, one needs to recognize how a situation makes you feel and respond accordingly. I think there is a certain level of self-confidence running in the background of people using self-respect, but I also think that self- respect requires acting even when not self-confident.

Self-respect needs to be considered the bottom line that doesn’t get crossed over.

How can a person reflect on how they feel in a situation?

Ask yourself:


  • Are you uncomfortable?
  • Does the situation make you feel negative or sad inside?
  • Do you feel pressured to be a certain way to live up to the expectations of others?
  • As you “go with the flow” do you feel worse inside?
  • Are you hiding because you are afraid of the reactions of others?
  • What would you tell a friend if they were in a similar situation?


The more you are able to reflect on these questions the better you will get at deciding how to respond so you can live true.


What are the consequences of ignoring your own needs?What is self-respect? It's the ability to live true to yourself. Let me define self respect and why it is an essential ingredient for mental health.


The answer to this lies in each individual’s situation. Sometimes people hide minor things about themselves… and some hide major things.

Semi-lame example of hiding minor things:

I may eat Cilantro if someone makes homemade salsa and brings it over. I am grateful they have taken the time to make that salsa but I HATE CILANTRO! However, I knowingly make the choice to eat it and take pleasure in appreciating the other person’s efforts. The only consequence is my taste buds that suffer eating that green leafy disgusting soap…. but I don’t suffer internally, because I know I have made a choice that won’t have lasting consequences.

Hiding major things?

There are a million ways people can (and do) hide who they are. One obvious example is the challenges people face coming out as homosexual. What if a person decides to pretend they are heterosexual so they don’t have to face telling their friends and family? What do you think the internal consequences of that will be? We have seen it over and over so I think we have a good idea of the answer.


Let me take a minute to say I am NOT judging people who make choices to hide. Sometimes the choices are about emotional survival. A person may need to first work on extricating themselves from a situation or finding coping strategies to better take care of themselves before they can live in a way that is consistent with who they are.

But I AM recognizing the pain that comes with hiding. I see it every day in my practice. Can a person feel totally satisfied living a life that isn’t their own? When people are hiding their true selves they are often depressed. Some are even suicidal. The path to fulfillment is paved with self-respect.


Feeling depressed? Read this post on 11 Effective Interventions for Depression.

Live trueWhat is self-respect? It's the ability to live true to yourself. Let me define self respect and why it is an essential ingredient for mental health.

I wish we could come up with a vaccine for self-respect. Something we could inoculate our kids with, allowing everyone to have a universal base to work from in life. Yes, I recognize this is wishful magical thinking but love and self-respect are the elixirs that make life tolerable… and even fun… and breed contentment and peaceful feelings. I know this inoculation takes the form of parenting in real life but all parents aren’t able to give this to their kids. And the kids that don’t get it can really struggle.


Does self-respect translate to less angst in this world? It certainly doesn’t mean hearts wouldn’t still get broken. But maybe they wouldn’t be crushed. If a person can walk away knowing that they have their own back then it makes it a lot easier to heal.

Please ask yourself these questions to assess your self-respect:

  • Who are you inside?
  • What do you stand for?
  • What matters to you?
  • Do you live in a way consistent with what matters to you and what you stand for?
  • Are you living true to yourself?
  • Would you be different?
  • Are you fearful of other’s reactions to who you truly are?
  • Does that keep you from being who you are?


Thanks Aretha!


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8 thoughts on “What is Self-Respect?”

  1. This post brings up great points. Often times people forget/push aside/ignore their own values or worth and try to change themselves to please others. Like major changes. This happens a lot when women are in relationships and put up with things they wouldn’t normally do. However, a person’s worth and self respect comes from within. Not external factors. Keeping true to oneself and being authentic is key. Great topic

  2. Yes, absolutely! Relationships are a great example. It takes a lot of self-reflection to even identify one’s own authenticity but so important for mental well-being.

  3. I was married for 31 years, never cheated, have two daughters and am a divorced 61 year old man. I have discovered some of the things that triggers my depression. Alcohol is one of the worst triggers, loneliness, intense conflict, when my kids make me feel unloved or leave me out (which is most the time), not having any plans for the weekend, self pity, anxiety, major changes, failure to forgive myself, not loving myself, not staying active and exercising. I’ve tried everything from changing churches, talking to ministers, seeing counselor, asking my kids and ex-wife for forgiveness, have been on every mood pill made, but until I decide to forgive myself, like myself and accept I’m not perfect and I haven’t wasted my life – I don’t think I will ever get better.I am still trying to find a way to be happy again.

  4. It sounds like you have a great perspective. You have a clear idea what needs to happen and it is a matter of how that gets translated. I always say its the little things that add up. Starting small and building on successes. Changing the internal dialogue from critique to love and support. Im glad you are continuing to push through this. Sometimes I think its hard to do on ones own. Therapy can be so helpful in an ongoing way. Thanks for your comment

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