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Posts Tagged ‘self respect’

What does it mean to respect yourself?

That is a question one of my friends asked on my last post, and I’ve been thinking about possible answers ever since. I’ve gotten to the point where I have a good idea of what respecting myself feels like, but as it turns out, putting that feeling into words is not without its challenges.

So I took myself off to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, which defines respect as an act of giving particular attention. When we act with respect, we act with consideration. It’s also defined as high or special regard, i.e. esteem. So when we are talking about respecting ourselves, no surprise, we are talking about self-esteem and self-consideration.

It’s hard to talk about self-respect sometimes because we live in a culture in which confidence is sometimes equated with arrogance and self-consideration is sometimes equated with selfishness. And of course, arrogance and selfishness are attitudes that many of us strive to avoid, to the point that we can end up overcompensating. Which is why Matthew McConaughey’s point that it’s easier to respect others when we’re already respecting ourselves is so critical.

I think of self-respect as fostering a relationship with ourselves. Just as we put in a lot of time and effort building our relationships and friendships with other people, so we can put in time and effort into our relationship with ourselves. Getting to know ourselves, and getting to know how to take care of ourselves and what we need to function well are fundamental acts of self-respect.

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I can’t talk about self-respect without bringing up boundaries. Setting and keeping healthy boundaries is also an act of self-respect. Some people do this so automatically they don’t even have to think about it. And some of us have to practice and do this a lot more explicitly.

It is harder to maintain self-respect (or learn it in the first place) if you spend a lot of time in an environment in which you are not receiving external respect. When you’re with people who don’t value your opinion, your comfort, or your emotional or even physical boundaries, it becomes easy to internalize these attitudes of disrespect. And of course, it’s in these people’s best interests that you do so, as it is perpetuates the dysfunctional system. This is one of the reasons why mindfully choosing the people with whom we spend time and develop intimacy is so important.

What does self-respect mean to me personally? I’ve made a little list.

  • Taking care of my physical needs, such as doing my best to get enough sleep, eat good food when I’m hungry, rest and recover when I’m sick, etc.
  • Taking care of my emotional needs, such as having people in my life with whom I don’t have to pretend when I’m having a hard time, reaching out for support, doing self-care, fostering supportive connections with others, doing activities that make me happy, taking alone time when necessary, etc.
  • Taking care of my mental needs, like engaging in projects that I find challenging and interesting, trying new things, learning, asking questions, having an artistic outlet, etc.
  • Prioritizing my time and energy for people and activities that are generally positive to my well-being.
  • Setting and enforcing appropriate boundaries, and surrounding myself by people who support this.
  • Protecting myself from the disrespectful behavior of others.
  • Taking ultimate responsibility for my decisions, which also means not being too easily swayed by others’ opinions.
  • Embracing who I am and where I come from.
  • Being kind to myself and relaxing my perfectionism as much as possible; recognizing my own humanity and fallibility.
  • Being my own best friend.

What does self-respect mean to you?

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Elizabeth Bear recently wrote an essay in which she stated her intention to try not to self-denigrate herself out loud. You should go read it because it is thought-provoking and also because she references Sondheim in an awesome way, and who doesn’t love that?

That being said, it was a painful essay to read, at least for me. Yes, a great step would be for people to keep those tenacious feelings of self loathing to themselves so they don’t model them for others. Perhaps without the vocalization and implicit validation of those feelings, they will even lessen over time. But I can’t help but see the tragedy that those feelings of self-hatred and self belittlement are so prevalent in the first place.

In the comments section for the post, there is some mention of bragging, and how terrible it would be if one were to accidentally brag. (Okay, that’s not actually what is said, but that’s how it translated in my own head.) I mean, really, didn’t you know the world will END if you brag? Especially if you are a woman. Heaven forbid that you actually appreciate something awesome about yourself and want to share it with others. Heaven forbid that you give yourself a public pat on the back like I did last week. (And yes, I felt fairly uncomfortable about doing that, which was a signal to myself that it was important to do.) Humility is a great trait to embrace, but according to a recent Psychology Today blog post, “humble people are not self-deprecating but rather accurate in how they regard and present themselves.” And that is a big difference indeed.

I see this kind of unproductive behavior all the time. I talked to a friend this weekend who knows she is under charging for her valuable services. This is not the first friend I’ve talked to with this problem. I’ve talked to award-winning writers who are convinced they suck. On Twitter, a friend was talking about her husband, and how he gets a fabulous performance review every time at work, and then within a week or so he’s already back to worrying about how he’s doing. So many of us have so much trouble embracing our strengths and talents and believing in ourselves.

I recently read some blogging advice that said that in every post, you should be revealing all of your own weaknesses and mess-ups and personal disasters because that is what people like to read. And it’s true, there is a certain appealing rawness to that sort of writing, and certainly it’s not always the most helpful or communicative (or honest) to set oneself up as perfect. But aren’t success stories also instructive? Do I really have to focus only on the parts of me I don’t like in order to engage an audience? We as a culture seem to have this idea that we aren’t allowed to acknowledge our own awesomeness. Instead we wallow in insecurity and resentment, and at our low point, we try to tear other people down because we can’t raise ourselves up.

Photo by Kate McCarthy

Well, screw that! I love that Elizabeth Bear shows how this kind of behavior doesn’t just hurt ourselves, it hurts the people for whom we are role models–it is particularly brilliant because it tricks people into healthier behavior by playing on their concern for others. But can we take it a step further? Let’s have this concern for ourselves. Let’s acknowledge when we do something well, or when we come through in a difficult situation, or when we face our fears and do important work anyway. Let’s acknowledge that we are allowed to have something to say, that we are allowed to have opinions, that we are allowed to value our own expertise. Let’s acknowledge that we are worth it.

And let’s all take a moment to brag and celebrate our own awesomeness. (Oh, the horror!) Leave me a comment and tell me something amazing about you. It can be something small, like the way you rocked your To-Do list yesterday, or it can be something large, like how you raised millions of dollars for charity. Tell me how great you look in that outfit, or how many books you read last year, or the amazing high score you got on your GRE/SAT/whatever test you want. Tell me about the awards you’ve been nominated for (or won!), or the way you totally helped someone out, or how you met one of your goals. The sky is the limit, and the only rule is, you have to brag. About yourself.

I’ll start us off. I sold six stories in my first year of selling anything at all. I am super smart. I have a great smile. I spend most of my time doing things that I love and/or really care about. I read thirty books in the past three months. I am a passionate and dedicated blogger. I am an intellectual bad ass.

Yeesh, that was uncomfortable. And now it’s your turn. Guilt-free bragging! Who’s with me?

I can’t wait to read about how amazing you all are.

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Some of my astute readers might have noticed that I initiated a massive life re-haul and personality shift this year. I have written a fair amount about being a people pleaser, developing a backbone, and being a perfectionist because these were things that were on my mind. I decided, somewhere in the haze of extreme tooth pain, that I needed to change, and I set about doing just that.

I’m still in the middle of it. It has already been completely worth it.

It is one of the hardest things I’ve done.

Here is what I have learned: You have to respect yourself. You have to believe that you are worth it. And you have to do whatever it takes to convince yourself you are worth it, even if it means muttering silly mantras to yourself and being glad you work at home so no one suspects you are crazy.

I have spent my entire life believing that if only I was good enough (oh, hey perfectionism), people would love me, respect me, and treat me well. I really wish this were the case, but I was flat-out wrong. The truth is, if you are willing to let something happen, the odds are that it will happen. If you are willing to tolerate being lied to, then people will lie to you. If you are willing to let people ignore you, then they will. If you don’t take a stand against bad behavior towards yourself, then that bad behavior will continue. The world doesn’t give you a voice, you have to demand it.

And in order to demand the respect you deserve, you have to give it to yourself first. You have to believe you are worth it.

Photo by Anita Hart

This self-respect is not the same as thinking you are perfect and infallible and can’t possibly make a mistake. Therein lies another problem (oh, hey narcissism). And it doesn’t preclude feeling compassion for people, even (and especially) the ones who are in the middle of making your life difficult.

What self-respect does give you is the ability to empower yourself. It gives you the choice of surrounding yourself with people who will lift you up instead of pulling you down. It gives you the chance to speak up. It gives you permission to refuse to take on every single problem as your own, when so many of them aren’t really yours at all. It gives you the strength to confront the parts of yourself that you don’t like. It gives you the space to say “No.”

No, I am not your bitch. But thanks for asking.

Remember that you are worth it. That is what I have learned this year.

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Last week I wrote about some of the symptoms of being a people pleaser, and I promised to share techniques I’ve used to move away from that behavior. I wish I could write an article entitled “How to Become the Happier and More Assertive You in Four Easy Steps,” but the truth of the matter is that it probably won’t be easy, and some of the strategies I’ve used might not work for you. Whenever we set out to change ourselves, especially in such a significant way, we are engaged in the personal equivalent of scaling Mount Everest. Should we set such lofty goals for ourselves? YES! But we also need to pace ourselves, be gentle to ourselves, and expect some setbacks along the way.

I’ve found the following to be helpful:

1. Blogging: Yes, you already know how in love with blogging I am. But there’s a neat side effect that helps with assertiveness. In order to write a decent blog, I have to share my thoughts and opinions on a regular basis. Twice a week, in fact. And people read them. After blogging for over nine months, I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable sharing my thoughts and opinions in person as well. It’s begun to feel natural because I do it so often.

And for those of you saying, “But no one would read my blog,” I would respond that what matters the most about this technique is that you’vre sharing your opinion and you’re making it public. Even if tons of people aren’t reading, they could read anytime in the future. Especially if you link your blog posts to your Facebook and Twitter accounts, which I think you should do. It’s about the practice of entering a certain frame of mind more than it’s about page view numbers.

2. Providing structure: When we know that we are people pleasers, there are certain aspects of our behavior that we can predict. For example, I know that I’m going to struggle to say no in many situations. Especially in situations that regularly repeat themselves, we can create a framework to help us behave in the way we want to behave rather than the way we tend to behave.

Even though I’m a people pleaser, I started a service-oriented business. Can you imagine all the things that could go wrong with that combination? But right from the beginning, I was extremely dedicated to my business policy. I spent a few years tweaking it until it worked the way I wanted it to work, and then I made every client sign the policy before we’d start lessons. That way, whenever I had to say no–and there were many, many such times–I had a template I could fall back on. “I hear that you want x, but I’m afraid that my policy states that I don’t do x.” This also protected me from worry stemming from being overly conscientious and making excuses for my clients, because since they had signed the document, I knew they knew what our agreement was. (Other examples of creating structure might be a weekly scheduled and inviolate “me time” or a strict definition of when a certain task is “finished” to avoid over perfectionism.)

3. Insisting on respect and surrounding ourselves with supportive people:This is a tricky one because as people pleasers, we aren’t very good at this. We want to believe the best of everyone, we want everyone to like us, we want to help everyone because we have such an overflow of empathy, and we attract people who are at best inattentive and at worst may be trying to take advantage of an easy target. Sometimes it is easy for us to believe that everyone lives like this. Well, news flash: They don’t.
Interestingly, what I’ve found is that when I’m able to present myself in a more confident and assertive manner, I stop attracting many of the people who want to take advantage of my niceness (and those I do attract, I tend to recognize more quickly). And I’m able to present myself better when I’m not weighed down by said people. A bit of a Catch-22, isn’t it? We don’t want to let go of our unhealthy relationships because then we’ll be lonely, but until we do, we won’t meet more supportive people, and guess what? We’ll still be lonely.That’s why I use the word “insisting” above. Do you know how many times a week I tell myself, “Amy, you deserve to be treated well” or “Amy, you are interesting and worthy of respect” or “Stop being so hard on yourself, you’re doing the best you can?” Well, it depends on how bad a week I’m having, but it’s usually many, many times. I’m in the process of reprogramming the way my brain responds, so the more repetitions, the better. Eventually I begin to really believe it, and then I find myself arguing with the car salesman who is being rude to me (something I would never have done even a year or two ago). Even though it’s difficult at first, I think aggressive setting of boundaries can be very helpful when people pleasers are trying to create an environment for themselves that involves more mutual respect.

4. Exploring root causes and putting your foot down: Ultimately there is probably a reason (or many reasons) why we are people pleasers. Our behavior had to start somewhere, right? At some point we had to decide (often unconsciously) that being a people pleaser was a good life strategy. Maybe we had an important role model who was a people pleaser. Maybe our people pleasing behavior was rewarded in certain ways (or maybe other behavior was punished). Maybe our contributions were devalued, or perhaps we took society’s “good girl” myth a little (or a lot) too far. If we address our behavior from its root cause, the results can be dramatic. Once we’ve identified the cause, we have a better understanding of our behavior, and from understanding comes empowerment. (Sometimes we’ll do this backwards, acting in an empowered way as we’ve been practicing, and then realizing the root cause from the results. Either way works.)

This is a hard but rewarding journey. Some people in your life won’t be too happy about your growing self-respect. This is sad but inevitable, and will cause conflict (the conflict you may have been avoiding all this time). Other people will be cheering you on the whole way. And you may begin to feel more like the real you, an amazing person who’s just been waiting for a chance to shine.

And now, dear readers, it’s your turn. Any additional strategies or examples you can share? (I love examples because they allow us to visualize possibilities.) I’d love to hear from you!

Edit: I’ve written more about being assertive here.

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