How to gain self-respect, for the young and the old

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In a 1943 paper titled “A Theory of Human Motivation”, American psychologist Abraham Maslow proposed a concept known as the hierarchy of needs. This famous hierarchy takes the shape of a pyramid: at the base are the most essential, primal human needs, such as food and shelter. Towards the tip of the pyramid are psychological needs that, when fulfilled, allow us to adjust to society and the relationship with the self. These more complex and nuanced needs, including self-esteem, freedom, and self-actualization, are still vital. Although not as “basic” as needs like sleep, health, and clothing, these upper-pyramid needs are still fundamental to overall well-being and mental health.اضافة اعلان

The fourth level of Maslow’s hierarchy (out of five) bears the broad label of “esteem”, covering several specific needs. Esteem-related needs can be divided into self-esteem and “other”-esteem, or the desire for reputation and respect from those around you. Self-esteem can be further divided into three categories: self-esteem, self-worth, and self-respect. Understanding the importance of these needs and how to meet them can contribute to a whole and fulfilled life.

The esteem trifecta
These three categories are distinct, yet closely interrelated. To understand self-respect requires an understanding of the other two needs. Self-esteem is the recognition of personal qualities and characteristics that are perceived as positive. Meanwhile, self-worth is a person’s assessment of themself as a valuable and capable person who deserves respect and consideration.

In essence, self-esteem is how we evaluate our positive traits — when we have high self-esteem, it means we are honest and realistic about the things that make us special or good. If we have low self-esteem, it means we overlook our positive qualities.

Whereas self-esteem deals with only positive traits, self-worth considers all characteristics, both positive and negative. A person with high self-worth recognizes that they have negative qualities, but still are deserving of love, value, and respect. Thus, although the two are closely related, they are not the same: it is possible to have high self-worth while having low self-esteem.

‘Proper regard’
Self-respect can be defined in many ways. The American Psychological Association has a specific definition related to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. It defines self-respect as “a feeling of self-worth and self-esteem, especially a proper regard for one’s values, character, and dignity.” In order to have self-respect, then, one must have high levels self-esteem and especially self-worth. Self-respect requires a strong appreciation for your individual identity, which is based on your morals, thoughts, and behaviors.

Achieving high levels of self-respect has many benefits. First, the path to high self-respect involves recognizing inherent worth and finding happiness within. Additionally, self-respect is based off of a strong sense of morals. This means that building self-respect involves developing, defining, and upholding strong personal values, ultimately allowing you to easily establish boundaries with others.

Similarly, inner fulfillment becomes important in relationships. Although there is a natural tendency to depend on others for emotional support, self-respect allows your emotions to be independent of external factors. This independence is valuable in all forms of social relationships including friendships, familial relationships, and even workplace relationships.

Starting young
There are many factors that impact self-respect. As in most aspects of psychological well-being, self-respect is largely developed during childhood. A child learns to love and find worth within themselves when the adults in their lives see and express that worth to them. It is during childhood that people learn that they do not need to be or do anything extraordinary to deserve love and respect.

However, the ability for a child to experience this is largely contingent on whether or not the parents are also at peace with their sense of self. Parents who have high levels of self-worth and self-respect are more likely to pass these values on to their children — a gift that can last a lifetime.

Other external factors during childhood and even adulthood can affect self-respect. Superficial markers of success such as net worth, career, and achievements are important in Maslow’s hierarchy of external esteem needs. However, problems may arise if these markers of success are conflated with internal metrics of validation. Although being successful in society is important, it should not determine or define your self-worth and, by extension, your self-respect. Similarly, if you judge yourself on factors such as physical appearance and social status, it can negatively impact self-respect.

Expressing unconditional love
Building self-respect starts from childhood, especially adolescence. Everyone, regardless of whether they are parents, can help young people build their self-respect: coaches, teachers, and older role models all have an important role in the development of a child’s self-worth.

The main way to enhance a child’s self-respect and self-worth is by communicating, letting them know that they are valued and loved for being who they are and not for what they do. There are many ways to approach this vital task, but research has established two prominent methods. The first is to provide unconditional love, respect, and positive regard. When a child sees that they are loved and deserving of love, then it becomes easier for them to appreciate themselves. The second method is giving children early and frequent opportunities to succeed. As a child has successful experiences, it can help boost feeling of competency and confidence. Additionally, it also provides an opportunity for healthy risk-taking, which is fundamental to personal growth and development.

That said, it is important to formulate such opportunities for success correctly. First, these opportunities should be used to emphasize a child’s positive attributes and show themselves that they are competent. Second, the experience itself should not be responsible for improving self-worth and respect — it should only be a catalyst for discovery. Lastly, in order for the experience to be beneficial, a child should accomplish the endeavor on their own, with little to no help.

Time for some soul-searching
Although building self-worth and self-respect in adulthood is more difficult, it is by no means impossible. Worth and respect are found by first identifying your values. In order to do this, you will need to do some introspective soul-searching. You can start by asking yourself questions such as: what are the things you find important? Providing thoughtful answers to such questions can help you better understand yourself and your morals.

Next, it is important to focus on internal qualities and characteristics, not on external ones. Self-respect and self-worth are derived from your character, morals, values, and actions — so do not focus on things like appearance, net worth, and achievements. Furthermore, one of the greatest keys to self-respect is accepting yourself. We are often our own worst critics, and this is not always a bad thing — a critical view is often the starting point for improvement and growth. However, we also tend to be hypercritical, which can be harmful and inhibit growth. Focusing on your thoughts and challenging negative thinking can help you accept your own flaws, and recognize your worth despite them.

Lastly, zooming out from experiences and finding self-respect because or in spite of them can help. The way you perceive yourself should be independent of accomplishments and external factors. The more time you spend with yourself, the deeper you can understand your strengths and values. This ultimately can help you to stave off self-doubt and depend on — and respect —yourself more.

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