What Is Self-Respect?

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According to the American Psychological Association, having self-respect means having a healthy regard for your character, values, and dignity. It is a measure of your self-worth.

Self-respect demands an appreciation of your identity as an individual, which in turn impacts your thoughts, values, emotions, commitments, and behaviors, says Judith Zackson, PhD, Founder and Clinical Director of Zackson Psychology Group.

This article explains the importance of respecting yourself and suggests some strategies to improve your sense of self-respect.

Benefits of Having Self-Respect

These are some of the benefits of having a healthy sense of self-respect, according to Dr. Zackson:

  • Internal sense of happiness: People who respect themselves understand that they must first look inward to discover their worth, esteem, and happiness. As a result, their life is more stable and fulfilling than those who compare themselves to others or those who rely on external sources of validation.
  • Commitment to upholding personal values: People with self-respect have a set of morals and values by which they evaluate their character and actions. They are often willing to bet all they have on upholding these norms of behavior, as their very worth and sense of self depend on it.
  • Ability to establish boundaries: Self-respect requires people to have the fortitude to establish limits and fight for them when they are threatened. Respecting oneself enough to stand up for one’s beliefs and boundaries also helps command the respect of others.
  • Strong sense of dignity: Respecting oneself means having a strong sense of dignity toward one’s person and position, and honoring it at all times.

Judith Zackson, PhD

Self-respect is the everyday discipline of loving who you are. It is the bedrock of developing self-acceptance and self-love. It's hard, if not impossible, to live a fulfilled, meaningful, and joyous life if you don't respect yourself first.

— Judith Zackson, PhD

Potential Pitfalls of Having Low Self-Respect

Below, Dr. Zackson outlines some of the potential pitfalls of having low self-respect:

  • Relying on external validation: Individuals with low self-respect allow others to define them, rather than defining themselves. They are more concerned with how others perceive them than what actually matters to them, and often lead fake lives as a result. They have a constant need for external validation and tend to be people pleasers.
  • Living a life that lacks meaning: People who lack self-respect are unconcerned with their intrinsic values and the meaning of their lives. They are often impulsive, irresponsible, reliant on others, and self-destructive.
  • Having a negative self-view: Those with limited self-respect are more vulnerable to having a negative view of themselves, which can cause them to engage in self-defeating behaviors such as negative self-talk.
  • Developing unhealthy relationships: A balanced, wholesome view of oneself and a healthy dose of self-respect are important ingredients in healthy relationships. Without it, people have trouble standing up for themselves and maintaining their boundaries. The lack of self-respect often gets reinforced over time, and people find themselves stuck in unhealthy situations, such as abusive or manipulative relationships.

Influences on Self-Respect

Below, Dr. Zackson describes some of the factors that can influence one’s sense of self-respect in childhood and adulthood.

Childhood Influences

Self-respect, like any other lasting quality, largely develops in childhood. Children learn that it's all right for them to love themselves when their parent or caregiver loves and appreciates them for who they are.

Giving one’s full love and attention to a child is the foundation to help them value themselves. The knowledge that they do not have to do anything special to deserve love and respect will make them much less likely to place artificial limits on such feelings for themselves.

Parents who value themselves and are at peace with their sense of self are more likely to share these values with their children. It is not so much what parents do but rather who they already are that will shape a child's sense of worth. The importance of self-respect is fostered at a young age and lasts a lifetime.

Adult Influences

While childhood factors often play a far greater role in influencing one’s sense of self-respect, the influences in adulthood also matter. Factors like relationships, work, and life experiences can contribute to a person’s sense of self-efficacy and self-confidence.

How to Improve Self-Respect

Dr. Zackson shares some strategies that can help you improve your sense of self-respect:

  • Identify your values: Start by understanding yourself. Imagine suddenly losing everything you own and being left with nothing but yourself. Ask yourself: “What is important to me? What are my values? Why do I settle for less? What could remind me of my value?”
  • Keep the focus on internal qualities: Be mindful that you may get caught up in thinking that your worth as a person is due to external factors like your net worth, position, looks, possessions, or the number of followers you have on social media. Self-respect however, is about internal qualities like your character, morals, values, and actions.
  • Work on accepting yourself: Start to pay attention to your thought patterns without getting caught up in them. Concentrate on self-acceptance and let go of your harsh internal critic. Commit to forgiving yourself and accepting your flaws, bad habits, and all the things you don't like about yourself.
  • Challenge negative thoughts: Pay attention to how your negative thought patterns affect your actions. Identify your triggers for negative thoughts and rationalize them. For instance, if a negative experience or lack of specific skills causes you to automatically call yourself unworthy, it can be helpful to recognize this thought process and challenge it: “Even if I’m not great at singing, I am still worthy of love and respect.”
  • Don’t give in to self-doubt: Focus on loosening the grip of self-doubt. Nobody can make you feel unworthy of respect unless you permit them to do so. Develop a kinship with yourself and understand your strengths and values. Remind yourself that just as we have a moral obligation to respect others, we also have a moral obligation to respect ourselves.

Judith Zackson, PhD

Whenever you notice your inner critic starting to fire up, pause for a moment, challenge your thoughts as they whisper in your ear, and remind yourself that no matter what you do or don't do, you are nothing less than beautiful and worthy of self-respect.

— Judith Zackson, PhD

A Word From Verywell

Self-respect is an important part of your identity because it reflects how you view yourself, which in turn impacts every area of your life, including your relationships, work, and social life. Respecting and loving yourself is the first step toward gaining the love and respect of others.

If you have low self-respect, there are steps you can take to work on it and improve it. It may also be helpful to see a mental healthcare provider, who can help you identify your values, correct negative thought patterns, set firm boundaries, and learn to love yourself.

4 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Clucas C. Understanding self-respect and its relationship to self-esteem. Pers Soc Psychol Bull. 2020;46(6):839-855. doi:10.1177/0146167219879115

  3. Dillon R. Self-respect and self-esteem. International Encyclopedia of Ethics. Doi: 10.1002/9781444367072.wbiee221.pub2

  4. Corrigan PW, Bink AB, Schmidt A, Jones N, Rüsch N. What is the impact of self-stigma? Loss of self-respect and the "why try" effect. J Ment Health. 2016;25(1):10-15. doi:10.3109/09638237.2015.1021902

By Sanjana Gupta
Sanjana is a health writer and editor. Her work spans various health-related topics, including mental health, fitness, nutrition, and wellness.