What is healthy self-regard? In essence, it’s looking upon and treating yourself well. And how do we come to regard ourselves in a healthy way? First, we have to see ourselves in a positive, constructive manner. How we see things matters. In fact, it’s largely true that our perceptions define our reality. So, how we view our nature, our worth, etc. makes a big difference in the regard we show ourselves.
If how we see ourselves matters, how we behave toward ourselves matters even more. Of course, these two things are very much interrelated. If we see ourselves as inadequate, defective, etc., we’re likely to treat ourselves poorly. And if we habitually abuse ourselves, we only create and reinforce negative self-perceptions. To cultivate healthy self-regard, we have to both look upon ourselves and treat ourselves lovingly.
There’s a theory in psychology that asserts a therapy client will get better if the therapist affords them unconditional positive regard. (Carl Rogers famously promoted this theory.) But many therapists have come to realize that when folks really blossom in therapy it’s because they’ve come to regard themselves well. Besides, it’s all too easy to become dependent upon someone else’s way of seeing and relating to you. And dependency is something we generally want to overcome, including in therapy.
It’s really empowering when you come to regard yourself positively. Moreover, you can only have proper regard for others when you have healthy self-regard. (More about that later!)
Unhealthy self-regard is the hallmark of character disturbance. True, disturbed characters are notorious for the problematic ways they regard others. But the problem actually starts with how they regard themselves. (See: p. 50 in Character Disturbance.) Disturbed characters neither see themselves in a healthy light, nor do they treat themselves in a healthy, balanced way.
Narcissists, for example, see themselves as inherently special and superior. They have an exaggerated sense of self-importance. And this way of seeing themselves influences how they act toward themselves. Feeling entitled, they indulge themselves. And they don’t impose appropriate limits or boundaries on themselves either. After all, as they see it, they’re above the need. Seeing and acting toward themselves in these ways, it’s no wonder they view and treat others so problematically. Others are necessarily inferior in their eyes. So, they have no reason to treat others with anything but disdain. That’s how they so easily use and abuse others in relationships.
What is Inner is Outer
What is inner is outer. That is, what’s going on inside of us has a profound influence on how we see and relate to our outer world. So, how we regard ourselves largely influences how we will regard others. Accordingly, when it comes to making positive changes in our lives, it always has to start with us. I’ve counseled far too many folks who wasted a lifetime waiting for their relationship partners to change. It’s up to us to be the change we want to see happen in our lives.
Wresting oneself from and overcoming the scars of a toxic relationship necessarily involves changing how we see and treat ourselves. Of course, that’s a difficult if you’ve been the victim of gaslighting for years. (For more on this topic see: Overcoming Gaslighting Effects.) Many gaslighting victims have come to doubt not only the validity of their perceptions but also their very sanity. A skilled manipulator’s tactics will have that effect. (See: pp. 133-137 in In Sheep’s Clothing.) So, many times, you can’t even begin the process of cultivating healthy self-regard until you’ve put distance between you and the toxic person who’s been gaslighting you. Distance helps you clear the distorted ways you may have come to think and feel. And it sets you on a path to regarding yourself in a more healthy way.
I’ll have more to say on making the inner changes necessary for growth in the coming weeks.