Healthy Versus Unhealthy Self-Regard

Healthy Self-Regard

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

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.

8 thoughts on “Healthy Versus Unhealthy Self-Regard

  1. Very interesting article. I’m not so sure about your point concerning the unconditional positive regard offered by the therapist to the client though. You seem to imply this isn’t helpful, as it results in the client becoming dependant. However, the main idea in this therapeutic approach is that the client will in time internalise the therapist’s positive regard in the same way children internalise a good parent’s positive regard. The relationship with the therapist eventually changes the relationship one has with themselves and the therapist’s voice becomes one’s inner voice.

    1. And for abused and battered women, the unconditional positive regard offered by a counselor is so desperately needed, as it sometimes is all a victim has to counter the lies and insults and brainwashing the abuser has been and is continuing to instill in his victim. Such unconditional positive regard is a lifeline.

  2. Yikes . I hope that is not the goal . I always think of therapy as having the ultimate goal of bringing one to God . For the patient to see his Being not his doing ultimately and of course that is all about God. And I mean this in every possible therapy relationship one could have whether the patient and counselor understand that fully or not. Know that I am no authority on any of this and I acknowledge I may not have stated this clearly but I cannot think of one counseling/coaching situation where the Therapist was greater than God For me, than my reflection in God’s love and reception to my growing awareness of just how infinitely valuable my Being is to Him.
    No intention to challenge … just my experience.

    1. Peggy, Anonymous,

      I agree with both of your points. In my case I did have a Christian Counselor. What benefited me most was understanding the CD and forgiving them, not that I didn’t hold them accountable, I sure did. The forgiveness allowed me to let go and concentrate on myself and not to be alarmed by what they did. Not to say any of it wasn’t extremely difficult, it sure was, it helped to change my reactions. Also, prayer and faith in God is the medicine that pulled me through.

  3. This was so helpful. After a lifetime of abuse, neglect and gaslighting I had come to believe that I was inferior and unlovable. The more I tried to right myself, get balance and heal, the more abuse was reaped on me. So much ignorance and denial of who they were. Hard to grasp the reality that your family really does mean to harm you. I think the fact that I wasn’t hateful back infuriated them even more. I was incredibly naive.

    I do not have any contact with my family of origin. What a relief!

    I’ve gotten the distance I needed to begin healing and to build healthy self-regard and to trust my instincts and perspectives. It really is empowering!

    The gaslighting is brutal and soul crushing. Lots of loving, gentle, self care is needed.

    Much more careful now about whom I let in. First sign of abuse, narcissism or even plain ole selfishness and I back off from the person/relationship or hold my ground depending on the situation.

    In regards to the unconditional positive regard, I do need it. It is like a lifeline as Anonymous mentioned above. But I also watch to make sure it healthy and sincere…not a seduction tactic.

    I’ve found a few kind and empathetic folks and have slowly began to deepen the relationship with them.


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  5. Dr. Simon you are so right when describing how the narcissist sees themselves as superior and feels entitled to treat others with such disregard and disdain!
    How they can be so abusive and hurt others used to astound me, but as you talk about how to heal from gaslighting I have taken many many years to get therapy as well as follow your insights and put them into practice.
    I have a letter from a relative who we helped immensely, that he prides himself on how fast he wrote it to me in fact down to the hours and minutes.
    He claims God gave him the words to write me, all because I held him to account.
    He interfered with our parents marriage causing a divorce all so he could “inherit” their home and property.
    Long story about how it all happened but when it was said and done he said he was first born and it belonged to him. Trust me when I say I wanted no inheritance period.
    What he never saw regarding his behavior was 2x’s people interfered in his marriages and he is 2x’s divorced???
    Also, he will be the first to exhibit outrage at the interference as well as others stealing and yet he made a lifetime of stealing. (all while professing to be a Christian no less.)

    Truly he fits the bill wouldn’t you say?
    Anyway, I thank God for you all the time Dr. Simon!!!
    Lord bless you and keep you, may He make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you!

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