Self-Esteem and Self-Respect
There’s a difference between self-esteem and self-respect. I explore these concepts in both In Sheep’s Clothing and Character Disturbance. And I briefly discuss the spiritual side of them in The Judas Syndrome. So, what exactly is the difference?
Self-Esteem is the intuitive estimate we make about our worth. It reflects how highly we regard ourselves. We come by intuitive sense of worth in several ways. But mostly, it derives from our sense of our natural attributes. I first surmised this might be true when doing my clinical case studies for my first books. In recent years, several researchers (e.g. Brummelman) have confirmed it. So, in short, self-esteem is about knowing what we have going for ourselves. It’s about what we’ve been given. We all have natural endowments. And folks blessed with talent, intelligence, physical beauty, etc. can easily get to feeling pretty good about themselves.
The word respect comes from the Latin verb (infinitive form) respectere. It means “to look back” or “to look again.” So, self-respect has a lot to do with a retrospective assessment of ourselves and our actions. Accordingly, our self-respect develops differently than our self-esteem. Remember, self-esteem is more about knowing what we’ve been given. Self-respect is about looking back on what we’ve done with our gifts. Moreover, in a moral sense, it’s about how we’ve used our endowments in service of the greater good
Read more about self-esteem and self respect in:
- In Sheep’s Clothing pp. 104-105
- Character Disturbance p. 50, pp. 87-89, pp. 147-149
- How Did We End Up Here? p. 26
- The Judas Syndrome pp. 3-17
- Self-Esteem and Merit
- Merit, Virtue, and Character
- Merit: Healthy Self-Esteem-Part 2
Disturbed characters often have inflated self-esteem. But that doesn’t mean they warrant self-respect. In fact, many lack self-respect. And that’s because they’ve often done so woefully little to merit it.
The Spirituality of Self-Worth
Ultimately, it’s our relationship with our higher power that defines our sense of personal worth. Practically, that means getting it right with respect to self-esteem and self-respect. And doing that, of course, is a matter of proper attribution. Just as the popular adage asserts, we do well to give credit where credit is due. When it comes to our gifts (our lives, our abilities and talents, etc.) we honestly can’t claim credit. The credit goes to a power (or powers) much greater than ourselves. But when it comes to the choices we make and the actions we take, it’s another matter entirely. We alone either merit the credit or deserve the blame for those.
To develop healthy self-worth we have to develop a proper relationship with a higher power. Of course, some disturbed characters can’t even conceive of, let alone recognize, a higher power. (See, for example: Narcissists Can’t Recognize a Higher Power.) And that’s right at the core of their pathology. To be healthy in character, you have to know where your worth really comes from.
Some people equate their worth with how gifted they are. Others measure their worth by what they’ve managed to achieve or how much money they’ve accumulated. But as second commandment we discussed earlier asserts, life itself is an unearned gift. Whether we like it or not or have the humility to admit it, we are inherently beholding to a power greater than ourselves. And it behooves us to be grateful. Our worth comes from the ineffable power that freely gifted us with life. Honoring the giver by mindfully sharing our gifts for the welfare of all creation is the heart and soul of good character.
Next week I’ll be giving a workshop in the Seattle area. Accordingly, my usual Friday afternoon post might be a little delayed. But there’s still much more to say about self-worth and the perils of not getting the balance right. Stay tuned.