The Spirituality of Self-Esteem and Self-Respect

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:

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

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.


9 thoughts on “The Spirituality of Self-Esteem and Self-Respect

  1. The trouble with declaring that Narcissists can’t recognize a higher power, is that you have now put atheists and probably many agnostics, too, on the defense. One does not need a belief in a higher power (of any sort) in order to not be a pathological human being. Good without God comes to mind. Your research and advice is wonderful, by and large, but I think you are distinctly off-course in your need to believe that only those who believe in a higher power are somehow not Narcissistic. Separation of Church and Research is just as important as separation of Church and State. Vital, actually.

    1. PMae,
      I think higher power is used in broader term, and not just limited to God or religion moral authority.
      Truth is higher power.
      Empathy is higher power.

    2. Pmae,

      In this topic Dr. Simon is addressing disturbed characters and what they lack, the DC doesn’t have any higher power other than him/herself. Andy pointed out that people can have a higher power of that being truth which encompasses many positive and good attributes which serves mankind. This is the same for having empathy. Society as a whole benefits from people with these qualities/higher power which many agnostics and atheists have. DC are not truthful and lack empathy, everything they do is centered on self.

    3. One thing is for sure; arranging the molecular structures that became human beings; via DNA; was not a “by chance event.” Think in terms of the engineering employed to make the space shuttle; Human life is more sophisticated than human inventions. Which came first? The human being or satellite tv? The real question is WHY are we here? I think it has something to do developing a consciousness relative the potential we have not identified. We humans think a nuclear bomb is powerful……….well, ok, nukes are powerful; however, a nuke is less powerful than a single match; compared to the tiny space of our galaxy.

    4. Who’s moral compass are you going to go by PMae? do you think you came up with it? which human is always completely unselfish? zero.

      People don’t want to believe in the Creator (the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) because then they really would see that their own character falls short of God’s standard. Whether you believe or not.

      If you look at His 10 commandments, that is where modern day laws came about – like everywhere. He is a logical God, a God of order and cares for people, like we are to care towards each other. But also the God of justice. the command is DO UNTO others as you would have do unto you, not do to other what they did to you…

    1. Joey,

      I am so happy for you and have missed you, I hope you are well. Its just wonderful to hear from you and sharing your joy. I am sure, Andy, Linda and Kat will love to hear from you.

      Hugs and more Hugs

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