Self-respect is not something we all have. It’s something many people claim to have; something many people want to have. It’s an idea that has plagued generations upon generations of people striving to better themselves in life. But what exactly IS self-respect? Oxford Dictionary says it is: pride and confidence in oneself; a feeling that one is behaving with honor and dignity. Personally, I don’t think it is so easily defined. I think it is such a complex and evolving spectrum of ideas and feelings that you really can’t define it on a universal scale. Some things are just too broad. To me, self-respect is not the noun that we are taught about as budding teenagers, it’s a concept that has to be taught and forgotten a thousand times as we go through life.
Self-respect is not letting ourselves be controlled by other people. We often let the emotions, needs, desires, and wants of our partners, or children, or parents outweigh our own. Letting ourselves be a doormat to everyone around us is not self-respect; its self-deprivation. You do not have to be ok with always letting your girlfriend chose the dinner menu. You do not have to let your husband tell you who you are allowed to be friends with. You can go to the grocery store, or the mall, or out to dinner with a friend on occasion. Your opinion on the weekend plans is important. You deserve to say what you do and do not want to participate in. Your thoughts about a movie or a book are just as relevant as your father’s thoughts. YOU MATTER. Your voice matters. Your feelings matter. You have to speak up and speak out for yourself. If you always let your life be deemed by what those around you want, you are lacking self-respect. You cannot let everyone else speak for you. At some point, not only will you lose self-respect, you will lose all sense of yourself. And if there is someone who tells you that you don’t deserve those things, or someone has convinced you that you are not capable or worthy or these feelings, they do not respect you and you may be in a situation where you need assistance.
Self-respect is loving your body, inside and out. You have to love your body. You only get one. And it will change many times throughout your life. It may be any variety of adjectives, some you might like, some you might not, but you have to learn to love it. This is a hard one. Many times we don’t love the person we see when we look in the mirror. We want to make that person thinner, taller, or give them bluer eyes. Whatever the thing is that we dislike, we have to dive deep into our hearts and find out why we dislike it. Is it because someone told us not to? I remember being in the 6th grade wearing a sun dress. It was tan with tiny little burgundy roses all over it. It had lace on the sleeves and along the bottom hem. I felt so pretty in it. That was until after lunch when two boys walked behind me and started tormenting me. Saying they wanted to take my “ham hocks” and put them on the grill. My fat calves looked like such good meat. They called out “here pig pig pig” and “mooo cow” as if I was a barn animal and not a young woman. That really happened. I cried and begged my mom to come get me. I never wore that dress again. From that moment I hated my legs. It wasn’t until I hit my mid to late 20’s that I started to like them again. After living in a 3rd floor apartment with no elevator for 2 years, I gained thick firm muscles. Now they look great with a heel and my girlfriend is also rather fond of them. *BLUSHES*. You also need to love your body from the inside. Feed it well. Don’t poison it with chemicals, over processed foods, copious amounts of alcohol, or hazardous drugs. Your body needs clean healthy energy to function. Respect your body.
Self-respect is keeping good people around you. Do not let people bring you down. Everyone has had “toxic relationships”. Parasitic relationships with folks that only take and don’t give anything back. Just because you had a best friend all through high school doesn’t mean that person can always be the best for you. People change and grow. We are all fluid in that we will never be the same person at any given moment. Everything in life changes us in some way. When the events and circumstances in life and made the people around you change for the negative, you can’t always hang on and wait for them to change back. There are just times in life when you can’t be a good influence on someone. Or when the best thing you can do is cut someone off. Maybe you have a friend who just won’t take your advice. They keep dating the wrong type of men, and they keep getting hurt. So they end up back in the same place, like clockwork. Meet the man, screw the man, fall for the man, heart broken by the man. You can offer all the advice on the world, point out the patterns, and give emotional support, but it’s only going to drain you. Your friend has to fix the problem. YOU can’t. After a while you have to recognize that you need to stop feeding into it. You need to look above it and beyond it. You need to spend more time around people that recognize healthy relationships. Same goes for the friend that wants to party every weekend and get drunk and fucked up all of the time. There is more to life than partying and you need to respect yourself enough to set priorities.
Self-respect is having goals. You have to have purpose. Dreams are what keep up going, keep us motivated. Let yourself have desires of all shapes and sizes. I dream of being able to successfully plan, and implement a week long menu, with all of the trimmings like a grocery list and coupons. I want to fit into single digit pants sizes. I dream of being able to take all of my meds without missing a dose for an entire week. I dream that I will be able to run a race one day, and not want to die. I hope that one day I will be a mother, a wife and a lover. All of these things seem silly to a degree, but I want them. Dreams make us strong. Dreams set the path that we walk on. They give us direction. Without dreams, we are simply walking around earth appeasing others and floating from one meaningless task to the next.
Self-respect is having standards and never letting them fall. Know what you expect in every aspect of your life-from work, to home, to relationships. Set the bar and never lower it. If you move it at all, raise it higher as you begin recognize self-worth and self-value. Make sure you clearly communicate your expectations to those around you and help them understand your standards. When you meet a potential partner, be certain they meet your requirements, and that you aren’t just seeing people for the sake of it. When you take a job, make it be the job you want, and not just a paycheck.
My point is, sometimes you have to put in a little effort to gain self-respect. You don’t expect other people to respect you without reason, so give yourself a reason to respect you as well. And when it doesn’t come easy, work for it, earn it, grow into it. Have pride in what you do. Have faith in yourself. You must also consider the fact that you never know who is watching you. You never know who may be looking up to you; who may be inspired by you. Do everything in life with purpose and one day you will glance in the mirror and see a person with shoulders held straight, head held high, and eyes looking up. You will know you respect that person, because you know where that person came from. You will know the journey they walked the valleys they trudged, the mountains they climbed, the fires they extinguished and the oceans they drained to get to the mirror you see them in now. You will find self-respect in your darkest days and will use it as a light to find your brightest day.