I had the pleasure of watching this archival footage this morning after a weekend of (coincidentally, if you believe in such things) meditating on the supreme importance of self-respect in my own life.
Self-respect, self-esteem, and self-confidence are inextricably linked. They are also persuasive. Our president-elect has little to recommend himself besides a fat wallet and a baffling overabundance of self-confidence. Yet, the power of self-confidence (I’m choosing to use the terms self-respect, self-esteem, and self-confidence more or less interchangeably) was influential enough to earn him the highest honor in the world – the United States presidency.
For those of us with slimmer wallets and rockier childhoods, self-respect is often harder to come by. Members of marginalized groups – women, homosexuals, people of color, those with physical and/or mental challenges, religious minorities, etc. – can have a hard time galvanizing the protective strength of self-confidence in the face of blatant disrespect, discrimination, and mistreatment. It’s great when “allies” come alongside and allow us to borrow their confidence. But that is not a lasting solution. Self-respect is self-generated – even if you didn’t get it from your parents, even if you won’t get it from society. Everything worth having is generated from within.
But how? How can we generate self-respect when everything around us – from society’s structures, to advertising, to friends and family, – seems to be telling us that we really don’t deserve it? How can we learn self-respect, and demand it from others, no apologies, no excuses? I don’t have all the answers, but, as a member of several marginalized groups, here’s what’s working for me:
- Remind yourself that you were socialized not to value yourself. Really think about how true that is.
- Remind yourself that the dominant culture was socialized not to value you.
- Set the intention to forgive yourself – and them – for your collective ignorance. But don’t prematurely force forgiveness. You have to feel the rage first. The forgiveness comes later, if you let it.
- Close your eyes and look deeply at who you are. See yourself as a new mother staring at her freshly bathed, button-nosed, newborn child. Smile and cherish everything about yourself. You are both the mother and the child.
- Review your mistakes, honestly but without judgment. They were born out of ignorance. Recognize those mistakes as part of that precious newborn. Make amends as necessary.
- Visualize who you want to be. Don’t focus only on superficial or cosmetic aspects of yourself. What kind of person do you want to be? See that person in as much detail as possible. In your mind, watch that person move and be in the world. Watch them as they talk to and interact with others. Admire that person’s confidence and poise. Think how proud you are of who that newborn has become!
- Spend some time alone in spiritual practice. For me, that’s meditation and walking. For you, it could be prayer, or sewing, or washing the car, or mountain-climbing, or working a puzzle. Be brave and do it alone. Don’t let anyone distract you. This is to allow your new way of thinking to seep into your sub-conscious. Changing mental habits takes a lot of practice.
- Commit to yourself. Make a promise to yourself that you will not allow anyone to violate your feelings of self-respect. You can’t control other people’s actions, but you can control how much access they get to you. You can control your response. Their need to disrespect you shows how fragile their own self-esteem is. Do not internalize their disrespect. Remember, you are that precious newborn and the mother. Protect that baby!
- Find someone who gets it and talk to them. This can be hard. Not everyone can be trusted with our hearts. And no one is perfect. But when you find someone who can listen to you, and who supports your journey towards self-respect, let them help you. Allow them to give you what you need.
- Once you’ve been practicing the above for a while, it gets easier. Go back to each step as needed. Now you’re ready to help someone else. You can now be a listening ear to someone else who needs self-respect. You have every right to be proud of yourself. You have earned your own respect.
I hope these tips were helpful. The next post will be a poem about the beauty of self-respect.