Woman looking into a broken mirror with a sad look,  back of head showingA positive self-image requires a strong foundation that won’t shake or fall under pressure. To that end, self-respect and self-esteem are often mentioned as a good place to start. However, while these two concepts are often considered one and the same, there are some significant differences that show how one may be more useful than the other.

These two concepts do have a lot of things in common, and could be said to be closely tied together. However, the places in which they differ can have a huge impact on a person’s self-image.

Let’s start by looking at the definitions of “respect” and “esteem.”

According to Merriam-Webster, respect is:

  1. A feeling of admiring someone or something that is good, valuable, important, etc.
  2. A feeling or understanding that someone or something is important, serious, etc., and should be treated in an appropriate way
  3. A particular way of thinking about or looking at something

Self-respect, then, starts with the notion that you are good, valuable, and have something important to share.

Esteem, on the other hand (and according to dictionary.com), is defined as:

  1. To regard highly or favorably; regard with respect or admiration
  2. To consider as of a certain value or of a certain type; regard
  3. To set a value on; appraise

One of the first things we can note is that the definition of esteem includes the term respect, so immediately it would seem that in order to have self-esteem in the first place, one must also have self-respect.

And yet, in many circles, the focus for a positive self-image is almost always focused on self-esteem. However, if you were given the choice between one and the other, a lot of people are recommending self-respect as the more stable and usable foundation.

Ellen J. Langer, a professor of psychology at Harvard University, discussed the concept of self-respect in an article on Psychology Today, saying:

“The person with self-respect simply likes her- or himself. This self-respect is not contingent on success because there are always failures to contend with. Neither is it a result of comparing ourselves with others because there is always someone better. These are tactics usually employed to increase self-esteem. Self-respect, however, is a given. We simply like ourselves or we don’t. With self-respect, we like ourselves because of who we are and not because of what we can or cannot do.”

She is saying that those with self-respect have some advantages over those who rely only on self-esteem because self-esteem is, by definition, a process of constant evaluation. They are always looking for things that they can value and, in some cases, only seeing value in comparison to others.

If esteem is about making evaluations – or setting value or appraising – it means that sometimes a person will come out on top, but sometimes they won’t. This can open them up to more feelings of regret, stress, guilt, and blame.

Self-esteem can also change based on where a person might be, and who they are with – meaning that we may change how we value ourselves based on the opinion and expectations of others. When something can switch and change that easily, it’s hard for it to make a reliable foundation.

Self-respect, on the other hand, is able to help develop resilience, strength, and independence. Respect is more about a belief in one’s self and one’s nature. It isn’t about letting temporary situations change that. It’s an understanding that, no matter what the current circumstances, there is something unique they can contribute to the situation.

Self respect doesn’t come from dependence on someone else. It is encouraged and sustained by personally committing to it and practicing self-respecting behavior on a daily basis.

Anyone can start to build and solidify their self-respect. These activities might involve forgiving yourself, keeping a journal to better understand yourself, maintaining positive body language and good posture, and just smiling more. The more you practice maintaining a positive attitude, the more your self-respect will start to affect your daily interactions and self-image.

Written by: Center for Change