The Truth About Self-Respect

Some feel cheated out of it, everyone wants it and some have even killed for it. What is it? Respect. Is it wrong to respect yourself? What does God’s Word say?

Next to self-love, self-respect is possibly the second most popular self-help topic. An Internet search will turn up a host of results. Seemingly, everyone has an opinion on the subject. Self-respect seems to be the medication prescribed for people who have “low self-esteem.”

As the result of a broken spirit, many people lack confidence or esteem. Some were verbally abused as children; others have endured insults from a spouse, friend or boss. Whatever the reason, the person feels inferior to those around him.

Many of the world’s top psychologists, as well as other so-called experts, teach that in order to overcome this problem, one should learn to respect himself. They assert that the reason such people are unhappy is because they are too focused on helping others and not taking care of their own needs. These “experts” teach that respecting others is impossible without first learning to respect yourself.

Are psychologists correct? Is this what the Bible teaches? Is there a right or wrong way to respect yourself? To learn the answer, we must first look at how the world views self-respect. Then, we will see what God has to say on the subject.

The World’s View of Self-Respect

Many people go through life assuming that they understand a specific subject, mainly because they believe the commonly held position. It is no different with the subject of respect. Some people do not truly understand the definition of the word—they only think they do.

Respect is defined in the following way: “To feel or show deferential regard for; esteem; to regard with honor; an attitude of admiration or esteem.” Knowing this, we can conclude that self-respect means to esteem or honor the self.

Now, one might ask, “What is wrong with respecting myself? If I don’t know how to respect myself, how can I show proper respect to others?” Is this a valid concern? Is it really necessary to respect yourself in order to respect others? What is the danger of respecting yourself?

The following examples show how people generally view respect:

Brian, a high school senior, is a very good basketball player. People constantly tell him that he is a great athlete. He stops to admire (respect) this fact and is impressed as well. He becomes very proud of his talents, and practices every day in order to become better—putting basketball before everything and everybody. His hard work pays off and he is able to enter the NBA, further improving his skill. A few years later, his contract comes up for negotiation and he is offered millions below what he believes he is worth. Viewing the “low” offer as a sign of “disrespect,” he becomes instantly offended and demands to be traded.

As a little girl, Kelly was repeatedly told how pretty she was. She admired herself in the mirror every day. She constantly brushed her hair and checked for blemishes on her face so that she could preserve her beauty. Eventually, Kelly came to the realization that the beautiful people in the world are regarded above everyone else. Thus, she began to view herself as being better than others. She expected preferential treatment from people around her, and if she didn’t get it, she would view it as a sign of disrespect.

Michael and Jason go to the neighborhood playground to play basketball. As they play, the game becomes intense and physical. As Jason goes up for a lay-up, he inadvertently steps on Michael’s shoe. Michael instantly gets angry and punches Jason. The game comes to a halt. Dazed and confused, Jason asks Michael why he hit him. Michael answers, “You disrespected me by stepping on my brand new shoes and marking them up.”

Are the above examples the proper view of self-respect? Before you answer that question, consider another: How is the respect that those individuals learned to show themselves going to help them respect others? Do you believe that God would approve of this kind of self-respect?

God’s View

In order to understand God’s view of self-respect, one must come to understand the two ways of life: the get way and the give way.

In the get way—Satan’s way—a person’s focus is on self-love, self-centeredness, vanity, lust, greed and selfishness. With the focus being on self, there is usually a lack of concern for others. It is the way that leads to discontentment, anger, envy and unhappiness—and sin. Generally, when one is unhappy or depressed or lacks self-esteem, it is because he is focusing on himself—he is being selfish—and he is sinning.

Human nature reflects the get way of life. Therefore, it is normal for men to be selfish and natural for psychologists and other “experts” to recommend that people with “confidence problems” or depression focus on themselves.

However, it is actually a misnomer to say that one has a confidence or esteem problem. In reality, the person doesn’t really lack self-esteem or have a confidence problem. Notice: “For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourishes and cherishes it, even as the Lord the Church” (Eph. 5:29). It is because of excessive self-love and respect that people are so unhappy. They are always focused on themselves—what they didn’t get, who hasn’t noticed them, who has infringed on their rights, who didn’t give them respect, etc.

On the other hand, the way of give, God’s Way, is the way of love—outgoing concern for others—serving, sharing and cooperation. It is love toward God and love toward neighbor, which is summed up in the Law (Matt. 22:36-40). It is being humble and esteeming others better than self.

Notice: “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:3-5). This goes completely against the world’s opinion—that in order to be happy, one must esteem himself first, then deal with everyone else. It totally disagrees with God’s view.

Christ said, “If any man thirst, let him come unto Me, and drink. He that believes on Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water” (John 7:37-38). Love and respect is supposed to flow outward from a person, not turn inward. If one is focusing on respecting himself, it is impossible to respect others!

Are you beginning to see how God views self-respect? Remember, part of the definition of respect is to have an attitude of admiration or esteem. In order to have self-respect, you need to esteem yourself above others. Admiring yourself and your accomplishments is a form of idol worship (Ex. 20:1-3). Remember, an idol is anything that you put between you and God—which includes your accomplishments. It is in direct conflict with what God’s Word says.

The Proper Way to Show Respect

So what does all of this mean? Is there a right or wrong way to respect yourself? We have already looked at the wrong way—now let’s look at how to properly view self-respect.

God’s youth should not practice the commonly accepted view of self-respect, which puts one’s focus on the self. Constantly putting yourself before others—elevating your wants, your feelings and your desires—is wrong and is in direct conflict with God’s Word. It feeds the ego, and there is nothing humble about that!

Now, the following questions may arise: “Does that mean that I shouldn’t treat myself well at all? Am I supposed to treat myself badly? Is that showing humility?” You are a potential God being. Yes, you should take care of yourself, but in the context that you are respecting the body that God has given you.

If someone puts tattoos all over his body, he is disrespecting the potential temple of the Holy Spirit: “Know you not that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple you are” (I Cor. 3:16-17).

It is very important to respect your body. God says He will destroy those who do not! It’s that serious! Therefore, you should show respect to God by taking care of your body. That includes cleanliness, eating the right foods, keeping your body in shape by getting proper rest and exercise and not mutilating it with piercings and tattoos.

What about the way you dress? Young people in God’s Church represent His Way of life to those around them. The God we serve is a God of quality. It would greatly disrespect Him to wear disheveled, torn, dingy or tight and revealing clothes. You should respect God by wearing nice clothes and looking neat and orderly. It is important to remember the principle of humility when choosing what you wear: “In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with braided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array” (I Tim. 2:9). Although this discusses women, the principle also applies to men as well.

It is also wrong to “beat yourself up” over sins and weaknesses. To do so is another form of sin. For example, if you make a mistake, it would be wrong to have this kind of inner talk: “You idiot! How could you be so stupid? I have to be the dumbest person in the world!” God says to call no man a fool, including yourself: “…but whosoever shall say, You fool, shall be in danger of hell fire” (Matt. 5:22)!

When one shows respect to self, it should be in the framework of respecting the God who created him. You can show respect to God by how you live—respect the final product that you will be handing to God. You can respect the fact that the Holy Spirit is working with you and the fact that you are a potential God being. You can respect the work that God wants to do in you. Respect the fact that you are clay in His hands.

So remember, it is alright to show respect, just as long as it is being shown to others. It is not necessary to respect yourself in order to respect others. Grasping this principle will make you a happier person, and it will prepare you for the Christian walk.