The terms “self-esteem” and “self-respect” may seem at first glance very similar, if not exactly the same. But they are indeed very different things and have very different consequences, especially when cultivated at a young age.
Psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors and other experts for years have encouraged parents and teachers to cultivate self-esteem in kids. About thirty years ago, it became very popular among child experts to tout self-esteem as the solution to all our children’s problems. We’ve heard it a million times—high self-esteem is good, low self-esteem is bad. But what does this really mean and what effect does it have in the long-term?
Self-esteem means simply thinking highly of one’s self. Many parents, teachers and psychologists feel that by showering a child with praise, he or she will grow up with a positive attitude and confidence. But often self-esteem that is left unchecked can develop into destructive behavior: thinking less of others, un-gratefulness, arrogance, cockiness. The pursuit of self-esteem can become, as described by family psychologist and parenting expert John Rosemond, “an excuse to do your own thing—regardless of whether or not the “thing” in question is anti-social—and quickly mutate[s] into self-worship.”
Self-respect, on the other hand, is a mindset that allows us to become grateful, humble and well-adjusted. Self-respect encompasses respect not just of ourselves, but also of others. In fact, by respecting our fellow humans we can learn to respect ourselves more. When we have self-respect, we love ourselves but do not become arrogant or cocky. As Rosemond puts it, “A person growing in self-respect understands that he is an imperfect being who was given the gift of life in order to serve.”
Self-respect is akin to the Golden Rule: in order to receive respect and learn to respect ourselves, we must learn to give respect to others. And while having confidence is not a bad thing, people who are over-confident (and who are often seen as arrogant) haven’t learned this principle—that in order to get respect from others and from ourselves, we must first learn to give.
Self-respect is gained “not by being told how wonderful you are,” Rosemond writes. “But by developing respect for others.”
As you’ve probably experienced, people who have grown up being told how great they are usually aren’t very fun to be around and don’t make very good friends. But people who have been taught to take an interest in and care about others while maintaining a positive attitude about themselves tend to be the type of interesting people with whom we enjoy spending time.
By encouraging our children’s individuality and growth by teaching them to be confident yet humble and respectful, we can help them become adults who have healthy, stable relationships and friendships, and respect for themselves and others.
Mark Arens – About the Author:
Help your children to gain self-respect by taking one step at a time. One way to accomplish this is to help your child set goals.