By M.K. Styllinski
“Above all things, one should maintain his self-respect, and there is
but one way to do that, and that is to live in accordance with
your highest ideal.”
— Robert G. Ingersoll
Reading time: 15 -18 mins
“He doesn’t respect himself much if he can carry on like that.”
Did you see her last night? She’s got no self-respect.”
Have some respect for yourself for God’s sake!
Such judgements and admonishments are unlikely to install the kind of respect those persons are looking for. The very notion of self-respect is highly subjective. One man’s accusation of poor hygiene, grungy dreadlocks and disrespect for authority is another man’s expression of a “free spirit”. What matters however, is whether you have the kind of respect for yourself that makes your life worthwhile and makes you a pleasure to be around.
It reminds me of my time as a bewildered twenty-something who gave an air of self-control and ease but was struggling to make sense of life. The recurring theme of that period was a battle between dissociation and reality, creativity and sexuality, perfectionism and surrender. When one has the feeling of persecution and guilt embedded in one’s very being it means that making a mistake is the end of the world whereby great horror, ridicule and even annihilation awaits should you err in the slightest way. Way over the top of course, and a form of compensatory narcissism that makes you retreat into a smaller and smaller bubble that you deem navigable, where everything is micro-managed to shield oneself from anymore pressure. Ironically, that only makes such a bubble more prone to bursting, since embracing objective reality becomes a threat to that congealed mass of ego-masks built to protect, yet a barrier to growth. Bloody conflict ensues between one’s fears and the promise of change. Thankfully, I did break that conflict, but not without cost, which is as it should be.
Self-respect never arrives when we shield ourselves from life and do everything we can to avoid failure. The latter is how we learn and there is no other way to build success – be it in business, relationships or the growth of self-awareness. You will err, you will fail and that’s okay. The information that led you to failure offers knowledge for next time. And provided you don’t give up, then such bad experiences become useful for the future you wish to create – they are needed grist for the mill.
Without self-respect it is hard to achieve what we desire. It is even harder to sustain any success should we manage to block out that doubting voice which is intimately linked to self-sabotage and victimhood. “Better to scuttle one’s ship now and face an even bigger disaster” says that voice, Better to protect myself from that kind of pain and suffering.” Yet, it is precisely this fixation with future “disaster” and the debilitating voice of unreason that is asking to be analysed and thereby integrated. (see no. 1 Heal Your Past).
No choice is genuine if it is based on fear of change. No one respects anyone who runs away from that which can be surmounted, no matter how challenging. We might garner a lot of sympathy for identifying with past traumas or “bad luck”. Yet, this is gaining energy that isn’t ours thus increasing the spiritual debt that accrues from a lack of courage and self-directed effort to overcome. A lack of self-respect broadcasts a signal in contemporary life, at whatever station we find ourselves, and that signal translates as: loser. It’s not that we are a random binary choice flashing between lose and gain. Rather, that we have lost the will to challenge our fate and the belief that we must erect perimeters around our reality to maintain a homeostasis of mediocrity in the face of suffering. What’s worse, we use all sorts of rationalizations to claim that this is how we like it.
“Today we have only the illusion of what we are. We overestimate ourselves. We do not respect ourselves. To respect myself, I have to have recognized in me a part which is higher than the other parts and to which I show respect by the attitude I have towards it. In this way I will respect myself. And my relationships with others will be ruled by the same respect…”
— G.I. Gurdjieff
Whatever the reason for a lack of self-respect, we veer toward that which can offer relief from that intruding reality, thereby making an subjective evaluation that you are worthless much more objective. Unhealthy habits and an attraction toward people and situations offer security or comfort to that end. This is a false and sometimes dangerous economy because it opens the door to all kinds of addictions and habitual behaviours. The root causes of these may be much more esoteric – a mixture of unresolved parental issues, group trauma carried down the ancestral line or even pre-life echos. (Who knows?)
The Cambridge Dictionary English definition of respect is: “admiration felt or shown for someone or something that you believe has good ideas or qualities”. So, we can apply that to ourselves by having the humility to acknowledge that although we might not have much that is worthy of respect, there is every opportunity to live up to that ideal. In this age of artifice and image, admiration and comparison of those leading lives of apparent bliss and contentment often tends to be a reminder that our self-respect is lacking. (That leads us back to the initial delusion explored in the happiness-unhappiness seesaw). Not only are those same people – celebrities, reality TV narcissists and fashion models often fabulously wealthy they are often fabulously unhappy. Yet, so many of us see that lifestyle as worthy of emulation because it’s held up as the quintessential ideal, even if many reject it, the capitalist-consumerist ethos is very entrenched.
Logging on to media accounts or to your friends and family members is all the proof you the need that many people (especially children) do not respect themselves but do all they can to seek admiration and a sense of belonging by adopting models and modes of behaviour that appeal to others who also lack any integrity as a badge of honour. Thus produces a continual spiral into ever-increasing displays of vacuous ideology, mediocrity and cause célèbre. If we buy into the social media disease and cultural fashions of the day then we choose to sell ourselves short or just …sell ourselves – literally or metaphorically. Look at the top photo from a recent fashion show. Presumably the models in question were paid a significant amount of money to parade around looking like morons, regardless of whether it was tongue-in-cheek. What are we embracing here? They are getting paid and fashion glitterati spend more time painting lipstick on a pig of cultural “values” and we just sit around with our brains so open so that our grey matter can turn to blancmange that bit more. The same could be said of anything that requires you to prostitute your energy in service to your lowest desires, be it a shitty job, enabling your entitled daughter by covering up her disgusting behaviour or by not speaking up on behalf of someone who was wrongly accused.
This may include habits which offer fleeting relief from mental/emotional pain or situations toward which we unconsciously drift, because we know they will provide a fake healing balm of biochemical satiation. Perhaps it is promiscuous sex, gambling, substance abuse, domination tactics or emotionally manipulative behaviour used to extract energy from others that you already squandered and are unable to create for yourself. Perhaps you say all the right things and read all the right books. Maybe you preach to others wages of sin while making a mockery of the good Samaritan. Hypocrisy also kills self-respect, because deep down you know you’re fake and you’re terrified everyone else will know it too. The less respect you have for yourself the more likely it is that no moral barriers exist to furnish endless substitutions. This is when we become so habituated to fakery and energy vampirism in attempt to feel good about ourselves that it becomes normalised. Yet, as each year goes by, confidence in our own abilities and the value of our own contributions become further diluted as we engage in activities that amount to addiction as a means to resist self-growth.
The Cambridge dictionary definition of integrity is: “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles that you refuse to change.” We have lost sight of how to garner respect because we have bought into a culture that celebrates the antithesis of moral integrity and sincerity. Often we are willing to do or say pretty much anything if the temptation is seductive enough. Therefore, we need the sincerity and will to maintain those moral principles, the results of which will deliver self-respect. We might say that the potential to instill self-respect and integrity is destroyed when we consciously support or take part in anything that goes counter to our conscience our moral principles. The good news is self-respect and the integrity it fosters, can be grown much like other qualities of character. The “bad” news is you’ll need to apply most of the 31 suggestions to make it real.
To arrive at quiet self-respect requires some hard decisions based on empirical evidence of your own worth. It requires actions that you can remember as GOOD and of obvious value. In order to advance toward something approximating personal value, we need a framework of moral integrity which enables us to listen to the voice of our conscience. (And unless you are psychopathic, it IS there). Without it, we are prey to all kinds of influences which offer a temporary respite but usually end up making us feel even more worthless. And as we spiral down the unfortunate reality brings us face to face with the fact that ARE pretty worthless because we have become useless to ourselves and therefore useless to society.
Just as we have hope, faith and trust in at least some other people, a cause or ideal, so too, we must apply those same choices towards our own destiny. That means taking control of our lives, even if it seems that we have very little maneuverability in the external world. Everything starts from that decision. You carve those moral principles out of the rock of your own life until you have the evidence of your own eyes and a shape becomes discernible. Without faith in ourselves that we can indeed “do the right thing” and trust the development our own sovereignty, that rock remains…Well, just a rock. Without the requisite tools to hone our craft we just chip away aimlessly ending up with a nihilistic monstrosity.
Without respect for our nature, our history and our unique voice, we become easy prey to innumerable negative influences that expand the cracks in our self-confidence and pile on regret after regret. However, one small victory over such forces can open the way to further victories, thereby establishing self-evident reasons for self-respect and affording respect to others who earn it. We know that we merit such a thought and feeling because we have surmounted an obstacles or triumphed in the face of adversity. We paid in advance. Without respecting ourselves how can we avoid the pitfalls and seductions of the world predicated on enlarging those cracks in our self-esteem and wounded aspects of our psyche?
Self-love and self-esteem
If you lack self-esteem (how you feel about yourself; worthiness; of value etc.) then you need to love yourself more right? Wrong. Yes, we might say that loving yourself is just another way to self-respect, but language and meaning matters as it signals clarity of intent. Loving oneself is distinctly different to respect for the following reasons.
Recognising that self-admiration is not really what we’re aiming for (that’s too close to narcissistic self-love, even as a label) but the realisation that one has innate or potential qualities worthy of respect is also important. Self-confidence comes before self-esteem however. You cannot develop the former without facing our fears of failure in the real world and doing that which activates higher qualities naturally. Self-esteem is natural outgrowth of that process of engagement. It is the result of becoming competent, resilient and adaptable to the world at large and at a level that befits your sense of self so that a moderate esteem eventuates. That’s when a sense of integrity arrives from doing what is required in the moment and with due attention to context. It is the gate through which you walk to meaning and purpose. Integrity and self-confidence are two sides of the same coin and act as the glue that binds a moral code and related principles together. No forward momentum can be achieved without this partnership.
Therefore, to magically create self-esteem and self-respect from the idea of “self-love,” the much touted sales pitch of positive thinking, is, to my mind, a very unfortunate label that sends the wrong message. It is also a natural product of an already highly narcissistic culture that conflates loving oneself with self-confidence and maturity when in fact, it probably promotes the opposite. There’s a strong difference between the sentimental label of “self-love” and simple respect and integrity. It matters what impression you give to your unconscious. Believing and affirming the latter will prove far more constructive since it is gate that swings open to authenticity and the path to qualities that are naturally drawn to integrity like bees to honey.
Love yourself! You’re worth it! You deserve it! Yaaay! (Cue bouncy people with white teeth and large amounts of hair).
Actually, you probably aren’t worth it and don’t deserve anything much since, like most of us, you’re largely functioning as a self-obsessed, unthinking reaction machine. I know that’s harsh but that’s just the way it is. Self-deception makes you feel good in the short-term but lacks integrity long-term. The only way to achieve self-worth is to engage with principles which are worthy. In the same way that praise lavished upon children actually produces lower self-esteem and the development of narcissistic traits, basic warmth and encouragement toward clearly defined goals of self-growth are more constructive.   So, no need to beat yourself up anymore. Be warm and encouraging without slipping into a self-love-fest – that opens a very different gate.
So many new age and self help coaches bundle all kinds of concepts and 10-step principles under the banner of self-love which creates a problem from the get-go. It is way too easy to go from self-love to self-admiration and entitlement, especially when you are in a fragile and unstable place, hence looking for a way to take the pain away quickly. It is a potential gateway into increasing self-importance and greater narcissism if we are not careful. It feeds into the trope of being “special” and rationalizing ego-inflation as a healer and balancer when in fact, all one is doing is putting on bandages and plasters covered in glitter and gold. In other words, self-love becomes yet another means to avoid true inner work and amounts to putting a stop on the development of conscience. And our culture will be only too happy to help you on your way to as greater dysfunction.
If self-esteem is based upon how you feel about yourself then self-respect is about what you do with your life and therefore, where you place your attention. Self-confidence is more likely to arrive through doing. Who cares how you feel about yourself? Self-esteem on its own won’t cut it. After all, many pathological narcissists and criminal sociopaths have buckets of self-esteem and that’s probably not the type of personality you don’t want to emulate.
Now here’s the kicker: Self-love from a metaphysical point of view, is the province of service to self as opposed to service to others and ultimately the road to evil. Taken to its logical extreme it is actually in alignment with occult principles of Luciferianism or Satanism where self-love is the fire which is lit within as an end in itself. Lucifer in that sense is indeed the “Light-Bearer “because he brings attention to the shadow and its role in transformation. Yet, this fire is also Promethean. Such an illumination is always dangerous as it is also pure reason and rational thought divorced from the warmth and compassion of the heart. When that fire is lit without humility and in service only to the intellect then it becomes pathological individualism bound up in ancient ritual; it is the worship of Self only and is ultimately constrictive and contractile, despite the protestations of its adherents that it is in honour of freedom. The balance of light and dark working together within a person’s psyche and expressed in daily life – even as one starts as a beginner – is to develop respect for that process and thus yourself.
I know that’s a rather large leap from self-respect to Satanism but we live in a culture that celebrates these slights of hand which are disseminated by “experts” and life-coaches who should know better. Be aware that self-respect comes from SEEING your REAL self and it’s potential in vitro as well as its present shortcomings.
In the end, by embracing the self-love meme you’ll actually find it difficult to love anyone or anything else genuinely, since all that energy has been used to direct attention upon yourself as intrinsically worth loving, which may or may not be the case. Do you know yourself that well? Are you in this in this pickle of self-loathing or anxiety because you had it all mapped out? How likely is it that you are really worthy of all that self-directed love? Have you fully taken responsibility for your part in where you find yourself today? Or is it just buckets of self-love because you automatically feel you “deserve” it?
Respecting yourself and adhering to principles of integrity become self-evident through effort correctly applied. It is decentralised away from a focus of self-love to “other-love.” There will be know need to look in the mirror everyday and affirm your worth because you will see it in how you treat others and the effects therein. You will not imagine it but know it based on the fruits of your actions. It doesn’t mean you become a sacrificial altar of “selflessness” denying your own needs and transposing them to the community or cause.
Create the right ratio of acknowledging failure matched with the willingness to learn, then self-confidence and then self-esteem will arrive. But it ‘ain’t easy, you need to constantly pay attention. Every morning you can ask yourself: Are my objectives and aims still aligned to my integrity, conscience and my self-respect? If so, then you can be sure that meaning and purpose will also emerge.
The esotericist George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff has some interesting things to say about self-respect in this context, which goes much deeper than the idea of admiration or “self-love”:
“To respect myself, I have to have recognized in me a part which is higher than the other parts, and to which I show respect by the attitude I have towards it. In this way I will respect myself. And my relationships with others will be ruled by the same respect.
- We have to understand that all other measuring units, talent, erudition, culture, genius, are changing units, units of detail. The only true measure, never changing, objective, the only real one, it is the measure of inner vision. ‘I’ see – ‘I’ see myself – and you have measured. With a higher, real part, you have measured a lower one, also real. And this measure, defining by itself the respective roles of each part, will bring you to self-respect. But you will see it is not easy. And it is not a bargain. One has to pay a lot. For the bad payers, the lazy, the losers, no chance. One must pay, pay a lot, pay immediately and pay in advance.
Pay from oneself. With sincere efforts, wholeheartedly, without expectations. The more you will be willing to pay without reticence, without cheating, without falsity, the more you will receive. And from then on, you will meet your true nature. And you will see all the tricks, all the dishonesty it goes to in order to avoid paying cash. Because you have to pay with all the gratuitous theories, all the deeply rooted convictions, all the prejudice, all conventions, all ‘I like it’ and ‘I don’t like it’. Without bargaining, honestly, not just make believe. Trying to see while using fake money. Try for a moment to accept the idea that you are not what you think you are, that you overestimate yourself, therefore that you lie to yourself. That you lie to yourself always, every moment, all day long, your whole life. That the lie rules you to the extent that you cannot control it anymore. You are its victim. You lie everywhere. Your relationships with others, lies. The education you’re giving, your petty conventions, lies. Your learning, lies. Your theories, your art, lies. Your social life, your family life, all lies. And what you think of yourself, lies too. But you don’t stop from what you’re doing or from what you’re saying, because you believe in you. You have to stop inside and observe. Observe without prejudice. 
Gurdieff wasn’t one to mince his words because he knew how difficult it was to awaken from the heavy influences that keep us asleep. Self-respect has to be earned. We don’t automatically assume that a stranger is deserving of respect until we know more about him. We can be polite and cordial but we don’t make a deeper leap to authenticity just yet. To make such a leap is an act of foolishness with all kinds of consequences depending on context. It’s the quality of consciousness through observable actions over time that receive respect. If respect is earned then investment in ourselves requires the right kind of effort rather than just feeling we are worthy of love and wrapping ourselves in fluffy clouds of sentiment. As Gurdjieff mentions, it is not easy to reach a point where one’s inner vision includes all the good and the bad under cold-blooded examination, where all the credit and debt is properly audited. The respective roles of your psyche is measured against the highest ideal and the lowest – then you set to work. In the crucible of that work lies self-respect insofar as you continue to pay off those debts accrued through the squandering of psychic energy. If we spent less time spewing out into the world all that lack of self-respect through ideologies, “causes” and endless resentments toward family, ex-husbands and wives and re-invested that energy in forgiveness or tackling the angst and misery that gave rise to it, then we might find the energy available to transcend the whole situation. Respect would then meet us from from unexpected sources and further nourishing our own seeds of self-respect and integrity.
When we sink into self-importance/self-love we place too much importance on the trappings of external reality and the cultural programming we take for normality. It’s not evil as such, it’s just a monumental waste of energy sourced from anything but our own truth. The energy is sourced from what is trivial and transient within us; the flotsam and jetsam of peer-group validation and passing fashions and fads. The key to finding a semblance of balance between the trivial and the meaningful in ourselves is to develop discernment regarding the root causes of this attachment to that which is always ephemeral and only offers a passing salve for our fragility.
If you feel you are worthless then you will probably attract situations into your life that confirm that “fact.” And it will keep happening until an extreme is reached that offers you the choice to see your belief is unfounded and a re-evaluation is possible. Those opportunities exist all the time. And if you think they do not, then create them. Otherwise, you might find that extreme situations will extract the courage out of you by necessity as opposed to a voluntarily development.
Self-pity and victimhood
Probably the two negative qualities that are most in use today in order to extract meaning for otherwise meaningless, factually barren worldviews. Self-pity kills self-respect. It doesn’t matter what lousy run of “luck” you’ve had to endure or what social or cultural milieu you have been born into. Victimhood sends a signal that you deserve nothing more than an endless repetition of perceived foes and evil-doers that will continue to widen that chip on your shoulder and confirm that you indeed worthless. If you navigate through life waiting to have your feelings hurt and attuned to the belief that anything counter to your beliefs is offensive then you relinquished your right to respect. If you are a whining damsel in perpetual distress or a “sensitive and caring” beta male feminised to the point of emasculation there is only so much mileage to be had before unconscious forces try to bring you back to what is natural and whole. That usually means conflict and pain depending on much resistance occurs. Which is why group-think and membership becomes essential when your own way of experiencing reality is to focus on what you don’t have and by living exclusively in the past world of perceived wrongs.
As a member of an ideologically left-liberal grouping, each person serves as a replica of the whole united by belief which may or not be rooted in fact. More often it is a surrogate family or tribe that has nothing to do genuine tolerance or real-world solutions. The real goal is to unify individual unconscious psychic forces into a shared experience and to prevent objective reality from penetrating a subjective sense of dominance through those insecurities and essential weakness. These are frequently dressed up as tolerance and compassion when they are really just another coping mechanism acting as a shield from what is going on inside. The person possessed by self-pity and victimhood is attracted to minority rights because that person requires an external focus, often obsessive, to act as distraction and energy source to replace the personal fortitude and character absent from within. The same victimhood identity can be seen in extreme right-wing groupings which foster the exact same fallacies the only difference being in the enforcement of inflexibility and barriers as opposed to flexibility and free-flow. Both are defined by pathological renderings of reality underpinned by a sense of perceived victimhood. Anything in life can be used as a doorstop to inner change and the terror involved in facing one’s own demons. Far easier to blame external reality – there are plenty of shadows to box out there.
Sympathy and empathy for those that suffer pain and hardship is natural and just, but when it changes into a manipulation to extract energy that one chooses not to create for oneself then the possibility for respect is quickly replaced with contempt. If you lack self-respect or integrity then likely that short-cuts or the misinterpretation of the “path of least resistance” is quite appealing. Yet, short cuts tend to backfire. (see no.5 Avoid short-cuts). People always help those that help themselves and nowhere is that more apparent when an individual takes responsibility for his future by focusing attention on his inner vision and what s/he knows he must change. As Gurdjieff notes: “You will see that in life you get back exactly what you put in. Your life is the mirror of what you are, it is your image.”
That means starting with how things really are, accepting obvious flaws and weaknesses; your past disasters and the mayhem you may have caused. The image of yourself that causes you shame, the image that you think you offer the world and the image that people receive: all three can be quite different. Learning to forgive your past self and grabbing the baton of change from your highest ideal will build self-respect, first and foremost because you know you are doing your best to earn that respect for yourself regardless of what anyone thinks. It is not self-love but the trust and faith in your essential Being as unique and miraculous; as a mirror of the Universe Spirit in microcosom.
Loving life and other people is the mark of conscience. If you want to love something love the soul and conscience first, rather than the self-referencing “I” of one’s desperate personality/ego afraid at the prospect of losing its power. All you have to lose is falsity. The respect afforded from others will be of little consequence, though it will arrive naturally as a result of this recognition. And respecting others and withholding judgement is a sure-fire way to help it along. Acceptance of this kind is outgrowth of self-acceptance and the re-organising of energy. Attempting to please everyone all of the time, feeling resentment at others’ successes; being a drama queen when things don’t go your way…All of these attempts to gain energy from basic insecurity and a lack of faith in oneself will begin to recede into the background when you understand at a deep level that you have nothing to prove to anyone other than yourself.
At the same time, if you have a poor self-image and all those around you spend time trying to tell you how much you are appreciated then there’s likely ample room for you to be less hard on yourself. We recognise our own value and how that can be reflected in others. It’s okay to acknowledge that. The same goes for respect. Respect others and they’ll (generally) do the same for you. To do that with freedom of mind, to let go without resisting that process we need to go within and find the obstacles to both poor image and over-compensation. Once we do that, life will respond in kind.
If we lack respect for ourselves because we are out of shape, or we place too much importance on other’s opinions; cannot take criticism or any number of issues that send us into unhealthy habits that provide an escape but increase that sense of worthlessness, we need to approach a range of issues to regain our self-worth. Self-respect arrives when we have a healthy ego doing the job it is meant to do – serving the soul – or at least on the way to that end. The dissolution or death of the ego is a distortion of truth. Without a healthy ego i.e. working as a servant to its master, we are no use to anyone and the conscience has no vehicle through which it can express itself. So know that you have value. It’s just a question of bringing it to life. We become truly alive when we do not misuse that precious life energy, an energy of mind and body that is ours alone but which can be transformed into a frequency attuned to a specific type of change – a change that binds, heals and creates. But we cannot do that if we are tied to the innumerable cheap thrills that offer temporary relief yet, take a little more from our soul every time we relinquish control.
With that in mind, it might useful to look at self-respect from the perspective of archetypes and their positive and negative embodiments. This will form the subject of the next post.
 ‘A lovely but pernicious story: How the self-esteem myth has damaged society’ By Clay Routledge, Quillette, 05 Jan 2019.
 ‘Warmth, not lavish praise, boosts self-esteem in children’ Science Daily, 28 Sep 2017.
 GI Gurdjieff, September 1941, from Question de Gurdjieff by Albin Michel