By Dr. Denee Jordan
We’ve all heard it, “You have to love yourself before you love anyone else.” Actually, this isn’t true. In fact, most of us love other people much more easily than we love ourselves. Frequently, we even love our pets more easily. However, though we can love others without loving ourselves, the truth is our relationships are much healthier when we do. We can’t feel true contentment unless we learn to love, and even more importantly, respect ourselves. When we do not respect ourselves, it manifests in all of our relationships. It can manifest as irritability, hyper-sensitivity, or being overly critical of other people. All of our interactions are distorted to a certain degree, but it is our own happiness that is impacted the most.
Respect is considered a key element in any loving relationship, including self-love. Self-respect, however, is a learned skill that many people are never taught. We are taught that we should have self-respect, but not how to get it. Too frequently the belief is that we can earn self-respect by making enough money, pleasing others, getting promoted, losing weight and so forth. In actuality, the opposite is true; self-respect is the precursor to success. So how do we learn to respect ourselves if we are not yet, in society’s terms, beautiful, fit, talented, or wealthy?
It is no small feat to be a surviving Human Being in our present society. In fact, it is amazing! Nobody but you knows what your experience has been. Gaining self-respect involves recognizing the effort you have put into living your life, no matter your present circumstances- acknowledging all of the time and energy you have spent struggling, loving, hurting, suffering, discovering, working, succeeding, failing, and feeling frustration, joy and disappointment in order to be alive in the present moment. Notice that there is no mention of culling only the ‘good’ parts of your life for examination. All of your life has had value!
Take obesity, for example. In today’s society, most overweight people feel badly about themselves because of a perceived notion that they are somehow ‘lesser than’ because of their weight. They try all kinds of diets to shed pounds and beat themselves up when they gain them back, sinking lower and lower into self-disrespect. What a tremendous shift there would be if, on the other hand, they were to add up all the pounds they had lost and gained, the money they had spent on weight-loss treatments, the time spent worrying, feeling isolated and depressed and said to themselves, “Wow! I am amazing! How wonderful that I can invest all of that emotion, energy, and time into trying to feel better! I have actually demonstrated tremendous ability!” The self-respect they would gain with that recognition would be the impetus for true, lasting change. Remember, self-respect precedes success!
Self-respect requires that we give ourselves credit for our efforts, without exception. One might say, “Yes, but I know better.” Knowing is not enough; we only do what we have learned. If we had learned better, we would have done better. We need to be honest about who we are and accept ourselves as completely as possible, including the things we think are ‘wrong’ or ‘bad’. We might hear, “That’s crazy! If I accept myself, nothing will change.” Though it may seem counterintuitive, finding the value in respecting ourselves [D1] even for the ‘bad’ choices we may have made paves the way for positive change. Respecting ourselves does not necessarily mean that everything is the way we want it; it is a decision to accept and honor ourselves as we are so that we can move forward positively!
Finding love or self-respect doesn’t necessarily involve changing anything in your life right this minute. It involves finding the courage to give yourself credit for all of the remarkable effort you have put into living, regardless of your present circumstances; knowing that you have done the best you could have done based upon what you have learned up to this point. Ready to change? Try coming from a place of self-respect and self-acceptance first. It will make all of the difference, because it is true that other people will not treat us any better than we treat ourselves. We attract people into our lives who mirror our perception of ourselves. Give yourself respect, compassion, and gratitude this Valentine’s Day, and it will be returned.
– Dr. Denee Jordan, PSY.D is a licensed Clinical Psychologist and Marriage and Family Therapist and the founder of Already Well, a progressive approach to treatment that works on the premise that no matter your present circumstance, you are already well. Today she serves as Mental Health Services Director for the Exceptional Children’s Foundation in Los Angeles, CA.