You’ve seen it a hundred times. A well-dressed man or woman enters with a buoyant step and an erect bearing. The person crosses the room to a clerk, a functionary or a waiting group and announces his or her desires in a tone of quiet confidence. They appear to be granted almost immediately. Contrast this with another person—it might even be you—who enters the same room, round-shouldered and slightly bent over, gazing at the floor. You cross the room hesitantly, almost apologetically, and present your request half-inaudibly. Half the time you find yourself ignored or pushed aside. You’re not actually wearing a sign on your back that says “Kick Me,” but you might as well be. The first person’s experience confirms his or her self-image of deserving respect. Your experience confirms your self-image of lacking respect. Yet the clerk or functionary or waiting group may be the same in both cases. You train people how to treat you.
So how does that confident person achieve self-respect? As children we expect to get certain essential messages of value from our parents: I value you; I accept you; I love you; I understand you; I respect you. A child who receives these messages goes through the world with an attitude of self-confidence. This doesn’t mean being overbearing or entitled but simply embodying basic truths: I count; my desires matter; I have the right to express them.
What about those who fail to receive the essential messages? It’s never too late to have a happy childhood. You do it by giving yourself whatever your parents could not. If you believe that you deserve respect, others will give it. And how do you make yourself believe that you deserve respect? Begin by acting the part: dress well; stand up straight; walk the way you imagine a confident person would walk; practice speaking with authority. Even though you may continue to think of yourself as undeserving of respect, when you start acting as someone who commands respect, eventually your mind will be compelled to accept this new you.
Patrick Fanning’s book Self-Esteem contains a multitude of useful exercises. And, after all, helping you develop a healthy love for yourself represents one of the fundamental goals of psychotherapy.
Arthur Wenk holds a doctorate in musicology and masters degrees in information science, music theory, and psychology.
Art‘s client-centered approach is based on empathic listening, helping clients integrate thoughts, feelings and actions, and assisting them to revise self-stories that have kept them enmeshed in problems: all in the interest of achieving mental, emotional and spiritual wholeness.