417. Working on Self-Respect

A while back, a resident of the nursing home where I work thanked me for helping her with something. “Sure thing,” I replied. “They don’t pay me to stand around looking grumpy, you know.”

The resident laughed, and I added, “I am pretty good at it, though. If being a grump were a paying profession, I’d be the best in my field.”

“Don’t say that,” said the resident, suddenly serious. “You’re too hard on yourself.”

I briefly considered explaining my tendency toward self-deprecating humor, but decided against it for two reasons. First, I had other people to assist. Second, the resident is in her nineties and can’t even remember my name, so an explanation didn’t seem worth the effort.

I like to make people laugh, and put-downs are an easy form of humor. Since other people are hurt by mockery, I mock myself. I don’t think there’s any harm in that. Heck, some of the people whom I admire most, including family members, poke fun at themselves all the time.

Taking a break

Besides, when it comes to cheerful self-deprecation, I’m an awfully easy target.

However, if I’m honest with myself, some small part of my self-deprecation is a response to low self-esteem. Poking fun at myself allows me to point out some of my own faults before anyone else gets the chance. It’s a way of telling others, “Look, I know I have problems. You don’t have to tell me. I already know.”

Low self-esteem seems to run in the family. Many of my relatives on both sides have struggled to maintain a sense of self-worth. Fortunately, however little a person might esteem or value himself, he can choose to respect himself. Self-esteem depends on mood or circumstances, but self-respect is a choice.

Self-respect is a powerful weapon for overcoming life’s obstacles. (Specifically, self-respect is a sharp katana blazing with purple flames… according to the movies, anyway.) I may not be able to wish away feelings of low self-worth, but I try to maintain self-respect in my day-to-day life.

How am I trying to maintain self-respect? Well, I’m glad I asked.

I’m trying to keep my home neat and clean.

In this chaotic, broken mess of a world, my home is the only place over which I have complete control. When I allow it to become cluttered or dirty, I feel like I’m losing what little respectability and self-discipline I have. I may sometimes feel like a mess, but I can at least make sure my immediate surroundings aren’t messy.

Oddly enough, I’m not even slightly bothered by the messiness of other people. Their clutter is their concern. Only my own messes bother me. When I stay in other homes, or other people stay in mine, I’m satisfied to keep my own stuff neat. It’s only when I become untidy that my self-esteem plummets.

I’m trying to keep myself neat and clean.

This is pretty much the same principle as the one above, but applied to my person instead of my surroundings. I don’t wear elegant clothes or obsess over my appearance. However, I do wear clean clothes that fit, match, and have no obvious rips, holes, or stains. I try to look respectable, and to smell clean. Heck, I even shave occasionally. Neatness and cleanliness are basic virtues, but important ones for maintaining self-respect.

I don’t look particularly nice, but I’ll settle for vague respectability.

I feel lazy and slovenly when I stop caring about my appearance. Even when I feel like a failure, I sure as heck don’t want to look like one.

I’m trying not to blame myself for things that aren’t my fault.

I tend to blame myself when things go wrong. After all, I have to blame someone, and I feel guilty blaming other people. Thus, when my car breaks down, or someone steals a package I ordered, or a person at work is rude, I assume it’s somehow my fault. I could have avoided it, right? I could have done something better, and I should have done it. This assumption makes it awfully hard to stay positive. I make enough mistakes without blaming myself for everything else.

As I blunder onward, I’m trying to be more rational in acknowledging that stuff isn’t always my fault—or at least, it isn’t always all my fault. In one of the Harry Potter books, as Dumbledore confesses a terrible mistake, he admits it was “almost entirely my fault—I will not be so arrogant as to claim responsibility for the whole.” There’s a lesson there.

I’m trying not to procrastinate.

Putting off commitments and responsibilities leaves me feeling stressed and guilty. Completing them promptly gives me a warm feeling of satisfaction, and allows me to feel ever so slightly more in control of my life. I’m trying not to procrastinate. I’m not really succeeding—I didn’t know what I was going to write for this post, let alone start writing it, until the day before it was due—but I sure am trying.

I’m trying to balance work and rest.

I feel stressed and helpless when I’m too busy, and anxious and guilty when I’m not busy enough. Both extremes damage whatever self-esteem I have. It’s when I reach a healthy balance of work and rest that I feel like a respectable, well-adjusted human being.

Are my attempts to maintain self-respect working? I think so, though it doesn’t always feel like it. Fortunately, self-respect isn’t a feeling, but a choice. However my self-esteem may rise or fall, I choose to believe I’m a worthwhile human being, and to act like one.

(I don’t have a flaming katana yet, but I’m getting there.)

7 thoughts on “417. Working on Self-Respect

  1. The way I see it, God loves you more than you can possibly imagine. In his eyes, you’re worth an awful lot. Dead-son lot. Total grace lot. Much more than any of us deserve. So to decide you’re less worthy than that by having low self-worth, it’s kind of playing God. It’s saying “You don’t understand, God. You don’t KNOW the things I know. If you did, you wouldn’t love me or think I was super worth everything like you do. In that way, I’m smarter than you. My call trumps your call.” To which God patiently responds “When are you going to let me be God and accept that you’re worth what I say you’re worth?”

    Self worth is all fine and dandy, but if my worth was up to me I’d be dead a long time ago. Thankfully my worth is set by someone else who knows a lot better than I do. 🙂

    And boy, if I judged my self-respect on the tidiness of my house… well, let’s just say I’d be doomed on that one too.

    +1 for balance of work and rest. I think we all need to do that. Usually a lot more… Those other commandments are a lot easier to agree to these days than the “rest” one. (It’s like God doesn’t understand how busy I am! A whole day, Lord? Every WEEK?!)

    • I am literally doing a Junior High retreat on this exact concept this weekend. My grandpa used to say that a house is worth as much as someone will pay for it. Transfer that to us… Jesus paying the ultimate price says that we are worth everything to him. Therein lies our true worth. As far as self-respect, I think accepting compliments can go a long way there. I’ve been working hard at saying, “thanks” and not adding any “but… (throw your compliment back at you by insulting myself)”. Puns are more funny anyway. He-brews… the most important book in the Bible for coffee drinkers! See? WAY more funny.
      And agreed, based on my desk/room/general life… I would be a MESS! 😉

    • You’re absolutely right about God deciding our worth, but that isn’t the issue here. At no point did I say “I believe I am worthless.” What I said was more like “I sometimes feel like a failure.” There is a world of difference between these two statements, and I think you’re responding to the one I didn’t actually say.

      I don’t think I’m “playing God” or deciding I’m “less worthy” by feeling low. Feelings of low self-esteem are exactly that: feelings. They aren’t always based on reason or truth, and they aren’t a choice. Attitudes, not emotions, are what we choose. I’m trying to choose an attitude of self-respect, even when feeling low.

      • Well I’m not going to argue with one of my dear friends, but I will gently point out this bit: “Low self-esteem seems to run in the family. Many of my relatives on both sides have struggled to maintain a sense of *self-worth*. Fortunately, however little a person might esteem or *value* himself.” So I pulled the worth and value words from your post, I didn’t make them up! 🙂

        You’re right, feelings aren’t always a choice. Chemicals in the brain gonna do what they do, especially during certain times of the year when we don’t get the right level of vitamins and such. That said, positive thinking can alter feelings. (You don’t have to take my word for it, plenty of science and spiritual recommendations back it up!) What we focus our attention on, or even how we choose to view the world and our circumstances, can certainly alter those un-chosen feelings. I think we all need a constant reminder of Phillippians 4:8 during our daily lives, particularly with all the negativity the world wants to force feed us:

        “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.”

        If we listen to these words and put them into action, the bad feelings have no room in our brains to hang around. Then it does indeed become our choice, thankfully. And anyway, God’s love overpowers any feelings we could have (honest). You spend some time in his arms and there’s just no possible way to dwell on anything but that love. It’s too big and too strong. The other stuff has no chance at all.

        Not that there’s anything wrong with bad feelings and failure. We learn from those, and we should soak up those lessons as much as possible because otherwise we might as well get right to the Heaven part of existence! We’re here for now to learn, and failure is a beautiful and wise professor. She gets a bad rap far too often, and we try to avoid her instead of listening to her lessons. 🙂

  2. A great thing to think about when struggling with self-esteem is to realize where your worth is…

    Your worth is not in your accomplishments, nor is it is your failures. Your identity is in Jesus Christ, who bore your earthly worth on the cross. In God’s eyes, you are worth Jesus.

    ^ It’s tough to remember this when the struggle hits, but it has definitely helped me.

    I do agree with the ‘cleaning your room’ part. That helps too. Haha

    • I like that concept. “I am worth Jesus.” Kind of makes any doubt or self-esteem issues impossible when you stand in front of that truth!

      I was having a conversation elsewhere online about art and money, and some folks claimed your worth was based on what you get paid for a project. That somehow the person hiring you determines your worth. I find that idea crazy, especially in the wake of such wisdom as that above. What authority can an employer possibly have in the presence of God? Know your worth and no one else can tell you otherwise, not even yourself.

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