I thought I had written something on this a while back, but since I can't find it, I'm going to post this.
After having several head-butting sessions with a couple of people who were, let's just say, 'acting inappropriately,' I began to wonder how these folks could be so self-confident as to abandon their rather high social status and behave in utterly shameful ways. Then it occurred to me...
These days, people have far more self-esteem than self-respect.
There is a difference, though modern culture has abandoned teaching self-respect and so people now confuse it with self-esteem. There is a difference.
- "I love me no matter what I do."
- "My thoughts and opinions are equal to anyone else's."
- "I can do whatever I decide to because I am equal to all other people."
- "No one else can judge me because no one else's opinions have more value than anyone else."
- "I don't have to be weighed down by accountability to others when accountability interferes with my intentions."
- "I am not bad, nor am I doing anything bad, unless I intend to."
- "I love me in proportion to the level I have risen, because I have proved myself in adversity."
- "My thoughts and opinions are of value to the extent that they well-informed, and others may have thoughts and opinions that are better than mine."
- "I cannot do things which are not in keeping with either the goodness I have attained to or even the goodness that I seek to rise to."
- "I am proud to be accountable to others, because this accountability keeps me safe and helps others."
- "When I act in a manner beneath me, then I fall from where I was and will now have to rebuild what my lack of self-restraint destroyed."
If I have self-respect, then I will always remember who I am to others and myself, whereas self-esteem is all about the 'freedom' from guilt and shame that often safe-guard us from harming ourselves and others. It is not like 'pride' since this is a false narrative of the self, whereas true self-respect must be grounded in reality.
These days, people who are often well-respected will act in horrendously embarrassing ways... all because they have plenty of self-esteem. They esteem themselves to the point where they act in silly and childish ways, yet want to turn around and be treated as adults... or even higher than that. The problem is that the self-esteem robs them of their dignity and respect.
Part of the problem with American culture is that, in losing the understanding of the difference between these two concepts, we now place the greatest value on people with the highest self-esteem. Actors and 'Celebutards' have lots of self-esteem... enough to get in front of a camera and not be worried about looking bad. We reward that, and many young people even try to emulate this abandonment of dignity.
The problem with self-esteem is that it is built upon so many lies. Not all my opinions are of equal value: no one should come to me asking for advice on cancer treatment. I can't jettison my responsibilities and not expect others, and even myself, to be hurt in the process.
Self-esteem focuses on the self, but self-respect focuses on the respect.
The addict is often characterized as an 'egomaniac with an inferiority complex.' This means that he operates in self-esteem and pride, but then realizes his shame and is depressed by it. He does not have self-respect, otherwise he would not indulge in the behaviors that he does in his disease.
By not teaching people how to have self-respect, we are laying the foundations for addiction. Self-esteem suppresses the impulse control mechanisms that we need to have to be part of a functioning society. As we lose our impulse control, we increase our chances of engaging in behavior that will lead to addiction.
A big part of recovery is learning about what it is to have self-respect. By serving others, we feel better about our own real value. True self-respect cuts off self-doubt and other destabilizing worries. That is because self-respect is grounded in our own proven merits rather than a false feeling of infinite equality or superiority.