Self Respect

“Be who you are and say how you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.”

The Cat in the Hat, Dr. Seuss

What is self-respect?

Self-respect can be defined as having a sense of confidence and liking in both how we view and feel about ourselves as individuals, and in our relationships with others.

In order to be respected by others, it is important that we also respect ourselves. These two factors are symbiotic.

Our self-respect is rooted in our values, morals and belief systems. It is observable in the choices we make, and in how we behave and conduct ourselves in our day-to-day lives and interactions.

Self-respect is a commitment and an ongoing journey – it is not something that can be ‘completed’. The good news therefore is that it is not something we can ‘lose’ or ‘fail at’. We can always recommit to working on our self-respect, when we feel we may have strayed or momentarily ‘given it away’.

To build self-respect, we can start by behaving and making choices that are effective for ourselves and our relationships, and which ultimately make us feel good, fulfilled and proud of ourselves.

Why is self-respect important?

Henriksen et al. (2017) found fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression were reported in people who experienced a greater sense of self-respect, which was linked to higher levels of self-esteem.

Vanbuskirk (2023) evidenced that people who reported greater self-respect were less likely to experience feelings of hopelessness, unworthiness and critical self-thoughts compared to those who reported lower self-respect.

Lancer (2016) reported that greater self-respect was more strongly associated with improved relationship satisfaction. She found that it facilitated healthier communication styles, boundaries, trust and stronger feelings of connection within relationships.


What gets in the way of self-respect?

Our Negative Automatic Thoughts (NATs) can be one factor that gets in the way of us developing and maintaining our self-respect.

Here are some examples of NATs that people commonly report to us, and ideas of how we can begin to challenge and ‘reframe’ them:

  1. ‘I don’t deserve to have my wants and needs met by others’.

Challenge: I am equal to others. My wants and needs are as important.

  1. ‘It is selfish or bad to ask for my wants and needs to be met by another person’.

Challenge: Relationships are reciprocal. Asking for my wants or needs to be met by another person, encourages and permits them to do the same with me.

  1. ‘I feel responsible for others. I should prioritise their wants and needs over mine and stay silent’.

Challenge: In order to have meaningful relationships, both people’s wants and needs deserve to be heard and acknowledged. Honest communication is key in relationships and support us to know where we stand with one another.

Another factor that commonly undermines our self-respect is when we behave reactively to strong emotions. For example, lashing out when we are angry. Learning skills to regulate emotions and be more mindful to our judgements, emotions and urges can help us to respond more effectively, without giving away our self-respect.

How can I develop and maintain my self-respect?

DBT offers four interpersonal effectiveness skills which guide us in how to develop and maintain our self-respect for ourselves as individuals, and in our relationships.

These skills can be remembered with the acronym ‘FAST’:


The first self-respect skill is to Be FAIR.

Here, we are encouraged to express, listen to, acknowledge and validate the wants, needs, feelings and opinions of both ourselves and others, before we respond further.


Evidence shows that behaving FAIRLY to self and others increases our self-esteem (Dalbert, 1999). When we behave FAIRLY in our relationships, we also experience greater social acceptance and feelings of belonging (Flynn et al., 2006).


Imagine you are in the midst of a disagreement with a friend.

You may notice that you are thinking about what you want to say next whilst they are talking; have the urge to interrupt in order to get your point across; and you may be focused on your own feelings, thoughts and a desire to ‘win this battle’.

When using the skill of being FAIR, DBT instead encourages us to allow the other person space to be heard fully. Allow them to express their feelings and opinions uninterrupted, show interest, and validate the valid within what they are saying, even if we do not approve or agree.

Next, being FAIR to ourselves in this same situation would involve being honest and finding our voice to express how we truly feel and think about the situation also. We validate our own feelings and opinions by voicing them effectively, without aggression and without denial.

A: No Apologies

The second self-respect skill is No Apologies.

In DBT, we are encouraged not to apologise when:

  • we have not done anything immoral or illegal (e.g. ‘sorry to bother you’);
  • for having and expressing an opinion, emotion, want or need (e.g. ‘I’m sorry for getting upset’, ’I’m sorry for asking’);
  • to not over apologise when an apology is warranted (i.e. one meaningful sorry is enough!).


Rai (2021) and Hall (2019) note that by over apologising, we are signalling to others that we lack confidence and conviction in ourselves. They note that unwarranted apologies can reinforce poor self-esteem; undermine valid expressions of our wants and needs; permit others to dismiss us; lead to future apologies feeling insincere; and can even be annoying to others!


When using the skill of No Apologies, DBT encourages us to consider when an apology is justified and appropriate in each individual situation.

For example, it would be appropriate to apologise to someone when we have behaved in a way that has violated our morals and values, or when we have caused emotional and/or physical harm to someone. Here, the emotion of guilt will signal the need to repair the relationship with an apology.

When guilt is not justified however (i.e. we have not violated our values or morals or caused harm to others), apologising would not be warranted. Therefore, you could try replacing the word ‘sorry’ with ‘thank you’ (e.g. ‘thank you for listening to me’ instead of ‘sorry for taking up your time’).


The third self-respect skill is to Stick to your Values.

It is important to understand here that there is a difference between our ‘values’ and our ‘goals’.

Goals are achievable aims that we can accomplish and complete, the end destination, and may shortly after be replaced with a new goal. Values however are like a compass and guide our choices and behaviours along the journey. They are informed by our morals, beliefs and what is important to us.

Identifying your values and priorities can help you to make effective, long-term decisions that reflect and maintain your sense of self-respect. They may be related to relationships, family, learning, work, leisure, development and spirituality etc.


Mbukha (2023) reported that knowing what is important to you and acting in line with your personal values is important to building your self-respect. Values support us to develop a sense of belonging, purpose and identity as individuals and in our relationships. If we value honesty for instance, we are more likely to feel good about ourselves when we tell the truth, even when it is difficult to do so.


Imagine you are 80 years old reflecting back on your life. What advice would you give your younger self? For example:

  • What would you do less/more of? (e.g. be more spontaneous, be more compassionate)
  • What would you encourage your younger self to let go of or worry less about? (e.g. body hang-ups, other people’s opinions about you)
  • What would you tell your younger self to prioritise over other areas? (e.g. spend more time with my family, over work)


The fourth and final self-respect skill is to Be Truthful.

Being TRUTHFUL to others requires prioritising honesty over the use of untruths or unsaids.

DBT encourages us to be TRUTHFUL even when we feel like an untruth or exaggeration of the truth may help us to ‘win’ an argument or force a person to take us more seriously (think ‘the boy who cried wolf’). Similarly, being honest instead of staying silent is important here.

Being TRUTHFUL to ourselves is equally as important here. This involves not lying to ourselves or denying the reality of a situation, even if it is hard or painful to acknowledge or accept.


McAllister (2023) notes that when we lie to others and they find out, it is nearly impossible to regain their full trust. Untruths can damage trust, and make people less likely to believe and rely on us. This is counterproductive to fulfilling, intimate long-term relationships.

Oppong (2023) also reported that when we lie to ourselves, we create an artificial reality that holds us back from experiencing genuine satisfaction, happiness and growth.


Being truthful to others could involve expressing your wants and needs, feelings and opinions to others with kindness, integrity and courage, even in the face of anxiety or embarrassment. It may involve sticking to the facts, not devaluing or fragilising the other person, and excludes supplementing or bending the truth.

Being truthful to ourselves could involve admitting to ourselves that we are unhappy in a relationship, having exhausted all problem-solving steps within our control to repair it, and then finding the courage to end the relationship.

For more information about DBT Skills or for support on developing self-respect, get in touch or email

Blog written by Salma Hassan, Trainee Assistant Psychologist (Supervised by Dr Emily Smyth)