By Carissa Weber, MA, LPC, CSAC
Welcome to the third installation of interpersonal effectiveness skills! I’m so happy you were able to join us and learn more about how these set of important skills can:
- Improve how we interact and communicate with the people (and the world) around us
- Identify and ask for our needs to be met in a respectful (and assertive way)
- Gain the ability to remain responsible for our own reactions, not for others
In this post, I will be talking about a crucial part of interpersonal effectiveness: self-respect. Now, this may be a touchy post for people to read, mostly because a lot of us struggle with this novel idea of respecting ourselves. Don’t worry! This post is designed specifically to help you start to take those small steps to recognize where you deserve self-respect. You ready for it? Let’s go!
Self-respect has become an infamous sign of not loving ourselves. This is a common (and dare I say popular) belief that is taking over our world. By nature, humans are people pleasers and strive for acceptance and love. When we feel rejected or abandoned, it is easy to turn our frustration inward. This frustration soon fuels that darn amygdala to do something about it. Unfortunately, what that darn amygdala does is something we don’t like.
That darn, stubborn, and impulsive amygdala does not like rejection. It turns to our good friends, cognitive distortions, to figure out why we were rejected. As you recall from my previous posts, that darn amygdala asked FAST to keep us safe. Sometimes, that darn amygdala justifies its actions by pointing out things about ourselves that we truly dislike.
This, in turn, initiates the process of creating negative core beliefs about ourselves. The more our darn amygdala feels rejection, avoidance, or even conflict from people, the more strength those core beliefs gain. Now, some of you may be saying “I get that Carissa, I know how to challenge that.” But do we really? When you look at the stats out there, 85% of adults world-wide (that’s right, world-wide) report issues with their self-esteems (Nyguen, 2019). That number is massive!! Negative core beliefs and the reaffirmation of them through how our darn amygdala filters information leads to how we view ourselves and how we should be treated by people around us.
For those of you who got the opportunity to miss out on the formative years of being a teenager, self-esteem is having confidence in your own worth and abilities. We have all experienced, at some point in our lives, being unsure of ourselves. But if you find yourself constantly doubting yourself, avoiding doing things you are unsure of, or even saying hurtful things about yourself, you may have low self-esteem.
Anyways, back on track. A study was done in 2017 by UCL (University College of London) to track where self-esteem originates in the brain. When study participants were faced with negative situations, like rejection, as well as positive situations, like being accepted, what researchers found was pretty darn cool: people who struggled with a sense of self had lower function in their prefrontal cortex. In fact, only one part of their prefrontal cortex lit up like a Christmas Tree: the Insula. What the heck is that? The insula is this amazing part of the brain that is responsible for self-awareness: both physically and emotionally. It can support spatial awareness, taste, sensation, and processing pain. It also plays a huge role in addiction, but that is for another time.
When we have low self-esteem (in turn, now self-respect), the insula is totally confused about what it needs to do because it is receiving information from the thalamus (thanks to the filtering of that darn amygdala), that we are in pain and afraid. This makes us question what we really need because the sensory input doesn’t match the message that darn amygdala is sending.
What was interesting in this study is people who had a stronger sense of self and confidence in their ability had less insula activity and more prefrontal cortex activity. Even when they were experiencing rejection, their prefrontal cortex was still able to remain in control. Notably, these are the same test subjects that shared they felt good about themselves and what they believed.
So how does this trace back to interpersonal effectiveness skills? Have you ever heard of the saying “treat others the way you want to be treated”? We often treat people with respect, but do not extend the same curtesy to ourselves. When our darn amygdala has the insula in hyperdrive, we really get hard on ourselves and start hating everything wrong with us. Here is a news flash: we all have stuff wrong with us!
Using self-respect in day-to-day life is crucial as it safe guards us against several things:
- maladaptive coping skills like using illegal substances, choking that annoying co-worker, or self-harming behavior
- overstepping boundaries we need to keep to maintain our physical and mental health
- Engaging in unhealthy relationships
- Ignoring our basic needs in order to be accepted
- Increase symptoms of anxiety and depression
As we start to engage in self-respect, we are acknowledging we have basic human needs, just like everyone else. Self-respect allows us to be fair to ourselves while being respectful to other people. Self respect gives us the ability to be honest and assertive when communicating with people around us. Lastly, self-respect gives us a chance to become comfortable in our own skin.
Self-respect is more than just how comfortable we are with ourselves. It is also how we portray ourselves to people. Think about it for a minute. How we communicate to people around us (you know, like taking responsibility for ourselves and our actions) says a lot about the comfort level we have with ourselves. It is also the base for developing trusting relationships. Self-respect is one of the most important things we can develop.
Coping Skill Alert
One way we can assure we have self-respect when we communicate with other people is to follow the rule of FAST. This rule will help you be kind to yourself, while not taking on more responsibility than you need to in order to keep a relationship healthy. What I love about FAST is it is a road map to check in with yourself to ensure you are treating yourself with the same respect you are showing other people.
Like every other good therapy skill, FAST is an acronym (I bet you’re loving acronyms by now!). Let us dive in and start taking a look!
First, the letter F. F stands for treating yourself fairly. In conversations, people who struggle with self-respect tend to become passive about their needs. Maybe you have put other people’s needs before your own, even if you have a legitimate need and the other person has just a want (are you feeling called out? It’s okay, I just called myself out)? Perhaps you talk down about yourself or even down play your own natural abilities (like that amazing talent of knowing where everything is in your house?)? When we treat ourselves fairly and acknowledge our needs, we are giving ourselves permission to be human.
The letter A is more of a don’t do. A stands for apologies. Are you known for excessively apologizing? Do you even apologize to the wall when you walk into it? I know I have done it. When we over-apologize, we invalidate our own experience. We also give that darn amygdala information that confirms those pesky core beliefs and tear down our self-esteem. Now, apply that to a conversation with a person. We are carrying all of this unnecessary weight in the hopes that someone will validate us. Don’t get me wrong, we need to apologize when we really are in the wrong (like me eating the last piece of chocolate after realizing it was promised to one of my kids), but over-apologizing continues to leave us in a cycle of worthlessness and depression.
I really love S. S is the beginning of sticking to your values. As we’ve pointed out in earlier posts, humans are herd animals. We crave acceptance from the people around us. Unfortunately, at times, this means we sacrifice our belief system in order to be accepted and validated by those around us. DON’T DO THAT! Part of having relationships with people mean there will be conflict. Shoot, there may even be judgement. But that is okay. Know why? Because every person is an individual. We are allowed to have differences in opinions, to value different things. We can be respectful how we share (or hear) another’s value system. You are a human and have the right to be true to who you are!
Last, we have T. The letter T in FAST represents truthfulness. Even though being honest in a conversation is a gimme, let’s talk a bit more about what truthfulness looks like. When you are talking to a person, we are relaying information that represents you and your experience. If you are over-exaggerating, omitting crucial pieces of your experience, or even tell that “little white lie” to spare someone’s feelings, you are not being honest. When the person you are communicating with discover these little discrepancies, their trust in you will be tested (or broken depending on how big the lie is). When we come out and are authentic about who we are and why we need what we need, it allows another person to help us. Talk about a respect builder!
This post contained a lot of information about the importance of self-respect! I want to thank you for letting me help you on your journey towards mental health. Some parts of this journey are not comfortable, but these are the parts that allow us to grow!
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- Jan Will, Geert, Rutledge, Robb, Moutoussis, Michael, Dolan, Raymond (2017). Neural and computational processes underlying dynamic changes in self-esteem. Retrieved from https://elifesciences.org/articles/28098
- Nguyen Dat Tan, Wright E. Pamela, Dedding Christine, Pham Tam Thi, Bunders Joske (2019). Low Self-Esteem and Its Association With Anxiety, Depression, and Suicidal Ideation in Vietnamese Secondary School Students: A Cross-Sectional Study. Frontiers in Psychiatry,10, 2019, pg 698 https://www.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyt.2019.00698
- Linehan, M., M., (2014). DBT Training Manual. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.