Lesson 4 of 7  - optimize your relationships

Raise Mutual Respect

One Key to Satisfying

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW
Member NSRC Experts Council

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The Web address of this article is https://sfhelp.org/relate/keys/respect.htm

Updated  01-23-2015

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      This is one of a series of articles in Lesson 4 - optimize your relationships. These articles build on Lessons 1 - 3, and prepare you for Lesson 5 (evolve a nourishing family) and Lesson 6 (learn to practice effective parenting).

"Follow the three R's: Respect for self, Respect for others, and Responsibility for all your actions." - the Dalai Lama

      Do you - or does someone you care about - have "low self esteem"? Would you like to raise your self respect and learn how to react to people who don't think much of themselves - or you? Read on...


  • perspective on self respect and mutual respect, including the roots of low self esteem;

  • improving your respect for another person; and options for...

  • re/gaining someone's respect for you.   

      This article assumes you're familiar with...

  • the intro to this nonprofit Web site and the premises underlying it

  • self-improvement Lessons 1 thru 3

  • an overview of excessive shame

  • Nathaniel Branden's thoughts on the power of self esteem.

  • options for developing self-respect and self-love

Status check:

      Try saying your definition of respect out loud now. Then think of yourself and another person you value, and thought-fully rank each of these items from 1 (“very low”) to 5 (“very high”). Notice your thoughts and feelings as you do.

My recent respect for myself as a person: ___

My recent respect for myself as a fe/male: ___

My recent respect for myself as an adult: ___

Option: my recent respect for myself as a parent: ___

In the last six months, my self-respect has __ grown / __ declined / __ not changed

My recent respect for you as a person: ___

My recent respect for you as a fe/male: ___

My recent respect for you as a adult: ___

Option: my recent respect for you as a parent: ___

In the last six months, my respect for you has __ grown / __ declined / __ not changed

Estimate how your special person would answer each of these statements.

I feel some mix of calm, centered, energized, light, focused, resilient, up, grounded, relaxed, alert, aware, serene, purposeful, and clear, so my true Self is probably leading my other subselves now. (True / False / I'm not sure). If not "True," your answers above may be distorted.

      Pause and reflect - what are you aware of now? Do you see anything above that you want to change?

colorbutton.gif Respect 101

      Think of two or more living or dead adults that you highly respect (vs. like or need). Now think of several adults or kids that you don't respect. Reflect - what's different about these people? This will illuminate your current criteria for respect. Did you include yourself in either of these groups?

      Premise - All human relationships are shaped by the primal need to feel worthy, valued, proud, important, and good – i.e. respectable. For our purposes, let's say that respect is a spontaneous earned (vs. "deserved") attitude of approval and admiration of some aspects of yourself or another person. It is an essential ingredient of self and mutual love.

      The opposite of respect is indifference, scorn, disdain, rejection, revulsion, and/or disgust. Some people label all these together as hate. Paradoxically, we can dislike a person and still respect some qualities about them - or like and disrespect them at the same time. Have you ever felt that?    

Shame-based People

      Self respect begins in early childhood if caregivers respect themselves, and family nurturance is high enough. The more common alternative is shame - a crippling childhood belief that “I am unworthy, bad, incompetent, and unlovable.”

      Without awareness and skilled help, childhood shame migrates intact into adulthood. Shame ranges from local (e.g. “I’m a bad cook”) to global (“I’m a worthless person.”), and from normal to excessive. Normal (healthy) shame and guilt help us regulate our attitudes and behaviors.

      Most kids in low-nurturance childhoods develop a powerful Shamed Child personality subself. To adapt, we also develop several fierce Guardian subselves who protect and comfort our intense Shamed Child. Typical Guardians are the Egotist, Critic, Fantasizer, Magician, (reality distorter), People Pleaser, Martyr, Saint, Bully, Star, Liar, Numb-er, Addict, Loner, Avoider, Blocker, and others.

      These normal personality parts can also guard a Guilty Child, Scared Child, and Lost Child. If the Shamed Child and related Guardians often control the person’s true Self (capital "S"), the child or adult may be called shame-based.

      My experience as a therapist since 1981 suggests that many typical adults are shame-based (wounded) people who don’t (want to) know that. Until they choose to admit this and to intentionally grow self-respect, non-egotistical pride, and self love, they risk unintentionally raising shame-based kids as their wounded ancestors did. Do you know any parents or grandparents who are doing that?

      Once aware of low self respect, you can intentionally improve it over time. Doing this is learning to value and act from your integrity and overcome significant guilts ("I'm too self-centered!") and anxieties ("I'll be disliked and rejected!"). Strengthening self respect is a major benefit of working at Lesson 1 here.

      This brief YouTube video focuses on understanding and protecting your integrity:

      How do you feel about these premises? Could they apply to you and other adults and kids you care about?

  Degrees of Respect

      Respect for a person is a spontaneous (earned) attitude of significant approval, admiration, and appreciation. Respect can vary from...

global ("I respect everything about Tanya") to...

situational ("Manuel did an outstanding job handling the crisis."), to respecting one or more...

traits, abilities, and/or roles ("Pat is such a gifted musician.")

Can you think of examples of all three levels among the adults and kids you know?

Criteria for Respect

      Over time, we grow criteria for awarding respect, starting with standards we learn from our early caregivers and hero/ines. We (our ruling personality subselves) ceaselessly measure ourselves and other people against these criteria. Is that your experience? Try saying your criteria for "respectability" out loud - "I respect people who..."

      My criteria are awareness, courage, strength, resilience, determination, caring, responsibility, realistic optimism, reliability, integrity, open-mindedness, dignity, empathy, pride, awareness, compassion, spirituality, humor, creativity, resourcefulness, forgiveness, honesty, humility, wisdom, simplicity, and living on purpose. I've never met anyone with all these traits, and still know many people I greatly respect.

      My shame-based father would have emphasized hard worker, superior, disciplined, persistent, competitive, creative, decisive, professional, logical, humorous, and stoic. I have no idea what my Mother's criteria for respect were. Can you name your parents' criteria? If so, how do they compare to yours?

Respect and Communication

      After ~50 years' study, I conclude that people communicate with themselves and others to fill a dynamic mix of up to five needs. Perhaps the most powerful is the quenchless need to feel respected enough now and over time by (a) yourself and (b) important others.

      Our personality subselves constantly judge others' esteem for us by decoding "R(espect) messages" from their behavior. Communication may (vs. will) be effective only when each adult or child gets a credible mutual-respect ("=/=") message from the other. Do you agree?

      Recall the last time you felt scorned, distrusted, discounted, rejected, ignored, humiliated, belittled, invaded, abused, accused, blamed, criticized, cut off, interrupted, and dismissed - i.e. disrespected. Remember how that felt? How old were you when you first experienced these from another person? If you have kids, when did they first experience these?

Premise: If you and other people don't feel consistently respected enough by yourselves and each other, your relationship will be stressful and may decay. Do you agree?

      This video clip introduces what you're about to read. The introduction mentions eight self-improvement lessons in this site. I've reduced that to seven.

      To intentionally convert shame to genuine self respect, healthy pride, and self-love, it helps to understand…

The Roots of Low Self Esteem (Shame)

      Core shame or self-respect begin in a child's earliest years before language develops. Whether shame or healthy pride develops is directly proportional to who leads their parents’ personalities. Adults guided by their true Selves usually rear kids who think well of themselves and other people. Excessive (vs. normal) shame has wryly been called “the gift that goes on giving.

      Behavioral symptoms of a shame-based person are unmistakable: avoiding appropriate eye contact; compulsive defensiveness; excessive fear of failure; chronic lying; poor personal hygiene and health (self-neglect); addiction, including codependence; obesity; Narcissism; "egotism;" self-mutilation; living below potentials; and over-apologizing. Anyone come to mind as you read these traits?

Inner Critic and Shamed Inner Child/ren

      The personality of shame-based adults and kids is significantly shaped by a tireless Inner Critic (also called the Shamer) and one or more Shamed Child/ren. When ever the Critic activates, this intense young subself floods the host person with agonizing semi-conscious thoughts, feelings, and images which imply "I am a worthless, unlovable, flawed, bad person / male / female / child." 

      For (illogical) reasons, your Inner Critic feels s/he must acidly emphasize your endless shameful failings, mistakes, stupidities, blunders, and lacks "for your own good!" S/He does this through relentless thoughts and images. Meditation often discloses that your Critic's "voice" (thought streams) sounds like an early caregiver. Can you here "the voice" now?

      If a subself or other person dares to challenge our obvious worthlessness and unlovability ("You're such a great person!"), the Critic relentlessly refreshes the old “truth” ("No way! Remember when you totally screwed up by...”). If your Inner Critic is overactive, study Hal and Sidra Stone’s useful book “Embracing Your Inner Critic.”

Other Subselves

      A typical Inner Critic has several powerful teammates. Your tireless Perfectionist subself insists...

 "Perfect behavior is the lowest acceptable standard. It deserves no praise whatsoever. Anything less, I'm gonna go get the Critic. And s/he has a l-o-o-n-g memory..."

Your Skeptic/Pessimist and/or Cynic/Doubter constantly guard your Inner Kids against re-experiencing the agony of dashed hopes by ceaselessly insisting "You won't (or can’t) succeed / get loved / please others / get healthier / stay safe..."

      And perhaps you have a tireless Worrier subself whose life mission is to generate shrill uncertainties and second guesses about every decision and action you make. Its well-intentioned goal is to guard you against all possible failures, according to Inner Critic, Perfectionist, God, and various humans.

      Your Critic, Perfectionist, Cynic, and Doubter subselves are probably supported by an outspoken Moralizer / Preacher or Judge. Their self-appointed jobs are to provide rigid, right-wrong pronouncements to guide other subselves (and most other people) on how they should and must behave.

      Finally, you may be blessed and cursed with an energetic People Pleaser. Her or his mission is to protect your Abandoned Child and/or Lonely Child (subselves) from agonizing rejection (shaming) by having you constantly focus on filling other people's needs to earn their fragile approval.

      Typical Pleasers insist "You can take care of your needs later. They're not as important to us as __________'s needs are!" An overzealous Pleaser can (unintentionally) promote the toxic conditions of self neglect and codependence, and block effective win/win problem-solving.

      Before significant recovery from childhood wounds, these well-meaning Guardian subselves (a "false self") distrust the competence of your Self and other Manager subselves. Their thoughts, images, and feelings "take you over," specially in new, public, or risky situations.

      The inevitable result is ongoing inner anxiety and conflict, and frequent feelings of shame, guilt, confusion, and vague or sharp "worry." Does any of this sound familiar?

      Notice an implication of the ideas you just read. It is "I have low self esteem" now becomes "I'm often taken over by a Shamed Inner Child living in the past, and my protective Critic, Perfectionist, Preacher, and Pessimist subselves."

Grown Nurtured Children (GNCs) and Self-respect

      Adults blessed with wholistically-healthy childhood caregivers can be called Grown Nurtured Children (GNCs). They have Inner Critics and other devoted Guardian subselves too. However, they're more reasonable and moderate, and are balanced by other subselves who are sincerely affirming, loving, and encouraging.

      GNC’s subselves usually trust their true Self to hear and respect their needs and opinions, and then to act safely and effectively in every situation. A GNC's Shamed Child is present, but s/he usually feels noticed, accepted, and loved enough by other subselves and people. Other inner kids are usually more active and impactful. Do you know any Grown Nurtured Children?

      Because self-scorn and self-neglect are socially labeled "negative," we can feel ashamed of our shame. Other Guardian subselves like the (your) Analyzer, Blocker, Represser, Numb-er, Deflector, and Magician work hard to camouflage these traits from inner and outer detection and shaming criticism via reality distortions. This often promotes daily guilts and anxieties, which feel normal.

      Bottom Line: low self esteem (shame) begins in early childhood if wounded caregivers can't consistently provide healthy nurturance. Various personality subselves learn early to be rigidly perfectionistic, self-critical, self-shaming, and self-neglectful, and to discount talents, achievements, and successes. When this dynamic becomes excessive, such a wounded adult can be called "shame-based."

Shame Seeks Itself

      My experience with over 1,000 typical adult therapy clients since 1981 is that shame-based (wounded) people repeatedly choose others like them for partners and associates. That suggests that despite outward appearances, many divorcing and re/married couples share low self esteem (shame) as persons, or in some key roles like wo/man, parent, grown child, friend, wage-earner, and/or neighbor.

      If a person (like you) starts to significantly improve their self respect, shame-based relationship partners (i.e. their ruling subselves) may feel increasingly uneasy and unconsciously try to discourage or sabotage your healing...

      Notice your thoughts and emotions now. Anything like "This sure doesn't apply to me!"; or “Oh NO - it does! I'm (probably or surely) ruled by  shame-based subselves! What can I do?" Or maybe you're thinking of one or more others in your life who seem dominated by shame-promoting false selves.

Status check: See how you feel about each of these ideas so far. “A” = agree, “D” = disagree, and “?” = ”I’m not sure, or don’t care.”

Respect, pride, and forgiveness are some of the components of love. Intentionally improving these components may or may not grow love. (A  D  ?)

I can intentionally assess, discuss, and improve self respect and mutual respect with any receptive person. (A  D  ?)

Any motivated, aware person can choose to reduce excessive shame and grow non-egotistical pride in their own unique values, abilities, and traits, over time. (A  D  ?)

I am responsible for my self-respect, attitudes, and actions; but not for any other able adult's self-respect, self-love, guilt, and shame or pride - and vice versa. (A   D  ?)

Accepting the responsibility of nurturing minor kids includes the responsibility for unselfishly encouraging their self-respect, self-appreciation, and self-love, and their humility. (A  D  ?)

I have the indisputable right to decide whom I respect, when, and why - and others have the same right, (A  D  ?)

Any aware adult can choose to identify, reduce, and avoid excessive guilt. (A  D  ?)

We can earn, but not consciously create or force, self-love and mutual love. (A  D  ?)

Acceptance of each other is not being nonjudgmental, it’s being truly at peace with the judgments we make of ourselves and each other. (A  D  ?)

       All the ideas above form a foundation for what you're about to read. If disrespect for yourself or someone else is eroding your relationship, you can improve your self-respect. You may or may not be able to regain respect for or from another person (next page)

      Now let's focus on your options for...

  Improving Respect for Someone Else

      Have you ever lost respect for an adult or child? If so, did you just accept that, or try to regain your respect for them? How can you do that? First, admit that...

  • you've lost significant respect for the other person, and admit...

  • how that loss affects your relationship with important adults and kids.

       Option 2) Familiarize yourself with these ideas about personality subselves and psychological wounds. Then assess yourself and the other person for "significant wounds."  Significant is a subjective judgment. The following assumes your true Self usually guides your personality. If not, you have bigger problems than gaining respect for the other person. See Lesson 1.

      3) Choose a long-range viewpoint, and an attitude like "These steps will protect my integrity and may help our relationship."

      4) Review or draft your Personal Bill of Rights. You have the right to choose your own criteria for awarding respect to other people. Unaware people often live blindly by others' criteria - e.g. "You must honor (respect) thy father and thy mother," and "You must) always respect God, clergy, doctors, police, and authorities." If you disagree with this or feel ambivalent, suspect that a false self controls you. 

      5) Identify your judgment criteria. Think of several people you solidly respect (including yourself?). List the specific things about their attitudes and actions that earn your approval and admiration. Look for patterns. It may help if these people are the same gender as your disrespected person.

      6) Using your respect criteria, dig down to clarify specifically what you need from the other person to gain respect for them.

       Recall - we're reviewing options for improving your respect of another person...     

      7) Review your expectations of the other person. If s/he is significantly wounded, unaware, and in protective denial, s/he may not be able to meet your expectations as a person, wo/man, or in some role. If so, respect the things s/he can achieve, and shift your disrespect toward compassion. This doesn't mean you must endure disrespectful or harmful behavior from the person. 

      If you're in a stepfamily, you probably believe some of over 60 common myths which may be wrongfully corroding your respect. For example, it’s unrealistic to expect a stepparent to “be an adult” and ignore the pain of being disrespected, rejected, or used by a stepchild. Study and apply Lesson 7.

      Option 8) Study Lesson 2 to strengthen your communication effectiveness, including how to give constructive feedback. Meditate on how your disrespect for the person shows in your behaviors (e.g. lack of eye contact; avoidances, etc.) and identify specifically how that may be affecting her or him. Option - ask the person directly.

      9)  Don't let fear of conflict or "hurting her/his feelings." deter you from offering the person respectful feedback about what causes your disrespect. Doing this is often enabling, not "thoughtfulness." View respectful feedback to the person as a well-meant gift, even if it causes discomfort. If s/he is an able adult, s/he is responsible for managing his or her feelings (needs), and you are responsible for yours. Do you agree?

      10) List specific traits you genuinely like and appreciate about the person - e.g. honesty, humor, persistence, creativity... Then identify other traits that lower your respect for him or her, like indecisiveness, inconsistency, lying, avoiding, timidity, name-calling, poor hygiene, etc. Beware of making black-white judgments and generalities - e.g. "All liars are bad people."

      Stay clear on what values conflicts and relationship triangles are. Your disrespect may promote other relationship problems.

      Option 11)  If you're recovering from your own psychological wounds, tell the other person informationally, vs. persuasively. Two recovering people may forge deep, fulfilling relationships as they heal! Whether you do this or not, consider using respectful "I" messages to assert...

the specific behaviors that diminish your respect for the other person,

how each behavior effects you directly and indirectly; and…

what specific changes you need her or him to want to make, to re/build your respect.

      And avoid...

  • labels ("I disrespect you because you're an inconsiderate, insensitive slob!"),

  • generalizing ("You always / never..."); and...

  • name-calling like ("you jerk / moron / loser / idiot /...".

      You're offering information and an invitation to improve your mutual relationship satisfaction. If the other person mistakes this for an attack, that's a sign of a shame-based false self and reality distortion. These are not your responsibility!

      Before asserting...

  • ensure your Self is leading your other subselves, and...

  • in important situations, guess the person's response to each of your assertions. Practice responding to any resistances:

  • use empathic listening ("So you feel I'm being oversensitive and unfair."); then...

  • re-assert your respect-building needs, with steady eye contact and without defense, explanation, or counterattack.

      Pick an undistracted time and place, and assert your perceptions and needs calmly and briefly. Allot plenty of time for interaction. Because communication is cause-and-effect, ask if there's something you do that promotes the behaviors that cause your disrespect. Then listen, and be open to win-win problem-solving.  Option: as co-explorers, map your shared interactions that lead up to such a behavior.


"Sometimes I shade the truth with you because if I tell my truth, you usually criticize or disparage me and my feelings."

"I agree with some of your demands just to shut you up. Then you get all steamed when I 'don't follow through, and you tell me you lose respect for me. I'd follow through more often if we could problem-solve instead of you nagging and harping so much. I don't like conflict!”

      Pause, breathe, and notice what you're thinking. Think of someone you'd like to respect more, and imagine using options like these with them. What do you (your Self0 think might happen?

We’ve just explored options for re/gaining respect for another person. What if someone's respect for you has dwindled?

  Earning Others' Respect

      Think of people who respect (vs. "like") you - as a person, a wo/man, a friend, a family member, and/or in some special role. How did you earn their admiration and value? What is it about you they respect - specifically? Did you set out to earn their respect intentionally, or did it occur "by itself"?

      Would you agree that in most growing relationships, trust, respect, approval, acceptance, and genuine interest evolve together via shared experiences? If so - and you want to earn someone else's respect for you - then consider these options:

  • put your true Self in charge of your personality, regardless of what the other person thinks of you.

  • adopt a patient outlook. Earning genuine respect and trust is a long-term project!

  • meditate on why you need this person to respect you. Can you live well enough without it? Does someone else (like a friend, parent, or mate) need you to earn the person' respect?

  • affirm or grow your self-respect. It's hard to admire someone who feels badly about themselves (yes?);

  • assess what R(espect) messages you've been broadcasting to the other person. If your false self has projected c/overt disapproval and scorn, you may harvest the same attitude in return.

  • assess whether the other person is significantly wounded. If so, the wounds and distorted perceptions may be causing the disrespect, not you. If so, use these wise guidelines.

  • ask the person (vs. assuming) what s/he expects of you - specifically. It's possible s/he may have unrealistic expectations. If so, assert that reality, and then let go.

  • decide whether you need to forgive yourself and/or the other person for some past hurts or disappointments. If so, try that and see what happens.

  • decide whether there's any value in seeking to grow trust, approval, and respect separately.

  • ask the person (a) what qualities s/he respects in other people, and/or (b) specifically what s/he needs in order to respect you more. Then decide if you can - and want to - fill his or her needs without losing your integrity.

  • add your own options for meriting respect...

      Pause and reflect: how do you feel about what you just read? Is your Self answering or 'someone else'?

colorbutton.gif Status Check  See where you stand on the ideas in this article: T(rue), F(alse), or "?" (I'm not sure / I don't care).

I have assesed myself honestly for psychological wounds, and I am steadily working at any wound-reduction I need. (T  F  ?)

I believe my self respect is currently high enough, as _ a person, _  a wo/man, _ a _____; or I’m proactively working to raise my self respect now. (T  F  ?)

I'm clear enough on my criteria for respecting myself or anyone else  (T  F  ?)

I'm clear enough on my options for raising my respect of another person now (T  F  ?)

I'm clear enough on my options for earning someone else's respect of me now. (T  F  ?)

I feel a mix of calm, centered, energized, light, focused, resilient, up, grounded, relaxed, alert, aware, serene, purposeful, and clear, so my true Self is probably answering these questions. (T  F ?) 

colorbutton.gif Recap

      This article is one of a series on optimizing your relationships. It offers...

  • perspective on self respect and mutual respect, including the roots of low self-esteem (shame); and options for...

  • improving respect for another person, and for...

  • re/gaining someone's respect for you  

      Pause, breathe, and reflect - why did you read this article? Did you get what you needed? If not, what do you need? Who's answering these questions - your true Self, or ''someone else''?

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