I matter. You matter. Defining Self-Respect vs. Self-Esteem

What is self-respect? Is it different from self-esteem? Why does self-respect building matter in the realm of youth development? The Respect Institute Visiting Professor Dr. Nancy S. Niemi answers these questions in her new research. She explores the existing research about self-respect and provides the Ri’s clear definition, which offers new insight about the nature of self-respect. We learn that self-esteem is influenced by outside forces and is more malleable, whereas self-respect is an internal asset that can be maintained despite circumstances.

We learn that self-respecting individuals are motivated by a fundamental belief that despite their circumstances, they—and others—are equally a “unique contributor to the greater whole. (Lawrence-Lightfoot)” Self-respect is evident in each person’s actions and language. It is not hierarchical, nor is it earned. It is self-caring, reflective, resilient, and rooted in personal power to choose how we utilize our gifts and interact with our surroundings and others. It is always present, though sometimes diminished; yet it can always be recovered. Self-respect is not a product of isolation nor dependence. It is fostered and grown from quite the opposite: interaction and support. It is nurtured through a personal commitment to practicing daily self-respecting acts whether learned or innate.


Our tools are research-based and trauma-informed. We develop our tools and research at our national Respect Lab in New York. In addition to Ri’s original research to define self-respect and its indicators, our toolkit and training are informed by successful models for youth development:

Self-respect. Ri’s research and our emerging Self-Respect Scale show that self-respect is a critical youth development asset that strengthens youths’ resiliency, growth mindset, empathy and social-emotional skills to help improve academic and life outcomes.

Resiliency frameworks. Resiliency research has clearly shown that fostering resilience is a process and not a program. Within Respect 360, we amplify protective factors—creating the space and giving youth and their influencers the tools to form caring relationships that convey compassion, understanding, respect and interest, and are grounded in listening, and establish safety and basic trust. We incorporate Harvard University research by Shawn Achor which shows that people who are happy have strong support circles, know that their behavior matters, and manage stress and energy well.

Social-emotional and asset-building. The Respect Basics and Respect 360 are aligned with frameworks such as,
CASEL’s  Five Core Competencies:

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-management
  • Social awareness
  • Relationship skills
  • Responsible decision making

And Respect 360 helps develop Search Institute Assets, such as:

  • Adult Role Models | Parent(s) and other adults model positive, responsible behavior.
  • Positive Peer Influence | Young person’s best friends model responsible behavior.
  • Bonding to School | Young person cares about her or his school.
  • Caring | Young Person places high value on helping other people.
  • Equality and Social Justice | Young person places high value on promoting equality and reducing hunger and poverty.
  • Integrity | Young person acts on convictions and stands up for her or his beliefs.
  • Honesty | Young person “tells the truth even when it is not easy.”
  • Responsibility | Young person accepts and takes personal responsibility.
  • Interpersonal Competence | Young person has empathy, sensitivity, and friendship skills.
  • Cultural Competence | Young person has knowledge of and comfort with people of different cultural/racial/ethnic backgrounds.
  • Resistance Skills | Young person can resist negative peer pressure and dangerous situations.
  • Peaceful Conflict Resolution | Young person seeks to resolve conflict nonviolently.
  • Sense of Purpose | Young person reports that “my life has a purpose.”
  • Positive View of Personal Future | Young person is optimistic about her or his personal future.

Adolescent brain research. National Institute of Mental Health research shows that teens need to be surrounded by caring parents, adults and institutions that help them learn specific skills and appropriate adult behavior.

Trauma-informed. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Kaiser Permanente’s Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study shows the associations between childhood maltreatment and reduced health and well-being in later life.

Restorative practices, empathy building, self-determination theory and non-violent communication. Successful models from these fields are also incorporated in Respect 360’s methodology.