Self Respect: That Knowing Sense of One’s Intrinsic Worth

“Self-respect is a discipline, a habit of mind that can never be faked but can be developed, trained, coaxed forth. It was once suggested to me that, as an antidote to crying, I put my head in a paper bag. As it happens, there is a sound physiological reason, something to do with oxygen, for doing exactly that, but the psychological effect alone is incalculable: it is difficult in the extreme to continue fancying oneself Cathy in Wuthering Heights with one’s head in a Food Fair bag. ” Joan Didion, American Essayist writing in Vogue Magazine: “Self Respect: Its Source, Its Power”. 1961.

Joan Didion was a writer at Vogue Magazine for seven years and penned “Self Respect: Its Source, Its Power” in 1961

Coming across a quote by Joan Didion and then reading the entirety of her seminal essay on self-respect has been a treasure that must be shared. Although many of the cultural references made therein will not be familiar to the modern reader, the salient points are timeless: Having self-respect confers a peace that no one can take from you, even when you realize the depth of your shortcomings or, as in Didion’s example which inspired her article, the memory of her embarrassing failure to be elected to Phi Beta Kappa.

To live without a sound sense of one’s value is to perpetually re-run all of the small incidents which our ego blows out of proportion….the myriad of daily events in life which didn’t go as planned or would have gone better if we could only redo the moment. People who respect themselves accept responsibility for their actions with a sort of toughness that allows them to love themselves in the face of being human.

Living for the approval of others can be one of the greatest living hells, as our worth will always be the subject of others’ whims which we can’t control. And why should we want to? Having an understanding of our true self, that being deep inside that knows our most cherished hopes and dreams, as well as what we like and don’t like, is a wellspring of independence for living our life freely. As Didion said, “To have that sense of one’s intrinsic worth which, for better or for worse, constitutes self-respect, is potentially to have everything: the ability to discriminate, to love and to remain indifferent.”

Joan Didion is revered for her prose and a writer worth investigating if you are unfamiliar with her legacy of novels, non-fiction books, essays and film scripts. Netflix offers a documentary on her life produced by Griffin Dunne and entitled, The Center Will Not Hold.”

Photo by Joan Didion’s daughter, Quintana Roo Dunne.

We thank Joan Didion for her probing thoughts on self-respect and acceptance of who we are in order to live life well. You may read her entire article in Vogue Magazine here. It is definitely an inspirational way to Nourish Your life!