What Is Dignity?

Medically reviewed by Majesty Purvis, LCMHC
Updated December 13, 2022by BetterHelp Editorial Team

how to have dignity

The Pressures Of Life Can Make Staying True To Yourself Difficult

Growing up, our caregivers often try to teach us the values and morals that we will take with us for a lifetime. Some of these are universal, such as treating others how you'd like to be treated, while others are more specific to certain families, customs, or religions.

One such value many people grow up learning about is dignity. Though you may not know how to describe it in detail, many people possess dignity and utilize it daily.

What Is Dignity?

Dignity may form an essential part of our self-image as it deals with aspects such as self-worth, respect, and right vs. wrong. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines dignity in these three ways:

  1. Formal reserve or seriousness of manner, appearance, or language
  2. The quality or state of being worthy, honored, or esteemed
  3. A high rank, office, or position

The first definition reflects what we may think dignity looks like. We might associate the idea of dignity with concepts like honor or morality that are purposeful, deliberate, and trained. This definition could imply that dignity may be obtained by acting or presenting oneself in a certain way.

The second definition describes the concept of dignity as consisting of subjective ideas like worth, honor, and self-esteem. The third definition may be more limited to society. It is not focused on describing the concept of dignity that originates from within. Instead, it focuses on one's social status or rank.

how to have dignity

The First Definition

The first definition of dignity describes the outward perception of our personality, looks, and communication skills. It may ignore the idea that dignity must come from within. It may also present a false notion that dignity is something that we can "turn on" at any moment.

The first definition could cause us to view dignity as a product of what others praise about us. However, the widely-accepted meaning of dignity often has more to do with personal actions and how you might view yourself and others.

The Second Definition

Though the second definition of dignity touches on the keywords close to the first definition, it may ignore that concepts of dignity, like worth, honor, and self-esteem, are often developed inside us.

The quality of being dignified cannot be given to us by someone else, and when we look to others to create dignity within us, it may be similar to looking to someone else to determine our self-worth.

The Third Definition

While the third definition may be a perfectly acceptable definition of dignity by society's standards, it might not help us uncover the true meaning of dignity within us. True dignity often rests not solely on one's rank or societal position. Individuals may be dignified without a status.

For example, some individuals believe that someone could have dignity because they are a police officer, political official, or celebrity. However, their personal actions and beliefs may not coincide with the stereotypes of how they should behave in their career, and their title does not necessarily make them dignified.

The True Meaning Of Dignity

Being dignified is often more than what we look like or how others see us. Dignity is something that may develop inside of us. Being dignified is something that many people choose to be mindful of daily.

The core principles of dignity may include the following:

  • Self-worth
  • Self-esteem
  • Self-love
  • Self-appreciation
  • Self-care
  • Self-confidence

Notice how all these elements of dignity begin with the word "self." It may be due to dignity being an internal process within the self. No matter how much appreciation or love someone else gives us or how dignified they treat us, it may not be a solid foundation for our own dignity.

Developing Dignity

Discovering the true meaning of dignity and building a healthy sense of dignity within ourselves can take time and patience. Take time to work on the elements of dignity one by one. Each of these elements is explored in detail below.

Self-Worth

Self-worth is a measure of how much we value ourselves. It is a form of dignity that can require understanding what makes us unique, why we matter, and why we deserve love. We may discover our self-worth by actively seeking out what makes us feel we matter and are happy when all outside influences disappear.

For example, someone may find self-worth from volunteering for a cause they believe in or taking up a new hobby.

Self-Esteem

Self-esteem is often closely related to self-worth. It can stem from the attitudes, feelings, and opinions that we hold about ourselves. It may appear as an internal voice that tells us, "you are/are not good enough."

When we have low self-esteem, our dignity may be impacted too. Self-esteem may be improved when we silence our inner critic and find reasons to challenge its logic.

Partaking in activities that cause you to feel more positively about yourself may improve self-esteem, such as:

Self-Love

Self-love can be defined as appreciating and accepting oneself as you are, while also recognizing areas in which you can grow. Increasing our self-love requires us to put ourselves first at times. We may prioritize our well-being physically, emotionally, and mentally, showing dignity to ourselves and others.

The first step to self-love may often involve forgiving ourselves for past mistakes. We might also learn how to turn off the voice that says we are not good enough or do not deserve the dignity of being loved by ourselves.

You might improve self-love by practicing affirmations or daily mantras, such as:

  • "I am worthy of love."
  • "I am beautiful."
  • "I appreciate my willingness to work on my mental health."
  • "I deserve kindness and patience from myself and others."

The Pressures Of Life Can Make Staying True To Yourself Difficult

Self-Appreciation

When someone goes out of their way to be kind to us, we often show appreciation. At times, the situation may require a "thank you." Other times, we may buy them a gift or spend quality time with them as a sign of gratitude.

Appreciation isn't just for others; we can shower ourselves with this gift, too. Anytime you do something that is successful or drives you forward, or when you do something that makes you feel good, take a second to thank yourself for doing something that benefits your well-being.

Self-Care

Self-care may go hand in hand with self-love. However, self-care is often the action behind self-love. Love is something that we can feel, and care is an action we can take.

We may show self-care physically, for example, by getting enough sleep, eating well, and exercising. Emotional and mental self-care can be achieved by practicing kindness, meditating, or reflecting on the great things in our life.

Self-Confidence

Self-confidence is often the idea that we can achieve whatever we set our hearts and minds to. It may not be based on the belief that we will be successful in everything we do but on the understanding that even if we are not successful in a particular endeavor, we will be okay.

It can require positivity, motivation, and an inner desire to keep moving forward. Self-confidence can be achieved by developing a "can do" attitude.

For example, you may work to understand that failures can be a part of a more significant journey and that setbacks do not necessarily require us to give up altogether. Instead, they may be an invitation to learn and either try again or move on.

Recognizing And Building Dignity

Some individuals grow up with a strong sense of dignity, while others may develop it over time as an adult. Building it may begin with healing from your past and committing to a better future that you can be proud of. It can also look like learning more about yourself and staying true to your boundaries and morals.

Since dignity is often personal, it may look different for everyone. What feels dignified to one person may not feel so to another, and vice versa. When you develop a sense of dignity within yourself, it can become a strong foundation that you can stand on every day.

Since you will create dignity on your own, building a dignified life often has a ripple effect. As a result, you may experience other positives, such as higher self-esteem, self-worth, and self-love.

Counseling To Improve Dignity

At times, we may feel that we need help when building our sense of dignity. If that is the case for you, speaking to a professional might offer you much-needed support. Many individuals opt to try online therapy, as it has become more popular for those who enjoy easy browsing from home.

Online therapy can be a helpful resource for removing shame and building one's sense of dignity. One study showed how internet-based CBT successfully treated anxiety disorders by reducing levels of shame. This effect may be because of what online therapy provides that many traditional therapy options do not.

An essential aspect of building dignity can be removing the barriers that keep you from loving yourself. Sometimes, this involves healing from a shameful past and positively viewing yourself in a new light. If you're interested in trying therapy, you might reach out to a counselor on a platform such as BetterHelp, which has a vast database of therapists available.

Takeaway

Dignity can be understood from a moral, philosophical, or ethical standpoint. It may have a prominent place in your life, affecting your decisions daily. Dignity may be something you personally feel, but it's not something you must develop on your own.

Online therapy may assist you in learning more about yourself so that you can lead a life that more closely honors your values. If you're interested in trying it, consider taking the first step by reaching out to a counselor.

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