Many years ago a pop song was recorded by R&B icon Aretha Franklin. It became an anthem of women everywhere. It's message was "a declaration from a strong, confident woman, who knows that she has everything her man wants. She never does him wrong, and demands his 'respect.' "
When reading the definition of the song's meaning today, one word leaped out at me - "demands." Truthfully, none of us can demand respect. Respect is something that must be earned in our behavior and attitude and then fostered in the heart of the recipient of our actions. The truth is, RESPECT truly is "love in action." When we treat another person with devotion, love, loyalty, courtesy, kindness etc. we are showing them respect and hopefully fostering the same in them towards us. While there is no guarantee that others will respect us, we alone can control if we choose to show them the same respect that we desire to receive.
Respect, like love though, is something that we cannot fully give or receive until we have it for ourselves. Speaking from personal experiences of the past, I admit my struggles with both love and with respect. Through difficult times in my life, my self-esteem became whittled away and I lost the confidence in who I was, lost love and self-care as a result and lost respect for myself as a feeling of "unworthiness" caused me to settle for less than I should have in many areas of my life. I allowed others to mistreat me, I did not pursue paths that would be most beneficial for me in areas of career, finances, health, relationships etc. because I was approaching everything from an "empty love tank." My choices were out of need and sometimes even desperation. I was at such a low point that I did not put rational thought into my choices, into my decision-making or even into my strategies and plans. I was staying "one step behind" trying to fill voids that only became deeper with time.
It wasn't until I became seriously ill that I began to take a transparent look at the place I had fallen to in my life and heart. I wanted so desperately to be needed and loved, to feel beautiful and desired. I wanted affirmation for the many things I was doing on my job, at my church, with my family and for companions and friends. No matter how much I "performed," how much I gave, how much I tried to love "unconditionally" those around me even when they did not treat me as I desired to be treated, nothing would fill that void inside of me. It only became deeper and deeper. I felt I had been catapulted into a black hole at warp speed. Here's the bottom line. A love tank cannot be filled by others if we are emptying everything out to them and not pouring anything into ourselves. Even the golden rule and ancient scriptures tell us to do to others as we want them to do to us and to "love your neighbor as yourself."
During that time of illness, I was no longer able to do the things I had always done - at work, at church, at home and for the people in my life. I will never forget one evening in a time of meditation and prayer. I was too weak to even get out of bed or off the sofa for more than an hour at a time. I felt worthless, useless. Tears found their way down my cheeks as they had so many times before. I sensed I was fading away - physically, emotionally and spiritually. It was then I tried to pray. Though my words would not come, I heard words being spoken deep in my heart. "I don't need your 'stuff' or what you can do for Me or others. I want you. I want to love you and you love Me." God was near to me like He had been so many times. I was loved "for me" - period. It was a lesson in acceptance beyond anything I could describe.
I wish I could say I have fully exhibited complete self-love and care since that time, but I haven't. Building one's self-esteem and worth takes time if it has been diminished over many years. I have made more poor decisions, let others take me for granted, stayed too long, put up with too much, neglected to care for my health, failed to fight for what I wanted and needed. But I am growing, learning and challenging myself to be better today and even better tomorrow. Why? Because I am worth it! So are you!!! Respect begins deep in your own heart and is a manifestation of love. So I choose love - for myself until it is overflowing in my love tank out to others. And I will show others ultimate respect by how I treat myself. I'm stepping up to a higher place that only those who love and respect me will take the time to step up with me. Much love and R.E.S.P.E.C.T.!