“When did you get so sassy?”
This, for asking him if he was going to hover in the back all night.
“I’m tired,” I said. “Don’t have the energy to be modest anymore.”
You’d think I was joking, but the truth of the matter is, it’s exhausting to hold yourself back all the time; biting your tongue when you know you should be speaking out, and settling for less than what you want. It swallows you up.
But this isn’t an article about sass, it’s about self-respect. The two get conflated sometimes and confused for one another. But make no mistake, they are different things.
Sass is great for comedy, but it can come from either self-respect or bravado. It’s also a nasty little neg pick-up artists and bullies sometimes use when they think a woman should be put in her place. “Oh, someone’s feeling sassy!” says the asshole when a woman tries to assert herself. We also say we’re feeling sassy when we’d rather avoid deep feeling and skate by for another day.
Self-respect is harder to pin down.
It’s strange, it’s confusing, it’s sometimes lonely. It’s knowing exactly what your hard limits are and sticking to them, even though it’s painful and isolating. It’s being aware of what you value, and what you would never stand for. It’s having to champion the things you hold in regard when nobody else does. It’s screwing up, and then sitting with the discomfort that comes from screwing up, when everybody else would look for the nearest scapegoat.
It’s not exactly fun. Especially when you’re the one taking the burn when you refuse to compromise for the sake of keeping the peace.
Of course, when I lay it down like that, it sounds very high-minded and noble. Trust me, though: gaining self-respect is a lot of hard, dirty work. It’s tough enough to gain the respect of someone else; to feel this towards yourself, you need to honestly look at every mistake you ever made, every bad decision, every terrible judgment, and finding enough love to forgive yourself and move forward gracefully. Self-respect requires self-preservation. You would not let harm come to a person you care for, so why would you let down that standard when it comes to yourself?
It’s not a form of leveling-up either, where you reach some plateau of consciousness and never come down from it. Self-respect is self-awareness. Knowing what is wrong, what is making you uncomfortable, and then dealing with it in the best way you can. Sometimes that will mean getting through a bad situation with the least amount of friction. Sometimes that will mean standing up for what is right. Sometimes that will mean saying: “I fucked up. I’m in a bad place. This is what I need to do to avoid further damage.”
Self-respect is tough. But it is a stock that trades highly. It’s a currency that doesn’t lose its value. Long after you run out of zingy one-liners, you will be the person others turn to for advice. You will be the one they call in a crisis. You will be the one who is relied on. You will be the one who thrives after a bad relationship, who maintains good boundaries with their exes, who is able to keep good relationships, even in bad work situations. You will be the person who others look up to.
For all the loneliness and painful self-awareness, the respect you have for yourself will get you through Hell, and help you pull anybody else through it too.