What is dignity? Is the ability to handle yourself with poise and self-respect. To be precise about what I mean by this, I refer to poise as the ability to keep your composure in your social circumstances, that is, you typically never get unduly embarrassed, and you don't over (or under) exaggerate your personality with false airs. Having self-respect simply means believing that you and your existence have value, and you feel that you deserve respectful from both and yourself; a self-respectful person also gives him or herself credit when due, just like a respectful person gives others this credit.

A person with poise and self-respect rarely feels uncomfortable inside her own skin. She doesn't inherently assume that she doesn't belong somewhere or with someone (although she may logically make that decision). She is less likely to shy away during uncomfortable or stressful social interactions, and is able to be personable to others without seeming fake or forced. Having poise and self-respect will take you great strides toward the goal of being this sort of person, but if you think you lack both of them you should start with building your self-respect. Why is this? Can you imagine someone being comfortable with just acting naturally and rarely shying away if they don't like who they are and feel like they have no business talking with over half the world? Self respect has to come first, although you can continue to build self-respect after as you move on to poise.

One of the best ways to improve your self-respect is to practice developing a more positive outlook toward your accomplishments and your possibilities. People with little self-respect tend to see the more negative aspects in everything they do or are. They may be optimists in regards but it seems that their own glass is always half-empty. If this is one of your concerns, even if it might be what you consider a minor one, then you will benefit from the exercises below that are concerned with improving your personal outlook.

Another great way to improve your self-respect is to change your environment. This might mean spending less time with those that are pessimistic about you or your life, or confront them about their poor behavior toward yourself. This might be more difficult in some cases than others, because you may have a huge commitment toward these people or they could be an employer you don't have any control over! Doing the most you can to reduce the stress and negative beatings related to these relationships will have a strong impact on your ability to develop self-confidence. If you are a victim of emotional or physical abuse, however, this is far beyond the scope of this article and you must seek professional help.

One other way to change your environment would be to make your life one that's easier to respect. Think about the type of person you want to be and what changes you'd have to make to be that person—you're probably doing that right now if you're meaning to improve on your virtues! Some answers might be more obvious, like finding a job or spending more time with the kids. Sometimes, however, you will be feeling awful for goals or ideals whose success of which you have no (or little) control over. When this is the case, you might need to look into which goals are reasonable and not, and whether you should try to redefine what you would perceive as personal success. For those with firmly ingrained ideas and beliefs, this might be a difficult path that could even involve a professional counselor! Whatever the case, improving your life can often improve your personality, your congeniality, and ease your nervous anxiety.

Once you have developed a reasonable amount of self-confidence, it would then be time to decide if you need to work on your personal poise. Since this is an ascetic virtue, we are thinking in terms of whether the way you carry yourself is the best way to demonstrate what is most beautiful about you. If you can be a friendly and open person, are you friendly and open in most of your daily conversation, or does that side often hide? If you are mellow and likable, do you move around like that person, or are you nervous and bent over when your friends aren't nearby? We really do act differently around different people and situations, and maybe you don't wear your true self on your sleeve as much as you should. It's also possible you don't convey your full potential in your body language, and you might want to make a few tweaks. You don't want to pretend to be someone else (that wouldn't even be poise in the first place), but you can try and become a more dignified, composed version that you might find more suitable. If you want to be more animated than you usually are, then you might want to look into the Vivaciousness or Liveliness virtues for help in these areas as well.

I have provided some tips and ideas that might help you develop your poise. Do some serious self-reflection and decide what your weaknesses are, and come up with some ideas of your own to use along with these as well.


  • Take a Self-Inventory (with a Positive Bent): Make a list about yourself, in pencil, that's divided into two sections. One side is pros, and the other side is cons. Next, make a list of all the things that think make you wonderful or neat and the other things (in the "cons" section) that might make you a liability to others or yourself in some sort. Next, go through the entire list of cons you made, and cleanly erase anything that doesn't actively hurt or take advantage of anyone (including yourself). Items involving body weight, social strangeness, peculiar habits, or anything superficial or otherwise don't have control over definitely get erased off that list. This list's goal isn't about self-improvement or maximizing your potential, the virtue is dignity, and just about everyone has value or worth to someone, and they should also value themselves. As long as you aren't hurting them, there will always be someone who will happily tolerate or even appreciate some of the qualities on the cons side. If there are some problems you seriously need to take care of, then make them your next, immediate goals. Hold on to the list, and when you conquer any of them erase that bullet point out of your cons side and write down your victory over in the pros side. This is a great way to help you feel better about yourself and catch those things that are dragging your self-perception into the mud.
  • Change Your Environment: This activity comes up again and again, but the focus changes depending on the aim. In this case, you are looking for influences in your life that perhaps diminish your dignity. This could be people, habits, or anything that makes you feel less valuable than you are, or anyone who treats you like you are far less valuable than you are (I'm of the opinion that most people can't always see the full potential in those around them 100% of the time). Abusive people must be dealt with straight away (especially if safety is an issue). Otherwise, changing your environment that involve others could mean talking about your feelings with someone else, planning meetings with them where they have less power to harm you, or simply interacting with them less often. Outside of people, the things and situations in one's life that could diminish his or her dignity is widely varied. It could be anything from a job problem, not taking time for personal enjoyment, not getting enough rest, not getting exercise, and a lot more—you will have to be your own judge. Whenever you do decide to change your environment, however, make sure you don't use this goal as a soul excuse for selfish behavior.
  • Work Toward Positive Thinking: If you are in the habit of negative thinking, then you direct yourself toward these thoughts without hardly thinking about it. On the other hand, changing your habits will take a lot of deliberate, conscious effort. This can mean many things. You can keep a "positive" journal where you write about your daily events, but try to focus on the positive things—without being incredibly unrealistic. Another good tip for being more positive toward problems and disasters would be to take the first chance to stop and calm down, and write down a step-by-step plan to resolve the problem in the best way possible. Also remind yourself that sinking into depression never accomplishes or improves anything (although I admit that handily lifting yourself out of it is always easier said than done). The goal here is to focus on solutions, not problems. Finally, if your one who sinks into negativity or depression quite frequently, brainstorm some coping techniques to bring you out of it the moment that you sense these moods striking. Get in the habit of dealing with your negative thinking, rather than simply wallowing in it.
  • Find Ways to Avoid Putting on an Act: Everyone has to be on the most formal or "best" behavior on occasion, but there are many times where we constantly return to friends or situations where we feel we have to put on an act just to get by. I don't mean to suggest that you move to the other side of the world and get a new life, but try to spend more time with the friends who know who you really are and enjoy you. Go and actively work to make new friends, whether through like-minded groups, clubs, or opening up to the people you see everyday. Try to find more situations and places where your true self can express itself in dignity.
  • Improve Your Life: Sometimes we live without dignity simply because there are problems going on in your life, and all the positive thinking in the world won't change it. What you might have to do is make strong, difficult changes in your life in order to begin living with the dignity and happiness you deserve. This might mean learning how to budget or overcoming an addiction, or perhaps improving your health, or changing some other significant habits. Perhaps you will have to work hard or take classes to develop new skills. Whatever it is, don't be afraid of hard work if the rewards will enrich your life.

Your Record

Whenever you excessively spend time wallowing in self-pity or negativity, then mark yourself at "fault". Whenever you let you are someone else treat you with indignity when you could reasonably have control over it, then mark yourself at fault. Chose some activities and make some personal goals, perhaps using the guidelines above. If you fail to participate in the activities or reach your goals, then mark yourself at fault.


Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else.

Judy Garland, American Actress

I have no right, by anything I do or say, to demean a human being in his own eyes. What matters is not what I think of him; it is what he thinks of himself. To undermine a man's self-respect is a sin.

Antoine de Saint-Exupery, French Author and Pilot, wrote "The Little Prince"

The only kind of dignity which is genuine is that which is not diminished by the indifference of others.

Daq Hammarskjold, Swedish Statesman and United Nations Official

The greatest difficulty is that men do not think enough of themselves, do not consider what it is that they are sacrificing when they follow in a herd, or when they cater for their establishment.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, American Poet, Essayis, and Lecturer

If you want to be respected by others the great thing is to respect yourself. Only by that, only by self-respect will you compel others to respect you.

Fyodor Dosteyevsky, Russian Novelist and Writer

Golden Mean

Arrogance, Superciliousness, Condescension, Snobbery, Snootiness, Pretentiousness, Conceit, Pomposity

Recommended Reading

Emotional Freedom: Liberate Yourself from Negative Emotions and Transform Your Life — by Judith Orloff

This author wrote this book to share her ideas, as a psychiatrist, on how to limit your toxic thoughts and bring the more positive ones to bear. She intends to help you overcome your fear and anxiety in order to restore emotional balance.

The Self-Esteem Workbook — by Glenn R. Schiraldi

This workbook is written as an active approach to reducing your negative thinking and improving your self-esteem. Also has advice on how to avoid to go back to your old habits.

The Bully at Work: What You Can Do to Stop the Hurt and Reclaim Your Dignity on the Job — by Gary Namie, Ph.D., Ruth Namie, Ph.D.

This book makes the claim that bullies and abuse is prevalent in the workplace, but people rarely talk about it. This book provides some ideas as to how to avoid this when it happens to you, and also makes a larger claims toward the need for social and legal change as well.

General Rules

Practice virtues daily so that they become ‘habits of the heart’.

Don‘t strive for perfection.

Never give up! Remember: even the greats have off days.

Rely on your intuition.

Avoid extremes. Strive to achieve the golden mean between excess and deficiency of a virtue.

Have fun and enjoy the program with humor and optimism.

Perhaps the surest test of an individual‘s integrity is his refusal to do or say anything that would damage his self-respect. Thomas S. Monson