Many are familiar with the 39th verse from Matthew chapter 22 in which Jesus says, referring to the 2nd great commandment after loving God with all you heart, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself”. To love your neighbor as yourself implies or requires that you must also equally love yourself. Since we are generally our own worst critics, it is often easier to love others more than yourself. To not love yourself first is to try to give water to the thirsty from an empty well.
In the teachings of Buddhism one can find the saying, “you can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” I would add to “love and affection” respect and acceptance. How we treat others is often a reflection of how we feel about ourselves. If we are feeling unhappy, dissatisfied, rejected, unloved or a world of other emotions about ourselves, we will likely project those feelings and emotions into the environment around us and thus strive to bring others down to our level of suffering. As the saying goes, “misery loves company”. However the opposite is also true. If you are full of love, acceptance and peace towards yourself, those will be the same attributes with which you lift, treat and see in others.
To turn this self perpetuating spiral around, you’ll need to start by committing to unconditional love, acceptance, respect and forgiveness towards yourself. Don’t focus on changing yourself for the moment, just introspect into your inner most core and see yourself from a 3rd party point of view. Recognize and accept the way you are, how you are, and for what you are. The decisions and actions of yesterday are merely a reflection of what got you to where you are today. The only thing to be done with the past is to extract any wisdom or lessons which have not yet been realized, and then let it go. The only real mistakes are when we fail to learn something from the lessons life provides.
Regardless of what now lies in your past, forgive yourself fully for it and return to loving yourself unconditionally. What has happened in the past is done and can’t be changed. For this reason holding onto anger, guilt or regrets about the past is largely a waste of time and likely impeding you from getting to where you would rather be today. Instead fill your thoughts with positive affirmations with which to repeat to yourself while looking into your eyes in the bathroom mirror or as you go throughout your day. For an example script to repeat to yourself, you can say or think the following: “I completely love and accept myself just the way I am”. If there is a specific trait or challenge that you are working to change, improve or forgive yourself for, you can add to that: “Despite having a problem with <insert undesirable here>, I completely love and accept myself”. While it may seem strange to accept yourself the way you are now, “flawed” and all, it’s a primary way to seeing clearly to the source of those “flaws” and being able to live with new resolve and insight going forward.
As you continue to build this well of unconditional self love, respect, and acceptance, you will begin to appreciate and see in others aspects of yourself for which to either have compassion for, or celebration and peace of. Because you are becoming more gentle towards your own “flaws” or issues, that same gentleness expresses itself more naturally towards all you encounter. Anytime you find yourself excessively bothered by the behavior, actions or decisions of another, take that as an opportunity to return to self introspection to see if there’s something there for which you still haven’t forgiven yourself. Again, often what we see in others is a reflection of unresolved hurt or issues in ourselves and is an opportunity to bring about healing in yourself and subsequently the healing of society.
To return to the altered words of Jesus, love yourself as your neighbor, which is the replenishing well of unconditional love that flows through you to others.