Tuesday, February 16, 2010

You Have to Love Yourself First

The commandment to "love your neighbor as yourself" is generally - and correctly - understood as an injunction to act decently toward others. However, there is an implied command that is often overlooked: you have to love yourself. If someone suffers from low self-esteem, it's going to be virtually impossible for them to fulfill the "as yourself" part in a loving way. As a result, if positive self-image does not come naturally, we are obligated to cultivate a sense of personal likability. Just as God has a deep concern for how we treat other people, He also cares about how we treat ourselves.

It's not difficult to figure out why it is so imperative to love yourself first. For instance, are you more likely to exhibit positive character traits, such as patience and generosity, when you are feeling good or bad about yourself? The answer to this question concerns both you and those around you, because a better attitude toward ourselves generally translates into a better attitude toward others. On the flip side, when we are overly critical of ourselves, it becomes much easier to be overly critical of those around us. As Hillel states in Pirkei Avot, "If I am not for myself, who will be for me?" Before we can help others, we first have to help ourselves.

As Jews, we are called upon to be a "light unto the nations." The most effective way of illuminating the world is through good interpersonal behavior. Even with this high calling, we should be keenly aware that we're only human and can falter from time to time. How others treat us can affect how we view ourselves, which can then affect how we treat others; it's all interconnected. So in case your self-image has been adversely affected by certain people at home, work, or school, I found a few inspirational quotes that might lift your spirits. As mentioned above, when we love ourselves, our chances greatly improve at acting lovingly toward others.

On faith in God and self-image:

"It is difficult to make a man miserable while he feels he is worthy of himself and claims kindred to the great God who made him."
- Abraham Lincoln

On being yourself despite what certain people think:

"Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind."
- Theodor Geisel (a.k.a. Dr. Seuss)

And on those inevitable comments that rub you the wrong way:

"No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."
- Eleanor Roosevelt


  1. One way to boost your self-esteem is to go out and help someone else. The more you give to others, the better you will feel about yourself.

    Here's my favourite quote: "If you can't be a good example, you'll just have to be a horrible warning..." which I think was originally said by someone named Catherine Aird.