Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself, But Love Thyself First

I attend a Unity church, and this past Sunday the message was about love.  One of the songs we sang kept running through my head yesterday, and in particular the line “Love thy neighbor as thyself.”  As I was going about my business yesterday morning with this song repeating over and over, I realized that if I don’t love myself, loving my neighbor as myself is not a good thing!

I immediately connected with the idea of projection, and how we each project on to others our beliefs about ourselves.  I know that for me there has been a lot of work around criticizing myself (and others) and judging myself (and others).  I thought it was really very beautiful that this ideal of “love thy neighbor as thyself” really starts with loving myself.

Over and over I’ve heard that you can’t really love someone else unless you love yourself and I couldn’t really wrap my head around that until recently.  I certainly have loved other people in my life.  And no one could ever dare tell me that I don’t love my son, especially.

But I can see that as long as I continue to judge and criticize myself, and to do this to others even non-verbally or just in my own head, that this is a limited kind of love.  I do love my son unconditionally – meaning that no matter what he might do I would still love him.  But I also see that I have certain expectations of him and wishes and desires for him that when they’re not met I do judge him as lacking (again, not necessarily communicated to him verbally).

Maybe it’s more true to say that it’s about self-acceptance and acceptance of others.  For although I love my son no matter what, I don’t always choose to accept him as he is.  I want him to be himself, to find who he truly is, and yet I still worry about who that will turn out to be.  I would like to be able to rest in the truth that whoever he turns out to be will be perfect.

In my life I have been exceedingly critical of myself and of others.  My intention now is to be more gentle and compassionate with all of us, and it is a process that hasn’t been fulfilled overnight.

Learning to love and accept myself has been huge for me in this process of being more authentic.  If I don’t love and accept myself, it means that I don’t believe that I am already whole.  This in turn means that I believe that there are parts of me that are unacceptable and unlovable, and if others were to see them I would be rejected.  Who would risk authenticity if that were true?

So if 100% authenticity is my goal, I must love and accept myself, otherwise I would find it an impossible task.  In turn, the more I love and accept myself, the more I love and accept others just as they are.  For they are all already whole, too, and fully lovable and acceptable.

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