The Importance of Self-Love
“Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” Leviticus 19:34 provides the Jewish people with this inspirational and often-repeated Torah verse that seems to pop up in my own life endlessly. In Temple, in Jewish Studies classes, at home when my mother reminds me to be the bigger person—this verse follows me wherever I go. For a long time, I appreciated it and used it as a motivation to do good. But then I reached a point in my life when treating others as I treated myself wouldn’t have been the kindest path.
Junior year of high school was unexpectedly difficult. Of course I’d anticipated stress from the notoriously challenging workload and the beginning of the ever-intimidating college process, but I was truly unprepared for the unwelcome surprises that awaited me that year. All in the same day in March, I lost the race for Student Council president, the race for Drama Club president (and all the subsequent drop-down positions), and the position of Assistant Editor for the school newspaper. I had previously been involved in all these organizations, some quite heavily, and in the close-knit community that is my 280-student school, I took these losses personally. Far too personally. I interpreted them as failures from which I could never recover, both in the context of my school community, and in regard to the resumé I had to build for impending college applications.
I felt my life begin to derail, and I started to spiral. I was disgusted with myself for my inability to win any of the positions for which I had run, and I started to reevaluate myself as a whole. Did I really have a good sense of humor? Was I really as smart as I thought? And I pondered a question that I think plagues many: did anyone even like me at all? These questions took control of my mind, and slowly ate away at my confidence day by day. Needless to say, at this time in my life, treating others as I treated myself wouldn’t have been the right thing to do.
I was sure everyone at school had turned on me, so I avoided people in the halls, embarrassed to even show my face. Any successes in my life felt purely coincidental, and not the product of hard work or aptitude. And while my thoughts were so engulfed in negativity, I became scared. I worried that I would never feel okay again, and so I tried to repress my feelings instead of face them head-on. Only when I took a step back from the situation and directly confronted my emotions—and their ridiculousness—was I able to recuperate.
When I finally came to the realization that my self-loathing and self-doubt were unsubstantiated, and not grounded in reality, a switch was flipped. I started to feel more like myself again, the self I loved and that loves others. The sources of pain which had brought me such anguish started to dissolve.
Perhaps it was chance that all those supposed losses worked out in the end, or perhaps it was my changed attitude that allowed me to ultimately persevere. I went on to win a different student council position on the executive board; I was later elected to the drama club board after all; and at the beginning of my senior year, I was offered the position of assistant editor for the newspaper.
Through this experience, I realized something crucial about the verse “Love your neighbor as you love yourself,” which had escaped me before. That verse is as much about self-care as it is about caring for others. I couldn’t expect to treat others nicely when I wasn’t affording myself any love. If the Torah is imploring us to be kind through this verse, which I believe it is, then the first step is loving ourselves.
It’s not always easy to be happy with who I am, but now I realize that we’re all imperfect; it may be clichéd, but imperfection makes us human. Now I use this as a motivator to improve, not as fuel for self-deprecation. In order to love my neighbor as myself, I have to love myself first, and as long as I keep that in mind, I’ll be able to balance self-care with doing good for those around me.
This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.
How to cite this page
Small, Shira. "The Importance of Self-Love." 18 January 2018. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on July 7, 2020) <https://jwa.org/blog/risingvoices/importance-of-self-love>.