If you were asked to name who you love, what would your intuitive answer be? Your life partner? Your kids? Perhaps your parents? Would you even think to immediately include yourself on the list? Your answer can enhance or diminish your ability to give and receive the love you most want.
Giving and getting love are about the most fundamental human needs there are. Can you fully imagine the pain of never having been loved or of loving another? I hope not! I hope instead, that we all find ways to deepen and widen our ability to love and to be loved. It turns out that the key to that capacity probably begins closer to home than we often realize.
How many of us would immediately answer the question about who we love by answering, ‘Myself’? I know I wouldn’t! It seems so narcissistic, right? It may be, however, that the single greatest determining factor in giving love to others (and being able to receive it from them) is how much we love ourselves.
I’m not talking about elevating narcissism, a real psychological disorder, to some praiseworthy state. I’m simply suggesting what has been taught by many ancient belief systems, and validated in current research science.
From the golden rule, which teaches that we should love our neighbors as ourselves, to the work of Christopher J. Mruk, PhD and many others, we learn that how we love ourselves is the starting point from which we build our ability to love others.
Without pretending that life is all about you, loving yourself means you try to keep track of how precious you are.
Unlike narcissism, self-love is a beginning, not an ending. It’s a foundation, not the completed building. With that foundation though, the structure of love – of both giving and receiving it – will be ours to build, and to sustain.
Loving yourself means putting yourself on the list of those you love, and doing so proudly. Without pretending that you are perfect, or that life is all about you, loving yourself means you try to keep track of how precious you are.
We need to value ourselves, to see the beauty, capacity, dignity, and even sacredness that each of us possesses. We need to know that in almost every instance, we are better than we give ourselves credit for. Were we really giving enough love and nurturing to ourselves, we’d be able to do the same for others, as well.
So, let’s ask again: Who do you love?
Brad Hirschfield is the co-founder and co-executive editor of The Wisdom Daily. A rabbi, Brad has been featured on ABC’s Nightline UpClose, PBS’s Frontline, Fox News and National Public Radio. He wrote a long-standing column, “For God’s Sake,” for the Washington Post, and has also written for The Huffington Post and Beliefnet.com. He authored the book, You Don?t Have To Be Wrong For Me To Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism. Brad also serves as President of Clal, The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, a leadership training institute, think tank and resource center in New York City.