How do you feel about yourself? Is it good or bad? How you feel about yourself is self-esteem. It is your perception of how you are doing in the world. Self-esteem may go up or down depending upon what is happening to you. Get an “A” on a test and you feel great, but if you fail you feel terrible. Self-esteem is changeable.
Self-worth differs from self-esteem. Self-worth is what you are born with. As one of the creations of the universe you are worthwhile and have value, which cannot be taken from you. You can’t lose it, but you can lose sight of it. You can forget your value.
A universal spiritual teaching helps us to re-focus on our self-worth and hold on to it. “Love your neighbor as yourself” is the Christian version but the teaching is found in all major religions.
Now when you love your neighbor as yourself who do you begin with? Who do you love and value first? Is it your neighbor or yourself? As a psychologist I have found that many people misunderstand this teaching. They think it begins with the neighbor. They focus on the neighbor so exclusively that they neglect themselves. They give and give to others until they give out and then collapse into a depression. Once depressed they cannot help themselves or anyone else.
Many of us were taught to focus on the neighbor and not on ourselves. As children we are told not to brag or be selfish. While teenagers, wanting to be accepted, we may have minimized our accomplishments to avoid appearing conceited. As adults we may have developed a false humility to avoid looking prideful. We may come to not like ourselves and believe that we don’t deserve anything good. Self-esteem suffers while self-worth is forgotten.
The reality is that loving your neighbor as yourself begins with you. You must love and value yourself if you are to love others. You have to respect yourself and acknowledge your own self-worth. You must take care of yourself so that you can love and help your neighbor.
Does this make you selfish? No. It makes you responsible.