It’s known as the second part of the greatest commandment. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” It’s a solid way to live, right? For most people, it’s a good reminder to think of others and treat them well. But for survivors of narcissistic and emotional abuse, it needs some clarification.

Growing up in a toxic home, “neighbor” meant the narcissists in my life. I’ve always been an overachiever at loving, caring, and providing for others, but I am still learning what the “as yourself” part means. I was expected to shoulder my parent’s burdens while having zero needs of my own. I was expected to be vigilant about what I said and did so it wouldn’t offend or upset them. I was to protect their egos at all costs. I was to serve them. I wasn’t to expect anything in return, because having a self meant I was being selfish.

Being selfless is my default comfort zone. I deny myself things before I can even acknowledge I want them.  If I don’t have any needs, I can’t be disappointed when they are not met, right? Right??

Wrong.

I believe in the importance of awareness and empathy. I believe in acts of true selflessness. Yet for some of us, what starts out as an altruistic intention can become a trap. When I am around selfish people, my knee-jerk reaction is to never be like them, so I deny myself. When I am around people with inflated egos, my tendency is to shrink. I do this because I want some of my humility to rub off on them. It doesn’t.

Selflessness is only a gift when the giver is fully aware of the full value of one’s self. If I am being selfless because I am supposed to be, I am allowing the expectations of others to control me. If I am being selfless because I choose to be, I am the one in control. I may now choose to give freely. Or not.

How do I love my neighbor as myself when I am trying to figure out what it means to love myself? I was raised by people who never saw my value, but it doesn’t mean I have to be blind to it. I was raised by people who required constant fawning from others, but I don’t have to be like that, either.  I am able to love my neighbor when I can embrace that all lives have value, including my own. I am able to love my neighbor when I can recognize and meet my own needs. I am able to love my neighbor when my needs do not require the oppression of others. When I love myself, I can love my neighbor.

 

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