Have you ever stopped to think about what it means to love yourself? Do you dismiss self-love as being selfish or self-indulgent? Does putting yourself first seem like a direct contradiction to loving others? Perhaps you question what makes you worthy of love? These are questions many of us have asked ourselves, including me.

Often, we hold ourselves to impossible standards in trying to be deserving of others’ love as well as our own. In fact, we can be our own worst enemies. In our quest for love and acceptance, we forget that being attractive has more to do with a genuine smile from a loving heart than the result of superficial beauty enhancements. We ignore the fact that another’s admiration is more likely in response to our kindness and character than our material belongings—at least it should be.

Here’s another conundrum: our efforts to be kind, patient, and loving are sometimes met with indifference. Even worse, our thoughtfulness is taken as weakness and our generosity is considered foolish. We believe we’re the nice guys who always finish last. Well, it’s time to stop believing our caring attitude may be a waste of time. In truth, coldness and cruelty are never a winning combination—not in the long run.

While mean, underhanded and bullying tactics may work on occasion in crossing a finish line first, we need to look closely to realize that line isn’t worth crossing for attention, financial gain, or any conquest that requires we compromise our values.

When we consider how to love ourselves without hurting or short-changing others, it’s helpful to replace the word love with the word value. We do a disservice to everyone if we don’t learn to value ourselves. In other words, in order to serve others’ as well as our self-interest, we need to become aware of our innate value. Just by virtue of being human, we are born priceless instruments made by our Creator, God—whatever your beliefs—with the abilities to reason and to love. These are gifts unique to humans with tremendous potential value to do good. At the same time, misusing our capacities for reason and love can do enormous harm.

As  we learn to appreciate that our value lies within our power to do good, we can make a conscious choice to be effective, contributing adults who are adding to the collective good of society. This is preferable to deciding that we’re incapable of making a positive difference and thereby remaining passive—leaving a void where we could spread a caring constructive influence. And deciding to be loving is far better than doing deliberate harm.

Loving ourselves is not only unselfish, it’ s the defining decision to acknowledge our potential and act consistently according to our highest values. While these vary in priority from one person to another, they almost always include integrity as well as caring for our fellow man. Loving others is the epitome of worthiness, the real basis for self-love.

Mary Kathryn “M.K.” Jones