BY AMY BUTLER SMITH

The Golden Rule: Treat Others the Way You Want to Be Treated. 

At different ages, this phrase has meant different things to me. I’m positive that I started hearing this before I could even speak, like the infamous story of when my brother put me in my baby swing and started pushing me so hard that I almost flipped over and inevitably started wailing. I’m sure that after recovering me, my mom had a calm conversation with my brother about how he had hurt me and that it wasn’t nice to hurt his sister. “Matthew, you need to remember the golden rule. You wouldn’t want someone to hurt you, so you shouldn’t do something to hurt your sister,” were the words she likely said. 

I know this script because I heard it hundreds of times over my childhood.

Like another time when my brother and I put Legos all over our nanny while she was sleeping. “Remember the golden rule; you wouldn’t like it if someone put Legos on you while you were sleeping.”

Or toward the end of elementary school when I got into the only physical altercation of my life, with my best friend, because we were mad about something silly I’m sure. Or in middle school when smaller sections of our group of 8 girls would get together and gossip about the others. If my mom was within earshot, she would remind us of the Golden Rule. 

The Golden Rule has carried me through romantic drama, work struggles, and even traffic frustration. When someone cuts me off in traffic (on a good day), I recall a time when I had to do the same and I patiently allow them over instead of seeking vehicular revenge (sometimes…).

Because my family wasn’t religious at all growing up, it was a shock to me when I started to study the Bible and found an all too familiar lesson. In the 22nd Chapter of the Book of Matthew, Jesus shares with those listening about the two greatest commandments.

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matt. 22:37-40).

On my first read through, I assumed that this was exactly the same as what my mom had taught me; basically an argument for “being nice.” But as I dug into Jesus’ specific words, the lesson took on a world of its own. 

The key words here are “as yourself.” 

“Love your neighbor” makes sense. I can think of what my neighbor needs or I can ask them or I can just follow general rules for being neighborly or being loving. If my neighbor cuts in front of me in line, then I can allow them to get in front of me. If some of my friends aren’t present, I can speak kind words about them. 

But what does it mean to love someone as yourself? Well, if I look at the way that I love myself, then I can just follow that pattern and do the same for my neighbors!

And that’s where I got stuck. Because sometimes (lots of times?) I don’t love myself. I’m my biggest critic. I’m constantly afraid that I’ve messed up. My greatest fear is disappointing others, so I live my life in order to avoid that. I don’t show grace to myself… I attack myself for making mistakes. And because I assume that I’m such a failure, I assume others feel the same way about me so that if anyone compliments me or expresses their appreciation, I can only assume that they are lying or trying to gain something from me. This has made it very hard for me to make connections with people because I’m afraid of being my authentic self. It’s a hard life to live. 

I have found some comfort in the fact that I’m not alone in these fears. Other Addicted to Love writers have shared the Laundry List for Adult Children of Alcoholics. When I look at that list I see three things:

  1. It is a near perfect description of me.
  2. It’s 14 different ways of saying “I don’t love myself.” 
  3. I’m not alone.

If this list is popular enough to have an official website then there must be others out there who feel the same way. Which makes me feel less alone. It also gives a name and an explanation to why I feel the way I feel. Maybe instead of me feeling like a failure because I’m a failure, I feel that way because I feel responsible for my dad’s drinking problem when I was younger. Which, no matter how many times people told me that it wasn’t my fault, it still felt like my fault. But logically, as an adult, I can see how it’s not my fault and I can’t carry that burden.

That’s one step in the direction of loving myself.

I have to laugh sometimes because I would NEVER treat someone the way that I think about myself. As a person who loved an addict, I learned to be so kind/accepting/supportive of my “neighbor,” but in the process I took it all on myself. I loved my dad, but I didn’t love myself. 

That second commandment from Jesus gives me great pause and begs the question… What if I loved myself in a way that I would want to reflect in the way I love my neighbors? What would that even look like?

I’m just beginning to find out, but I hope that you’ll join me on my quest to redefine the Golden Rule and learn to treat myself the way I want to be treated.

Stay tuned for more in this series, Lessons from My Mother.

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