Before you can love someone else, you have to learn to love yourself. Before you can help another, you must first help yourself. This is a point I've repeated time and time again, to the point where I'm sure some people want to throw something at me if I even think about mentioning it again. Well, ready your tomatoes, shoes or gelatinous chat trolls, because I'm saying it one more time.
Make no mistake, this is no call to perfection. I'm not saying you need to achieve spiritual perfection before you can help someone. For one thing, imagine how boring perfection must be! Nothing new to experience, nothing to learn, nothing to surprise you. Good thing true perfection is practically unreachable. There is always a new lesson to learn. Always.
No, this is a call to contentment. A call to be at peace with yourself, to accept both your flaws and your strengths. They're a part of you, and of course you should constantly work to better yourself, but if you spend your life chasing ever-elusive perfection, you'll miss the lessons you're here to learn.
Here's the truth: you know exactly who you are. Maybe you haven't given it much thought, but inside, you already know what you're capable of. You know the areas where you are gifted, and you know where you need some improvement. All you have to do is scrub away the layers of dirt this world has piled on top of you. Brush away both your ego, whether overinflated or battered and bruised, and you'll see who you really are. Don't believe me? Try this exercise.
Take a piece of paper and divide it down the middle into two columns. Label the left hand column 'Strengths', the right hand column 'Weaknesses.' Now simply list your own personal strengths and weaknesses in each column. Try and balance the two columns, and don't think too hard. Write the first thing that comes to mind, and when you feel you absolutely can't add anything else, step back and look at your list. The results may surprise you.
If the 'Strengths' column is a good bit longer than the 'Weaknesses' column, you may have to pop the balloon of your ego a bit. There's a beautiful quote from Robert Hudson's book, The Center of the Wheel: "Humble yourself, or the universe will humble you. And that's rarely a pleasant experience." An overinflated sense of self-worth is just as harmful to your personal growth as a damaged self-esteem.
If, however, the 'Weaknesses' column is longer, it's time to help yourself. Wash away the negativity tossed at you by the world. Ignore those people who say you're too sensitive, too quiet, too different. You know who you are, so why allow what anyone else says to affect you? Part of being an empath is trusting your intuition. Listen to that gut feeling now, and follow it. Chances are, you have strengths you haven't even uncovered yet- or were too afraid to accept.
Once your list is complete, and you have decided whether you need to humble yourself or patch up your self-esteem, it's time to take the next step.
Take that list, crumple it into a nice little ball, and toss it in the nearest garbage can. This may seem self-defeating at first. Why would you go through all that effort to compile the list if you were just going to toss it away as soon as you were finished with it?
There are two reasons: first, throwing away the list keeps you from dwelling on the two columns for too long. Dwell on your strengths and you risk inflating your ego. Dwell on your weaknesses and you risk damaging your self-esteem. Both are equally harmful, and if you dwell on either too long, the next thing you know, you'll be second-guessing and erasing items on the opposite list. You'll be back at square one, and you'll have learned nothing.
The second reason is a bit more complex. Your strengths and weaknesses are an aspect of who you are, but they don't fully define you. Nothing you write on a piece of paper, no matter how many columns you happen to divide that paper into, can fully define who you are. If you could fully realize exactly what makes you the unique aspect of humanity that you are, what would be the point of taking this journey we call life? The answers would, quite literally, already be right in front of you.
Think of the yin yang, a powerful Taoist symbol that almost everyone is at least somewhat familiar with. The true meaning of this symbol is balance. Light and dark, male and female, the earth and the sky- one can't exist without the other. Without darkness, how would we judge how bright the light is? Everyone has this balance within themselves. Embrace both aspects of yourself. Constantly strive, not for perfection, but for bliss and contentment, both with yourself and with your surroundings.