The Paradoxical Commandments

Kent Keith wrote his paradoxical commandments in 1968 for a group of student leaders. It speaks to the decision that we can make every day to love people despite what they might or might not do. If you’ve never seen the original version, you can check it out here. Mother Theresa’s version of the Paradoxical Commandments, found posted on the wall of her room, is a powerful statement of the intentions that guided her life.

Yesterday, a friend and I were talking about the difference our spiritual and personal intentions and the actions we sometimes take. Gail shared the frustration she was feeling about a personal situation.   She had worked hard, really hard, to let a relationship go but still was not at peace with the outcome. Gail saw her struggle as lack of spiritual progress and–as I often do–was beating herself up it.

As I listened to her, I was struck with a thought. What if maybe, just maybe, our spiritual growth was less about the amount or speed of progress we made and more about our ability to love ourselves unconditionally—wherever we are on the path? What if the most important intention that we held on to was to love ourselves unconditionally? What if self love was the foundation of our personal and spiritual growth?

It seems to be a human paradox that we expect perfection of ourselves while lovingly accepting and forgiving others for mistakes that can far exceed our own. It was so easy to cherish Gail, even while she worked through her challenges. Why was it so hard to have compassion and love for myself when I fall short of my intentions?

Psychologically, the research bears out the importance of self-compassion. The ability to mindfully treat ourselves with compassion is associated with greater emotional resilience and higher life satisfaction. It is also shown to be associated with lower incidences of depression, anxiety and stress. Kristin Neff, the first researcher to define and research self-compassion explains it this way:

Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding with personal failings—after all, who ever said you were supposed to be perfect?” (For more on self-compassion including research and resources, click here.)


Inspired by my conversation with Gail and countless conversations with friends and clients (and with apologies to Kent Keith and Mother Theresa), I would offer these as one way to find your way back to self-love and self-compassion:

The Love Yourself Anyway Commandments

From time to time you will be snarky, easily triggered and generally unpleasant to be around.

Love yourself anyway

 From time to time you will act without generosity of spirit toward others.

Love yourself anyway

 From time to time your fears of success, visibility, or abundance will derail you.

Love yourself anyway

 From time to time you will over indulge in food, alcohol, TV, the Internet, trashy romance novels or gossip.

Love yourself anyway

 From time to time you will speak thoughtlessly and hurt someone’s feelings.

Love yourself anyway

 From time to time you will judge others harshly, forgetting that they too are Divine beings.

Love yourself anyway

 From time to time you will blame others for your discomfort instead of looking within for the unhealed hurts that were triggered.

Love yourself anyway

 From time to time you will forget to trust in the Divine Plan and spend the day anxiously trying to control everything.

Love yourself anyway

 Remember, regardless of the missteps you make on your path of spiritual or personal growth, you are an amazing soul full of light and love. You WILL get back on that path, you WILL course correct. So for now—forgive yourself and love yourself anyway.


Create your personal Love Yourself Anyway commandments

The above were inspired by the struggles that I hear from my clients and those in my own life. If something above doesn’t resonate with you or your personal growth path, I invite you to create your own LYA Commandments. Write them down, read them out loud and post them somewhere you will see them every day.


With self-compassion, we give ourselves the same kindness and care we would give to a good friend.

Kristin Neff