Rule 2: Treat Yourself Like Someone You’re Responsible for Helping

Reading Time: 8 mins

Welcome back to my 12 Rules For Life Series. In this post, we’ll be discussing the 2nd rule of the book:

Treat Yourself Like Someone You’re Responsible for Helping.

While the chapter is possibly a little bloated (there are sections which make similar points somewhat repetitively), Peterson explores a wealth of different ideas and touches on numerous themes. This is one of my favourite rules in the book, as it greatly impacted me from my first reading.

My main takeaways from this chapter are:

  • Feelings of self-consciousness, shame and self-loathing are naturally evolved parts of our psyches, but they can make it hard to take care of yourself properly.
  • Everyone has the capacity for “divine” goodness and utmost evil, and we can choose to aim higher at any point.
  • Acting as if you’re “responsible for” yourself can help you take care of your and others’ needs, even when you don’t love yourself.

Let’s dive in.

Why do I Hate Myself?

The Nature of Self-Consciousness

The chapter starts with an interesting statistic from Peterson, who asks us to “Imagine that a hundred people are prescribed a drug.”  He states, “One-third of them won’t fill the prescription. Half of the remaining sixty-seven will fill it, but won’t take the medication correctly. They’ll miss doses. They’ll quit taking it early. They might not even take it at all.

This is a remarkable fact and made even more absurd by the following revelation: that people are better at “administering medication to their pets than themselves”.

Why do we do this? Why are many people so much better at caring for others than themselves?

According to this chapter, the main reason is that we’ve evolved over millennia to be deeply self-conscious of our flaws, weaknesses and shortcomings. This is a double-edged sword by all accounts – knowing our weaknesses helps us protect ourselves and progress, but it is also inherently painful.

The origin of self-conscious thought is not yet fully understood, but its impact on our lives can’t be understated.

The Utility of Shame

Rule 2 seeks to address the core problem of how shame and self-loathing can interfere with our lives; however, shame as an emotion does have its uses.

Peterson states, “We evolved, over millennia, within intensely social circumstances. This means that the most significant elements of our environment of origin were personalities.” Because of this, we have an ancient, innate drive to conform to others’ expectations of us.

As we grow up, constant feedback from those around us measures how well we align with the group’s ideals. This “perfection” gives us something to aim for; we know that achieving this ideal will benefit our status in the group. Shame occurs when we compare ourselves to this ideal state and find we come up short. It’s unpleasant and painful, but it serves us by giving us the motivation to conform to others’ expectations and become secure in our social group.

…the Ideal shames us all. Thus we fear it, resent it…It’s the price we all pay for aim, achievement and ambition.” However, left unchecked, shame can quickly boil over into disgust and self-hatred, making us less likely to take care of our needs. It can even lead us to self-destruct. What can we do about this?

Good and Evil

Original Sin

Throughout Rule 2, Peterson references the story of Adam and Eve’s Fall as a metaphor for the development of the self-conscious mind in our ancient ancestors and the resulting pain.

When Adam and Eve eat the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, the serpent tells them they shall “know good and evil”. This, Peterson suggests, is at the core of self-consciousness, guilt and shame.

Metaphorically, once Adam and Eve ate the fruit, they were awake – conscious. Firstly, they realised they were naked and, as the story goes, were ashamed of this. Because they were naked, they realised they were vulnerable, weak, and subject to judgement, rejection and harm.

Not only this, but once they knew their vulnerabilities, they gained the ability to realise others’ weaknesses too. “…We know exactly how and where we can be hurt, and why… We know what makes us suffer… and that means we know exactly how to inflict it on others.

Only man will inflict suffering for the sake of suffering. That is the best definition of evil I’ve ever been able to formulate”. If evil is, as Peterson suggests, the infliction of suffering for the hell of it, then the development of our conscious minds also gave rise to the possibility of evil itself – this is, he states, akin to the idea of original sin.

If we are so flawed, so weak and vulnerable, and so terrible in our potential to wreak havoc on our fellow humanity, why should we feel worthy of care, love, or success?

Transcending Our Faults

Therefore, the question remains: how can we overcome our hyperactive shame and self-loathing if it is inherent in lived experience?

Peterson uses the phrase “spark of the divine” to allude that, from a Christian perspective, we are all made “in God’s image”. We have the capabilities within us to be good people, to bring order out of chaos (as God did when he created the world, according to the story) and to use the potential of chaos to make our ordered world better.

As an atheist – and more accurately, a humanist – I would propose a slightly modified version.

We all have the potential of our Ideal Self within us. The Self which fully utilises our strengths and passions for the betterment of our communities and ourselves. Whatever our vulnerabilities or failings, we have a choice to work with what we do have and make something from it. We know best our capacity for evil. We can overcome this by knowing this and working to keep it in check.

To be clear – and as Peterson suggests – this doesn’t mean sacrificing the whole of ourselves with the promise of nothing in return. That is masochism. Some sacrifices can be noble, but rendering yourself helpless against the whims of usurpers is not.

So how do we put this into practice?

My Responsibility


Our lives are not wholly our own, as I explored briefly in my post Why I Must Stay Well. As social beings, we’re entangled with others in all sorts of ways.

People are often more compassionate to others than themselves. Peterson discusses the phrases “do unto others as you’d have them do unto you” and “love thy neighbour as yourself” and raises an important point: this works both ways. It doesn’t mean having the utmost respect for others and nothing but hatred for yourself.

We have a responsibility to ensure our needs are met, as much as we have an obligation to fulfil others’ needs. Perhaps more so. “I am morally obliged to bargain as hard on my own behalf as they are on theirs. If I fail to do so, I will end up a slave, and the other person a tyrant. What good is that?

Treating ourselves with nothing but contempt impacts everyone around us. I’ve seen that and lived it myself; I know it’s true.

When I was seriously ill, psychotic, despairing and utterly hopeless, I attempted to take my life multiple times. The last time, in December 2016, was brutal for my husband to deal with. It hurt him so much, and it is an act that I can never take back.

All I can do now, too late in my opinion (there’s the judgement again…), is take care of myself so that I never end up in such a state again.

The Antidote to Self-Loathing

Peterson finishes off Rule 2 with a bucketful of hopeful direction. He encourages people to take credit for their achievements, saying, “You deserve some respect. You are important to other people, as much as to yourself. You have some vital role to play in the unfolding destiny of the world. You are therefore morally obliged to take care of yourself.”

This sentence was electrifying to me. I have lived with self-loathing on a daily basis for as long as I can remember (as I’m sure many people have). I don’t like myself very much, and I certainly find it hard to see the point in taking care of myself.

I smoke, stay up too late, work over my hours, and don’t exercise… ahem… very much at all. I sometimes forget to eat or drink enough, let alone the right things. I self-harmed until the age of 22 and often, when I’m stressed, thoughts of hurting myself will explode in on me with no mercy.

The mindset shift between “self-care is something I don’t deserve” and “self-care is something I should do, even if I feel I don’t deserve it” is liberating. It’s still not always easy, but I have a way of justifying it to myself. I can shut up that negative self-critic by giving myself a reason to do this that doesn’t involve me.

It’s not always easy, by any stretch, but it has been a daily push in the right direction. Asking myself, “How would I be treating my husband/brother/friends right now if they were in the same position?” has helped me step away from the self-hatred hurricane on numerous occasions.

Final Thoughts

As I said in my introduction, this rule has profoundly impacted my outlook over the last couple of years, and it’s one of my favourites in the book.

Treat Yourself Like Someone You’re Responsible For Helping raises the following questions. Try asking these yourself, and see what you could benefit from:

  • What would my life be like if I cared for myself properly?
  • What career could I find a challenge in, and be of help to others?
  • What things should I work on to improve my health, knowledge and strength?
  • Where am I right now in my life?
  • What strengths do I have that I can work with?
  • What flaws or challenges are holding me back from my potential?
  • Where do I want to end up in the future?
  • How can I chart a course to reach that future?
  • What promises can I make to myself, and how will I reward and motivate myself to achieve these?
  • How should I treat myself going forwards?

Thank you as always for reading.

Until the next post!

Bronwyn @ LBT x

What did you think about the second rule? How do you treat yourself currently, and how can you treat yourself more responsibly? I’d love it if you dropped a comment to let me know below, or visit my contact page if you want to reach out directly!