Tears sit perched behind my stinging eyes, and I feel myself falling into the bottomless hole that has found a home in my aching chest.

I shut my eyes tight andI shut my eyes and see a little girl see a little girl. There she is, peering out from behind the curtains, watching as her brothers go away with her dad for the weekend to get spoiled yet again, while she remains behind. She feels longing and sadness, as well as somehow tainted, different and unworthy.

That hole is still inside of me, and I now realize that only I can fill it. All of my life I have walked around trying to patch it up temporarily by getting validation from the outside. But nothing and nobody could ever fill it for more than a little while. Yes, I glowed during the temporary high of someone falling for me or with the exhilarating rush of success, but soon enough I was left feeling empty and alone. I tried to fill up the hole with food, or attempts at perfection in various areas of my life, but it never worked, and I was always left feeling not good enough. This theme played itself out in every area of my life.

Recently, grappling with a relationship where I felt claustrophobic, judged and unappreciated, I got the strong sense that nothing I could possibly do would ever be enough. I felt myself gasping for breath as I stumbled about trying to prove myself, pushing myself beyond what I was able to do. I foresaw that I would never experience peace just doing my best, that all the doing in the world would be futile.

But a friend reminded me that what this other person thinks is actually unknown and irrelevant. What is important are the feelings swirling inside of me. So I let myself feel and was taken back to the scene of the left-behind little girl.

Though the adult me is certain that I was excluded due to practical and messy divorce issues—and due to the limitations of the people concerned—the little girl inside of me lives with this hole. Only I can fill it and choose to love her (myself) unconditionally and genuinely, with my entire heart.

It’s really quite amazing,How freeing and empowering to know that we complete ourselves an example of how we live our lives as if in prison, yet we possess the keys to get out. So often, we long for others to love, treasure and appreciate us. But we need to do that for ourselves.

So I tried this exercise: Writing out all the things I want X to think of me and to do for me. “I want X to love me.” “I want X to see the best in me.” “I want X to truly be my fan.” “I wantX to make me feel safe.”

And I changed X to me: “I want me to love me.” “I want me to see the best in me.” “I want me to truly be my fan.” “I want me to make me feel safe.”

And then, taking the exercise a step further, I turned these statements into affirmations: “I love myself.” “I see the best in me.” “I am truly my fan.” “I make me feel safe.”

What a relief to hear these revised statements. How freeing and empowering to know that we complete ourselves. How important, too, for how can we possibly love and be compassionate to another if we cannot love and care for ourselves first? If we can learn to treat our own needs and limits with kindness, love and respect, there is a far greater chance that will we do the same for others.

The Torah commands us to “love your fellow as yourself,”1 and the great sage Rabbi Akiva referred to this as the greatest principle in the Torah—the commandment that encompasses all of the commandments. And so we know that if we love ourselves enough to truly love another, we will not transgress the principles that govern the interactions between people. But what about the interactions between a person and G‑d?

The Maggid of Mezeritch, the successor of the Baal Shem Tov, related that "the Rebbe [Baal Shem Tov] would frequently remark that to love a fellow Jew is to love G‑d.” Not only are these loves—for others and for G‑d—not exclusive, one is embedded in the other.

And so,We all have some kind of hole in our beings there is a lot at stake as Operation “Fix My Hole” progresses. The little girl is still wary of that deriding voice that insists she is not good enough, wondering if it is in fact the voice of truth. But more and more, the compassionate part of me holds the reins—listening, hearing, empathizing, reassuring and loving the little girl, and helping to make it all better.

I think that we all have some kind of hole in our beings, some kind of pain, that only we can heal. My prayer is that we do so, and that through healing our individual holes, we help heal the whole world.