I’ll bet if someone took a poll and asked the population what they thought about the concept of self-love, most would say it was an unhealthy habit. Yes, I believe self-love, also defined as narcissism, has gotten a bad rap over the years.
Before I convince you that loving yourself – not in the physical sense but in the emotional sense - is a good thing, let’s take a look at why historically we’ve always seemed to think it was a lousy idea. The root of that bias probably began with the Calvinistic belief that all people are basically sinful and therefore self-love was considered a sin. The Calvinists dated back to the 1500’s, when during the Reformation a number of theologians broke away from the Roman Catholic Church and among them, a man named John Calvin. His form of religion was dominant in Europe then and that particular belief remained credible over the years. Then, as settlers from the region came to America, they brought their beliefs with them.
At the same time, people repeatedly quoted from the Bible, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.,” which was a total conflict which nobody seemed to notice. If loving your neighbor is a virtue, how can loving yourself be a vice? Didn’t make sense when they’re supposed to be equally administered and, more importantly, if one cannot love oneself – how is it possible to truly love another? The second question will become self-evident in a moment.
The teaching: “Love they neighbor as thyself.” Is not only a dominant one in the Christian religion but also in many other religions. For example, in Judaism, the Torah tells us to “love your fellow as yourself.”
Also, in a lovely old film titled, “The Footprint of the Buddha.”, the interviewer and narrator asks a Buddhist monk, “Can a person who does not love himself, love another?”
“It is impossible,” the monk replied, chuckling at even the thought of the question while at the same time emphatically responding.
Similarly, in Islam one learns that “In order to love others, we need to love ourselves first.” The teachings of Islam continue, “This isn’t being selfish. How can you let yourself go into ruins while trying to love and please others?”
A Japanese poem also sums up this conclusion perfectly:
A HAIKU ON SELF-LOVE
You are gold. Do not
set yourself on fire to keep
other people warm.
So, selflessness may be a bit overrated. Yet, there are so many who truly believe that way of life is honorable. When one has the capacity - it may be, but lacking the capacity, it’s masochistic. What do I mean by capacity? Well, the basics; we must still eat, sleep, and nourish our bodies and souls so we are healthy enough to serve. And, when ill, we must think of ourselves first – or we may not even be around long enough to be of service at all. When one is ill and healing – we must always put ourselves first. Learning that habit requires a couple basic disciplines.
First being able to say “no” to another. This could be the biggest lesson in the exercising of self-love. For some selfless souls who might be reading this right now, saying “no” to someone else can almost be impossible. These gentle people often go along with the crowd, trying not to hurt another’s feelings and putting other’s needs way above their own. Yet, there are times when self-love should and must play a dominant role.
One such time is when trying to heal from a physical illness. Sometimes part of the protocol means avoidance of one food or another – or even alcohol. So, if you’re invited to someone’s home and they are pouring wine, which you should be avoiding, what do you do? Simple, put your hand over your glass and smile, when the wine is being poured. Nobody’s feelings will be hurt – instead, there’s more for everyone else - and, frankly, nobody really cares whether you drink that evening or not. Yet, some would take the wine and drink it anyway for fear of being disliked.
The second discipline is learning to create boundaries to protect yourself and your time – often emotionally. Exposure to stress is very harmful, especially when struggling with your health. Therefore, there might be certain people you should see less frequently instead of more. It’s fine to make excuses when they call. I always say,
“I’d love to – but …..” and then make up a grand excuse in advance so I don’t stumble when they call. Good excuses can be that you have a deadline for a project, you have a prior family commitment or you’re just not feeling 100% and don’t want to give whatever you have to anyone else. Most everyone understands the concept - they just don’t have the right words.
The big takeaway on the self-love perspective is that each of us was given an amazing gift at birth: our miraculous body (remember, we only have one of those). So, remember to be grateful for that gift and care for it just as diligently as you would anything else important in your life: your pet, your car, or even tending to your flower garden; that’s just common sense.
I’ll leave you with a little homework now. Please take a moment and write down things or activities that bring you joy or make you happy - then do one of them each week. Give yourself a date night and spoil yourself.
If you are feeling a little unloved at the present time – that doesn’t have to remain the case. Loving you begins with what you do to achieve that feeling internally. Once you actually begin to feel more loved, believe me, others will more readily love you, too.