Is Self Love Selfish?

Self Love: Of Selfies & Manicures

When I first heard the term self love not that many months ago I rolled my eyes. The last thing, thought I, that we need is to be more fixated on ourselves. I might have been a teensy bit grumpy that day. But more than that I was reacting out of the cultural training I’ve been immersed in (we all have) for the last 40 years of my life. (And now you know how old I am.)

How often have you heard that “Millennials are so self absorbed” along with a shot of some girl doing duckface as she takes a selfie. I’m afraid that was the snarky image that first popped into my head when I heard the term. So if you’ve got a similar picture in your head throw it away right now. If you are asking “is self love selfish?” read on for my answer.

The Shallow Pool

Let’s be clear, there is such a thing as unhealthy fixation on the self. It’s called narcissism and it’s not a great thing. Narcissists are fixated on themselves, especially on their appearance and the image they project to the world, excessively so. But that doesn’t mean they love themselves. The English word “love” has been so abused that I wonder if we still realize what it is at all.

Narcissism is the furthest thing from self love. It’s more akin to self-infatuation. Like the Greek myth from which narcissism takes its name, obsession with outward appearance and seeming isn’t love. The narcissist doesn’t love themselves, which is obvious in their reactions to criticism, or personal failing. They can’t handle either because what they are fixated on is a shallow outer projection they have created for themselves. The real, super complicated person underneath? Mostly they are terrified of that person.

The Divine Deep of Love

“Love is not blind – it sees more, not less. But because it sees more, it is willing to see less.” Rabbi Jullius Gordon

That my friends is real love. It isn’t the shallow gazing at one’s youthful perfect face in a pool of water and being enraptured. It’s seeing ourselves as we really are and being willing to give grace to those things we’re not so happy with. It’s often easier to talk about real love in relation to other people. So for example, I love my husband (I can hear him somewhere hollering “you better!”). That doesn’t mean I think he’s perfect. Nope. I probably did in the first few months of our relationship because falling in love makes you insane (like actually, there’s science and research behind that). But pretty soon that myth got shattered all to pieces.

But here’s the thing. When it was revealed that my sweet man was in fact human I was willing to forgive those human foibles (as he does mine, really people I have WAY MORE) because I saw the whole of him. I saw him in context and his complexity, and his struggle and I was willing to overlook the fact that he snored, and didn’t adore Babylon 5 or have the whole Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy radio drama memorized.

Narcissism is so dangerous because it’s all surface level. Because (like poor Narcissus) if you ever plunge past that surface what’s beneath is dark and dangerous and deadly. Love on the other hand gets better the deeper you go. (And I just heard my beloved smirk.)

“As Yourself”

One of the most well known religious teachings perhaps ever comes from the Jewish (and eventually Christian) tradition. It is also one of the simplest and most complicated.

Love your neighbor as yourself.

Which sounds totally simple. Until you really dig into it. Love your neighbor, great, OK. How do I love my neighbor? As yourself. Now that’s a problem if you don’t love yourself. Self love matters. I often wonder how many issues, from the cross the fence feud, to wars, can be blamed on a lack of self love. Think about if. If deep down you are afraid that you are a horrible, icky human being who doesn’t actually deserve good things how are you likely to treat other people? Exactly.

When we are most disgusted in something it is usually because it triggers a deep fear in us about ourselves. When we cannot treat someone with human dignity and respect the real question is: what about them challenges our ability to love ourselves?

Do you want to change the world? Learn to love yourself.

Starting the Journey

Loving ourselves isn’t about how we feel necessarily. Love is a choice and an action. When we start the journey toward self love we start by acknowledging that we are worthy of love and belonging, that we are made in the image of the divine. This can be a purely mental acknowledgement, you don’t have to feel it. But you do have to choose to behave as if it is something you already believe.

It means choosing loving action for yourself. This looks like many things, setting healthy boundaries, making choices for your mental and physical well being, prioritizing relationships that are life giving, spending time deepening your spirituality.

Self Love Planner

It might sound like a lot. For those of us who are not practiced in acting lovingly toward ourselves it might be a serious stretch. The good news is that you don’t need to feel a certain way, that will come as you act a certain way. I try to think of it this way. I think of the people I love most and what I want for them. Would I want them to work twelve hour days out of guilt? Or to clock out, relax, and spend time with people they love? Obviously the second. Would I want them to hate their bodies and punish them with harsh diets and punishing exercise? No. Would I want them to instead do things they loved, that made them feel excited, strong, and powerful? Clearly.

The simplest solution? The simple tool I’ve created to help myself make time and space for the things that care for and love my body and soul. You can read more about my planning tool (for self care and more) and see if it might be right for you, or just download it below and get going.

Share your greatest self-love wisdom in the comments!

self love, self care, self love planner, worthiness, authenticity

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