Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these. ~ Jesus of Nazareth
I was 8 years old when I was first taught Catholic ideals, coupled with a strange mix of shamanic teachings. The above passage from the bible was my first taste of the concept of Self-Love.
My teacher Don Angel saw my confusion and explained: “This is where we vary from Catholicism. We learn to love ourselves alongside Mother earth. How can you love your neighbour as yourself if you don’t love yourself first?” It took me a few years to understand what he meant.
As I grew older I observed how common it was for people to advise others who were struggling with themselves to “accept who they are in order to live happily”. I’d observe that many would take this advice on board; they’d build up enthusiastic momentum, but something would happen. Their enthusiasm would fade, and they returned again to their old patterns.
Self-Love is at the core of learning anything that will improve your life. If you don’t have enough esteem for yourself, what will motivate your pursuit for a better you?
Loving Others Requires Selfishness
It sounds like a paradox, but unless you’re selfish, you cannot be altruistic. Unless you’re capable of truly and honestly loving yourself first, even the darkest side of your being, you can never love somebody else.
Egotism and selfishness are preached in all societies as sinful behavior. We encourage the virtues of self-sacrifice towards a ‘greater good’. History, (including many modern films), is plagued with stories of the individual hero’s willingness to sacrifice his life for the survival of a group or collective of people. If these ‘selfless’ virtues hadn’t been imposed, none of our societies would have prevailed.
The truth is that the purpose of our society’s social conditioning is to preserve and develop society as a whole, not to allow individuals to reach their full potential, or get what they want if that will affect the basic structure of society.
The virtue of Selflessness essentially allows for the physical survival of the collective, but not for the soulful and peaceful happiness of the individual.
First we must be able to truly see through this conditioning if we are to make any change to our life through Self-Love. As a theory, Altruism implies that the purpose of life is to serve other people. What are these people you are serving doing here? They are here to serve you. Doesn’t it make more sense to serve yourself in what you truly want instead of what others think that you might want, just as long as it doesn’t result in violence, chaos or death?
Otherwise we have a situation where the blind are guiding the blind. But someone must be ‘selfish’ enough to learn how to see first, to learn how to read a map (even if reading will give him individual ‘power’ above the rest) in order to guide others.
If you can’t love yourself – where your love originates from in the first place – how will you ever be capable of true altruism, or of loving anybody else? You can’t give away that which you don’t actually have.
Selfishness Does Not Mean Egotism
On the surface it’s understandable how the word ‘Self-Love’ could be confused with the words ‘Egotism’ or ‘Narcissism’. But this couldn’t be further from the truth.
A person who loves themselves wants to become the best they can be, they want to explore themselves using techniques such as Involution in order to see their faults, deepen their lives, and in doing so they discover how harmful gaining their self worth from the ego can be.
We are taught to believe that being “selfish” will jeopardize society as a whole – regardless of what you actually do – so it is condemned unconditionally. This attitude is evident when we describe the behaviour of a person who succeeds at the expense of the well-being of others, with words like ‘selfish’. But this isn’t selfish, this is foolish and idiotic!
A person with mindful Self-Love is aware that they aren’t actually looking after their own interests if they step on other people, because they’re causing pain and suffering while also creating enemies and negative consequences in the long term, which makes life a lot more difficult for them. This behaviour is actually Self-Destructive, which is the complete opposite of selfish Self-Love.
Also, is there any such thing as Altruism, really? The actual act of helping other people does benefit us: it makes us feel good. In a way Altruism can also be thought of as a ‘selfish’ act, which in a way is what we want. If you truly love yourself you want to take care of yourself. It’s only self-hating egotistical people that harm themselves physically or mentally.
Self-Love has nothing to do with egotism. On the contrary, the desire for honest self-exploration requires immense respect and love for yourself. Egotism revolves around the ego, and the ego depends upon the respect of others, not yourself.
You can’t just decide to suddenly feel good about yourself. It will never work.
As I mentioned in my previous Self-Understanding article, there are two important elements to Self-Love; love and respect for yourself. But don’t make the mistake of confusing self-love with feeling love and respect for yourself by itself. The way you behave is just as important.
Incongruent living is exhausting. Many of us claim we love and respect ourselves, yet we work in jobs we don’t find fulfilling, we don’t take care of our bodies or minds, and we ignore the exploration of our deeper selves to find out who we truly are. Self-love is action, not just believing or feeling it, but proving it with your being. The more active you are and the more you practice, the greater the feelings of Self-Love you’ll experience.
Here are some suggestions you can use to begin your cultivation of active Self-Love:
- Take care of your body: Everything you do in life begins first with your physical well-being, from mental to spiritual matters. Be nice to your body. Stay in good shape. Don’t poison, abuse or neglect it. The only way you can be authentically you is if there’s no interference from external physical factors such as grogginess, bad moods, fatigue, hangovers or ill-health.
- De-construct who you think you are: You may idealize being an artist and waste your life trying to become one without finding fulfillment. Alternatively, you might be naturally artistic yet fail to understand and measure the difficulty of following that career. One of Buddha’s observations applies perfectly here in that the main cause of suffering is our desires, that is; wanting to be something other than what we truly are, or the constant attempt to escape our own intrinsic nature in both what we are, and what comes naturally to us.
- Be true to your emotions: We all carry around an incredibly ‘fragmented’ individual self within us. A person who is afraid or who has not honestly faced their anger, or their sexuality, or their controlling tendencies, or their fear, or their jealousy, and so on, tends to handle adversity poorly. People who have psychological breakdowns do so because they ignored or rejected too many parts of their personalities. Be authentic to your emotions, if you’re sad, accept it and allow yourself to be sad. Don’t pretend to be happy, to smile and put on social masks.
- Respect your surroundings: Respect everything from the environment that you live in, to the little mushrooms that push their way through the ground at your local park. Respect everything and everyone around you.
- Cultivate knowledge and qualities: For example, you could try furthering yourself with skills, languages, abilities and art crafts you are interested in. Feeling as though you have a variety of skills is a great way to build your self-esteem. Are there any qualities you admire in other people, for example: compassion, generosity, humour, thoughtfulness? Cultivate and improve these qualities within yourself.
- Respect your time: Put aside the action that provides immediate gratification for the action that bestows you with long term benefits. Spend time pursuing things that build a better future for you, rather than running around doing aimless activities that provide momentary stimulation.
- Don’t confuse indulgence for self-love: In the marketing age that we live in, we’ve been taught that buying ourselves ‘things’ is the best way to prove how much we love ourselves. While rewarding yourself when you’ve achieved something every so often is a good idea, don’t confuse things like seeking comfort from your fears through food or material objects, with that of acts of self-love.
Cultivating Self-Love is essential if you ever hope to improve your relationship with yourself and the people around you.
Are there any activities that you find help you increase love and respect for yourself? Please feel free to share them below!