Self-Love and the Sense of Well-Being

I’ve been struggling with this term self-love which seems to be gaining currency of late.  Given that I have no problem with words like self-respect, self-esteem and self-hatred, it might seem surprising that I resist the idea of a love for the self.  My threshold obstacles to accepting it are two-fold:  an overlap with the concept of narcissism, and my aversion to some New Age, wishy-washy formulations that focus on love to the exclusion of other darker emotions.

As I often do with problematic words, I start with a dictionary definition from Merriam-Webster.

Self-love:  love of self
a:  conceit
b:  regard for one’s own happiness or advantage

There’s the first of my problems — definition 1(a) places self-love in the realm of narcissism; definition 1(b) hints at a kind of ruthlessness.  From this point of view, self-love doesn’t appear to be a positive attribute; self-love verges on egoism and selfishness, overemphasizing the wishes of the individual to the disadvantage of other people.  My impression is that the meaning of the word is currently undergoing an evolution, however, largely inspired by developments within New Age thinking. Check back with Merriam-Webster in ten years and you’ll find an additional definition.

I did a little online research about other conceptions of self-love and came across the following, from a website called Inner Self:

“the ‘Self’ in Self-Love knows that we are of a Higher Essence and that in its bounty the Universe has provided for us all. It knows that loving oneself means loving the ‘self’ in all others as well, since we are all ‘one and the same’. We are all spirit living a human experience and here to live and learn. Here to ‘be’.”

I have several problems with such a view.  First of all, self-love seems to involve acceptance of a spiritual view of the universe not everyone shares.  If you don’t believe we are all of a “Higher Essence” and that the universe has “provided for us all,” does that mean you’re incapable of self-love?  Later in the same essay, on the distinction between self-love and selfishness, the author gives the following advice:  “Examine your motives, listen to the voice of your Higher Self. It will always lead you on the path of Light, Love, Peace, Wisdom, and Joy.”  This implies that we should all be striving to feel love, joy, etc.; what if you believe, as I do, that we should face all our emotions, and that the path of growth lies in embracing our darkness as well as the light?

In discussing the documentary I Am, my colleage Marla Estes has addressed this over-emphasis on the positive emotions:  The “film exemplifies a kind of ‘spiritual bypass,’ where the goal is to transcend the darker sides of humanity instead of transforming them through the sometimes painful work of digging deep within ourselves.” From my experience, so much of New Age thinking teaches us how we ought to feel — and self-love is among those correct feelings — rather than helping us to cope with the difficult and painful ways we actually do feel.

In order to make peace with this concept of self-love, I went back to Jean-Jacques Rousseau.  You may recall that Rousseau distinguishes between amour-propre and amour do soi.  They both mean “self-love” in broad terms, but the former connects to the opinion of others and how they view us; in contrast, the latter is a condition of man in his natural state, apart from (or prior to) civilization, and reflects a state of wholeness and well-being.  According to Blackwell Reference online:

“Acts out of amour de soi tend to be for individual well-being. They are naturally good and not malicious because amour de soi as self-love does not involve pursuing one’s self-interest at the expense of others. The sentiment does not compare oneself with others, but is concerned solely with oneself as an absolute and valuable existence. … For Rousseau, amour de soi contrasts with amour-propre, a self-love that presupposes a comparison between oneself and others and consequently generates all the vicious and competitive passions.”

Here’s a view of self-love I can live with.  Rather than a state where the self is the object of love the emotion, amour de soi refers to a natural value for one’s life without invidious comparison to other people.  To my mind, it implies a state of harmony with one’s world, the sense of wholeness and goodness that I described at the end of A Hiking Meditation.  For me, achieving such a state involves intense self-awareness of all my feelings, including the defensive or destructive ones; through efforts to disengage from my defenses in a state of quiet, I feel whole within my body and in harmony with my world.

This may sound as if I’m agreeing with the writer from Inner Self, but I don’t share her spiritual assumptions nor would I repeat her advice to strive for love, joy etc.  I believe that, only in facing the whole of ourselves and accepting the shadow self as well as the light, can we attain the state of wholeness … this experience called self-love.  In short, self-love for me is a state in which it all comes together and I feel driven by neither my narcissistic defenses nor the demands of my superego (though I may “hear” them at work); I  feel complete and at peace with myself and world.  It has nothing to do with feeling the emotion of love for myself as an object, nor does it lead me to feel a pervasive love for the rest of humanity.

Finding Your Own Way:

I invite discussion on this subject.  Marla has suggested that feeling love for oneself as an object might be an intermediate step on the road to this other kind of self-love.  What do you think?

Do you have some other experience you think of as self-love?  If so, please submit your comments so we can discuss them.

What about spirituality or religion?  Do you see self-love as an integral part of those experiences?  Can an atheist feel self-love in its best sense?

Do you believe that one should strive to have certain kinds of feelings but not others?  If so, how do you achieve that?

Joe is the author and the owner of AfterPsychotherapy.com, one of the leading online mental health resources on the internet. Be sure to connect with him on Google+ and Linkedin.

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Personal observations on the actual moment when a defensive maneuver occurs, in order to evade pain, as well some reflections on the nature and value of the spiritual experience.

53 comments

    Most major religions (Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism) teach that you should put others first, love others more than yourself, etc. If anything, the “god in you” is going to make you love others more, not love yourself more… I think the New-Age crowd has it twisted, personally. In no religious text that I am aware of does it say “love thyself.”

    Sounds like an excellent excuse to be conceited… I never liked the term anyway because “self-love” always reminds me of masturbation :-)

    I think you’re right, self-love so easily becomes a kind of narcissism, although it doesn’t have to. See the comment by Penny above, about how Christianity tells us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. I had forgotten about that.

    Out of habit and belief I too give attention to thoughts and emotions that on the surface are far from self-loving; thougts which put the breaks on whatever activity I was up to . Oftentimes I think of Ayn Rand who in Atlas Shrugged wrote: “Don`t clog your motor”. However, I also see that a harsh look on my own self may mean remowing that which is clogging the motor.

    Usually, I find that I`m best off, feeling most well, when I`m forgetting my self completely .

    I think that Rousseau’s description implies a kind of forgetting of the self, don’t you? Not to be self-conscious — to be aware of and observing one’s self, and thinking about how one appears to others — but simply to be, in the present, with an intense but non-reflecting awareness of body/self. Those are the moments I cherish.

    There are certainly some problems with the concept of “self-love” if viewed as a selfish, self-absorption bordering on narcissism. For me, self-love is simply having a healthy regard for myself, as you mentioned, without the comparison to others. Additionally, feeling connected to others-being of service-can also be a form of self-love. Feeling a useful part of things, regardless of definition of “things”, and valuable is also part of healthy self-regard. This concept, like so many others, is open to interpretation–the lenses we view our world through.

    I think you’ve raised a further question that needs to be addressed: what is the relationship between self-love and self-esteem/self-respect? I don’t think they’re synonymous, though certainly related.

    I think the idea of defining self love as a feeling is already off base. Self love is more of a practice. Self love is self-encouragement, self-soothing, self-forgiveness. Being a good friend to yourself, being on your own side. Putting yourself to bed when you are tired. Eating and exercising. Letting people come close and know you, feeling at ease being seen, feeling a sense you are loveable and people can take delight in you.

    hmm, maybe it’s a feeling that expresses itself in a practice?

    But of course “care” can be dispassionate or tender, so that term doesn’t really work because tenderness is a big part of love and self love. You can be a brisk attendant version of ‘care.’

    It’s actually hard for me to pin down the feeling of “self love” … it’s easier to feel what “love” feels like in my love for significant others.

    Maybe it’s hard to feel as tender towards one’s self as one feels towards others?

    Yes, I think so. Personally, it’s an expression I don’t use because it just doesn’t correspond to my own experience. For me, love is what I feel for others. I have self-respect, pride, even feelings of sympathy for myself, not I don’t relate to the idea of loving myself.

    To be cheeky: I’d like to know more of your feelings about self-love.

    I’m not comfortable with the gushy sentimentality I feel when I hear “self-love”. Are you a WASP male? I hear you ask. Yes I am.

    For me it is more a feeling of being at home -in my own skin, with my strengths and weaknesses. I guess I could be happy with self lovely the definition of love was ‘desiring the highest good for the loved one’.

    I agree with your critique of the new-abet, but to be fair some of them do see a place for transforming ‘the negative’ on the path of the positive. Personally I’m uncomfortable with labelling some emotions negative.

    I agree about labeling emotions “negative” and I think it helps to but the word within quotation marks when we do, to indicate our skepticism. The problem with the New Agers, for me, is that they have staked out a path you’re supposed to follow toward a set of emotions they most definitely label “positive” and preferable to the other “negative” emotions. I think the goal is to accept all our feelings, whatever they may be, as part of an emotional life that is constantly in flux. When you prescribe a set of acceptable “positive” emotions such as love and joy, what you get is a bunch of people who talk the right way and come across as cloying and insincere.

    May respectfully suggest first that Self Love is quite the opposite of narcissism . A person with NPD actually has a very low opinion of himself due to childhood wounding and not having his healthy narcissistic needs met ; he will then put forth a false persona to the world of entitlement and sometimes arrogance.
    Many religions, such as Christianity , will tell us to love our neighbor as ourself. This implies one must know and accept one’s inner self with all its positive and negative aspects before one can do the same with another.
    So we first mustv” look within” according to Carl Jung . To truly uncover all aspects of our Soul including our Shadow if you will , or perhaps for those less spiritually inclined , our sense of our own identity which is a life long journey of growth and understanding.
    “To thine own self be true. ” First we need to explore and identify who our ” own self” is. This is a very necessary type of Self Love : nurturing and accepting..We then are in our way to feeling whole and peaceful , some would say in alignment with our soul, thereby lessening the need for constant attention and adoration such as a narcissist requires since he feels empty .
    Being “selfish” in this way is healthy ; we learn to love ourselves so that we might finally truly love our neighbor as ourself. One does not need to be religious or spiritual or Jungian to see that if we can responsibly take dare of our own needs, then and only then can we be of help to others. This kind of Self Love we celebrate.

    I love this discussion and completely resonate with the points you make in your blog. I find it so interesting how “loving” the self can be interpreted and even judged as in
    ( being conceited, etc) yet I do understand why that would be so. I find Dr. Kristin Neff’s research in the field of Self-Compassion to be similar in this way of thinking. Her findings suggest that people are willing to be compassionate with others, but not with themselves..

    Perhaps this is because people’s definition of the word LOVE can be as unique as snowflakes.

    I too disagree with the perception in New Age thinking, although in a way I might describe myself as a New Age thinker, I do not believe that our goal is to attain perfect bliss, LOVE, or happiness. This total striving to “love” others or even ourselves no matter what we might feel has left me feeling at times like a failure, unable to just “find or feel the love” I knew there was something I needed to move beyond.

    A new definition of self -love.

    I knew that this definition, in order for me to feel my most free needed to incorporate my polarities..or pieces of me as I like to call them love/hate anger/joy etc…it needed to incorporate an acceptance of ALL emotions. We’ve been trained other wise but this has been the path I am now on…

    My love of self is accepting what I or others might hate, not want to see, judge, etc.

    To be continued….

    I agree that self-love has to “incorporate an acceptance of ALL emotions.” It’s not a popular idea these days, but I think it’s crucial.

    Interesting discussion. I recently read ” The Compassionate Mind” by Paul Gilbert. In many ways, I feel this book hits the nail on the head. We humans have quite a battle on our hands balancing & integrating our old minds (instinctive & basic drives, fight or flight responses etc) with our new minds (conscience, consciousness & ability to observe & reflect). For me, the more I accept myself (and others) as flawed and the more I accept my (and others) destructive emotions, the more I feel whole, integrated and complete…..and importantly, the less my defences come out to play.

    Isn’t it interesting, that accepting your destructive emotions (without being ruled by them) leads you to feel more whole? Me, too.

    This is the first time you’ve written something of which my initial impression was, “wow, he’s really overthinking that.” I agree with much of what Penny said. True self-love is the complete opposite of narcissism. Focusing on how miserable and entitled we are in our narcissism often leads us to be unkind to ourselves — if we were truly kind and loving to ourselves, we’d step up and do the work you describe in so many of your posts. Someone once told me that many relationships fail or are stressed because the more intimate we become with someone, the more likely we are to treat that person as badly as we treat ourselves. I’m going through a very difficult life transition right now (fortunately with the help of a counselor I chose after reading your writings on what to look for in a counselor), including a relationship that’s just progressed to the stage where we are living together. One of the things I struggle with, in the stress of the transition, is to be kind to myself and to him as well. When I start beating up on myself, I find it very easy to be sharp and mean to my partner, who has never been anything other than kind and respectful to me. He just backs away and gives us both space when I’m less than kind to him, then doesn’t ever “punish” me or lecture me. My point here is that I see his kindness to me (and his dog, and his family, etc….) as evidence of his own self-respect and self-love, and I see that if I were less harsh and more kind to myself, I would have the capacity to be kind to him as well (including just back away and spend time alone if that’s what I need at the moment). The Buddhists would call this self-lovingkindness, or something like that. But wouldn’t it just be basic self-love, without all the faux narcissism and self-importance that annoys you?!

    I know what you mean about “over-thinking”. The problem for me is that, when I hear the word “self-love”, I have no immediate emotional connection to what it means. To love oneself as an object doesn’t describe my own experience. So because I’ve been hearing this word a lot lately, I’m trying to make peace with it by thinking it through. But “self-love” is not a term I’ll ever use a lot. Feeling quiet and at peace with myself; a sense of well-being and wholeness; respecting myself and my hard work; feeling good about myself — these are descriptions that connect on an emotional level to my personal experience. “Self-love” does not.

    What about being kind to yourself? Would you call that a part of self-respect, being at peace with yourself, or feeling a sense of well-being? I agree it’s important to use words that we can connect to emotionally, and I can appreciate your effort to find an emotional connection to the term “self-love”.

    I relate more to the idea of taking care of myself, looking after myself, than to being kind. I definitely relate to “being at peace” and “a sense of well-being.”

    I agree, that interpreted in a certain way, self-love can take a somewhat narcissistic character, but I also feel that might be putting something into the term just because it used in new age circles.

    Semantics aside, I experienced something inside me fall in place when I read and worked with the book “Dark Side of the Light Chasers” by Debbie Ford. Despite it’s obvious pop-psych veneer, there was something profound in trying to integrate my shadow, instead of just looking for light and love. It feel like starting to come home.

    And to me, integrating the shadow is about accepting my own humanity. I would perhaps call this self-acceptance rather than self-love, but I think intention is way more important than labels here.

    So why use the word self-love at all?

    I think the term self-love is so popular simply because it denotes the opposite of self-hatred. People who use the term self-love have correctly observed, that self-hate is abundant – in themselves and in the rest of the world.

    Self-hate leads to splitting off and projecting. It leads to more defense mechanisms, whereas self-love (or acceptance) ideally leads to fewer defense mechanisms being employed (at least how I see it).

    To me, the key distinction is that self-hate is one end of a continuum and that something is on the other end. We can call this other end of the continuum self-love, self-acceptance or something else. And we can debate what the other end of this continuum really constitutes. I just think the realization of this continuum is important.

    So what would you call the opposite of self-hatred?

    P.S.
    I think I will sit and watch the Black Swan tonight.

    I think you’re onto something there. Linguistically, it makes sense that we would posit self-love as the opposite of self-hatred. But maybe self-hatred is a dysfunction, an affliction that leads, as you say, to splitting and projection, a division in the self; once we’re able to stop splitting and projecting, maybe what we have is wholeness rather than self-love.

    I think the important thing is the qualities that describe this state of non self-hatred, rather than what we call it.

    But your point about self-hatred being a dysfunction that leads to (among other things) splitting and projecting is interesting.

    This means that a state of function (or non self-hatred) must ideally be without dysfunctional defense mechanisms.

    I liked Black Swan btw. To me it was a story about both the power and destruction of the shadow.

    I loved ‘Black Swan’. Did you see the review I wrote about it on our ‘Movies and Mental Health’ blog? I took it up in exactly those terms, the power of the shadow. Click here to read it.

    Yes, I saw your review, which inspired me to see the movie. I am a sucker for everything that deals with the shadow 😉

    a complete acceptance and peace with who i am that is full of warmth and openness even when i feel emotions that are less welcome,

    i think of nature, ie a tree, it doesnt criticize it self for being a funny shape or for having a few brown leaves, it just stands tall and proud, and open to its existance in all weathers! i know we can feel more emotions than a tree,but part of self love feels like that?

    then a warm bursting support and appreciation and praise for daring to keep facing life, ive felt that for myself and that feels like a really life affirming kind of self love

    opening and letting go through the darker feelings so that a peace ensues, like a kind of forgiveness that is really self love?

    just some thoughts that immediately came up in response to your article, very thought provoking , thank you

    i dont relaly agree that new age is all about getting rid of the “bad emotions”

    its alternative therapy that is teaching me to welcome these emotions that traditionally are less welcome,

    and find that as i open into them and welcome them, find that they have far less substance than i fear and that they make way actually to a peace underneathe,

    having kept running back from painful emotions i find it hard to open into them but am learning that when i do, they soon pass and peace and a real acceptance is below,

    id do an alternative therapy called the journey by brandon bays and its really helping me to dare open into these kinds of emotions,

    theres also a book called “loving your demons” that talks about loving those parts of us that we have and society has villified, and that this is a way to then heal them, so that they dont control as much

    i have a long way to go on this,

    Is it just me? or do others feel that our society is always becoming more and more “amour propre”. Our society seems so crass these days, and addictions are so rampant, I don’t think the average person is capable of a healthy self love that you describe. The feeling that you get when you are out in nature. That no matter who you are, you are really very insignificant, a speck in time. I can’t even get some of my friends to go on a hike. They would rather stay home and sip wine while gossiping on the phone or watch some ridiculous television show. I sometimes feel like there aren’t that many healthy people out there. I’m sure they are there, but they are not in bars, in government, on television.

    I wouldn’t argue with you. As Christopher Lasch began discussing more than 40 years ago in ‘The Culture of Narcissism, ‘we live in an increasingly shallow and narcissistic world, where many people don’t seem able to find an authentic sense of meaning in their lives and look for short-lived narcissistic gratifications instead.

    Such an interesting discussion! Funny–I object to the term “self-love” because it’s an ambiguous cliche that sounds vaguely masturbatory (as Hailey R. has already noted). I think the term has been in currency for a long time, mostly in the realm of self-help workshops and literature. In my experience, people almost exclusively speak of self-love as a kind of “antidote” to self-hatred, a neat solution to an invariably complex psychological problem.

    This thread is fascinating.

    I’m currently learning that the times I feel wholeness and peace, are the times I’m truly accepting and compassionate for all parts of myself, and don’t dismiss my ‘shadows’. I was wondering if what you were talking about was semantics, but this comment about the term self-love being used as an antidote hits the nail on the head. This is a long, troublesome (and yes-very complex) journey, you cannot love what you don’t accept.
    Self-love comes through acceptance and compassion for oneself. If you don’t accept all of yourself then trying to self-love is just a band-aid -and it won’t stick!

    Thankyou once again for a thought provoking post. I dont think ‘self-love’ is an instructive term. I am not sure if this is the same but I have learnt a lot from practicing this from a buddhist perspective which involves ‘loving observation’ meditations.

    It means observing all of myself without judgement. That is what loving myself means to me – observing all my feelings, observing my mind, accepting the reality of myself, but in turn setting limits on my actions. It is sort of the equivalent of being my own ‘good’ parent.

    I am not sure whether this is what you had in mind but it allows me to remain connected to myself and to others in life.

    Very interesting article. One of my passions for many years is opening myself to deeper levels of self-love and acceptance, and creating reminders for others to do the same….it’s been quite a journey….not for the faint hearted.

    My definition of self-love is 100% self-responsibility -taking full ownership for our own needs and desires. It is not about something fluffy – re denial of dark or painful emotions – it is about accepting EVERYTHING about ourself, warts and all and being real about it…being honest and authentic. It is about not projecting our needs onto others – blaming our parents, our upbringing, our culture, our society and making excuses for why we are the way we are…..

    It is about keeping an open heart and trying to be present with whatever is going on in your life however challenging…..

    Love has no opposite – if one is feeling the emotion of hatred – it is just a wounded aspect of ourself that is crying out for some attention and acceptance. Better to be just admit to yourself that is how you are feeling in this moment…..and knowing that like everything it will pass….. With some focus and intention of gaining a deeper understanding of why we are feeling a certain way, some of our biggest gifts and learnings can come from allowing ourself to feel EVERY feeling….rather than in denial and trying to suppress or repress.

    A lifelong journey of self-discovery…..

    I’m with you, except the part about hatred being a cry for attention. It may be at times, but I also think that hatred is one of our feelings that needs to be accepted rather than transcended. Yes, it will pass — all feelings do — but that doesn’t mean it’s not primary.

    So how does one heal the feelings of unworthiness associated with having narssasitic authoritarian parents that made it clear that their needs were of less value. How does one change the feeling that their needs, beliefs and ideas are of less value? I found it really hard to cope with being sensitive to others needs, and always neglecting myself. I because sick and exhausted. How do they stop putting themselves last without feeling guilt or shame rise up? How does one cope with the parents?

    That person actually feels a lack of love for the self. Maybe even puts others above their own needs. How does that person heal the unworthiness that comes from that upbringing?

    I wish I could answer that question easily. I think it comes from undertaking the hard work of psychotherapy. In many other posts on this site, I’ve written about how genuine healing occurs, and how we develop authentic self-esteem. If you want to read more, I’d start with this post about the healing of shame, or an earlier one about the difference between narcissism and genuine self esteem.

    I think self-love for me means something more specific than just being at peace with myself and the world, or general emotional health.

    I think everyone has their own image of who they are in their head, their accumulated experiences and the resulting distinct individual those experiences have produced. I think it’s possible to love the specific person you are in your head, without it turning into a feeling of superiority over other people. For example, when I’ve felt what I consider to be self-love before, it seems similar to feeling love for another person – that person might have undeniable faults or things you don’t like, but in the end you feel a sort of base affection for them regardless. And for me, it’s about caring for the specific person, not just feeling at peace with them or accepting of them and their place in the world. When I feel self-love it’s a warm and fuzzy feeling – like when you have a kitten and it is asleep on your lap. However, sometimes when I feel this way towards myself and I am with a group of people, like when I am on the bus, all of the people on the bus seem like cute little animals, and I just want to pat everyone on the head (I’m sure that once I become old and senile this will actually happen).

    I think there is also a more destructive feeling associated with the term that’s really more self-adoration than self-love, or loving yourself as an object, rather than a subject. For example, I don’t think I would include pride in my achievements or abilities in self-love. I don’t think the path to self-love is listing things about yourself you feel proud of, which seems to be the advice given in some self-help books. I guess to sum up, in my experience self love is not being non-judgemental about myself or feeling at peace with all my emotions or being a good parent. It’s something very specific, and while I agree that it is just another emotion that’s in the mix with all the other negative and positive emotions I feel, I think it’s okay to love yourself specifically, and for me it does lead to a pervasive love for the rest of humanity and the other animals as well. It doesn’t happen all the time, but it’s nice to have those moments where everyone on the bus is a kitten.

    It’s becoming clear that “self-love” means something different to different people; there’s no standardized meaning. Thanks for giving us your view.

    “What about spirituality or religion? Do you see self-love as an integral part of those experiences? Can an atheist feel self-love in its best sense?”

    Excellent questions… they really made me think.

    Self-love for me has to do with self-awareness… or the desire for it. It seems that they are one in the same-because if you pursue self-awareness, there must be some self-love there, no? How much you want to learn about yourself in a real way, as opposed to simply accepting labels of yourself, without further questioning or insight. Without exploration. I think it is this aspect, self-awareness, that links self-love to religion/spirituality. At the same time, and correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought atheists didn’t believe in God. I didn’t realise that they didn’t believe in souls, or in the individual. Is there anyone who doesn’t believe in a soul? Or in the power of the mind? And if they believe in either of these things, isn’t self-awareness always a possibility?

    while reading this article and the comments, all of which are interesting, i find myself asking whether the nub of the question is actually about what we define as “love”. For some, Love can be the need to control, or objectify, or to need, or to cherish (which is a need), while for others it is a state of bliss, or higher purpose or whatever, and needn’t be attached to an object, whether human or otherwise. It is very very subjective and relates I would suggest, very much in what your upbringing (i.e. experiences, belief system (not necessarily your religion), moral code, societal position, etc) has shaped your idea of Love to be. certainly mine has changed considerably over the years, and will, I’m sure continue to develop as I form new relationships and have new experiences.

    consequently, your ability to ‘relate’ to the term self-love has to be dependent on your conception of the term Love. Personally, at this time in my life, my conception of Love is that of acceptance of another being’s (human or not) being in all its forms – accepting that we are imperfect but that generally we are trying to do the best we can in a difficult and mixed up world, recognising that there is much good as well as much not so good in all of us. Its taken a while for me to get here, and I can’t say its always easy to love some people in this way. So for me, self love is the ability to extend that Love that we can show to others – compassion (not pity) and acceptance – to the flawed human person that is typing here now. I’m not very good at it yet, but then i have many flaws and one of my belief systems is that I’m essentially worthless… I don’t see it as objectifying anything or anyone, however, least of all myself, as my humanity is not a thing to be objectified. I find it strange that as a psychologist you see yourself as an ‘It’ – I’m not talking about souls and stuff here, by the way – just that person’s humanity doesn’t reside in their outer shell if you see what I mean..?

    To me, self love is simply extending your conception of love to yourself – treating yourself as you would a friend – I would never treat my dearest friends as harshly as I treat myself sometimes (because they are not worthless to me).

    Perhaps “self-love” might be replaced by “self-forgiving” or “self-accepting”. I find that when I forgive myself for what causes the inner pain, the mistakes I have made and the feelings of hopelessness I am at peace with myself. It doesn’t erase the shame, but makes it easier to live with me!

    Although I also don’t particularly like and wouldn’t use the term ‘self-love’ myself – I believe what it means for me is loving yourself as you love others (if you do, which hopefully you do!) So you give yourself a break. It is the antidote to the Critic, the Saboteur, the Envy, the Judge, the Shame etc. It means you love your own story, your own faults, your own mind and your body as much as you love your nearests and dearests. It stops you self-denigrating. You love yourself as a child loves itself. A relatively healthy child does not usually ‘hate’ herself, does she. She feels pretty free and warm in her own skin. That way I feel more whole and it is a beautiful feeling and people seem happier in my presence than when I feel more in tune with my angst, and self-dislike, self-judgement etc. I really enjoy the New Age critique. Almost all my friends are New Agers and I have not been able to articulate in my own mind what makes me uncomfortable about their attitudes but you have done it so well! It’s the sweetness and the cloyingness and an almost fascist insistence on some kind of weird special-speak relating to Indian wisdom and self-help wisdom.. with little personal, or profound or relating to the darker aspects of life that makes me so alienated by these people especially when they are in big fake-smiley groups having raw food parties singing indian mantras and grinning at one another! (I’ve been to a few! luckily not so much these days)

    As usual, I am enjoying these posts!

    I often think that there are serious limitations to our language. The word “love” in particular can be problematic. It’s overused.

    I have often used the term “spiritual bypass” myself to describe the essence of some of the New-Age thinking that I have encountered, and participated in. I dropped out because it refused to acknowledge the dark side. (I half- joke about becoming a Jedi)

    The same people that denied the existence of darkness, or at least refused to look at it, and talked endlessly about “self -love” -were the same people that would tell me that I had the power to “choose to be happy” anytime I wanted. For this reason I learned never to talk about my depression or any other negative emotion. I couldn’t put my finger on it… there was something that didn’t feel right about some of the New-Age thinking. Hopefully I can integrate the aspects that are helpful, but not at the expense of denying my entire self- the light and the dark side..

    I’ve had the same experience with some New Agers. Not all of them, but there is a definite falseness to many, and with those people, I find them to be covertly angry and destructive because they have disowned their “shadow”.

    I agree a lot with Penny.
    There is a vast difference between being “in love” with oneself (narcissism) and loving oneself. Loving oneself means, for me at any rate, considering that I am quite good enough, being at ease in my own skin, and therefore I can be good to others in a number of ways. As DJV says: “self-accepting”. And as Kaiti says: “self-awareness”. Yes.
    When I look in the mirror of a morning I can say ” You’ll do” LOL.
    Sure, I know I am not perfect, by any means. And definitely not perfect before my first coffee of the day.

    Striving for happiness, seeking the “ideal”. I don’t think so. These things can’t be brought down with a left and a right as they fly past.
    Might I just add, and this is purely a personal opinion, I think too much introspection is rather counter-productive.

    As for New Age and New Agers, well, like everything else, there are all kinds. The wishy-washy and the sensible. There are times when I think they have more sense and make more sense than the so-called organised religions, with their often appalling lack of tolerance.

    Hermes

    Although I struggle with categorizing myself as a narcissist, I do share four of the traits: 1. Arrogant/contempt as a defense mechanism, 2. difficulty feeling empathy (although I’ve been able to achieve it with my partner/husband and can easily do with certain people, but it does feel rather diminishing when I feel empathy for people other than my husband), 3. an unfounded sense of entitlement (this doesn’t quite describe what I feel/do, but it is close enough, I guess, 4. often compare with others & and lack a feeling of self-worth. This later one is my biggest challenge, I can’t get my mind/feelings around the concept of self-worthiness, this issue is extraordinarily elusive, while all others feel almost tangible enough to get to some level of resolution because I can define what they are and can define how to act as to stop from behaving that way. I mean I can see how eventually I could control my behaviors as to minimize the damage to others and to myself from my arrogant/contempt/lack of empathy. But trying to even visualize what self-worthiness means is impossible, no matter how I try to imagine it or understand it from others.

    I’m fortunate that I don’t use others for personal gains and that I have absolutely no desire to win/gain at all costs or behave in a way that intentionally hurts and uses others, because if I did, I don’t think I could even be able to read/pronounce the term “self-worthiness.”

    I’ve recognized the deep, destructive sense of shame for years now, without therapy or outside help (I devour any subject matter with ease, including being introspect with my research and findings about my insanely deep sense of shame). And I feel I understand many of the sources for such shame, and accept that I will never truly fix what is broken in me. But to go from there to sensing a bit of self-worth, sense a bit of a right of viewing myself as deserving, regardless of the qualities that might make me so, seems and feel totally unattainable.

    I’m mentioning all this just to suggest that self-love might be the wrong concept all-together. What we might be needing is a discussion about one being able to understand and feel what having self-worth is and looks like.

    RE: “From my experience, so much of New Age thinking teaches us how we ought to feel — and self-love is among those correct feelings — rather than helping us to cope with the difficult and painful ways we actually do feel.”

    And RE (from the comments): “When you prescribe a set of acceptable ‘positive’ emotions such as love and joy, what you get is a bunch of people who talk the right way and come across as cloying and insincere.”

    Nailed it! :)

    Although this stuff is described as New Age-y today, it also reminds me of things I’ve heard about the pre-Feminine Mystique 1950s mindset, where the only acceptable attitude was that everything was “Fine, just fine.” In fact, it even kind of reminds me of the older Puritan/WASP mindset – “Let’s not speak of anything unpleasant.” Viewed through that lens, this attitude seems quite old-fashioned and regressive. I guess what the New Agers bring to the table is the insistence upon constantly expressing joy and happiness and doggedly putting a positive spin on even horrible events (a friend’s child’s recurring cancer comes to mind – “Everything happens for a reason, so let’s express a lot of positive thinking / positive emotion about this tragic event”), whereas the older tradition is much more emotionally reserved.

    Life is not all glitter and rainbow unicorns – a child’s cancer doesn’t come back for any wonderful “reason.” The fact that suffering and other bad things exist might seem so obvious as to be indisputable, but not everyone sees the world that way. If you really, really _want_ everything to be glitter and rainbow unicorns, and you think it _can_ be, and you think it _is_ (for other, “happier” people with more “positive” attitudes), you might put a whole lot of energy into trying to make things that way.

    Re “self-love,” I don’t know what to think of it as a term. Just as Laura mentioned in the comments, the sorts of things that come to my mind are more behaviors than feelings. I think of things like taking your own needs into account in addition to others’, or trying to learn to speak to yourself with the same compassion and good intentions that you bring to speaking to your child or your friend. But as you mentioned in comments, those sorts of things could just as easily be labeled “self-care.”

    For whatever reason, the term “self-love” makes me kind of roll my eyes, and maybe I’m trying to protect against some kind of hurt or sad feeling, maybe from some lasting resentment/unhappiness about feeling unloved. I don’t have the same problem with the term “self-care.” People care for plants, or they take care not to burn dinner or get run over by a bus. “Care” is not such a loaded word. 😉 It’s more practical.

    Like all words, though, “self-love” is just a tool people use to get some meaning across. It’s not a word-tool that I find useful or helpful in its newest New Age-y meaning, maybe because I’m too busy having a negative reaction to it to put it to good use.

    Re the New Age-y tendency to bring spirituality into everything: That, too, reminds me of the old Puritan mindset — the Pilgrims came over here because they wanted to bring God into every aspect of life. But what’s kind of odd (I can’t quite reconcile it) is that the New Agers don’t necessarily believe in a Guy in the Sky, but they seem to persist in the same old Leibnizian/Panglossian idea that all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds. But once you’ve let go of the idea of an anthropomorphic (omnicient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent) God, it seems those kinds of explanations or beliefs (that all is for the best, as a way of explaining or reconciling “the problem of evil”) have outlived their usefulness…and yet they persist, generation after generation. Without a perfect Guy in the Sky, we no longer _need_ all to be “for the best” or “for a reason” to support our idea of the universe — but the idea lingers on?

    There was a lot of interesting things to think about in this post! Thanks!

    We’re very much on the same page, including the tendency to roll our eyes at certain aspects of New Age spirituality. This topic of acceptable emotion vs. the reality of human nature will be the subject of my next book.

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