In a recent radio interview, the creator of a dating service stated that he requires that his clients “love themselves” before he will work with them. He then added the common adage that “you can’t love another unless you first love yourself.” I disagree with this philosophy and contend that the ability to love others is derived from other means.
Children develop a sound self-concept if their attachment needs are met early on in their development. The love of a parent or caregiver supports and affirms the identity of the child. If attachment needs, however, are overlooked or ignored, a child may experience a wounded self-concept. He may doubt his lovableness and become self-critical or self demeaning.
Woundedness created by inadequate love from another, cannot be corrected by trying to “love oneself”. If our woundedness results from break downs in our early attachments, it makes sense that love from another person will be necessary to make the correction. Love is an action word, flowing from one person to another and in its pure form heals the giver and the receiver. Yet popular psychology is fond of prescribing the self-love quick fix.
Self-love proponents are quick to say that there is a difference between self-love and selfishness. It may be difficult to separate the two. We are born very self-centred or selfish. Our fundamental needs are our focus. Unless we develop a social conscience and awareness, we can grow up to be self-centred adults.
If we are discouraged, asking us to become more self-centred is not likely to help the cause. Discouragement may even be the result of being too self occupied. Trying to bolster a discouraged self-concept by becoming one’s own greatest fan may not be as effective as hoped and could unintentionally feed the selfish side of the individual.
How about considering self awareness of strengths and weaknesses instead of self love? How about considering self acceptance of those strengths and weaknesses and making changes where desired or needed?
Buddhism teaches “No Self, No Problem”. Christianity teaches that a person who seeks his life will lose it and he who loses his life for the sake of love, will find it. Christianity also says to love our neighbour as ourselves; however, this is interpreted by the self love crowd as permission to be great self lovers. The teaching does not say, love yourself and then your neighbour. It says love your neighbour. How? The way you already love yourself. Self love is a given.
Self confidence and happiness/joy are paradoxical. If one is detached and forgets oneself and loves without counting the cost (unconditionally) there is resulting peace and joy. If one loves and “keeps score” there may be unhappiness and discouragement if expectations are not satisfied.
When a person is preoccupied with self pep talk there may be some payoff…. but not peace or joy.
The dating service fellow is matching up people in love with themselves who, as a result, may have trouble making their relationships work.
A good or great marriage is made up of two people who are able to ‘be there’ for each other. Good listening and consultation, and most importantly collaboration, are necessary for success. The ideas or preferences of the other person have to be as important as one’s own, if not more so at times.
A reactionary listener is someone who is self focused to the point that she hears her own reaction rather than the feeling or idea of the other person. In marital counselling we work hard to break down this self-focus so that each spouse can better “hear” the other.
It is not possible to work out all of one’s insecurities before marriage as some of them only show up after the wedding. It is what happens between the couple that determines the success of the relationship, not how much each partner loves him or herself. Being with a spouse awakens old attachment issues from childhood and presents the opportunity to heal the wounds of the past.
Self worth or esteem is not a pre-requisite for intimacy but rather the result.
Self love is indeed misdirected.