Self-Love : Is It Selfish?
The song "Greatest Love of All," written by Michael Masser and Linda Creed (performed by Whitney Houston) contains the following lyrics: "I found the greatest love of all/Inside of me/ ... Learning to love yourself/It is the greatest love of all." There are many types of love that we have for the people in our lives: love for a romantic partner or spouse, for our family, for our children, for our friends, for humanity, in general, and for ourselves. Which of these is most important? Which should be our first priority? Is self-love the "Greatest Love of All"? Or is it selfish and self-indulgent?
Suppose you find your "soul mate" and feel that all-encompassing love that everyone seems to seek... Should you love yourself above your soul mate? Should your self-love mean more to you than your soul mate's love for you? What about your parents, your children, and/or your friends? Should you put your love for yourself before your love for them? Although I believe that love for others is extremely important
, I believe that self-love should - and must - come first.
What about you? Do you agree? Or are you cringing? Do you feel uneasy with this idea? Or does it make perfect sense? We hear, over and over again, "Before you can love someone else, you have to love yourself, first." The saying has almost become a cliché. Yet, on some level, many of us feel uncomfortable with this. Why might this be so? So many of us, especially women, are caregivers.
Whether we wear the label of spouse, parent, nurse, doctor, teacher, counselor, volunteer worker, or any of a host of other identities, many of us tend to put the needs of others before our own needs. We try to please and care for others first, often putting ourselves last. In many cultures, women, especially, have been rewarded for being caregivers - and sometimes punished for not exhibiting those qualities.
In my counseling practice, I encounter a lot of people who believe that to love yourself, or to give to yourself, is a "bad" thing. They see this as "selfish" or "self-centered." I recall an example from my own youth. As a teenager, I wanted to be a performing artist. I loved to be onstage, especially in musicals when I got to sing solos. Admittedly, as a particularly romantic teen dealing with the joys and tears of crushes and heartbreaks, I had a way of creating some drama in the rest of my life, as well. Once in a while, my mother would admonish me by saying, "You always wanted to be the center of attention!" The tone in which she made this statement clearly conveyed that I should feel ashamed of myself. It worked: I did. Whether or not she intended it, I got the message that expressing myself in any way that might be different, that might call attention to myself, was deplorable... and to enjoy my own talents, to recognize my gifts -- or (God forbid) to feel good about myself -- was even worse!
My mother was very concerned about preventing her children from becoming conceited. It never occurred to her that she might want to put as much effort into fostering our self-esteem. I can't really blame my mother: like all of us, she is a product of her generation and culture. She only taught what she had learned, herself. I find it a shame, though, that our culture seems to create so many people who lack self-confidence, self-esteem, and self-love. I think that our main focus, especially with children, should be on "building them up." Instead, so many people look to "take someone down a peg" if that person seems too "****y" or self-confident.
When I talk of self-love, I am NOT advocating that we should stop caring for others, and just focus on ourselves. Being in service and giving back to your community is something I believe is very important. Showing kindness to others and demonstrating our caring for our loved ones is a key to having a fulfilling life. However, maintaining a balance is critical. You cannot keep giving to others if you do not give to yourself, first. It is like pouring water from a vessel: you cannot pour and pour without ever refilling it - eventually, it will run dry. Like that vessel, we, too, need to refill, recharge, and re-energize. We need to replenish ourselves, by loving and giving to ourselves. Learning to love yourself
may be the greatest love you ever experience and achieve. Self-love is not "selfish" or bad. When you love yourself, you will feel good about yourself, and you will feel better about the world. This will make it easier for you to give love to others. Especially if you are a parent or any type of caregiver, you must not forget to take time out to care for yourself. When you take time to re-energize, you will have more energy both for yourself and to share with the people you love and those in your care. The person who feels self-love is generally happier and much more pleasant to be around than the person who lacks self-love and self-esteem.
Embodying self-love is the greatest example we can set for our children, for our loved ones, for our friends, and for all those we encounter in our lives.