The Harmful Myth of Self-love

Self-love has been the woke thing for a few years now. It’s on everyone’s lips. From the reality TV star to the self-proclaimed guru, everyone is talking about it! The story goes as follows: Love yourself first. If you cannot love yourself, you can’t love another. Interesting concept for sure.

But what is the veracity of this teaching that has taken over the world by storm. If something is popular, that doesn’t mean it’s true or life-affirming. We have enough examples in history to show us the opposite. But there seems to be a worldwide consensus that one needs to love themselves before anyone else. 

I wonder, if our parents, and grandparents had adhered to this concept, if we’d even be alive to debate such ideas… Love is an emotion that gets everyone talking. So many people who have come before have tried to define love in different ways.

If we look at it from a scientific point of view, love is a chemical balance in our brain. Not so romantic right? #love is the most used hashtag on Instagram with over 1 billion tags. Clearly this is something that occupies a lot of our time. 

“Love but be detached. Why do you want to love then? You want to love to include somebody as part of yourself, your life.” ~ Sadhguru 

Where did we get the idea that we have to learn how to love on our own? Doesn’t love imply there is someone to love? Isn’t the fact that we love animals, our friends, partners, proof enough that we can love without ‘loving’ ourselves?

So why is it that, all of a sudden, we are told, by ‘experts’ that we need to learn to love ourselves before we can love others? Do you think Mother Teresa loved herself and that’s why she did so much to help the less fortunate? Or perhaps, she had a deep longing to belong and be part of something that would help her share love and that’s why she did all that she did..? We will never know. 

How many of us have become more selfish in the name of self-love? How many of us have ended relationships because we ‘had to work on ourselves’? Weren’t we just reinforcing the idea that we are not enough as we are and that we need to be ‘better’ to be part of a relationship? How many of us have said something along the lines of ‘I need to learn to love myself before I can love and be loved by others.’ 

Just reading the previous line, don’t you feel something is off? Something is missing? Doesn’t it seem strange that in order to love and be loved you need to love yourself?

Does that imply that until you fully love yourself (which may never happen, as we humans, have a deep feeling of inadequacy), you cannot love another and cannot be loved? How horrible is that! Who would want to live in such a world. And anyways, what does loving yourself look like? Can someone’s love not show you the way to your own heart? Can someone’s love not break down the ego barriers of protection to allow more warmth in? 

Western culture has been obsessed with individualism, and it seems the East is following suit. The lexicon of ‘self’ has just exploded over the last few years: self-love, self-acceptance, self-care, self-made…could it be that we’re more self-absorbed than ever before? Is that the illusion of separation in action supported by it’s best friend the ego? 

Has self-love become a marketing tool to sell more beauty products pretending to foster more well-being? Does a selfie show the world our authentic self or a tweaked version of how we’d like to look? 

The self tends to be seen as a separate identity with defined boundaries which make up our individual identities. It’s riddled with doubt, failure, happiness, confidence… However, the self is also part of a cosmic dance with other people and the world at large. How could we ever learn to love ourselves on our own? And is it even possible? This is the classic chicken or the egg situation. 

People are confused. Self-love is confusing. And if it is confusing, is it really natural? Is it healthy for us to focus so much on ourselves? To spend so much of our time thinking only about ourselves? In our evolution, if we had focused on our own little self and cultivating the love within, we wouldn’t be here.

The only reason we made it so far as a species is because we came together and that was our strength. Now, imagine if our hunter-gatherer ancestors were checking themselves out in the reflection of a pond, or kept thinking about their own needs…? Well, we probably wouldn’t be here.

Self-love has become a harmful disconnecting trend. The more self-love I see splashed around, the less love I actually witness in the world. Spending time alone and taking care of ourselves by cooking or sleeping early is amazing, of course it is, but that’s just called taking care of yourself, not self-love. 

It’s like the idea of self-made! Who can realistically say they have accomplished anything on their own? Is this, again, the ego masquerading as our best friend?

Look at authors; when they write a book, they have acknowledgments. Why? Because without other people, they couldn’t have created this work of art. Look at the end credits in movies, there are over hundreds of names from the person who brought water on set to the director. Look at stand-up comedy, or any other ‘star’ for that matter. Even though on stage they might appear alone, they have a team without which they wouldn’t be on stage. It’s the same for us.

We wouldn’t be on the stage of life without our squad. We are all dependent on others and many of us get confused, believing we have to do everything on our own – like loving ourselves. 

We’re being sold this dream of independence, that we are an island. But the very way in which we are born and live the first few years of our life, suggest the complete opposite. All the studies that are coming out on addiction, correlate it to lack of connection.

We spend 9 months in the womb, clearly not alone. We couldn’t in fact be more intimate with anyone else – we’re literally inside them. Then for a while, we don’t even realize that we are separate from our mother. Humans, are the mammals that need the most care as children.

Without it we wouldn’t survive. Look at premature babies, they get healthier with skin-to-skin contact with another human. Clearly, they understand love better than we have grown to. We’re getting lost.

By making everything more complex, by trying to feel more evolved, we’re getting stuck in our minds and all we’re doing is adding more separation, concepts and labels on how we live our life, instead of just living it. We are trying to aim for perfection, and that’s ludicrous. It’s as if we enjoy making life more complicated because we can’t fathom the possibility of simply being. Simplicity, truly is a sign of intelligence. 

We are all dependent on someone – thinking we aren’t is a farce and it’s hurtful to our communities. If we take it down to the essentials, without our farmers, we’d have no food. This is proof enough that we all depend on someone, and it’s ok. That’s how it’s supposed to be.

We’re not meant to live in small boxes, all alone. We suffer from it. We get depressed because of it. We thrive in communities, in communion, through interaction with others. That’s the only way we truly understand life – through others. Without others, there is no mirror for understanding. My ‘self’ only exists because there are other ‘selfs’ to play with. 

Self-love doesn’t exist. It’s a man-made concept. And it’s definitely not about being able to withstand loneliness or establish independence but more about awareness and acceptance of our incompleteness. It’s about letting others love us even when we don’t feel lovable… 

Sadhguru puts it in words beautifully: 

“In America, people used to say I believe in God. Now they say I believe in myself. They used to say I love you to somebody, these days started saying I love myself. To love, to believe, to respect, you need two. If you have become two within yourself for sure you are heading for madness. If you really become two then we say you’re schizophrenic isn’t it? This self-respect business has to go, because this will lead to all kinds of expectations. If It think I’m a big guy and I respect myself, then I expect you to treat me that way too. When you don’t I will become resentful and angry. There is no need for me to respect myself. But if I respect somebody it may not even be because of their quality. It is because of my quality that I respect somebody. I respect myself, I believe in myself, I love myself, these are all statements of the insane.”

So I ask you, is the idea of self-love creating more love or more separation within and without? 

Image Sources:

Photo by Kelly Sikkema
Image by Ben Kerckx

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Maeve Kelly

It may be possible that you have not yet embodied this truth and are still on a journey of exploration of this principle/ ideology… as are many of the people you are criticising. It’s important at this time that we leave much room for exploration without condemnation. Self love is simply an act of love that resonates through the universal entity of being and which is not just offered to self but all whom we encounter. To meet with ourselves and to learn to live ourselves we must meet with our wounds (ego), and without learning to hold these aspects… Read more »

Jeana

I love this article. I have never bought into the “ love thyself” nonsense. It always makes me cringe when I hear that phrase. Thank you for speaking out.
Would love to read your perspective on “ boundaries” that goes along with it.

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