Self-Love: Is It Selfish?
by Leslie Karen Lobell, M.A.
"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
Send this page to a friend
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.
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?
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!
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 "cocky" or self-confident.
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.
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.
Copyright ©2000-2001. All rights reserved. Leslie Lobell