Self-love is such a misunderstood concept. I’m able to digest Ph.D level material in no time, but things to do with my own self? My mind goes blank. I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around the concept of self-love for years, and it’s been like explaining Facebook to a Somali nomad in 1820!
Partly because I’ve been conditioned to equate self-love with selfishness, but mostly because only parts of me were celebrated and encouraged, whilst others were shunned and discouraged. While my intellectual side was given free reign, my emotional side (which is bigger than my intellect) was relegated to the shadows. And what is suppressed and relegated to the subconscious grows disgruntled and toxic. Much like how a person marginalized and silenced would react.
I did everything right:I studied, I developed an iron will, I drank my milk, I obeyed, I stayed out of trouble, I prayed my salawaat, I was polite, I was positive. But each construct I built was undermined by my suppressed side.
I hated it. I hated my guts. I was weak weak weak for not being able to stifle that emotional side. Why did I have to feel when others seemed to have no issues with their emotional side?
Emotions are the balm and oils to the soul. It’s what protects us from friction when we interact with the world. It’s what soothes our aching hearts. It’s what allows us to love and be creative. It’s the thermometer and litmus test of souls. It’s the wind in our sail, the pillar in our home, the anchor.
Self-love then is seeing one’s self in its entirety, without cutting parts out, without blurring parts. It’s accepting oneself unconditionally and understanding that souls only grow when their lamentations are heard. Hearts recover when their pain is validated. Self-love is like watering a plant; it’s giving oneself what one needs without imposing on it what the world – or one’s intellect- thinks it needs. A plant will let you know when it needs more water, it’ll let you know when it’s wilting, when it’s crooked and needs support growing. You just have to give it space and trust that in the absence of your control, it knows how to grow.
In the absence of self-love, the heart seeks its balm through unhealthy channels like codependent love, substance abuse,comfort eating, status obsession. A person who hasn’t been listened to can’t hear others. A person who shuns parts of themselves will shun parts of others. A person who hates themselves for what they see as weakness will mock others who show emotions.
The truth and reality of this world is this: You can’t give goodness, wholesome and unconditional goodness, to the world if you haven’t given it to your self. You can’t fight and help bring down evil in the world if you haven’t fought the evil in yourself. And the evil in yourself isn’t fought through silencing, but through shining the light of self-awareness and self-acceptance on your darkness. You can’t reconcile between people in earnest if you haven’t reconciled between your broken parts. You can’t discover in the world what you haven’t discovered through your own soul.
Once you go through that journey, you’ll realize that the world and everyone in it are cut from the same cloth. You’ll know others the way you know yourself because just like beneath the superficial differences in skin colour and hair texture, runs crimson red blood, lies skeleton, beats a heart. Beneath our life stories and emotional makeup lies the same core that seeks growth and awareness and love. Unless that core becomes malignant, in which case it needs to be fended off by other healthy cores.
Selfishness is not identical with self-love but with its very opposite.
Selfishness is one kind of greediness. Like all greediness, it contains an insatiability, as a consequence of which there is never any real satisfaction. Greed is a bottomless pit which exhausts the person in an endless effort to satisfy the need without ever reaching satisfaction.
Close observation shows that while the selfish person is always anxiously concerned with himself, he is never satisfied, is always restless, always driven by the fear of not getting enough, of missing something, of being deprived of something. He is filled with burning envy of anyone who might have more.
If we observe closer still, especially the unconscious dynamics, we find that this type of person is basically not fond of himself, but deeply dislikes himself.
Selfishness is rooted in this very lack of fondness for oneself.
The same holds true with the so-called narcissistic person, who is not so much concerned with getting things for himself as with admiring himself.
While on the surface it seems that these persons are very much in love with themselves, they are actually not fond of themselves, and their narcissism – like selfishness – is an overcompensation for the basic lack of self-love.
– Erich Fromm, Escape from Freedom