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Defining Self-Love and Debunking the Myths

Jun 16, 2024

I’ve written many articles about self-love for while I was creating my Loving Yourself Whole program. The writing I do and the program I’m creating have become an important, symbiotic relationship as I teased out the layers of confusion I find others have on the topic. This work of writing and creating has been intimately tied to my own self-love journey. It has helped me to come to terms with just how much of my pain, frustration and overwhelm is directly linked to a lack of self-love and why it's so important to understand and do this work.

I’ve come to this topic from the experience I wrote about in my book The Love Liar: A Memoir of Codependency, Narcissism and the Pursuit of Self-LoveHaving explored my life from beginning to now in the context of narcissism and codependency, I’ve developed a perspective on self-love that I find is uniquely valuable to not only help others understand narcissism and codependency, but to use that knowledge to deepen the concept of what it means to love one’s self and why it’s important.

What I’ve found is that self-love is deeply misunderstood, and I believe that the more humans can be open to a different way to think about self-love, their lives will become more peaceful and more joyous, their relationships more rich and full, and their contribution to humanity much more effective.

Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers you have within yourself that you have built against it. ~Rumi

A beautiful quote from Rumi, and such a simple concept. “Find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” I struggle with this as any human, but to do this work is the ultimate self-love journey.

Simply put, self-love is when we have aligned our thoughts and behaviors with love rather than fear. It has nothing to do with our physical being other than utilizing self-care to take care of the body in which our spirit resides. No one is ever without self-love, but when our thoughts come from judgment we are not aligned with LOVE.

Self-love is not all or none. We each have love within us and we don’t have to go looking for it. So, how do we find the barriers we have built against it? I believe that naturally happens as we gain awareness around our fears and work through them.

The more self-loving a person is:

  • the less validation they need from others.
  • the stronger their boundaries are with those who would judge them or do not have their best interest at heart.
  • the more naturally loving, compassionate and empathetic they are toward not only themselves, but others as well.
  • the less triggered they are by other’s behaviors or words.
  • the more consciously they will work to connect to their higher power which is the love that connects us all to one another.
  • the more they can honor their loving heart by feeling love and forgiveness for a bully while keeping a safe distance, because they understand they can love the higher self of the bully.
  • the less they need to judge others because they’ve worked through the insecurities in themselves that drives humans to judge. (Because of the work they are doing on themselves, self-loving people are often harshly judged by insecure, unloving persons who’ve not fully learned self-love and feel the need to criticize in an attempt to feel better about themselves.)
  • the greater awareness they have of when they are stressed, triggered or overwhelmed and they can identify their coping mechanism that is either narcissistic or codependent and shift it, either in the moment or over time.

If you’re scratching your head over that list because you’d never considered self-love in those terms, then perhaps this next list will help.

Self-love Myths 

  1. Narcissists have self-love to the extreme.

This is the most damaging misconception about narcissism and self-love. Persons with a narcissistic personality disorder are the most painfully, self-love-deficient people there are. That is precisely why they do what they do that hurts others so much. They have a non-existent to notably diminished sense of empathy, not just for others, but for themselves. 

Empathy is the cornerstone of self-love. A person lacking in empathy will have little love for themselves. They can’t even fathom how painful it is for their victim to be manipulated by them. They manipulate others to get the “love” they can’t give themselves. This is why they believe that if they just mask their self-loathing with selfish, self-centered, self-involved, behavior, no one will notice their “pathetic” selves. And clearly, they’re not wrong operating with that logic, as people just think they are narcissistic assholes, which is what they prefer over what they are hiding. Narcissists have a very difficult time feeling sorry for anyone, even the part of themselves that they are so ashamed of and desperate to hide.

It’s damaging to society to not understand this about narcissism because then, when people who are not narcissistic contemplate self-love, they avoid self-love practices like boundary setting or prioritizing self-care because they are afraid of being narcissistic. This brings a whole other dimension to the damage narcissism causes.

  1. A self-loving person is always smiling, happy and never depressed. 

Self-love is deep, guys. How do you think a depressed person manages their depression? If your ability to love yourself is completely blocked, then you’ve likely voluntarily opted out of life, or are close to it. It’s the tragic endgame in depression that self-love could help avoid. It is the choice of the one suffering to let go of fear and align with the love within them, but it’s not a simple thing to do when that’s where you’re at. 

However, if you can muster up some self-love, then you can muster up more. I would say, having fallen into the pit of despair on many occasion and pulled myself out, that depression is an important opportunity to flex your self-love muscles. Depression is so awful in it’s own right, but then it’s judged by others making it even more important that the depressed person use self-care to find the space to align with love and manage life. If you know anyone who’s surviving depression, have respect for the self-love they have that’s keeping them here, and please don’t accuse them of not having any when they are trying so hard. 

It’s not as if you either have self-love or you don’t. It’s a very fluid, meandering, thing moving along the boulevard of life experiences. 

  1. Self-love = self-care.

This one gets very confused as too often people use self-care to bypass actually doing the work to let go of fear and love who they are. Yes, it can be very loving to give yourself the space/time to do self-care, but don’t fool yourself into thinking that’s self-love. Self-love is a spiritual practice where self-care can be used to quiet the mind/body to allow you to connect to your higher self. When you do self-care, it comes from a place of love, but it’s not self-loving on its own.

  1.  If you love yourself, then you will selfishly do what you want with no regard as to how it hurts others.

Just revisiting the concept in #1 to drive home the point from a slightly different angle. When someone is behaving with selfishness either with insensitivity or blatant intent to hurt someone else, it’s narcissistic. That person has a very low self-esteem and therefore low level of self-love.

However, this is a very slippery slope. Boundary setting is a necessary self-care practice. When one needs to set boundaries with another, it’s most likely because the person the boundary is being set against is operating with narcissistic tendencies or a full-on personality disorder. If you think someone is being selfish in opting to do something without you, check yourself. Your fear of losing them (or not having control over them) could very well be narcissistic.

I hope this helps you to understand self-love on a deep level. Once you have this understanding, your self-love work will take on a life of it's own. Self-love will then be your life, your legacy and massively enhance your soul's purpose.  

Much Love,