What is Self-Love?
A common goal for the clients I work with is for them to have compassion for themselves. All too often we are our biggest critics, holding ourselves to an impossible standard. And when that standard isn’t met, shame and self-contempt follow. I know this has been the case in my life. It’s only through a biblical understanding of love that can we truly become healthy— through loving others and loving ourselves, the way Christ intends.
In Matthew 22:37-40, Jesus says, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them” (The Message).
In mathematical terms “as” means “equal to.” When Jesus says “love others as well as you love yourself,” he means we’re supposed to love others equal to how much we love ourselves. But this begs the question: how well are you loving yourself? Furthermore, what does it even mean to love yourself?
The Bible defines love as being “patient and kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails” (I Corinthians 13:4-8, NIV).
This the biblical definition of love for others, but also for ourselves.
In The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown writes “practicing self-love means learning how to trust ourselves, to treat ourselves with respect and to be kind and affectionate towards ourselves.” Many of us would probably say that this kind of self-love is hard.
Most of us struggle with loving ourselves for two reasons:
It feels selfish. We often confuse self-love with self-seeking.
We know our flaws and therefore don’t feel worthy of loving of ourselves.
True self-love requires a right relationship with God. What many people don’t realize is that when you don’t accept God’s love for you, taking care of the creation he made, you are unknowingly being self-seeking. When you’re feeling low, what do you do? Most people become mired in thoughts centered around themselves. They think about how bad they are, how they didn’t do the right thing, what they could have done differently. These thoughts are centered around you. Such demeaning thoughts are self-focused thoughts and prevent you from loving yourself. When you demean or degrade yourself, you dishonor God. But when you love yourself because Christ first loved you, you give glory to God.
We can also become prideful, which disconnects us from others and from ourselves. When we love from a place of kindness, patience, and honor, we walk in freedom; this fosters a deeper connection with others. Each of us desires to belong. But in order to really connect with someone else, we need to first connect with ourselves. If you are a believer, this really means connecting to the temple that houses the Holy Spirit. You don’t have to strive or seek approval: “You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are— no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought” (Matthew 5:5,The Message).
Ask yourself, “If I really loved myself, how would my life be different?”
Perhaps you wouldn’t hold yourself to a standard that you wouldn’t ask of anyone else.
Perhaps instead of shame, you would embrace compassion and courage.
Perhaps instead of feeling self-contempt for making mistakes, you would seek the grace of Christ and then embrace that grace.
Blessings to you,