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Why Self-love is not selfish

Zeit für Self-Care 03.03.21 4 min. read

As a society, we seem to have agreed upon a few polite conventions, like that we say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, and let others finish speaking before it’s our turn to speak. 

Yet oftentimes we neglect to show ourselves some of these common courtesies and forget to appreciate all the good they can do for us. For example, why does praise from others make us feel successful, while self-praise might leave us feeling empty? Why does affection from someone else make us feel loved and desired, while our own affection toward ourselves feels narcissistic? Why are we considered caring when we take care of others, yet selfish when it comes to taking care of our own well-being?

It almost seems as if we're working against ourselves. And perhaps it's time for healthier answers to these questions.

Our needs and our limits

All of us are self-centered to some degree. We’re practically born egomaniacs demanding nutrients, and attention to satisfy our human needs — it already starts while we’re still in the womb.

Nonetheless, there comes a point when we learn how to share with others and we’re expected to compromise. It’s the basis for living alongside each other and being part of a society—which is tremendously valuable, of course.

At the same time, however, this also means that from now on we’re caught in the balance: We’re allowed to make some demands but we can't demand everything. And it can be challenging to find a middle ground, especially as kids and adolescents.

Learning self-love means finding that happy medium. It can help us negotiate our needs with our surroundings as best as possible, thus clearing the way to meet our fellow human beings at half way, on an equal footing. We provide the foundation for self-love by standing up for ourselves — and that, as we’ll see, has very little to do with selfishness.

What is egoism? 

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, egoism is a branch of philosophy that’s based in the pursuit of self interest. ‘The word is sometimes misused for egotism, the overstressing of one’s own worth’, the entry continues.

That point is quite significant. It seems to imply that egoism is not a selfish, vane or narcissistic desire, as long as we communicate, negotiate and balance our needs with others’. And even if we are the focus of attention, it doesn't necessarily mean we’re being selfish.

One could see how egoism, when driven to an extreme, could prompt us to seek to keep everything for ourselves — and take advantage of others in order to do so, going hand-in-hand with a lack of empathy and an unrealistic, inflated self-image. 

Egotism often arises from fear: If deep down we believe that we have no value, we must trick others into satisfying our needs. The idea of egoism, on the other hand, holds that there’s perfection in furthering our own well-being, once we come to recognise what, exactly, it is that we seek. 

Egoism or not? What is self-love?

Love is a feeling that’s typically meant to be shared. This might explain why loving others seems to fit our description of love, yet we make an exception when it comes to loving ourselves.

While selfishness can often keep us from loving others, healthy self-love does the opposite. When we love ourselves, we can feel more stable and eager to share things with others — it’s a win-win, rather than a win-lose dynamic. Self-love lets us paint a realistic picture of ourselves with both our strengths and weaknesses.

Of course, there’s a lot of grey area between self-love and selfishness. We all carry a part of both sides (sometimes more, sometimes less) within us. And that needn’t be a bad thing. It’s not for nothing when we say that self-love means embracing ourselves entirely, including the parts that are sometimes selfish or the parts that don’t demand enough of ourselves. All of this we acknowledge as we learn to accept ourselves in the here and now. Self-love can help us feel free when we might otherwise seem to be treading water.

Why self-love can be so healing

Why are we so afraid of being in love with ourselves — of loving ourselves ‘too much’ — instead of asking if we’re showing ourselves enough affection

Ironically, we seem to be more afraid of the risks of the former rather than those of the latter. And while we might be correct to criticise it, selflessness can be considered to be virtue in some situations.

Extremes in either direction are hardly the way to go either. No one is telling us to stop being considerate of others — nor to obsess about others so much that we forget about ourselves. It's not about obsession, but rather about priorities.

In the end, it's the same as with love for another person: Not all love is the same. There’s possessive love, jealous love... and there’s benevolent, indulgent love. The love that comes from a liberated heart.

When we talk about love for ourselves, nothing else seems to be at stake. Rose-tinted glasses might be nice every now and then, yet in the long run they aren’t good — not for others nor for ourselves. Hence, a healthy dose of self-love does not prevent us from recognising our own challenges and critiques. Even so, the love is still there. And just because there might be conflicts doesn't mean we have to question our relationship with ourselves. As in any good relationship, it’s important to listen and look forward to better days ahead.

How self-love can succeed

When it comes to listening to ourselves, our senses are valuable instruments. After all, our well-being is inextricably linked to both our body and mind. However, sometimes we get so caught up in what’s happening around us that we lose track of why we feel what we feel.

We want both a healthy diet and comfort food. Sufficient exercise and day on the couch when we feel like it. As is so often the case, it all comes down to the balance for the body and mind.

A regular sleep schedule and a good night's rest can also help provide us with inner balance. Create a mindful sleep ritual with The Good Night cream to help you wind down come bedtime. Thanks to its hemp extract and soothing aromas, it pampers your senses and can help you find your centre after a long day.