By Mihir Pathak
To love one is the natural propensity of every human being. To achieve this, one needs to have a positive self image. To get this positive self image, one relies upon self observation and social feedback. Many times one’s self observation may be incongruent with the social feedback and this might create dissonance. To remove this dissonance every individual indulges in selective perception and interpretation of information around them. This is where distortion of facts starts taking place. The 2 extreme groups of this reality distortion are, people who indulge in excessive self-love and people who neglect self-love.
The former tends to develop narcissistic tendencies characterized by excessive attention-seeking and impulsive behavior, exaggerated sense of self importance, and the tendency to overreact to the unintentional slides of others. Such self love can bring untold distress not only for oneself but also for others around them. This results in reality distortions in favor of oneself making them impervious to criticism leading to occupational and personal maladjustment. In fact, ego inflation, egoistic, and egotistic pronouncements are the result of excessive self-love. Empathy is turned to antipathy and they become naturally querulous.
The latter leads to lower self-esteem, submissive personalities, and in some cases pronounced self-hatred. This group distorts reality in a negative light, which lowers confidence in them. They start putting their needs and desires behind other people’s comfort. They start feeling incompetent for any task, and finally lose the concept of self becoming a mere cog in the wheel. The pressing question that looms now is how to strike a balance between the two, for achieving the optimum proportion of self-love?
1. Self consists of the characteristics or the traits that are unique to an individual and as well as those that one shares with others. The person’s individuality therefore (i.e. uniqueness) is the core component of the term self.
Self-love vs. self-obsession
Almost everyone on hearing the word “self-love” imagines a narcissistic beast with no emotions. That is because people often confuse self-love with self-obsession. Self-love is a passive concept requiring only oneself whereas; self-obsession is a much more aggressive activity involving people around them. Self-obsession can take the following forms:
In the political sphere, it can manifest in the form of highly tyrannical governments which are undemocratic, brutal, repressive, and promote the culture of sycophancy. In the economic sphere, it can result in profiteering behavior. Where someone’s calamity is an opportunity for the other i.e. a zero sum game. Further it can promote malpractices like hoarding, black marketing, price gouging etc. In the interpersonal sphere, it can manifest in the form of spousal abuse, child abuse, and exploitation of relationships for one’s personal benefit.
Self-love on the other hand augments the personality from the inside and helps one recognize their true optimum self. It can blossom in the following ways:
In the political sphere, it can promote the formation of a firm, resolute, and aware government which would promote a democratic principle and lead with sincere governance. In the economic sphere, it would promote sustainable practices. Commerce would in a utopian scenario become a non-zero sum game. In an interpersonal sphere, it can prosper a relationship into a more mature and understanding one which is accommodative of each other’s needs.
Self-love therefore in a sense means being one’s best self. When we love ourselves we accept our shortcomings and weaknesses and develop compassion for ourselves.
Now, that the meaning is clear and the distinction is made we can begin to understand self-love in its true sense. Let us take an introspective epiphanic journey into exploring self-love.
Self love: an ideology
The impact of self-love is clear and profound. Self love is a concept that needs to be preserved in oneself. The problems arise due to lack of understanding and awareness. Most people aren’t consciously aware of self-love.
When we practice self-love we acquire life satisfaction, develop a healthy lifestyle, learn to deal with adversity and develop a healthy self-esteem. By understanding, accepting, and providing what our body needs we are bound to develop the above mentioned values. However, we cannot develop these values overnight. We will have to change our mindset and our take on life. Self-love is an ideology and just like any other exercise it will take time to show us visible results.
“A man cannot be comfortable without his own approval.” – Mark Twain.
The quote accentuates the importance of self-love in the most germane light. If one does not love self, he/she will never be comfortable with their individualistic identity. Thus they would never be comfortable in accepting themselves for who they are. The answer to the mystery of self-love lays in the word self. The “self” itself is the answer to the question. Who am I?Human being is born asocial and as he journeys through life, various social institutions like family, peers, religion, school etc. operate on him and his sense of self develops. This sense of self, takes various dispositions throughout his life. This sense of self is developed as soon as an infant learns to express himself and persists till the very end.
For a preschooler, the term self is restricted to actions such as, “I go to school”. For older children the meaning recognizes less with actions and more with competencies, for e.g. “I am good at sums”. In adolescents, the term self places a somewhat great emphasis on social virtues, such as being considerate and cooperative, which reflects their greater concern with being liked and viewed positively by others. In adulthood, the term is more associated with the occupation and with the progeny if any.
Self is the basic and perpetual identity for a human. Therefore, it becomes important to conserve this sense in oneself to prevent problems like identity crisis and depression where one might lose the meaning of “self”. This is where the self-love is amplified in importance. Self-love helps one not only in reestablishing his/her identity but also helps in appreciating them for who they are.
Therefore the first step towards self-love is asking, what defines us as a person? Establishing this we can further progress on to asking, is this what we want to identify as and be? In the modern times with our social lives integrating with the concept of “self”, it becomes important to understand self-love. This type of an understanding would help us in being comfortable with who we are and what defines us. We will not be shackled to the chains of viral trends in the media for defining who we are. We will not be affected by the herd mentality on the net. We will not be prey to jealousy on social media platforms, and we will have unhinging identities defining our “self”. This in causation will result in increased self-love for who we are and establish our true identity.
My words cannot be encapsulated more aptly as done by this Hebrew saying, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?” This saying teaches to integrate self-love in an amount so that it doesn’t become a depression or an obsession, while stressing the urgency to do it right now, before it is too late.
Child development (3rd edition by Laura E. Berk)