What is love for others? And what is love for self?

May 10, 2019

We talk a lot about loving ourselves – but what does it actually mean? In relation to others, I think we could say that genuine love is our heartfelt wish that they be happy and our delight for them when they are happy. And how we’d show it would be to do whatever we can to help them fulfill their wishes, for their sake, not our own.

Easy words to say, but let’s unpack them. First of all, this kind of love needs to be grounded in ethics. I don’t think helping someone fulfill their wish to lie or steal or become intoxicated could be considered “love”. This kind of “love” is mainly based on our neurotic attachment to the other person and our neediness for approval and fear of rejection. A mother, for example, who lets her kid get away with anything is not showing love at all.

In other words, genuine love for another demands integrity and courage. It would necessarily include the wish for our loved one to grow as a human being, to become a better person. And it would demand that we say “no” sometimes. That is real love.

So, who is capable of loving another in this way? It would be a person who necessarily has “self-love” – although I think when we use the word “love” in relation to ourselves, it doesn’t convey the right meaning. I think it’s better to say “self-respect”: that rings very true to my ears.

There’s an analogy I use a lot: “A bird needs two wings: wisdom and compassion”. And the wisdom wing has to come first. That’s the work we must do on ourselves: know ourselves well, be honest about both our weaknesses and our strengths, be accountable and grown up, be willing to put others first but, equally, be willing to say no.

If we do this inner work we’d be content. We’d rejoice in our good qualities, as well as in the happiness of others. We’d be generous of spirit; we’d be able to forgive and accept forgiveness. This is a person with self-respect, and this is the person who can love another.

Often we think of self-love as having a massage, taking a holiday, going out and having fun. Nothing wrong with that: we need it! But this is often the response to feeling unworthy, guilty, and undeserving of pleasure and nice things. Merely pampering ourselves isn’t enough to develop respect/love for ourselves.

Self-respect goes deeper than that. We need good, sound self-knowledge: a balanced assessment of our failings and strengths, a willingness to grow ourselves, to develop our amazing potential for love, kindness, confidence, empathy and the other good qualities that are innate within us but which are so often hidden, especially to our own eyes.

Self-respect also implies a level of contentment, which implies the confidence not to buy into, and to consciously go against, the almost instinctive low self-esteem that we’re all so familiar with. The irony of ego is that it’s addicted to negativity.

Such an easy trap to fall into! And then, because we’re lonely and dissatisfied we’ll immediately look to others to fulfill us, fooling ourselves that “finding love” will make me worthy. It won’t. We have to believe in ourselves first. If I don’t I’m worthy, why should I expect someone else to think so?

If I want a fulfilled, enriching life: develop self-respect. If I want to have a fulfilled, enriching relationship: develop self-respect.

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