♦ LAST UPDATED ON November 2, 2020 ♦
Self-love is a popular notion since the biblical imperative to love — as in “I command you to love your neighbor as yourself.” — implies self-love. This command, however, is willed ethics on a societal scale, and not about the authentically personal love we are interested in on this site.
Self-love can also be understood in the context of narcissism, which is our concern. Why be wary of this kind of love? Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard suggests that if erotic love is founded only on our preferences, inclinations, impulses, and passions, a danger lurks. Such love is only a form of self-love, rather than a love centered on the welfare of the one we love.
Kierkegaard suggests that self-love is inauthentic and so fails to produce true happiness. The hidden intent could be that instead of loving the beloved in such a way that his/her well-being is the ultimate concern, a lover instead loves him/her with the expectation or even demand of something in return. “I love him/her so that I’ll be rewarded with his/her love, care, and affection.” This is a love motivated out of concern for the self, rather than for the other.
I know that some people appear to be that narcissistic, which is being perceived and called out as very ego-centric or selfish. No, real love does not seek its own, because to seek its own is simply selfishness, self-seeking, or whatever other names the unloving disposition is given.
Needless to say, constantly hating oneself instead is not very helpful in developing a loving relationship, either.
Confusingly, self-love is often advocated for in self-help books. I think that these self-help books utilize the wrong term. Loving oneself in a “good” way isn’t real love as real love really requires a whole other person for the dynamics of love to work its magic, and not just a reference to a part of one’s self.
So, it may be better to say, from the start, that for a person to be able to love another, he or she may need to be capable of self-acceptance and self-affirmation.
That alone is plenty to work on for some folks, but totally worthwhile. There is no need to fall into the rabbit hole of calling efforts at self-acceptance and self-affirmation as self-loving, which would be furthering the misuse of the word love.
Regardless of my misgivings about the use of the word self-love, this book, All About Love by bell hooks, is very readable and I recently bought it for my own daughter to read.