Is Loving Yourself Being Selfish ?
“You yourself, as much as as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” (quote ascribed to Buddha)
Although some scholars are of the view that the words in the above quote are not those of Buddha, they, at least, agree that the spirit or essence of the message is Buddhist. Moreover, the question is: Does this all matter? Isn’t it true that the message or idea in any quote is more important than the messenger. Not should one more care what is being said than who the author was?Regardless, according to some sources, the original would seem to be in the Udana of the Pali canon, where one can read, in Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s translation:
“Searching in all directions
With your awareness,
you find no one dearer
In the same way, others
are thickly dear to themselves.
So you shouldn’t hurt others
if you love yourself.”
As the more popular version of the quote (mentioned in the beginning)lacks the context, most people confuse self love with the idea of selfishness. It is also because they have confusion about the idea of “self.” The words “searching in all directions with your awareness” provide the basic of the whole message.Thus until we don’t know our true or authentic self, we also can’t truly love ourselves nor others as Buddha seems to have advised in this original message in the Udana of the Pali canon.
In modern times, according to some sources, self-love was first promoted by the Beat Generation of the 1950s and in the early years of the Hippie era of the 1960s. After witnessing the devastating consequences of World War II and having troops still fighting in the Vietnam War, western (especially North American) societies began promoting “peace and love” to help generate positive energy and to promote the preservation of dissipating environmental factors, such as the emergence of oil pipelines and the recognition of pollution caused by the greenhouse effect.
In this context, before venturing on an ambitious programme of loving yourself, it is important to know who you are or what is your true self? Therefore, self awareness is a precondition to loving your self. It is lack of awareness that is causing wars as well as pollution of such a large scale. Thus loving yourself also includes activities such as promoting peace and striving for a clean environment. Once you become self aware, your love for you will also not fall under the category of “selfishness.”
According to some philosophical views, there are basically two types of self:
- The self that is the ego, also called the learned, superficial Self of mind and body, egoic creation, and
- The “True Self” which is sometimes called “Observing Self” or the “Witness.”
In psychology, “egoic” simply means “pertaining to ego” or “pertaining to I.” Egoic thoughts, motives, emotions, and behaviors are reactions in which I, me, and mine take center stage. This can be a sort of thinking brain that is mostly thinking what other people think about him/her.
The true self, on the other hand, is awareness at deeper level and behind the scene. It is an essence we are born with. It is timeless and ageless. If we can remember the old Wizard of Oz movie, The Authentic Self would be the old man behind the machine that was what people thought was the powerful Wizard of Oz. Many cultures refer to it in many ways such as the soul, life force, Chi, etc.
Without going into complicated philosophical details, I would like to point out that your “Egoic Self” is usually your “Social Identity” or societal labels. Social identity refers to the set of characteristics by which a person is definitively recognizable or known by the society in which they live. Examples of social identities include being a father, mother, student, physician, lawyer, artist, entrepreneur, short, tall, good looking, not good looking, evangelical, homeless person, Catholic, rich, poor, successful, failed etc. And this identity or self is also under constant societal pressure. This pressure to fit in also makes you egoic as you struggle to get societal approval or validation and that too at the risk of being selfish or self-centered. As we are always in competition (as individuals as well as groups or nations), there is more room for hate and jealousy, war, and destruction than love, peace, and compassion.
On the other hand, your authentic or true self has nothing to do with your social identity. This identity sets you apart as a distinct individual. Dictionaries define authentic or self-identity as the conscious recognition of the self as having a unique identity. It is an awareness of and identification with oneself as a separate individual.
In short, our egoic or social identity makes us insecure and keeps us in perpetual misery as we are always striving to fit in.
By contrast, in the words of Nicole Bayliss (author, Reiki master and NLP Practitioner), “the True Self is who we really are and is connected to the All That Is. It is always in the vibration of love. It operates through the paradigm of Win/Win (I gain and you gain — also known as co-operation). When we are living as our True Self, we feel a sense of expansion and we know that we are significant but not in an egotistical way — this feeling is quietly powerful, humble and connected. While we may experience negative emotions and thoughts, these take place at a more superficial level because underlying these emotions is a foundation of love and a state of awareness that we are not our emotions or our thoughts. We are something far greater.”
In a more simple but profound sense “Egoism” is putting you central from a state of fear and insecurity, while “Self Love” is putting yourself central from a state of compassion and love.
In this context, “self love” does not mean being selfish as it is not an egoistic or inflated feeling of pride and self importance.
Although you put yourself first, but not at the cost harming others or ignoring or keeping them away. Thus we can also say that self love is “practice” not a “destination.” Here the meaning of “love” shouldn’t also be taken in a fairytale sense where everything needs to be perfect. In other words, we don’t have to love everything about us. It is accepting yourself completely and unconditionally for all that you are and at the same time continuously striving for improvement. Thus as you can’t cultivate new thought and action patterns overnight, accepting and being kinder to yourself (and to others) takes time and practice.
In the same vein, loving others also doesn’t mean putting others first or going out of the way to make them happy. How can you take care of others or make them happy if you don’t take care of yourself or are unhappy?
Therefor, self-love means giving and receiving at the same time. In other words, self-love means having a relationship with yourself and with others that has compassion, kindness, patience, tolerance, and curiosity. However, It does not mean that you are so nice to yourself that you never take accountability or responsibility for mistakes you make — “Oh, well, I really love myself and think I’m great, so that couldn’t possibly be my fault!” Self-love is about giving yourself grace and forgiveness when you inevitably make mistakes. It also doesn’t mean that you are arrogant, or even worse — a narcissist; “I am better than everyone else, and everyone should work to satisfy my needs.” It is about believing in yourself and trusting yourself and your intentions.
According to psychologists, following are some (and not all) of the main attributes of self-love:
- Forgiving your self (as well as others)
- Being compassionate with yourself
- Letting go
- Practicing gratitude
- Being kind and loving towards others
- Setting healthy boundaries (to keep the negativity and toxicity away and build self-worth)
Moreover, “when we realize that perfection is not the prerequisite to being loved by other people or loving yourself, we can begin to practice self-acceptance and, maybe eventually, self-love,” says Adia Gooden, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist whose TED Talk on “unconditional self-worth” has been viewed nearly 1 million times.
Thus when you love yourself you are also able to share healthy love/relationship with others. Main advantage of self-love is that it has the potential to profoundly impact your life if you define it as an acceptance of who you are and a commitment to personal growth. And again, in the words of Adia Gooden, “Self-love isn’t navel-gazing and never contributing to the world. It’s actually the best foundation to have a loving, healthy partnership with someone else. It’s the best foundation to be a parent. It’s the best foundation to share your gifts as you work in the world.”
To be precise, “Self-Love means striving to become good and spreading good.”
ii) Hall, Manly P. (1942). Self Unfoldment by Disciplines of Realization. Los Angeles, CA: The Philosophical Research Society, Inc. p. 115 “On rare occasions, we glimpse for an instant the tremendous implication of the Self, and we become aware that the personality is indeed merely a shadow of the real.”