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Must we love ourselves before we can love others?

Do we have to love ourselves before we are fit for any emotionally intimate contact then? That approach got me nothing but lonely and almost ended me, not to mention the untold grief caused to my family. How exactly DOES that work?

From Stop Loving Your Neighbor as Yourself NOW.

“I used to believe that I loved my neighbor, my family and my friends. Now I know better. I wanted to love them, but because I had no love of myself I couldn’t do anything but pretend.”

“I could not go to war with my neighbor if I loved me. I could not hurt those I love if I love me. I could not lie, cheat, steal or covet if I love me. Frankly, I could not damage anything if I had a pure and unselfish love of me. Perhaps when I have achieved such a high level of love, as Jesus had when he uttered that statement, I can then begin loving my neighbor as I love myself. Until then, I must stop that practice lest I create great harm in the world around me.”

“This does not mean I can’t express love to others, it simply means I have to find love within me to do it honestly. I can’t say “I love you” and then act out in fear because then I am loving my neighbor as I love me…in fear. I must know what I mean when I say “I love you” and, more importantly, act in accordance with the truth of that statement.”

4 responses

  1. Hey darlin…

    This quote about loving yourself as a pre-requisite for being able to love others is one of the more sophistic things I’ve ever read. It is so smug it is offensive. It conflates love, respect, self-respect and selflessness into a single, warm fuzzy ball that lets the author feel a sense of superiority over the rest of us poor mortals.

    It also conveniently winks at a couple of stupendously important ideas: namely that love and self-actualization are not absolutes but rather continuums along which we may exist at various points, depending on our degree of personal growth and emotional stability. And also that one must be fully capable of a perfect love before attempting to love at all or else be condemned somehow to dishonesty.

    Love is the Everest of human emotions. We dare to essay it because we can, not because we should. When we do embark on it, it is simultaneously consuming and possessed of a will of its own. We are as much possessed by love as possessed of it. The process of love is one of extremes which is part of its attraction: experiencing extremes is how we grow as individuals. In experiencing it, we are rewarded by either the deepening and growth of love, or by the growth of our own strength and maturity as we survive and overcome the death of love.

    To say that one should only essay love if one has already grown and perfected one’s self is to deny growth and perfection to those who most need it: namely all of us poor imperfect humans in the world.

    It is the human condition to love, lose and love again. To deny that is to show one’s misanthropy.

    February 22, 2012 at 1:59 am

  2. Hey Ariel!
    Did you read any of these quotes or the article? It wasn’t the author referencing conventional wisdom that ‘you must love yourself perfectly before you can love someone else’, it was ME. While I’m no advocate of absolutes, I’ve struggled with this concept over my lifetime as I’ve certainly seen myself act out in fear, as opposed to love, or act out from an immature type of love with all it’s attendant obsessions and cravings, and experienced the explosive fallout from each. On the other hand, giving up and going into hiding until I fix myself has been equally detrimental, so that is why I present the question. My intent is not to advocate this position, but only to ask questions that occur to me during introspection and in trying to understand why my close friendships/relationships have failed.
    I think this author is simply addressing the ‘quality’ of love we have for ourselves and our neighbors, and contrasting it with Jesus’s well-known directive to ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself’ when many of us don’t know the first thing about loving ourselves. This struck a chord for me because while we still may be able to experience love even if we can’t love ourselves perfectly yet, there is no doubt for me that most acts of hatred are, in fact, expressions of self-hatred. I have projected my self-loathing onto others in relationships, and also, expressed my self-loathing in my choices of people for relationships in the past. I was highly influenced by this book which I read last year, although it ended up pissing me off bc it was emotionally triggering and I had nobody to discuss it with.
    Nowhere does the author advocate renouncing love until one can love herself perfectly. I NEVER intend to advocate conventional wisdom, only to ask questions discussing it’s implications and if anything, to challenge it. Everyone must determine for himself or herself, on a case-by-case basis, whether one is honest about the intentions and motives in what is expressed.
    To quote the author of this article again:
    ‘This does not mean I can’t express love to others, it simply means I have to find love within me to do it honestly”
    I really agree with this sentiment as it is so easy to believe onself is behaving lovingly, when one is actually acting out of fear or obsession. That is how someone can say they love you and fully believe it, but don’t treat you lovingly.
    As always, thanks for your input and MUAH!

    February 22, 2012 at 3:23 am

  3. MUAH!

    Sorry if I sounded a little harsh. I sure didn’t mean to :)

    I get what you’re saying hon. I admit I haven’t read the referenced articles.

    However, the quote (‘This does not mean I can’t express love to others, it simply means I have to find love within me to do it honestly”) irks me. I feel like it denigrates the the role that love can play as a storm anchor.

    I have seen how one can be filled with disgust and self-loathing, afraid and unwilling to trust themselves, yet still be saved by their love for someone else… that love being the one thing they know for certain and can latch onto, and thru that, begin the process of healing and rebuilding. (When you know that you are worthless and unloveable, the fact that someone else persists in loving you anyway and the fact that you know you love them can be a powerful force helping and reassuring you as you resolve to heal rather than give up.)

    I think I want to push back also on the idea that love which proceeds from fear (say, from fear of being alone) is bad. I don’t think responding to fear is bad. It’s a very useful part of our survival mechanisms. Deciding that you love someone because you’re afraid of being alone is no worse than being very self actualized and stable but loving someone who is despicable. In either case, the issue isn’t the motivator, it’s allowing the motivator to push you into something that judged dispassionately, you would never do. It’s the headlong, heedless rush, or blind persistence despite warning signs that is what’s bad.

    I believe the key is to not be rigid. Most failed relationships in my view happen because people become fixed in their attitudes and behaviors towards themselves and the other person and are unable to adapt as the relationship evolves. Compound this by being unaware and the result is being completely blindsided when things veer off the rails.

    I also think honesty is paramount. Especially honesty with one’s self. I think one of the major reasons that people feel that love which proceeds from fear is suspect, is that often it isn’t love at all. Instead it may be self-delusion. “I’m afraid so therefore I will pretend to myself that I’m in love so that I don’t have to be afraid.” Self-honesty and a little bit of ruthlessness can help distinguish between the two — and the knowledge that you CAN distinguish between the two can give you the confidence to take a risk when an opportunity for real love comes along. It can also help protect you when the other person bails on the relationship, because you KNOW that you were for real even if they ultimately prove that they weren’t.

    Many, many hugzzzz!!!

    February 22, 2012 at 5:52 pm

    • I dislike rigidity and absolutes and this is an immensely complex subject. I agree with everything with your wrote except I fail to understand why you find the statement ‘This does not mean I can’t express love to others, it simply means I have to find love within me to do it honestly’ irksome. You yourself said honesty is key, and he is addressing those that engage in willful ignorance of their own motives. He means that to find honest love within oneself to express is to not confuse it with fear or obsession. I think the ‘healing’ power of love is a seperate subject, and he only intends to address those instances when love is confused with fear and obsession. There are few things more dangerous than someone who tells themselves they are acting out of love when they aren’t and I find the risk of this confusion very frightening. How can someone defend herself from someone who is harming her, but claims ‘love’ as a rationalization for it (“it’s for your own good”)? Maybe I should have given more personal context with this entry.

      I have never known love to be a shelter or an anchor in my life, it has always been painful and traumatic, every single time, even(especially) with my family. In my family, love always meant pain, it was conditional, and any benefit must be repaid with compounded interest. I know it can be an anchor and shelter- indeed I have seen it, just not experienced it. Since I have not, all I can do now is confront my own emotional immaturity in expressing love towards myself and others, and that’s why I liked this article. So I think you’re speaking way above my level of maturity and development, because I have been so seriously crippled in this regard, and can only start where I am.

      P.S. While I admit it’s a sweeping generalization and I shouldn’t speak for anyone besides myself, I perceive that countless individuals have stayed in abusive and dysfunctional relationships out of the fear of being alone, including my Mom. I was 25 with a ruined childhood and tragic past by the time she finally left my wicked stepfather. Only a boy of about 14 when the photo on that entry was taken, he is the one holding me, the baby, at about 18 months. It’s his father’s wedding to his stepmother, my Dad to the right and my Mom to the left. Behold, love is very, very dangerous.

      Edit 2/26: Although I didn’t intend to promote it, I’m still glad you made these many excellent points challenging conventional wisdom. As you said, they are exactly what all us Eleanor Rigby’s of the world should be considering when we hide from it. Thank you.

      February 23, 2012 at 2:49 am

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