Self-love: The Art of getting out of your own way.
There are people who never seem busy, no matter how much they have on their agenda or how long their to-do lists are. They walk around with an aura that makes you think they came out of their mother’s womb with a harmonious smile on their wrinkly little baby faces.
One can wonder how that has come about. When turning to literature for an explanation, one plausible reason is that these people have grasped a concept many of the rest of us grapple with; the concept of self-love.
As outlined by Feleke and De Tavernier in Selfishness, Self-Interest and Self-love (2011), we commonly fail to distinguish between those three concepts, leading us to miss the very benevolent nature of self-love. It is not much of a wonder we fail; at a glance it appears misleadingly handy to bundle all types of self-oriented notions into one.
Given this bundling, in addition to how often we are told selflessness is a virtue, and selfishness a vice, loving oneself can seem counterintuitive. This way of posing selfishness against selflessness, implies an either-or relationship between tending to the needs of others on the one hand, and the needs of ourselves on the other.
I am not in a position to judge to what extent the average person reflects on selflessness and selfishness, whether or not most of us have an ingrained unwillingness to be ‘viciously’ selfish, or a strong drive to be ‘virtuously’ selfless. Either way, it seems to me a common occurrence for us to neglect our own needs when other people or tasks call for attention – even those of us who mainly strive for our own personal fulfillment and success. After all, the me of tomorrow can be seen as a ‘task’ beyond the me of today, which opens up a pitfall of neglecting the needs of my present self while working on my future self.
Surely, other factors are at play here, which do not necessarily have much to do with selfishness or selflessness, or a misconception of the two. For instance, a tendency to be mentally one step ahead; more immersed in thoughts of the future than in the present moment. My point, however, is that we always seem to think our own wellbeing can be dealt with later, when everything else is done.
This crazily crammed time we are in right now, the time leading up to Christmas, is in my opinion an especially opportune moment to give myself and all fellow stressed out beings a reminder, a reminder that the best time to take care of ourselves is now. And the reason for that, is that the relationship between what we so often confuse with selfishness, i.e. self-love, and selflessness, is not a matter of either-or, but a relationship in which one naturally follows the other.
While selfishness implies actions “undertaken with an exclusive and excessive concern to oneself to the point of disregarding and manipulating the well-being of others” (Feleke & De Tavernier, 2011), self-love is rather an acknowledgment of us being as worthy of attention and care as anyone, and a realisation of our potential to be the most reliable source of such attention and care to ourselves.
It might sound like a good idea, to put ourselves on hold until we have dealt with everything important we need to do. Soon enough, though, those personal needs we have neglected start making themselves heard, blocking our way to efficiently deal with all those things we deemed more important. By ‘selflessly’ disregarding ourselves, we get in our own way.
Continuously taking the time to care for ourselves, on the other hand, keeps those needs of ours calm and content – maybe even harmoniously smiling. Thus, self-love gets and keeps us out of our own way, enabling us to expand our focus and be selfless. Feleke and De Tavernier supports this argument, by pointing to the relational nature of love –
“Since love is essentially relational […] self-love practically enables the person to consider others as part of one’s own identity.” (2011)
When we are all considered as being one, the practice of self-love becomes synonymous with selflessness. And even those of us who have a hard time feeling like anything else than separate individuals, can benefit from dedicating time to care for ourselves, since those moments of self care get us into our best shape to, in other moments, deal with everything else.
Loving oneself can seem counterintuitive in a sense, yes, but very logical in another – like a sack out of which we scoop christmas presents, we need to be replenished and refilled to be able to perform, to give, and not sag in on ourselves – empty. Christmas is a time for giving. Make sure you give yourself some love. And while you are at it, you might as well make a new year’s resolution and a daily habit out of it.
– By Saga Norrby
Feleke, M.K., De Tavernier, J. (2011, April). Selfishness, Self-interest and Self-love.
Vidyajyoti Journal of Theological Reflection, 75(4), 286-306.