Self-love has become a buzzword and hot topic.
Depending on where you tune in - social media, psychology, or the church - self-love takes on different forms. Social media tends to say you are perfect the way you are and should put yourself above everyone else. Psychology tends to say self-love is about figuring yourself out. Those within religious circles are seemingly divided in this self-love movement and instead place their primary focus on external love. All of these voices tell us many, often different things about self-love, and in our confusion we have to figure out what is actually being said.
“You Just Need To Love Yourself”
Each generation has openly struggled with mental health issues more than the one before. While each person struggles uniquely, the most common symptom is a negative view of self. Social media tends to prescribe self-love as the main solution to this problem.
Self-love, as seen in pop culture, encourages us to elevate ourselves above everyone else. Self-love is equated with selfishness. Selfishness has become the means of becoming more confident in being yourself. We are told that the path to achieving self-love is to do what makes us feel good. Figure out what makes you happy and do whatever it takes to get that.
Self-love can be an excuse to “treat yo’ self” like we are told in Parks & Rec and across social media. We can feel more love toward ourselves with a new hairdo or outfit, but is that where love truly comes from? Is this really an accurate view of self-love or is it selfishness?
The world may tell you that your value is in your looks, talents, skills, achievements, goals, riches, family, friends, significant other, or any earthly thing or label. Putting your identity in any of those can open the door for comparison, however comparing yourself to others only hurts you more. How much does your true worth actually change because of your status?
“Love Others As Yourself”
In Mark 12:29-31 we are given a direct command to love, “Jesus replied, ‘The most important commandment is this: “Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength,” The second is equally important: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” No other commandment is greater than these.’”
In this passage, Jesus said to love your neighbor as yourself knowing who he was talking to. What we need to realize is that the people he was speaking to in that culture tended to hold a high view of themselves, maybe even excessively. Do we have that same level of self-love now to understand what Jesus was really saying?
Churches also tend to reference verses like Ephesians 5:28-33, which similarly urges us to love others as ourselves. These two passages and more say that you are to love others as yourself, that is easier said than done, both today and when these passages were written. What does it mean to ‘love others as yourself’ when you don’t really love yourself?
Many churches have drawn on these verses as a reason to focus on external love- loving God and loving others: spouse, neighbors, enemies, etc. However, when we hyper-focus on external love, self-love can get ignored.
In addition to the tendency to focus on external love, many churches tend to shy away from talking about self-love because of the negative connotation this concept tends to have in the media. This popular self-love, mentioned above, doesn't align with the expectation of following Jesus.
Scripture tells us that we are to deny ourselves or lay down our lives and sacrifice like Jesus did. Luke 9:23 says, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” So what does it mean to deny ourselves?
Some people with a negative self-concept might think that denying oneself means hurting oneself either physically or emotionally. As sinful people, one may think, we do not deserve to be with God.
However, when we look at how Scripture explains this concept, we see that denying ourselves really means that we are to die to our selfish and sinful ways in order to accept that God has a better way, His way, a way we cannot achieve on our own.
“Learn to Love Yourself”
Psychology Today gives us a definition of self-love as “... an umbrella term for different acts of love we perform toward ourselves physically and non-physically.” While this is a broad definition it includes many of the different ways that self-love is used throughout the different areas of psychology. For example, in counseling, self-love can be used to help a client recognize their emotional needs and wants and learn how to fulfill them independently.
This same article1 says that you cannot truly love others until you have learned to love yourself. So can this be true? Can you love others as yourself the way God is calling you to if you don’t love yourself the way God wants you to?
I don't know about you, but some people, including myself, tend to love others more than we love ourselves. This could be because we never learned how to love ourselves the right way.
I grew up thinking that loving others as myself was a really low bar. I was told to live according to the acronym J.O.Y.: Love Jesus first, others second and yourself last. While this is not entirely wrong, I was never really shown what that looked like in a healthy way.
We're told we are supposed to love like Jesus, and Jesus loves sacrificially. Jesus taught that we are to deny ourselves and take up our cross. Well, with these put together, I learned to love others and give to others without caring for myself. In the end, I was giving too much of myself away by putting everyone else above myself and I lost myself in the mix.
Through my study of psychology and the Bible, I was able to see a different form of self-love than I had come to understand previously.
I learned that we can put others' needs before our own wants, but we cannot always put others' wants first if it compromises our own needs. We must take care of ourselves or we have nothing to give. I learned that loving those that don’t love us back takes a toll on our lives if we don’t have the right foundation.
We can put others' needs before our own wants, but we cannot always put others' wants first if it compromises our own needs.
The truth is that you are not called to love others instead of yourself, but as yourself.
Loving Yourself With The Love Of God.
Self-love may not be explicitly stated in the Bible, but it is a clear expectation of us.
The Bible gives us a perfect example of the type of self-love we’re describing here: Jesus. Jesus fully loved Himself, yet chose to go to the cross. Jesus didn’t go to the cross because He hated Himself. He knew exactly who He was and why He was doing it.
Jesus chose to treat us better than we deserve to be treated, and he invites us to accept that love and to live differently because of it. God saw us first in our mess and chose to love us and extend grace and forgiveness anyways. We have value and worth because God bestowed it upon us by no longer looking at the sin that keeps us separated from Him.
When we focus wholly on God, our lives begin to change and become better. We learn to love ourselves because of what God has done for us and the value He gives us because of His salvation.
God created us (Genesis 1:27), knows every detail about us (Psalm 139), cares about us (Luke 12:6-7), and we are exactly how He wants us to be. He has a plan for us (Ephesians 2:10). Philippians 3:3-4 tells us not to worry about our outward appearance because God cares more about what is on the inside. We are innately loved, valued, and worthy because of what God has done for us. How we act flows from whether we believe who He says we are.
You are valued because God loves you. Period.
The Greatest Commandments are calls to love. Love God first and foremost. Love your neighbor as yourself. Love is God’s expectation of us. God’s unconditional love is the same no matter who is giving it or receiving it. Once we know this true form of love, it doesn’t matter how you learned to love this way, it is then our responsibility to love with the Love of God (1 John 4:7-12) and that means loving everyone with the same Love of God: God, friends, family, neighbors, strangers, enemies, and yourself.
We can love ourselves because we are not our own. “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). God has claimed us as His children and chose to save us, not by anything we did, but because of who He is. We cannot love ourselves independently from God because we are worthless without Him.
Our whole lives can become an offering to God. When we come to know that God created us and has our best interests at heart, it becomes natural for us to turn away from our selfish desires in order to serve Him. When we see that our creator loves us and wants what is best for us, we can surrender our own ideas of what will make us happy and instead embrace the joy and love He provides.
A Jesus-Centered Self-Love
Jesus-centered self-love looks like knowing where your value and worth actually comes from (God) and living in that truth. We recognize that we are not perfect humans and we will make mistakes, but those do not define us. We can learn to forgive ourselves because God forgives us.
Jesus-centered self-love does not justify selfishness. While this self-love is directed toward the self, it is not selfish, prideful, or arrogant.
Jesus-centered self-love is allowing God to have His rightful place in your life. Letting Him define you and provide for you; and out of that identity we love ourselves more than we ever could in our own strength. While there are things we can do, this self-love relies on the Person of Love being present in our lives.
This Jesus-centered view of self-love and living this way can transform our lives and can change our self-concept so we can accurately view ourselves the way God views us. Instead of having an inflated or deflated self-concept, Romans 12:3 tells us to judge ourselves accurately. This type of self-love is also rooted in grace and truth. It doesn’t ignore the terrible things that we do; instead, it grounds us in reality, seeing what is broken, and leads us to treat ourselves with kindness and grace. Even though we don’t deserve it.
Jesus-centered self-love is allowing God to have His rightful place in your life.
Jesus-centered self-love is a commitment to treat and view ourselves a certain way because of who God says we are. We can love ourselves and still be ready to lay down our life. But that doesn’t mean we ignore our own needs in the name of serving others. In fact, this Jesus-centered self-love will fill us in new ways that enables us to always pour out into others lives.
Self-love is showing yourself basic respect. Treat yourself how you would treat someone else you love. Be nice to yourself. Build yourself up without tearing yourself or others down. Do things that bring you joy. Look for uplifting moments to dwell on.
Self-love, while different, can look a lot like self-care. Take care of yourself and make sure all your needs are met: food, water, shelter, hygiene, sleep, exercise, and healthy relationships.
Self-love can be setting healthy boundaries and saying ‘no’, so others can’t use and abuse you, but also knowing that God expects us to walk into those situations willingly, as needed. Everything flows from love, so sometimes we are called to do difficult things out of love.
Self-love doesn't always flow easily like other types of love; it is a commitment to God and ourselves to live this way.
Take some time in self-reflection. How do you view yourself? Does it line up with how God sees you?
1 Corinthians 13:4-7 is commonly used to define what love looks like. Spend some time meditating on these verses and ask yourself:
- Where are my strengths in this?
- Where is there room for improvement?
- What does it look like for me to start loving myself like Jesus?
Continue the conversation. Check-in on one another. If we avoid talking about how we view ourselves and self-love altogether we miss the opportunity to help reframe the discussion in a healthy, Jesus-centered way.
1 Mutiwasekwa, Sarah-Len. 2019. “Self-Love.” Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-upside-things/201911/self-love