The ancient Greeks had six different words to describe feelings of love, and one of them was called Philautia and which meant self-loving. Who would’ve thought that such a word existed over 2000 years ago? That the human experience has essentially been the same for thousands of years and for us to still be pondering over such concepts, is a thought both profound and whimsical.
But what does it mean really? What is the measure of something so abstract, something as varied as the individuals that behold it? It is a difficult thing to navigate when you can’t even be sure where to begin.
The important thing to start with is acceptance. We need to accept the things about ourselves that we cannot change, to be gentle with ourselves and treat ourselves with care and empathy. That is the essence of self-loving. Once we take care of ourselves, we are left more resilient to deal with whatever life throws at us.
Self-love is an empowering thing. In the words of comedy and mental health awareness content YouTuber Anna Akana, it is “Taking total responsibility for your life, your circumstances and your problems. It means acknowledging that we have the personal power to shape our reality in the image that we want, to stay true to our values, live in authenticity as much as we can, and to forgive ourselves for our flaws while simultaneously striving to live wholeheartedly and be our best.”
Although it certainly started with good intentions, somewhere along the vastness of the internet, the core meaning of the phrase “self-love” seems to have been twisted. All across social media there are voices touting the rejection of what doesn’t “serve you”. If your friend doesn’t say exactly what you are hoping to hear, cut them off because you don’t need that negativity in your life! If your partner isn’t serenading you with love and buying you flowers every day, dump them, because your existence deserves to be celebrated in your every waking moment! Speak your truth, no matter if it upsets anyone else, they need to accept you for who you are!
How many times have we heard similar words circulating online, in 10 second clips of self-love “advice”? The negative undertones of these messages might not be so obvious, but they are there. Constantly being bombarded with such ideals online will inevitably influence the viewer’s mindset and by extension their real life and relationships. It is here that the distinction between self-love and selfishness blurs. Somehow these phrases have turned from making one feel empowered to making one feel entitled, a pitiful excuse to simply defend our own bad behaviour. We have begun holding the people in our lives to the standards set by these “TikTok psychologists” whether they are fitting to our lives or not, all while evading our own accountability.
This extreme view of removing everything from our life that doesn’t make us feel good is so flawed for two main reasons: firstly it runs on the belief that we are inherently flawless i.e. that our flaws do not skew our judgement, and so we always know what’s best for us even though that could not be further from the truth, and secondly it fails to acknowledge the margin of human error exhibited by the people that love us. It leaves no room to clarify miscommunication or forgive their bad days.
Real-life is seldom so one-dimensional. This perspective stunts growth and leads to stagnation. Sometimes we need to hear the harsh truths from the people that love us in order to bring our own behaviour into perspective and hence move towards reflection and betterment because it is simply not possible to be self-aware all the time. Realizing when these observations are coming from a place of love is key in experiencing personal growth, and what is growth if not the very substance of self-love?
It would be remiss of me to not mention Oprah Winfrey when musing over self-love, so in her wise words I would like to reinforce that “It is not selfish to put yourself first. Fill yourself first, so you have more to give to others.” That statement itself makes it abundantly clear that the love for the self contributes directly to the love we can afford others whose love in turn is reflected back to us. For “all friendly feelings for others are an extension of man’s feelings for himself” as Aristotle so aptly put it.
It is possible to accept our flaws and forgive ourselves while still being mindful holding ourselves accountable for our actions. We ourselves have the power to cultivate a self that we are proud of, a self-worth-loving.