Do people really love themselves? Some writers think that people do not love themselves, saying that true self-love, in the sense of self-acceptance, is learned, often very painfully so. I agree.
Part of the difficulty is that people confuse self-esteem and self-love. I concur, with Scott Peck, that the two are completely different. The former may indeed be a type of self-centredness of the most pathological kind.
At the heart of the difference lie a person’s priorities. People, who affirm themselves, tend to get on well with almost everyone.
They are successful in their marriages. Work colleagues like them, and they do well in their jobs. They are at home and at ease with who they are. They are not threatened by assaults on their self-image.
People who say that their over-riding priority is their self-esteem, are the opposite. They are insecure, sometimes to the extent that they will use any methods, even illegal ones, to enhance what they believe is necessary to wipe out their poor self-image.
Such individuals (and societies) will admit of no imperfections whatsoever. Violence, abuse, ruthlessness, are all legitimate means to preserve and enhance self-esteem.
No matter that the individual may have had no part in the creation of the Nazi culture, national military defeat; legally-enforced slavery of all Black people in the Caribbean, and the fallout in terms of fragmented families, male macho, playas and pickney.
But once people are made aware of these forces acting on them, then they become responsible, and must choose.
In modern western societies, fanned by the media, meritocracy reigns. It is desirable to conform to a particular ideal, whether of beauty, body shape, academic success, financial standing, sporting prowess—and to be made to feel ugly, dim, unsuccessful, wimpish, unwanted and loveable if this ideal is not attained. This the challenge: to learn to love ourselves in the face of meritocracy, often money-driven, that tells us – actually – that we are not ‘worth it’.
Can self-love (as opposed to self-centred self-esteem) be achieved in the face of such a value-system? I believe that it can be.
But the process will not be an easy one. Scott Peck uses the Biblical parable of the Bridegroom and the virgins as a metaphor for this process:
…There is nothing that holds us back more from mental health, from health as a society, and from God than the sense that we all have of our own unimportance, unloveliness, and undesirability.
But we are likely to respond, “No, no, no, I’m too fat.”
And when God says, “You don’t understand. I love you, I want you. You are beautiful. Come to bed with me,” we are likely to continue to shrink away, proclaiming that we are too old or too young, too unimportant or too ugly, and not worthy.
Let us prepare ourselves. Let us do so by relearning how important we are, how beautiful we are, and how we are desired beyond our wildest imaginings.
And let us, as best we can, go out into the world to teach others how important they are, how beautiful they are, and how they too are desired beyond their wildest imaginings.