Oh boy…I’m expecting a little hate from this one. But, I’ve been wanting to share my thoughts on this topic for so long and I’ve decided it’s time to just break down, be honest, and tell you why I think that this new idea of self-love is an absolute lie.
Before I get into exactly why I think self-love is a recipe for disaster, I think it’s important that we talk about what exactly the trend of self-love is and all that it implies.
You’re likely to see half, if not more, of the people you follow on social media talk about this on a regular basis. I swear, I cannot scroll through my Instagram feed for five minutes without seeing yet another person talking about this topic. I actually think all of the people promoting this “gospel” have good intentions. I mean, the idea of self-love is usually tied to good principles. No one is going out there and saying “hey you, you should love yourself because selfishness is good and pride is respectable. ” Most people are sharing this idea because they know that so many people struggle with things like poor body image, depression, anxiety, and perfectionism. Most of the time, if not all of the time, people are sharing this idea in the name of encouragement.
But…all of the good intentions and goals to encourage cannot change the fact that this idea is damaging, anti-gospel, and the exact opposite of what Christians are called to do.
So, here’s the issue (or long list of issues with this thought process):
Self-love is not going to solve the problems you’re facing. In fact, every single person I know personally that preaches this tends to have more issues with anxiety, pride, and sin. Because by believing this lie we start to believe other lies:
I have the power to make myself feel loved,
I can be proud of exactly who I am,
I can do whatever I want because at the end of the day all that matters is that I love myself.
Do you see the issues with these statements? They can lead to relying on self more than God. To staying stagnant in our personal development though we know we are called to be more. They lead to believing that loving ourselves is the greatest thing we could ever do. And they are all connected with that one buzzword that most Christians have convinced themselves is derived from biblical teaching.
In fact, I would argue that self-love has been the leading cause of every struggle I have ever faced. When I think about the years of struggling with an eating disorder (and moments when that struggle still rears its ugly head), I can identify one common thread: I was thinking of myself. I was thinking of control and I was thinking of the way I looked. When I remained three years in an emotionally abusive relationship I can see the one thing that held me back from leaving for so long: pride. I didn’t want to be wrong or be a failure or admit that I’d wasted three years of my life. When I find myself stuck in the cycle of comparison I can easily identify jealousy as the root cause — wanting something for myself. Self-love is what has stripped me of joy time and time again.
The biggest problem with self-love is that it teaches us to betray the very core of what love truly is: selflessness. This one trendy word takes us from being a servant to others to becoming servants only of ourselves. I don’t know about you…but I would rather be known for loving others than for loving myself. I would rather be remembered for giving of myself than for living for my own happiness. Is it wrong to pursue what makes us happy? No, not necessarily. But when we embrace self-love as our highest calling we find ourselves teetering on the edge of complete narcissism.
All of this leads to one outcome: failing at what we are called to do. We were never called to love ourselves. Not one time did Jesus commission us with that task. But, He did call us to love others. And when we become so focused on learning to love ourselves we forget to intentionally love others and we miss the entire point. When we believe the lie of self-love, we neglect our call to show the world the love of Christ by being selfless, sacrificial, and ultimately dying to ourselves every day.
So, What is the Opposite of Self-Love?
Don’t let anyone tell you that by not embracing this new gospel you are committing to self-loathing and self-deprecation. The opposite of self-love is neither of those things. But, rather, the opposite of self-love is selfless love. It is the very kind of love that kept Jesus from coming down from the cross, though He had every power and right to do so. It is was kept Him there, in excruciating pain, in my place and yours. Selfless love is what gives you and I the chance to even understand what love is in the first place. Selfless love is what has given us life.
But, Jesus Said We Should Love Ourselves!
When asked for biblical reasoning on this topic, most people jump to the famous verse from Matthew: “And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself ” (Matthew 22:39, NKJV).
Let’s just go ahead and clear this confusion up: Jesus was not saying “in order to love your neighbor you must first love yourself.” If that is what He meant, that is what He would have said. He never said we needed the qualification of loving ourselves to adequately love someone else. The statement in Matthew clearly assumes that we already love ourselves — we are born doing that. Which is why Jesus called us to love others as we love ourselves. We live our lives completely for ourselves. We seek education, career, relationships, material objects all for ourselves. Jesus was telling us to love others that way — as if every choice we make is meant to serve someone besides ourselves. To SERVE in every way we can. To demonstrate His love for the world by trying our best to love like Him.
If that all confuses you and you still think self-love is the greatest call on your life, then just answer this question: If Jesus practiced self-love….then why on earth did He allow Himself to be ridiculed, mocked, lied about, and ultimately tortured to death for crimes He was wrongly accused of? The answer is not because He loved Himself. But because He loved the Father and because He loved YOU.
So…What’s The Real Solution?
As I said before, most people who promote and practice self-love are not narcissistic people who want to convince the world to be selfish human beings. Most of them really want to be an encouragement and help people over come anxiety, depression, and all the other struggles that plague our society. So, if self-love isn’t the answer…what is?
No, really. There is more joy in loving others than you could ever find in loving yourself. More money? Not necessarily. More ease & rest? Nope. More success, recognition, and fame? Definitely not. But, more joy? Abundantly more.
I am of the belief that joy can combat any number of struggles. Real joy can be the greatest weapon against anxiety, grief, and perfectionism. And real joy comes from loving others. Jesus knew that. He knew that we were not capable of loving ourselves in such a way that we could overcome everything we face. If we could…well, what need would we have for Jesus in the first place? If we had the power to love ourselves that much then why would we need the love of Christ? No, we are incapable of loving ourselves in such a way. We NEED the love of Christ. And it is that same love that we can demonstrate to the rest of the world by giving of ourselves far more than we give to ourselves.
Maybe you have held to this belief for some time now. Maybe self-love has been your mantra for years. And maybe you still feel like it isn’t enough. Can I just challenge you in this: try loving others as much as you have been trying to love yourself. Do it for one week and see if you notice a change. Serve other people more than you serve yourself for just a little while and take notice of how much more joy you are able to discover.
Self-love will not save you, friend. It will not heal you. It is not the answer to all of your questions. But love, real love, love in its truest and purest form is: sacrificial love. The same love that Jesus lived and died for. The same love He was practicing when He thought of you as He took His very last breath.