A therapist once told me that the greatest gift parents can give a child is self-love. But I have learned over the years that self-love is a gift you give yourself. Parents certainly need to give love to their children, to teach them how to love, but loving self ultimately has to come from within. Parental love is an important piece of that process but love from within is at the core of a meaningful life and is not always easy to achieve.
First of all, an important and necessary distinction: Self-love does not mean being selfish or becoming self-centered. But it requires an ability to focus inward in order to know and accept yourself. Self-centeredness or narcissism makes someone the center of their own universe, while focusing inward enables many to find life’s meaning and their connecting places with the rest of the world. Those who are selfish live as though the world belongs to no one but themselves, using others for their own purposes and satisfaction. Those who make the effort to focus inward realize the world belongs to everyone in it and choose to be an aware and honest part of it, respecting all others while striving to find and contribute to the care and meaning of life.
Second, loving self requires reflecting on and accepting one’s truth, then putting words to it. “Who am I? How am I different? What does life mean to me?” Such is the process of healthy growth. I have learned, and am still learning, how to put words to the truth of me, risk sharing them so that I can see who I am more clearly. One’s identity is contained in the gift of life and putting words to who I am, whether in meditation, writing or conversation. That is the first step in accepting that identity.
Third, loving self in a healthy way requires honesty always, both with self and others, and especially significant others. Sharing the deeper parts of self can help to hold one responsible and accountable, not only for how they choose to live but also for who they want to be. Honesty always adds clarity to how one sees and loves self.
Self-love, finally, is essential for loving others.
One cannot know what loving another really means until they learn to accept and love one’s self. When it comes to clarity the not-so-ancient and timeless wisdom, “Love thy neighbor as thyself” says it all.