Don’t Love Yourself!

Watering hole - do you come here often

Alright, I admit my title is a ruse, and yet…I really am sick of seeing motivational posts telling us to love ourselves. Why? Because we don’t need to learn to love ourselves.

We need to learn to like ourselves. In a sense, people who commit suicide love themselves too much. They love themselves enough to be obsessed with their dreams, and crushed when those dreams fail to come true. They can accept your failure. Or mine. But not their own.

Love flows like mother’s milk. But like is a hard-shelled nut. It doesn’t crack for motivational slogans (“You’re great!” “Oh, shut up! I’ve accomplished nothing today!”). Antique CompassWe’re born with an inner compass that relentlessly points to true north, refusing to settle for happy-happy-sugar-candy faux-north.

I know a sweet-spirited woman, Michelle, who grew up during the peak of the self-esteem movement. Her mother told her non-stop how “special” she was, praising even the most insignificant accomplishments. By the time she’d reached young adulthood, Michelle was hopelessly jaded. She was convinced that, 1) nothing she accomplished mattered because “special” had no real meaning, and, 2) she was incapable of actually accomplishing anything, anyway. I have never met another person who disliked themselves as deeply as she does.

(There is one group that has shown a measurably positive response to baseless praise: criminals. One study reveals that imprisoned murderers have the highest rate of self-esteem of anyone. Happy-happy-sugar-candy faux-north.)

The slogan-driven self-esteem movement (“you’re special!”) started to crumble in the 1990s as more and more clinical studies showed that only measurable accomplishment has the ability to produce authentic self-esteem in test subjects. And yet the false premise—say it often enough and they’ll believe it—abides with us today.depression

I struggled with intense anxiety as a young adult. Each night I would lie awake, terrified at the prospect of being alone with the one person I least trusted: myself. I loved myself (too much, really), but did not like myself. There were several key developments in my healing, but the breakthrough came after a period of genuine personal growth. I remember lying in bed as a young husband and father striving to do right, suddenly realizing, “I think I actually…like myself…a little.” I hadn’t gotten to the full meat of the nut yet, but I’d cracked the shell.

None of this is news to God, of course. In the book of Genesis, He tells Cain, after the rage-filled young man has killed his brother, “If you do not do what is right, sin crouches at your door. Its desire is for you—but you must master it.” (Genesis 4:7) And then God does something remarkable: he places a mark on Cain’s forehead, not a mark of guilt—as some mistakenly believe—but a mark of protection. It is God’s way of saying, “There’s a long journey ahead, but I am with you. So begin now.”

Yes, the sweet nut of self-liking is hard to get at, but it’s worth it. And, perhaps surprisingly, unlike the navel-gazing “love yourself” message, the key to self-liking is others. helpingothersNo accomplishment brings such inner peace as service. The number one weapon against depression is service. Which is one of the reasons Jesus commanded us to love others “as yourself.” He knew we already loved ourselves. The key was to turn that love outward. To accomplish something worthy, something that might even cause us to…

like ourselves!

About mitchteemley

Writer, Filmmaker, Humorist, Thinker-about-stuffer
This entry was posted in Culture, For Pastors and Teachers, Memoir, Religion/Faith and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

33 Responses to Don’t Love Yourself!

  1. r_prab says:

    I never thought that way!Many ones I guess wouldn’t have thought of questioning this age old saying of “love yourself” that we have endorsed naively! But when you mentioned about the criminal psychology, I did start realizing what you mean!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. dawnlizjones says:

    Narcissism can spawn insecurity. Insecurity turns my eyes inward all the more. You really hit it when you said service to others. Or as one wise person said, not thinking less of myself, but thinking of myself less.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Thank you for putting into words what I’ve been mulling over for years. So true! You really grabbed me when you shared your own experience, and I have no doubt that anxiety is linked to writing talent!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. oneta hayes says:

    Didn’t Jesus say something like “if you want to be great, be servant of all.” You ending paragraph points to that. Everyone needs responsibility and accountability to evaluate himself. Good article you have written.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Nancy Ruegg says:

    Perhaps service to others increases our self-esteem because we put our best selves forward when we aim to help others. We tend to be more kind, patient, encouraging, etc when focused on the needs of another. And we’re happier with ourselves when we’ve made someone else happy. Thank you, Mitch, for showing us the way to like ourselves, by looking for ways to serve others. It is indeed Jesus’ way — it’s the way God designed us!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Anyone reading this, Mitch, can well learn the value of extending love to others as a way of learning to like oneself. A message of substance.

    Liked by 1 person

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  8. mitchteemley says:

    Reblogged this on Mitch Teemley and commented:

    I’m re-posting this older blog because it seems like an appropriate companion piece to my article “Far From Home” (posted three days ago), and because many have not read it before. Blessings till it hurts! Mitch


  9. Katie R. Dale says:

    Could contemplating suicide be a paradox? Loving oneself too much in the sense that you described, and yet, not loving oneself? If I am thinking unhealthy thoughts and not “mastering” the desire to end my life, am I not hating myself, wanting to die because I refuse to see my made-in-the-image-of-God value?

    Then again, perhaps that’s where it starts…loving yourself too much. Putting your hate as a priority, because your say is valued above everyone else’s (especially God’s).

    Good article, Mitch.

    Liked by 1 person

    • mitchteemley says:

      You’re pondering questions people have wrestled with since time began, Katie. Yes, there is a paradox there, I think, and whether we call it love/hate or love/don’t like, self-help platitudes like “I’m great!” simply can’t fix it. Keep digging, keep talking to the Source of wisdom–and keep sharing that wisdom with others!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. smzang says:

    You most definitely are a ‘thinker-about-stuffers’ and that is a very good thing.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Great article Mitch, filled with food for thought once again! I knew the Bible said to love others as we love ourselves, and believed that loving ourselves was a non-issue…we simply do. But liking ourselves, yikes! That is a totally different story, and one you explored and explained well. My journey has been very similar, and the part of me that I like best is ‘the Lord in me’ and ‘all He motivates me to do’ in service…as you mentioned. Thank you for this one…and all of your posts! They are rich! 👍🏻😄 Blessings! ☝🏻✝️

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I’m chewing on this…never saw it this way before. Great message.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. OwnShadow says:

    I’ve always believed that life is a creative act and all that matters is that you are an engrossed artist – to busy to care about anything else.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Jennie says:

    This is one of your best, Mitch, because it is SO important (and well written). Like is far more important than love. Liking one’s self is the start, and the most important start. Then, liking your spouse, your child, your friends…

    Liked by 1 person

  15. This is a very good article, Mitch, with many great points. I really like your paragraph on “your special.” I agree: Self-esteem increases with self-accomplishment. Declaring every child a winner is just creating a false reality, a sense of entitlement, and a fragile ego. Self-esteem also increases apart from accomplishment when we receive the love God has for us.

    I wonder though if you might “lose” some readers with the title, even on a logical basis. Like is a less intense form of affection than love. For instance, I like oatmeal, but I love frozen blueberries with raw honey.

    To love oneself is healthy; if we are commanded to love our neighbor, it logically follows that we can also love ourselves. The problem is when we worship ourselves, exalting our self above all others. A signature trait of narcissism is if a person is constantly talking about themselves. In my view, the problem is not self-love, but self-obsession.

    Liked by 1 person

    • mitchteemley says:

      Thanks for the feedback, Chris. I’ll probably stick with the title, though, because the article has been around for a year and half now. But more importantly, it captures what I want to say, not that loving ourselves is bad (it’s very good), but that “love yourself” messages, which are everywhere (100 million google results), are generally of little value and often harmful. I could, perhaps, have said we need to learn to love ourselves “in the right way,” but I think learning to like ourselves is more to the point. And, like “love,” “like” is a word that has varying degrees of intensity. People who don’t like blueberries don’t eat them, people who don’t like themselves frequently kill themselves.

      Liked by 1 person

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  17. smzang says:

    I read this before but a link beneath your current post led me to it,
    and I must tell you, I like it again. It is so wise. My son once told his
    wife that the most damaging thing I did to him was ‘praise everything’
    he did. It had the exact effect on him as experienced by your friend. I was
    devastated because the truth is, I thought everything he did was just
    outstanding …go figure… Considering it through the eyes of those who
    have been ‘overpraised’, I get it now. Oooks, it takes some getting used to.
    BTW…the beard…pretty cool!

    Liked by 1 person

  18. While there is much truth in this, I cannot agree w/ your conclusion that those who commit suicide love themselves too much. Abuse victims can be so starved for love and so sure of their absolute lack of worth that they see no alternative but to end their suffering. The loss is a tragedy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • mitchteemley says:

      I agree, Anna. I think it’s just a matter of semantics. Suicide and abuse are indeed tragic; I’ve seen both much closer up than I could have wished, including recurring thoughts of suicide myself when I was younger.

      Liked by 1 person

  19. Pingback: Celebrate Yourself! | Mitch Teemley

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