Oh, all right, I admit my title is a ruse. But I really am tired 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–so much that they’re profoundly crushed when they fail at fulfilling their hopes. They can like and accept others, despite their failings, but not themselves.
Self-like is a hard-shelled nut. It doesn’t crack for motivational slogans: “You’re the greatest!” (“Oh, shut up, I’ve accomplished nothing today!”) Why? Because we’re born with an inner compass that relentlessly points true north, refusing to let us settle for cotton candy imitations.
I have a dear friend, Michelle, who grew up during the peak of the self-esteem movement. Her mother told her non-stop how “special” she was, praising even her 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 of real value. I have never met another person who disliked themselves as deeply as she does.
The slogan-driven self-esteem movement started to crumble in the 1990s as more and more clinical studies showed that only measurable accomplishments have the ability to produce authentic self-esteem. And yet the false premise—say it often enough and you’ll believe it—is still with us today.
I struggled with serious 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 I didn’t like myself.
In the book of Genesis, God 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’s God’s way of saying, “There’s a long journey ahead, but I am with you.”
The sweet nut of self-liking is hard to crack, but it’s worth the effort. And, perhaps surprisingly, unlike navel-gazing “love yourself” affirmations, the key to self-liking is others. No 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…