Modern psychology has a lot to say about loving yourself. It’s all over Oprah, Loose Women and every other female geared talk show out there. People are making a whole lot of money out of teaching people to love themselves. The self help section in Waterstone’s is expanding almost at the rate of inflation, and if there’s one profession that’s recession proof, it’s definitely therapy. (As well as selling weave. It hurts my heart to say that). There’s almost an unhealthy obsession with self esteem to the point that the fact that I don’t have enough self esteem, is making my self esteem lower. “Why don’t I love myself? Shouldn’t I love myself more? Oprah said I should. Everyone else loves themselves…So if I don’t love myself there must be something wrong with me..Aaarrghh I’m so unlovable that even myself doesn’t love me! I need to see a therapist!”. You get my point.
Perversely, our rates of depression over the last 50 years have sky rocketed, more and more people are presenting to their doctors requesting anti depressants, and self harm seems to be an increasing problem amongst young people. There are a number of hypotheses for this – maybe we are more comfortable in modern society about admitting that we’re unhappy so the rates of depression are actually the same, maybe the pressures of modern society are causing us to be more unhappy, or maybe we’ve had an unhealthy attitude shift.
I think it’s a combination of all three.
I think loving yourself is one of the hardest things to do. I’ve always been a person who masked my insecurities with arrogance, to the outside world I can be confident, even cocky at the worst of times, but how do you love yourself, when there are things about yourself you don’t like? And not even mildly dislike, but things that you actually, categorically hate. Your crooked teeth. Or personality traits that you know are rubbish. Or the way you snort when you laugh. Or your oversized nostrils. Or a bad temper.
Every one knows about the Golden Rule. Jesus puts it like this “And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.”.
Thy neighbour as thyself. There’s something pretty powerful about that. There’s something very challenging about that. My neighbour is the women who threaded my eyebrows today, and left one shorter than the other, and told me to pencil the remainder in, and I still paid her 4 pounds. (Yes, I’m still mad about that). My neighbour is the crack addict I see hanging around outside the Salvation Army shop at the bottom of my local high street. My neighbour is the girl who bullied me through primary school. My neighbour is the guy who opened the door for me and made my day (maybe chivalry is in resus, and not quite dead). My neighbour is my next door neighbour who told my Dad that he votes for UKIP because he thinks black people are lazy and should go back to their country. My neighbour is the guy who rejected me. My neighbour is my little brother.
I think we can love ourselves better when we love our neighbour, because our neighbour is imperfect. I think maybe God tells us to love our neighbours as we love ourselves because when we see our neighbours in their frail humanity and realise that we are the same as our neighbour, but we are still required to love them, then we can see that God still requires us to love ourselves even in our imperfections. He preludes this by telling us to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. He’s hinting at something. You can only perfectly love what is is imperfect when you learn to love someone that is perfect.
I don’t quite understand this myself, but I do know that the more I understand God’s perfection, the more forgiving I am of other people’s failures. Because I want to love as perfectly as he does, and I know that he loves imperfect me, and that empowers me to love my imperfect neighbour. I know it’s complicated, but I want to make it really simple.
I believe the secret to loving yourself is understanding that God doesn’t ask anything of you that he has not offered himself – He loves you with all his heart, soul, mind and strength. He requires you to love your neighbour as much as he loves you. And he requires you to love yourself as much as you love your neighbour. Knowing that, how can I have low self esteem?