Amazon.com Widgets

 

John Crosby

On a certain self-love

Jan. 14 at 10:54am

According to the conventional wisdom, it is easy to love oneself and hard to love others, and it is easy to hate others but impossible to hate oneself. But I have in mind a certain self-hatred that afflicts almost everyone, and a certain self-love that is every bit as difficult as the most generous love of others. Pope Benedict was pointing to this natural self-hatred and this difficult self-love when he wrote: “Is it good that I exist? Is it good that anything at all exists? Is the world good? How many persons today would dare to affirm this question from the heart–to believe it is good that they exist? That is the source of the anxiety and despair that incessantly affect mankind” (Principles of Catholic Theology, 80). If you are not convinced that it is good that you exist, then you cannot love yourself, you cannot gladly and gratefully accept your existence, and in fact you are liable to live with some degree of self-hatred.

Of course, you always love yourself in the sense that when you feel pain, you try to get relief from it. It seems almost impossible that, when you suffer from a severe pain, you would not want relief from your pain, whereas it seems natural enough, though regrettable, that when you see another person suffering the same pain, you may not be willing to do what it takes to relieve his or her pain. In any case, you don’t have the same instinctive and irresistible aversion to the pain of another that you have to your own pain. The same holds for some immediate threat to your life; you shrink from a threat to your life with an instinctive immediacy that you do not feel with respect to a threat to another’s life. But this is a completely different level of self-love from the one I have in mind. You may feel plenty of self-love with regard to pain and danger and still not really believe that it is good that you exist. In this case you have self-love at a certain instinctual level but lack self-love at the level of your personal existence. You suffer from a self-hatred which exists not as a disorder in your instincts but as a sickness of the spirit.

Man is the being who puts himself into question; instead of living in a natural solidarity with himself, instead of taking his existence for granted, he is a problem to himself. You know that you could as well have never existed. Does your existence make any difference? Is it good that you exist? Is your existence “justified”? You desperately need to feel justified in your existence, but you are troubled by feeling as if you were a cosmic accident. If this is your spiritual condition you are in no position to love yourself, for your spiritual distress comes from wondering whether you are loveable at all.

Perhaps you seek some self-justification. You set out to achieve good things, to make something good of your life, so as to be able to love yourself. You hold yourself to certain standards and ideals, you model yourself on certain exemplary persons, you aspire for great things--and in the end you feel keenly how far short you fall. You feel yourself to be a shadow of what you ought to be, or might have been. There are many people who on the outside seem to be highly accomplished, yet feel on the inside like failures, as if they have nothing to show for their lives. They have not succeeded in justifying themselves; they come before themselves with empty hands. They have more self-condemnation in their hearts than self-love.

There is only one way to self-love, and that is to be loved by another. And to be loved not just for your accomplishments but for yourself; to be loved with a love that is not earned but freely given as a gift. The love of a mother or a father or a spouse or a friend can do for you what you could never do for yourself, it has the power to assure you that it is good that you exist, to enable you to be grateful for your existence. It is not that these others confer the goodness of your existence on you, it is rather that, all alone with yourself, you cannot access this goodness of your existence; you can experience it and come to love yourself only together with others who first experience it and first love you. Self-love, paradoxically, is not achieved in solitude. (But the instinctive self-love whereby we avoid pain is entirely solitary; each of us experiences it in himself and without needing any support from others.)

But it is one thing to be loved by others, and it is another to receive this love in such a way that it penetrates your emotional system, so that you spontaneously live out of self-love, out of the inner peace of a deep self-acceptance. Your being loved is constantly at war with your deep-seated anxiety about your lovability and with your desperate attempts to attract and to earn the love of others. Even when your being loved is raised to the highest power in God, even when you believe that God loves you personally by creating you and redeeming you, this anxiety continues to eat away at you. The will to justify your existence on your own terms and by your own efforts does not immediately die in you as a result of being loved by another, any more than sexual concupiscence immediately dies in the chaste person. This is why deep and abiding self-love is rare, and in fact just as rare as the generous love of others.

Sometimes people are aware of their deep insecurity about the goodness of their existence, and they want to find the inner peace that comes with real self-love. It is very important that we not discredit their concern for a right relation to themselves by calling it “selfish.” We would speak like shallow moralizers if we blamed such persons for being too influenced by the culture of narcissism, and if we admonished them to stop thinking so much about themselves and just commit themselves to the service of others. The aspiration for a well-ordered self-love has nothing to do with selfishness, and it has everything to do with having a self. There is a selflessness that is admirable, and there is a selflessness that is a mutilated state of a personal self.

Besides, the admirable selflessness is only possible in a person who is self-centered in the sense of having authentic self-love. As long as you are trying to earn the love of others by impressing them with your accomplishments, you are trying to get something from them–to get some confirmation of your worth--and are not free to love them with a generous heart for their own sakes.


 

TorahJew

In my limited experience, people don't love themselves because someone else loves them for their own sake. They love themselves when they achieve something that they (sometimes led by others) appreciate is a good and worthy goal.

Self esteem follows accomplishment. People don't, in their core, tend to believe unconditional love. They certainly appreciate it only rarely.

#1 - Jan. 15 at 7:06pm | quote

 

Jules van Schaijik

TorahJew, Jan. 15 at 7:06pm

People don't, in their core, tend to believe unconditional love.

I think you are right about that, TorahJew. That is a huge part of the difficulty in achieving a proper self-love or self-acceptance. From other human beings we seldom receive unconditional love. And even when we do, it remains imperfect the way all human realities are. From God we do receive it, of course, but that is a truth which is difficult to realize to ourselves in this daily life.

One thing is certain however. The self-love which is based solely on our accomplishments, however helpful it is, is bound to fail, as John Crosby indicates in his 4th paragraph.

#2 - Jan. 15 at 7:25pm | quote

 

TorahJew

Jules van Schaijik, Jan. 15 at 7:25pm

One thing is certain however. The self-love which is based solely on our accomplishments, however helpful it is, is bound to fail

If measured solely by our accomplishments, you are likely correct.

But most of us (and certainly I do), measure my self worth based on what I achieve, and the fact that I made the effort in the first place.

I am human, and am all-too-aware that I am flawed. But the Talmud tells us that there were only 5 men who never sinned - and none of them amounted to much. Failure, used properly, is also a virtue.

I am one of the msot driven people I know, because the one thing I cannot forgive is wasted opportunities. As long as I make my effort, I do not regret. I know that if G-d wants me to succeed, I will. And if not, not. I can live with that outcome without losing self-love.

This fact drives other people a bit nuts: I work very hard, but I know when to down tools and leave the rest up to G-d.

#3 - Jan. 15 at 9:21pm | quote

 

Carol Cirrotti

On the spiritual journey we must walk the narrow but safe way between presumption and despair.  This is the way of Truth where we grasp clearly our own wretchedness and the Divine Mercy!

#4 - Jan. 16 at 10:41am | quote

 

TorahJew

Carol Cirrotti, Jan. 16 at 10:41am

On the spiritual journey we must walk the narrow but safe way between presumption and despair.  This is the way of Truth where we grasp clearly our own wretchedness and the Divine Mercy!

This comes down to underyling religious assumptions that divides us. Jews don't start with a presumption of wretchedness, because we don't really have Original Sin.

And while we continually invoke G-d's infinite mercy, Jews believe that our own choices and actions matter to G-d.

#5 - Jan. 16 at 11:32am | quote

 

Ann B

I used to think that unconditional love was a Protestant idea arising from "Once saved, always saved," with the result being, "It doesn't really matter what you do." Through the present Pope and beautiful posts like this one, I am learning how our worth comes from our being, which is good since God has being.... but if one recognizes in himself the deep question, "Is it good that I exist?" and knows he is broken and cannot receive the answer properly from others, what can he or she do?

#6 - Jan. 16 at 11:24pm | quote

 

Carol Cirrotti

T J  

TorahJew, Jan. 16 at 11:32am

Carol Cirrotti, Jan. 16 at 10:41am

On the spiritual journey we must walk the narrow but safe way between presumption and despair.  This is the way of Truth where we grasp clearly our own wretchedness and the Divine Mercy!

This comes down to underyling religious assumptions that divides us. Jews don't start with a presumption of wretchedness, because we don't really have Original Sin.

And while we continually invoke G-d's infinite mercy, Jews believe that our own choices and actions matter to G-d.

TJ

I don't think there is as much distance between us as you claim.  Certainly every Jew realizes he cannot keep the law perfectly and that there is need to make atonement for our failings. Certainly what we choose and do matters greatly to G-d. Christians believe our desire to be holy and our good works are pleasing to G-d. but cannot accomplish our justification.  That is why G-d in His Mercy sent the perfect sacrifice: the Messiah!

#7 - Jan. 17 at 1:43pm | quote

 

Samantha

As regards your mention of "obvous" self-love that inclines one to avoid pain and seek pleasure for oneself, would this relate to the concept of the "conatus," self-preservation in philosophy, as a sort of primitive mainfestation of self-love? Below I refer to Wojtyla's explanation. After discussing self-love with a friend who leans toward Eastern thought, she spoke of self-love initially in this primitive sort of way. Can there be a way of speaking of self-love in living creatures as the simple desire to live, the motivation or drive toward survival and self-preservation?

“In the basic structure of human existence—and the same is true throughout the whole animal world—we see two basic instincts: the instinct of self-preservation and the sexual instinct. The instinct of self-preservation, as its name indicates, has as its purpose the preservation and maintenance of a particular being, man or beast… In characterizing it we can say that it is egocentric in so far as it is centered on the existence of the ‘I’ itself” (Karol Wojtyla, Love and Responsibility 65).

#8 - Jan. 17 at 6:53pm | quote

 

Samantha

"The aspiration for a well-ordered self-love has nothing to do with selfishness, and it has everything to do with having a self."

It seems that, if self-love exists, a personalist/existential concept of the self and the good/benevolence felt toward the self (in God) would serve as the best defense and explanation of how one can possibly "love" oneself. However, most who claim that self-love exists cannot or do not explain it in this personalist way- it is acccepted as a state of fact, framed typically as: "One has to love oneself in order to properly love another." Would you agree to this statement? It is a philosophy that my mother holds, and that I took as intuitively true before I began to philosophically examine what love is.

In my research, I have come across three facets to the self-love debate: those who believe it exists in proper and improper forms (Scheler, Rousseau, Kierkegaard), that it exists as an analogy to proper neighbor-love (von Hildebrand, Tillich), and those who do not believe self-love is possible (Jean-Luc Marion, and Tillich: I place him on the border between analogy/impossibility).

Dr. Crosby: What do you think about von Hildebrand on self-love?

#9 - Jan. 17 at 7:03pm | quote

 

Jules van Schaijik

Samantha Schroeder, Jan. 17 at 6:53pm

... Can there be a way of speaking of self-love in living creatures as the simple desire to live, the motivation or drive toward survival and self-preservation?

To my mind, this way of speaking, though not entirely meaningless, tends to obscure the issue. One begins to understand self-love in the higher sense in which Crosby uses it, only by first distinguishing it from the mere instinct to self-preservation one finds in non-personal animals. Love, in the true sense of the word, and whether of self or of others, is possible only for persons.

#10 - Jan. 18 at 8:23am | quote

 

Jules van Schaijik

Samantha, is there any hope of you starting a new post in which you expand a little further on the "three facets of the self-love debate" you mention in your last comment?  It sounds important and interesting, but I can't quite follow what you mean.

#11 - Jan. 18 at 8:30am | quote

 

Carol Cirrotti

It is good that we exist because God said it is good; in fact He said it is very good. Our human nature and freedom give glory to God and this, in the world of values, is pre- eminent. Reverance for God necessarily demands reverance for ourselves as His sons and daughters. This is not easily gotten from our heads into our hearts. Why?

John Paul  speaks of shame being swallowed up in love. Perhaps self-interest can be said to be swallowed up in love as well and, if love is lived well, self hatred is swallowed up as man reflects on the grace of God acting and alive in himself. Hence love of neighbor, love of self  and of God share a common source and bear the same fruit: the glory of God ." If you do it to the least of my brothers you have done it to me." At times we see ourselves among the least of Christ's brothers and we may struggle to love ourselves for love of Him. Service to others is often the cure restoring peace to the soul and that blessed assurance that He lives in me.

#12 - Jan. 18 at 8:42am | quote

 

Samantha

Jules van Schaijik, Jan. 18 at 8:30am

Samantha, is there any hope of you starting a new post in which you expand a little further on the "three facets of the self-love debate" you mention in your last comment?  It sounds important and interesting, but I can't quite follow what you mean.

.Jules, I was considering it, so I will post something soon on self-love in philosophy. It's interesting to see the crossover in thinkers as diverse as Kierkegaard, Rousseau and Scheler.

#13 - Jan. 18 at 10:38am | quote

 

To comment, please sign in or register first. (It's free and easy, and helps us prevent spam.)

 

Stay informed

Latest comments

  • Re: Is all confusion evil? A Socratic thought.
  • By: Jules van Schaijik
  • Re: Is all confusion evil? A Socratic thought.
  • By: Katie van Schaijik
  • Re: Merry Christmas, You Miserable Pagan!
  • By: Devra Torres
  • Re: Merry Christmas, You Miserable Pagan!
  • By: Gary Gibson
  • Re: Factions
  • By: Katie van Schaijik
  • Re: Personalism and the Judeo-Christian tradition
  • By: Katie van Schaijik
  • Re: Too Much, Too Little, Too Late
  • By: Peter
  • Re: Too Much, Too Little, Too Late
  • By: Peter
  • Re: Too Much, Too Little, Too Late
  • By: Peter
  • Re: Too Much, Too Little, Too Late
  • By: Peter

Latest active posts

Reading circles

Lectures