Today I heard someone say something about love that made me think twice. She said, "In order to love other people, you have to love yourself first." Although she was talking about brotherly love, I'd be willing to bet she thinks this way about romantic love, too.
I don't know what scientific research says about self-love, but I know this: My initial reaction to her statement was, "Wait -- is that true?" I mulled over it for a while, and the conclusion I've come to is that it is not true.* If anything, the statement should be reversed: "In order to love yourself, you have to love other people first."
Let me explain.
When I was younger, I was extremely insecure—as I'm sure a lot of people are when they're in their pre-teen and teen years. I think my insecurities lasted far longer than they should have, though. It wasn't until after college that I realized how critical I was of myself and others. So I tried to change by looking for the talents and beauty in other people. I made a goal to genuinely compliment people often.** I was always looking for the thing I loved best about someone, and I made it a point to tell them about it, even though it felt unnatural at first. After a while, complimenting people wasn't awkward at all, and I began to see how truly amazing people are. I began to feel more love for all the people around me. After a while, I liked myself a lot more.
Does my story present a case of cause-and-effect? Perhaps not. But I bet there's a research topic in there somewhere. I'd bet that the more you love others, the more you love yourself. The more you recognize the lovable qualities in the people around you, the more you recognize the lovable qualities that make up who you are.
*Perhaps she and many people use "self-love" and "self-esteem" interchangeably. A healthy dose of self-esteem is good, and yet . . . I'm still dubious of the self-esteem movement as well. American teenagers, for example, have more than enough of it. (See Self-Esteem and How to Improve It.)
**Get better at giving compliments; read this: If You Can't Think of Anything to Say, Give Compliments!
This just in: I'm not the only one who has doubts about the "self-love comes first" deal. Here are some others who think along the same lines. (I just did a cursory Google search . . . Not having access to a research university library is really killing me right now.)
- Loving Yourself—How Important Is It?
- Does Self-Love Lead to Love for Others? A Story of Narcissistic Game Playing
Thing I'm thankful for: Google Hangout