“Self-love is not opposed to the love of other people. You cannot really love yourself and do yourself a favor without doing people a favor, and vise versa.” ~Karl Menninger

How do we love ourselves for who we are? Why should we bother? Is “self-love” conceited? Narcissistic? Delusional?

What is it about “loving oneself” that seems like such a simple concept but remains so elusive? Does the very term “self-love” misrepresent the important concepts of self-acceptance, self-confidence, and inner peace?

These are the questions that sprung to mind as I contemplated an email from a reader, Eileen A., who wrote me an email with a request to address the issues of self-love and self-hate.

The Reflection in the Mirror

Eileen works in women’s fashion and tells me in her email that she is “overwhelmed” by the amount of “self-hate” that she sees in the world of advertising for her industry. “With all the advertising today, I see a lot of women in my job who hate themselves whether it’s because of how they look, what they do, what’s going on in their lives,” she writes. Eileen continues:

“Have you done a post on how to love yourself in a world designed to foster self-hate? This world isn’t designed to give people self-efficacy. How can one face a world bombarding us with conflicting images and still look in the mirror, confident in the knowledge that we’re all beautiful manifestations of a perfect universe?”

As I read Eileen’s questions, I notice how she refers to “the world” as being a cause self-hate a handful of times. My mind begins to wander, and I start to question if self-hate is really to blame on external influences — caused by the world at large — or internal influences — more or less a matter of personal perspective — or, in all likelihood, some combination of both. Let’s begin by examining what we see when we look in the mirror.

On a biological level, there is a “natural want” by human beings to look and feel more attractive. Physical attraction plays its obvious role in the survival and continuation of the human species. On the social side of life, our physical appearance — from our natural looks to how we groom ourselves and our individual fashion/style — directly influences our social standing in everyday life. Of course, the influences of self-love and self-hate are so varied and complex that entire volumes of books might barely scrape the surface of underlying causes and effects. Reducing this most complex issue to its core, to me one thing remains certain: Human beings are naturally imperfect, yet wholly complete creatures.

Naturally Imperfect, For Better and For Worse

Humans tend to look at the down-side in life. I’m not sure why this is, exactly. Psychiatric and scientific experts tend to believe that the human species’ focus upon negative aspects of life — ranging from physical dangers and threats, to the imperfections of our bodies and wrinkles on our faces — has a lot to do with the human species’ natural instinct to survive:

To both survive and propagate the species, fear is a key component. Fear, reluctance, hesitation… the emotions we loathe and look to avoid in our everyday lives are the exact ones that ensured the very survival of the human species throughout tens of thousands of years of a tumultuous existence!

Beyond the instinct to survive, we all recognize at least one thing about our species and our individual selves: we are not naturally perfect. Everyone has faults, flaws, and individual shortcomings. And in a consumer-based society, television and magazine advertisements exploit the common knowledge that we are imperfect by telling you, the consumer, that you are imperfect and in need of this remedy, this product, this status symbol, this luxury, and so on, and so on…

Naturally Imperfect, but Wholly Complete

At the same time, although every human being is naturally imperfect, we are naturally whole: the combination of our individual strengths and individual shortcomings make every human being unquestionably and exceptionally unique. Having both strengths and weaknesses is a great gift! Our strengths — manifested in our talents, gifts, interests, hobbies, passions, personality traits, and so on — are what we naturally offer our friends, families, and the world around us. Our natural imperfections provide to us the grounds to appreciate all that we have, to improve who we are, and to develop our inner selves so that we may be better men and women.

Self-love really is about recognizing that there is no externality that human beings require to achieve completeness, happiness or inner contentment. All that we require is wholly within. And our strengths provide as much to us as our weaknesses. I know, at times it sucks being imperfect: I am awful at math, and running long distances is such torture for me that I am beginning to believe that generations and generations of the Ursillo family remained sedentary for thousands of years at a time.

It’s not “self-hate” to notice your shortcomings and imperfections. It is, however,self-hate” to only focus upon them or to victimize yourself by wishing to be someone other than who you are. Every facet of who you are, for better or for worse, ought to be explored fully. This is the process of self-exploration. Through self-exploration, we discover our strengths (and strive to maximize them as best we can) and weaknesses (which we try to minimize and improve upon). Remember that as human beings, we are each naturally imperfect, but wholly complete. The key to self-love is self-acceptance — for better or for worse — because gratitude is the cornerstone of happiness.

Flickr Photo By: Elephi Pelephi