Thoughts on the Self-Love Movement
by Jim Deyling
You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you.
- Deuteronomy 4:2
In years past it was the self-esteem movement. Today, it’s called “self-love,” and according to many Christians – and the culture at large – this is the foundation that the rest of our lives is built upon. Here’s the premise that we often hear: If you don’t love yourself, how can you love anyone else? You have to get in touch with the best parts of you, the you that you admire; date yourself, woo yourself, and treat yourself. Only then can you love others, have success, and be happy.
As someone who has fallen prey to plenty of bad ideologies in the past (particularly in my younger years), I say this with humility to those of you who were nodding along with the first paragraph: You’ve been duped. The self-love movement is based on a pernicious lie, but the good news is that God has something infinitely better for you.
Check out this excerpt from a January 2016 Metro World News article:
It has long been believed that criminals may suffer from low self-esteem. Recent waves of research indicate the opposite. Criminals and prisoners actually have higher levels of self-esteem… higher than any other members of the community.
In a book called Self-Esteem: What You Probably Don’t Know, But Need To, Randall Grayson, Ph.D. writes:
Mass murderers, prisoners, gang members, and delinquent children all have higher self-esteem, on average, than people in the general population.
Professor Roy F. Baumeister of Florida State conducted a landmark study on self-esteem that indicated, “the most violent offenders… had the greatest perceived levels of self-esteem.”
A New York Times article called “Deflating Self-Esteem’s Role in Society’s Ills,” reported that high self-esteem was positively correlated with racist attitudes, drunk driving, and other risky behaviors, showing little self-control in adversity. Abusers generally have high self-esteem, as do prisoners. The article reports:
They appear to have little respect for anyone else… in their high self-regard, they have little regard for others.”
Here is the counter-cultural truth of the matter: The more you practice self-love, and the more self-esteem you have, the more likely you are to be an antisocial jerk.
As the old truism says, “A man wrapped up in himself makes a very small package indeed.”
So what does the Bible say? Do we see the Disney message that so many of us grew up with? Does the Bible say that the key to accomplishment, success, and happiness is to believe in yourself and follow your heart?
Realize this, that in the last days, difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self…
- 2 Timothy 3:1
The Bible does not encourage our modern fascination with self, and we should not be encouraging it in each other. The Bible never says to believe in yourself or to love yourself more – in fact, it assumes that you already love yourself and that you were born loving yourself.
In Matthew 22:39, Jesus says:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
In saying this, Jesus assumes that everyone already loves themselves. And we do! It’s not that you feel a warm rush of affection whenever you think about yourself (at that point, it’s called narcissism), it’s that you show your love for yourself by feeding yourself, bathing yourself, giving yourself the benefit of the doubt, taking yourself to the doctor when you get sick, making yourself presentable, etc. In fact, the Hebrew word for love that we often see in the Old Testament, ahavah, comes from a root word that means “to give.” So even though you may feel down about certain aspects of yourself or go through a depression, you still love yourself because you serve your own desires and needs.
All of the pop psychology and self-help gurus on Instagram telling you to have more self-love in your life are merely enabling you to enthrone your self. But God’s intention is for us to yield the throne of our hearts to God, and to dethrone the self. We are to set our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.
If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.
- John 8:36
Jesus’ mission is much greater than simply helping us to feel better about ourselves. He came for freedom’s sake! And when that freedom comes, you are no longer a slave to your own urges and desires, which ultimately end up causing misery anyway.
In my experience, the happiest people are the most giving, the ones who are concerned about the well-being of others. It seems like we tend to end up with what we seek in this life, one way or another, and for those who practice self-love and spend their lives trying to “find themselves,” they’ll get their wish.
But I tend to think that’s a curse, not a blessing.
Focus on loving God and others. You already love yourself.