The saying “you have to love yourself in order to love others” is well known, but is it true?

  • To begin with, what is self-love?

It is having a high regard for your own happiness. To know how to appreciate oneself from time to time and to take care of one’s needs before those of others.
Several studies shed light on this saying. Branden, in 1994, mentions “If you don’t love yourself, it will be impossible for you to love someone else”, and this quote has become a kind of popular belief.

We can hypothesize that if a person doesn’t love himself, he won’t believe that others can love him, and therefore will avoid healthy love relationships. Or, if an individual does not love himself, he will select unhealthy romantic relationships as a kind of self-destruction.
A person will try to find his happiness, but it is possible that the happiness of another individual becomes his own happiness, if they are united by love.

  • Too much self-love according to ancient history…

However, one must be careful! One should not have too much love for oneself since this leads to narcissism. Narcissistic people will see themselves as different, unique or superior to others. It is very possible to have too much love for oneself which can hinder or even be hurtful to relationships. Take the example of Narcissus, the son of the River King in Greek mythology: he saw himself as the most beautiful and best of those around him. This excessive self-love was the cause of the blockage, the lack of love relationships he could have had. He was moving around, wandering in search of the love of his life, his ideal partner, but thought that no one could live up to him. One day he saw his reflection in a puddle and fell in love. He died, alone. The Greeks saw “self-love” as an obstacle to loving others, as well as suffering towards others and especially oneself.
In terms of romantic relationships, narcissists are more likely to seek high self-esteem and social status than to seek intimacy, for example.

Thomas Aquinas, a philosopher, said: “I love others insofar as I find in them the same good that I want for myself. But it is only because I love this good that I love the people who possess it. Wanting this good more intensely for myself than for others, I loved myself more intensely than I loved them.
What this man was trying to make us understand is that as soon as a person imagines that he or she possesses this good, that person loves himself or herself more than he or she loves others, insofar as the individual loves only a characteristic in the person and not the person in himself or herself.
Here Thomas Aquinas also shows us a negative side of self-love. It is true that self-love gives one a sense of well-being, allows one to feel good about oneself and to be happy, but it is not a prerequisite for a healthy relationship. We notice thanks to Thomas Aquinas and the story of and the story of Narcissus, that self-love and loving a characteristic can lead to narcissism or egoism since we want something that others have for ourselves, regardless of the person.

  • The lack of self-love…

On the other hand, the lack of self-love can also be problematic. Indeed, it can lead to a dependence on the other person in a relationship, a lack of self-confidence and thus, an inability to commit to a relationship. We notice that self-love has a kind of gradient, that is to say that when we are in excess, it will have negative repercussions on ourselves and others, but also when we are in insufficiency, we find negative repercussions on ourselves and/or others but in a different way. Thus, it would be important and preferable to succeed in regulating this self-love so that it is not destructive for oneself and others.

  • Find the balance

In our society, this myth/advice is relatively present along with other sayings such as “one must be kind to oneself in order to be kind to others”. However, this does not fully reflect reality. Indeed, self-love is to a large extent, essential to be well in one’s skin and happy, but a lack of self-love does not prevent the creation of social relationships (love, friendships etc.). It is nevertheless preferable to have a fairly consistent self-love without envying the characteristics present in others for ourselves.