What is self-love? And when will it make me narcissistic?
By Dr. Ben Michaelis
Do you consider yourself someone who practices self-love? Is caring for yourself a priority? Let's dig in with this short quiz.
1. When you read the words “Self-Love,” how do you feel?
(1) Fine. Good.
(2) Uncomfortable, like someone just told an inappropriate joke in front of your parents.
2. Imagine a friend of yours told you that she has been working hard to learn to love herself. What would you think?
(1) Good for her. She is growing and getting healthy.
(2) That sounds pretty good, but I hope that she doesn’t become all self-involved.
(3) My friend has been listening to shrink-talk nonsense.
3. Picture someone who loves himself or herself. What do you imagine that person will be like?
(1) Quietly confident.
(2) Bold and maybe a little brash but fundamentally self-assured.
(3) Arrogant and disrespectful.
Score 3–4: You probably already love yourself and feel comfortable in your own skin.
Score 5–6: You are on the path toward loving yourself but you occasionally doubt whether loving yourself is healthy or “right.”
Score 7–9: Self-love is either a foreign concept that you have never considered, or you have thought about it and the thought makes you feel sick.
If you are in the second or third group you are in the majority, which means that I have some explaining to do. Whenever I bring up the idea of self-love to my patients for the first time they tend to feel one of three things: skeptical, uncomfortable, or angry. I wondered about this for a long time: Why is it that self-love tends to engender such negative reactions? It’s not like I’m trying to bring back polio. I’m promoting self-love! What could be more natural than that?
Self-Love Versus Narcissism
There are two reasons that I get so much push-back when promoting the idea of self-love. The first is that people often confuse the idea of self-love with narcissism, yet the two could not be more different. Self-love is loving who and what you are. Full stop. Nothing more. Nothing less. Self-love can be a strange concept if it is not something you have done or experienced before.
It does not mean declaring how great you are from the mountaintop; nor does it in any way suggest that you have the right to trample on others because you are somehow more important than them. People who truly love themselves are not narcissists. They are neither greedy nor cruel. They are giving, gentle, and kind.
People who love themselves are calm, consistent, and confident. They do not need to tear others down to raise themselves up. On the contrary, they use the light inside of them to inspire and promote others.
This year, whether you are with the love of your life or you haven’t yet met him or her, make sure you give a gift to the person who you really need to love, the person who is reading these words right now: Yourself.
Dr. Ben Michaelis is a clinical psychologist with an expertise in blending play, and creativity with mental health. Dr. Michaelis graduated summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Columbia University (Columbia College) and earned his PhD from New York Universit. He is an author, in private practice and currently a Visiting Scholar at Columbia University. His writing has been featured on The Huffington Post and Psychology Today.com, as well as many other popular websites and magazines. His book, YOUR NEXT BIG THING:10 Small Steps to Get Moving and Get Happy, was released in December 2012.