The legend of Narcissus tells of a young boy who, upon seeing his reflection in a clear fountain with water like silver, fell hopelessly in love with himself. Unable to tear his gaze away from his reflection, he could not eat, could not sleep, until finally, he pined away and died.

Unfortunately, the myth of Narcissus is too often our concept of self-love. We believe that if we love ourselves, we are selfish and self-centered, that falling in love with self means conceit and self-absorption. In fact, the opposite is true. Self-love is an honoring of the self that requires a high degree of independence and courage. The love we give others will be enhanced by the love we give ourselves.

The Problem with not Loving Yourself

A lack of self-love is a sign of low self-esteem or self-worth and shows its face in many ways: a refusal to enjoy life, workaholism, perfectionism, procrastination, emotional eating, guilt, and shame. Those who lack self-love avoid commitments, stay in destructive relationships, and fail to experience true intimacy with anyone. They practice negative self-talk, compare themselves with others, compete with others, caretake others and fail to take care of themselves. Unlike Narcissus, when they look in a mirror, they turn away.

The primary difference in those who practice self-love and those who don’t is their belief about themselves. “Of all the judgments that we pass in life, none is as important as the one we pass on ourselves, for that judgment touches the very center of our existence,” said Nathaniel Branden in his book on self-esteem, “Honoring the Self.”

The Gift of Self-Love

Unable to love ourselves, we are our own harshest critics, fault finders, nay-sayers and naggers. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can do to me what I have not already done to myself.” And just the opposite is true, too. We can be our own heroes, nurturers, lovers and champions.

Acting from authentic self-love, people are gentle, attentive and kind to themselves. They develop their gifts and talents and live according to the values and standards they have set for themselves. Theirs is a beauty that shines from within; they laugh readily and are at ease in the world. Theirs is not a conceit, but a sureness of self. “To honor the self,” Branden said, “is to be in love with our own life, in love with our possibilities for growth and for experiencing joy, in love with the process of discovery and exploring our distinctively human potentialities.”

So to answer the question, “What does self-love have to do with it?”


Author’s content used under license, (c) 2008 Claire Communications