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The Difference Between Self-Love & Love Of Self

How I discovered the difference between loving yourself, and making life all about you

Picture Source: Emma Simpson via Unsplash.com

I’m learning a lot about myself right now.

The most challenging and uncomfortable lesson I’ve learned, is about just how self-centred, self-involved, and selfish I’ve been.

A good friend first pointed this out when we met up, and we were talking about her, and how I could help her. I wanted to give her advice from my own experience…but ended up talking too much about me. And she called me on it, like any good friend does.

It took me aback. I started to stand back and examine how much I’d done this.

Then, one night, when I had another of my many recent dark nights of the soul, I was talking to my mindset coach. And they mentioned to me one reason my work maybe hadn’t connected with people that much, was that I was focussing too much on me.

I was confused. Surely promoting my work, meant promoting me in some way?

But they said that I’d missed the point. The point was promoting how I can serve them, promoting a message which can help people. The point was making it about others, not me.

Then my eyes were opened. The scales fell.

Suddenly I realised what had happened.

My whole life, I’d made about me.

My childhood trauma, and losing my mother, had shifted me into an unhealthy, almost selfish form of self-love – which made the world about me.

It was self-love that meant I put myself first, made the attention about me – because I didn’t trust anyone else loved me, because I wanted others to love me, and those that did love me I didn’t trust because some had betrayed or abandoned me. 

And maybe I thought they would again.

The thing was, I did and still do genuinely care about others, and want to help, encourage and support them – especially those I love.

But I’d even trained myself to make that about me. I’d let my ego run the show, in a very subtle, passive-aggressive way.

It was my ego and subconscious’ way of getting people to love me and make me the centre of their world. And of course when I didn’t get back the love I gave out in the way I expected, I felt let down, and hurt – and assumed it was about them, not me – that somehow they ‘owed’ me.

Whenever someone didn’t contact me for a while, I’d assume it was something I’d done. When I had a failure, I ascribed that failure as a personal one, even if it had nothing to do with me as a person.

I just didn’t want to get betrayed or abandoned by those I loved anymore. I didn’t trust anyone to love me and not hurt or abandon or betray me. So my subconscious tried to control how they loved me, and drew attention to myself, as a form of ‘self-love’ in case no one else ever bothered to love me.

And I did this with my writing too. 

It was all about promoting me, making me popular and important – because I didn’t trust anyone to really believe I was important, and maybe even because I didn’t love myself.

My wound had become a curse. 

It had made me self-centred and inward looking – and all the time, I had no idea. I genuinely couldn’t see it. In my heart, I wanted to help people, and do good in the world. But undermining it was this insecurity and fear, making me selfish.

Once I realised this, I felt ashamed and disgusted at myself. I hated this part of me, and that I’d done this, and come across this way. 

I realised I’d forgotten how to genuinely love people more than me.

And I’ll be honest it absolutely terrified me. 

How did I end up like this? How did I not see this? How can I ever stop being like this and become the type of person I thought I already was, and always wanted to be – someone who loves others, someone generous, kind, who puts others first and is willing to give without thought of reward? 

I knew that self-centred part of me, isn’t who I want to be.

And in time I began to see that selfish me, is not who I am deep down in my soul.

The self-centred me, is my hurting, wounded, inner child, crying for the love and attention he didn’t get 20 years ago. And he’s been passively aggressively controlling my behaviour, my relationships, and deceiving me into thinking I was doing things for others, when often (though not always), it was still about me.

The great thing is now I’m aware of it, I’ve begin working this through.

I’ve been intentional about asking people about themselves in social situations, in conversations online, on social media, and talking about them – and not talking about myself unless they ask me specifically. 

The work I’ve created or been planning I’ve intentionally been focussed on a desire to serve, encourage and build up others, and draw attention to them. Even if, as in this piece, I’m using my own story to do it (though I admit, it’s tough writing a piece about yourself in a way which can help others, which doesn’t draw too much attention to you. Bear with me, I’m learning.)

I used this new approach at a party recently, and I admit, it felt really really good. It’s the most involved with conversations I’ve been and the most fun I’ve had chatting to people at a party in a long time, maybe ever. 

It was almost a relief to not talk about myself, and I enjoyed look outwards instead. It was like taking a vacation from me and my life, and a celebration of others.

And above all, it felt liberating to be free of that old self, that self who turned everything on me, who made everything self-centred.

So how does this apply in a broader context?

Well, the thing is, in our culture, we’re actually encouraged to be self-involved, do what feels good for us, satisfy ourselves first. 

We all like talking about ourselves.

And if we’re not careful, it can easily become navel gazing. It can easily become about making us the centre of attention, even if we had no intent to. Especially if we’re feeling insecure, anxious or lacking confidence – it’s almost a defence mechanism for many of us.

So we need to choose to find our joy from looking outwards. Hearing others stories, being involved in their lives. Being curious about who others are, and finding ways to serve them

People are fascinating, and the thing is, with most people there’s usually at least one or two things you have in common.

If all of us choose to look outwards, then none of us will ever be alone. 

If we all pay more attention to others stories, then by default, there will always be someone to hear our story – and when we’re in real need, more people to genuinely support us.

So I’m now trying, very intentionally, to be a more outward looking person, stop twisting everything to be about me, stop making my work about me, stop loving myself in an unhealthy way.

What I’m now learning, quite painfully, if I’m honest – is that loving ourselves isn’t about putting ourselves first. It’s about ascribing ourselves our true value – and doing the same to others.

Loving ourselves is about taking care of ourselves – mind, body and soul. It’s about having routines and rhythms which show we value ourselves, and we believe we have value to give to others. It’s about seeing ourselves as part of a larger story with a role to play and giving ourselves our best chance to do that.

Because ironically, when we try to make ourselves the centre of the universe, we’re actually showing we don’t value ourselves. And all that attracts, at best, is pity, which isn’t love, it isn’t connection, it’s not genuine relationship.

When we ascribe ourselves our true value, we see that we don’t have more or less value than anyone else. We see that we are equally as valuable, precious, unique and important as anyone else’s. We realise we should practice healthy self-care, but also practice serving and loving others equally, if not more so.

Loving ourselves in a healthy way, is about how we can love others well. It doesn’t make us the centre of the universe, but part of a bigger story, where others have an equal role to play.

And when we love ourselves in a healthy way, we learn how to love others more effectively, more considerately and sensitively.

Examples of self-care, of outward looking self-love, would be eating healthy, exercising, practicing meditation. Or maybe spending time reading and learning, giving ourselves space to decompress, spending time relaxing and having fun, and ensuring we get enough sleep. 

These are basic practices which help us be healthier people. And that doesn’t just help us, it benefits everyone else too.

When we do the opposite of this – poor diet, being lazy, escaping into junk TV, addictions, compulsive behaviour, not sleeping, being anxious and stressed all the time (all of which I’ve been very guilty of) – we’re not ascribing ourselves any value.

And because these habits have a negative impact on our health, we get down, and can begin to play the victim, and make life all about us. Which leads to the flawed, selfish, egotistical, self-involved, self-centred version of self love which is so so damaging.

Loving ourselves is not about putting ourselves above others. It’s not about making life about us. It’s not about the world revolving around us. 

That’s not self-love, that’s love of self.

That’s ego, pride. And it’s ultimately self centred.

So I’m trying to take more care of myself. Not to be selfish, but because I value myself more. 

As I begin to value myself more, I begin to value others more. 

And because I’m practicing healthy self-love, it means I’m able to take more genuine interest in others, and put writing and creative material out into the world out of a desire to genuinely serve people, not promote me.

Call To Action

So to close, begin to think about how many of your practices are love of self, rather than self love. 

Choose one thing you can do today to become an outward looking person. Maybe it’s being more curious about people you meet, making a genuine effort to build relationship. Maybe something else.

Then choose one action you can take to love yourself better. Maybe it’s meditating every day. Maybe it’s choosing to have less sugar in your coffee. 

Just begin with one action. And then each day or each week, choose one more action you can take. 

In time, healthy self-care, and being outward looking, will become a habit. 

And not only will you see the difference, the whole world will.

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