A Theology of Self-Love

Thank you for letting this be a place where I process all kinds of things, even theology, as it pertains to our relationships.  I think it's important to do so since so many of us have roots in worldviews that come with the "stamp of God" on them. And those beliefs, whether we still believe them or not, impact us, which impacts our relationships with others. In a recent interview Oprah had with Jack Kornfield, a Buddhist teacher and American author, he made this observation:

"Our western culture has produced a society of epidemic loneliness and self-hatred."

Oprah & Jack Kornfield

One of my keynote talks is titled "Loneliness:  The Surprising Epidemic of the Busy & Social Woman" where I speak to what I believe is a world full of women who are scared of loneliness and therefore missing the information that loneliness offers.  It is far more prevalent than most of us dare to admit. That Jack mentions self-hatred as a sister epidemic is equally powerful, intrinsically connected, and incredibly relevant to those of us who value healthy friendships.

Most of us would recoil from the idea of self-hatred, but that doesn't necessarily make us good at self-love.

Since it's nearly impossible to connect meaningfully with others if we don't like ourselves; and because, conversely, I've found it's harder to forgive ourselves and show compassion to ourselves if we haven't practiced giving it to others-- we must talk about self-love when we talk about loving others. The two are definitely linked.

Some World-Views Resist Self-Love

Some women actually have some resistance to the idea of self-love, confusing it with vanity, arrogance, or narcissism. Whether it's gender roles, religious systems, or a false understanding of humility, many of us have been taught to love others without regard to loving ourselves.

To illustrate, in response to a status update about how excited I was to be interviewing Christine Arylo* (a friend of mine, and author of Madly in Love With Me who has been affectionately dubbed "The Queen of Self-Love") about ways we can all step into greater self-love this month of February, someone wrote this comment on my post:

"The more one who loves Christ, the more one will be drawn to be more like Him. Should that not be our goal. Also, the more we look to Christ, the more we shall distrust self."

First, it bothers me deeply to have anyone think that it's good for us to ever distrust ourselves, or imply that we shouldn't focus on loving ourselves; but you add cloaking it all in religious garb and I had a visceral reaction.

As I began framing my response, my husband wondered out loud if I shouldn't just leave it alone, reminding me that I can't go changing how everyone thinks.  I paused for a thoughtful moment, and then concluded that I, in fact, couldn't ignore it. Not this time.

Theology, or World-View, Affects Our Relationships

The former pastor in me cringes when I hear any picture of God being propagated that doesn't end up leading to greater love. Greater love for the divine, yes; but also greater love for others, for the planet, and for ourselves-- all things that Christians believe God created. In fact the Bible says "Love your neighbors as yourself!"

Self-love is actually made up of self-honor, self-respect, self-care, self-esteem, self-compassion-- and a lot of other things that my picture of God would want us all to have in vast supplies.

My picture of God, rooted in origins of Christianity, teaches that God wants us to have "life abundantly" that is filled with the "Fruits of the Spirit" which includes things like more love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.

Any belief system that doesn't line up with making me more of those things is strongly suspect. Whatever name you might possibly use to describe the "More" that is out there, I hope your picture of that which is sacred, expands your life, rather than shrinks it.

In fact, going on a little rabbit trail for a moment, the science of behavioral kinesiology highlights this truth for us in a very practical and real way.  In learning that our muscles instantly become weak when the body is exposed to harmful stimuli, psychologists and scientists have been able to test perceptions, worldviews, and spiritual beliefs with the effects those words and concepts have in our bodies.

It will come as no surprise to anyone that the emotion that weakens the body more than anything else is shame. Just think about how little energy you have when you feel safe-hatred. Only slightly more powerful than shame, is guilt, followed by apathy, grief, fear, desire, anger, pride, and then courage.

Courage calibrates at 200 on the Map of Consciousness which is the tipping point toward strength.  It is of no coincidence that emotions such as willingness, acceptance, reason, love, joy, and peace (pretty similar to the Bible's list of fruits of the spirit!) make us stronger.

Any church, picture of God, or theology that uses shame, guilt, or fear to teach or "motivate" is actually weakening our bodies, shrinking us, and literally making it less likely that we'll ever become more loving people.

And I'm pretty sure that becoming more loving should be the point of any religious system.

My Theology Affects Me

But if I spoke out every time I heard damaging theology then that in itself would be a full-time (and very exhausting!) job.  So what provoked me this time?

Because it spoke directly to a place where I have been wounded before.

Several years ago, I was doing some intentional self-growth work, trying to increase my awareness around any self-limiting beliefs I might be acting from and the one that kept popping up for me personally was, "I am not worthy." (For others of you it could be other variations such as: I am not loveable, I am not safe, or I am not powerful.)

I resisted it, not really resonating with it, and so not wanting it to be true.  My self-confident little ego voice said, "That's crazy! I know I'm worthy!"  Where would I ever have picked up such a self-defeating and silly belief?

A week later I was visiting a friend and went to her church with her.  Imagine my horror when the worship leader on stage prayed, "Oh God, we're not worthy!  We're not worthy to be your sons and daughters...."

And it hit me.  I probably had heard versions of that throughout childhood-- this picture of humanity being evil, bad, untrustworthy, and unworthy of any of God's goodness.  How could it not have affected me?

The belief that I may not be worthy not only leads to a very denying, punitive, and condemning God, but it leads to a negative self-image, as well.  Not owning my worth can be directly linked to me not charging the prices I am worth, not asking for what I need in my relationships, or not believing I am worth being taking good care of by others and my self.

But I know now that I am very worthy.  BECAUSE I am a child of God, I am worthy.  All by myself, without me doing or saying or believing anything, I am valuable, worthy, and loved. The spark of God that lives in me ensures that I am worthy.

To be clear, I believe Christianity is an incredibly expanding worldview, just not the way it's always presented...

Some Christians are so afraid that to own our worthiness we might become entitled, unappreciative, or putting ourselves as gods.  In my experience, that can't be further from the truth.  Knowing our worth helps us see the worth in others; and I for one, become more appreciative of my God who created an abundance of love and goodness for me to keep living into and aligning myself with.

Shame has No Value in Loving Relationships

I hope your story is different from mine. I hope you have felt worthy your entire life.  And I hope that you have no resistance to loving yourself well.

But if you sense hesitation, shame, or fear, I hope that you'll take the time to examine your own negative self-talk and worldviews that might be limiting your ability to shine.

Because I believe so deeply that healthy and loving people create healthy and loving friendships, it's important to me that we--this community of women who value meaningful friendships--do the work of loving ourselves.

Let's practice being a best friend to ourselves so we can be it for others.  -------------------------------

* When I first met Christine Arylo, she intimidated me with her clear sense of calling and confidence. My temptation was to pull away from her so I wouldn't feel insecure or jealous.

Self Love Party Invitation

Instead, we've become friends. And I've become far more comfortable shining my own light in this world because of her modeling. We are now both in a group of women committed to supporting each other.  It is my honor to invite you to her upcoming free live-streamed event on Feb., 13, the International Day of Self-Love.  You won't regret taking the time to make a self-love promise to yourself this year.  And your self-love will give permission to others to shine brightly that we might all treat ourselves well so we can contribute to this world in the ways we're each called to do so.