When Does Self-Love Become Unhealthy?

February 9, 2022

The rising mental health cases during the pandemic is just proof that anxiety and depression are serious matters that have been lurking underneath shallow waters. I realized that some of the mental health cases that arose in this season were triggered by the pandemic but have been present long before it started. And now, more than a year in our current setup, there has been an increasing desire for more people to better understand mental health to better address it and help people recover from it.

This, I believe, is one of the factors that gave the idea of self-love a platform where more and more people become aware of it. According to an article written by Dr. Borenstein, self-love is defined as: “a state of appreciation for oneself that grows from actions that support our physical, psychological and spiritual growth. Self-love means having a high regard for your own well-being and happiness. Self-love means taking care of your own needs and not sacrificing your well-being to please others. Self-love means not settling for less than you deserve.”

To put it in simpler terms, self-love is basically loving yourself by taking care of your well-being.

Honestly, I believe that the idea of self-love would be very helpful for all people regardless of their struggles in life. I think self-love would help ease some stress in our lives and encourage us to live a peaceful and quiet life.

The Bible talks about self-love, but not in the way that most—if not all—of us would.

“You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.” (Leviticus 19:17–18)

The book of Leviticus is a record of all priestly laws for the nation of Israel told as a historical narrative. This book was written to instruct and guide the Israelites how to live a holy life for the Lord despite being surrounded by pagan people and being accustomed to the life of slavery in Egypt.

This implies that the idea of loving yourself came from God, and He gave it to paint a better picture of loving others. The Bible teaches us that if you know how to love and take care of yourself, you have a clear picture of how to love others. Contrary to what some people believe, the Bible does not command us to love ourselves but to love others the way we love ourselves. There is a big difference between the two and how you understand it would be reflected in the way you treat your “neighbors.”

Paul even used the idea of loving and taking care of yourself in the context of marriage:

In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, (Ephesians 5:28–29)

We can see from these verses that loving and taking care of oneself is assumed because supposedly, “no one ever hated his own flesh but nourishes and cherishes it.” We can see again how the Bible uses the idea of loving one’s self as an illustration on loving others, because it is innate to take care of ourselves, but it’s not innate to love others.

The Ugly Side of “Self-Love”

I couldn’t deny the fact that while the idea of self-love is helpful to ourselves and to others, too much of it would mean the opposite—rather, an unhealthy view of it would be harmful as well. We have the tendency to have excesses and extremes when it comes to upholding certain beliefs that we hold true, and the belief in self-love is one of them.

An unhealthy view of self-love might lead to a life of selfishness. One of the sins that manifests itself in subtle ways is the sin of selfishness. Sometimes it begins like a soft and gentle whisper that says, “Go ahead. You deserve this!” Rewarding your hard work is important, but it should not be done with a selfish motive. A person who subscribes to self-love too much risks developing a mindset that putting himself first is always right and valid.

An unhealthy view of self-love might lead to a life of pride and arrogance. When self-love becomes too much, it bears the fruit called “entitlement.” An entitled person thinks that everyone owes him respect or special treatment of some sort simply because he deserves it. People who have entitlement live with a certain level of blindness or ignorance of what they are doing wrong and thus are hindered to experience the blessings of rebuke and correction.

An unhealthy view of self-love might lead to a life of vanity. Vanity is excessive pride due to one’s looks or appearance and accomplishments. This is not to say that we shouldn’t have good grooming habits or that we should not make an effort with the way we look. What I am saying is that too much self-love might make you think that all you need to feel good is to look good in front of the mirror and the people. Self-love has the tendency to conceal our true worth by putting on a false image.

Self-Love in the Lens of the Gospel

Tim Keller defined the gospel message this way: “We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.”

This truth helps us guard ourselves from the excesses and extremes of subscribing too much to the idea of self-love or having an unhealthy view of it. This offers us a much better alternative to the temporary pleasures and promises of self-love. And if we embrace this, we will experience a kind of love that is much stronger and more satisfying than self-love, and that is the Savior’s love.

This doesn’t make self-love wrong or ineffective but rather, it gives a more complete picture of what true love is. When we acknowledge that the love of Jesus far outweighs the love that we can give ourselves or the love that we can get from others, we begin to see ourselves in light of God’s grace. We still have a high regard for ourselves and careful attention to our well-being, but now the difference is that our motives are no longer selfish and self-centered.

In fact, it is only when we embrace and receive the love of Jesus that we get to truly appreciate ourselves and love others at the same time. After all, it was Him who said:

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34–35)

This article was originally published in enc.ph.

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