Greek mythology and Buddhism got it right from the beginning, so why are we infatuated with loving others and not ourselves?
From when we are only a few years old we learn the word love. We are taught to associate it with people and things.
As we enter our pre-teen years we start to grapple with an innate need to love and be loved. Everyone at some point in their youth has plucked the petals off a flower one by one, reciting, “He loves me, he loves me not…”
As we enter adulthood, our need to find love becomes stronger and more desperate. In fact, at every stage of life love is at its core.
But what if there’s a fundamental form of love that we are neglecting?
Erickson, a pioneer in developmental psychology saw finding a partner and having children as a necessity which, when not achieved caused “stagnation”—a controversial theory in society today.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs suggested that social needs including friendship, love, belonging and intimacy held their place only after one’s physiological and safety needs were met.
However, he also found that it was rare for the final need (self-actualisation) to be achieved.
Because our society rewards motivation based on love and acceptance. And love in every form—from familial to intimate—is dynamic in nature, ever changing and adapting to circumstance. Therefore, with a mindset in line with Maslow’s hierarchy, self-actualisation is always going to be unattainable or at best fleeting, as we move up and down the hierarchy throughout our lives.
Interestingly, Maslow noted love as that for and from others—friendship, intimacy and family, and this indeed has been society’s focus throughout history.
However, what was not held in esteem, nor even given reference to, was love of self. The ancient Greeks saw love as such a powerful entity that they appointed six different words to describe its different forms. Most of them are quite well known.
1. Eros—A sexual, passionate, intimate love.
2. Philia—Love in friendship, camaraderie.
3. Agape—A love for everyone, wholesome love, also known as Christian love.
4. Ludis—Playful, innocent love, such as the love from children.
5. Pragma—Long standing love, a patient and tolerant love, such as that between a married couple of many years.
But what about the final love described by the Greeks?
6. Philautia—Love of self.
Never heard of it before? Maybe there’s a reason for that.
Despite the advances society has made in this regard (think the Dove campaign for women), self-love is still not given its rightfully deserved place in life.
Philautia however, does not refer to a narcissistic love of self. It is a love which is derived from security within oneself which in turn allows love for others.
Buddhist teachings similarly refer to “self-compassion” as a form of consciousness which when achieved fulfills a spiritual need, and Aristotle even said that, “All friendly feelings for others are an extension of a man’s feelings for himself.”
Love is everywhere. We read about it, watch it on television, listen to songs about it and talk about it. So it’s impossible not to yearn for love and see it as a necessity, which I, by no means, suggest is a bad thing. Additionally, our biological makeup deems that love in relationships is vital for our happiness and indeed is an emotionally and physically rewarding part of life.
But in focusing our energy on external love, have we come to neglect Philautia?
In order to get closer to achieving self-actualisation, self-compassion, self-awareness, consciousness or however else it may be described, greater importance must be first placed on loving oneself enough to have self-trust, self-respect and self-worth (which lead to the fourth need on Maslow’s hierarchy—esteem, including self-esteem and confidence).
Likewise, Buddhist teachings emphasize the importance of loving yourself in order to love others.
“Love is the capacity to take, to protect, to nourish. If you are not capable of generating that kind of energy toward yourself- if you are not capable of taking care of yourself, of nourishing yourself, of protecting yourself—it is very difficult to take care of another person. In the Buddhist teaching, it’s very clear that to love oneself is the foundation of the love of other people.”
Therefore, maybe we should all conscientiously strive to find love within ourselves and put this first in our lives, before we search for a love with another human being. One cannot truly know love until they have felt it within themselves.
And remember, we’re not talking about self-love which made Narcissus fall in love with his own reflection. We’re talking about the kind of love which means you respect and honour who you are, and act accordingly.
If the concept of loving yourself still feels narcissistic, next time you’re hungry or thirsty, try not eating or drinking; if we didn’t care about ourselves, love ourselves, we wouldn’t fulfill our immediate needs would we?
Here are 6 ways you can love yourself:
1. Take time out from life.
As we go through the motions of life, whether it’s building a career or a family or both, responsibilities arise which require sacrifice and dedication. Instinctively as we assume roles of responsibility we are prone to martyrdom, forgoing things such as time to ourselves and even meals so that we can tend to the needs of our jobs or our families. But we need to be balanced—don’t give up that quiet time with your novel and glass of wine or your beer and couch time. Love your children, your partner or your work enough to see that you need to love yourself and take time out to regenerate, if not for you, then for them.
2. Put yourself first (within reason).
If you’re feeling burned out or lacking energy, it is okay to say no. No to taking on that extra assignment at work. No to cooking dinner. No to having your kids’ friends over after school today. No to sex tonight (or maybe, yes).
3. If you’re single; embrace it.
And I don’t mean the fake embrace it where you post statuses online about loving not having to shave your legs, only cooking for one, getting to party every weekend and not arguing over domestics. Take this time to really get to know yourself—yes, even date yourself. One of the most dreaded interview/dating questions is, “Tell me about yourself?” It often leaves people looking like a deer in the headlights. So while you’re job free or relationship free, work on this. Work out what makes you tick, what things you enjoy, how you feel about life in general and not just for the sake of a good answer when the time comes, but because you want to know yourself, to love who you are.
4. Tap into your spirituality.
This doesn’t necessarily refer to religion, although it can. Discover the power of yoga and meditation and embrace the silent, stillness that comes with it. Study the words of Eckhart Tolle on awareness and the practice of mindful self-compassion. Open up your mind to the teachings of spiritual greats, such as, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and the Dalai Lama.
5. Allow yourself to be loved by others.
Love in many ways is an infinite loop. We’ve just noted that to love another one must love themselves, yet love of self can thrive on the love received from others; just make sure not to fall into the trap of depending on external love to maintain inner love.
In conclusion, I leave you with the poignant words of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar”
“Find the love you seek, by first finding the love within yourself. Learn to rest in that place within you that is your true home.”
Aristotle (350 B.C.E) Nicomachean Ethics
Erikson, E. H., Paul, I. H., Heider, F., & Gardner, R. W. (1959). Psychological issues, Vol 1, International Universities Press.
Maslow, A. H. (1943). A theory of human motivation, Psychological Review, Vol 50(4), 370-396.
Shambhala Sun (2006). This is the Buddha’s Love. Interview with Thich Nhat Hanh
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Travis May
Photo: Deviant Art