The term “self-love” has become somewhat of a trend in society and is regularly misconstrued as narcissism.
In its purest form, “self-love” means to love the self unconditionally for its strengths and weaknesses from a place of pure compassion.
It isn’t about buying nice outfits, dyeing your hair, working out, and taking selfies in your underwear. It is about honestly addressing the shadow aspects within you—the parts that you don’t like—and accepting all of yourself for who you are.
In doing so, a person is able to break through codependency patterns and outside validation, as they are loving through an open heart center and not through ego. Thus, they are able to give and receive love freely, without judgment of themselves or others, and without the need for reciprocity. They have nothing to prove to the outside world because they are not afraid of abandonment or rejection. They do not abandon or reject themselves.
Self-love is ego-less, as it sees that we are all the same, souls trapped in bodies, and there is no difference between us. Ego is what divides us and keeps us from accessing our true heart centers that allow us to love ourselves and others implicitly.
A person operating in alignment with self-love can give love freely to others, as they are capable of giving it honestly to themselves. They have established clear boundaries, enjoy their own company, and are able to engage with others without passing judgment.
What is Narcissism?
Narcissism is a defense born out of a need to protect the ego. The term originated from Greek mythology where the young Narcissus fell in love with his image reflected in a pool of water. Narcissism is loving the self from a place of insecurity, pursuing a path of vanity and external validation. It is not accepting one’s authentic self, rather shielding it behind a mask they present to the outside world and even to themselves.
Being preoccupied with fantasies about achieving success or power, being envious of others, and carrying a sense of entitlement are characteristics of narcissistic behavior.
Often, a person operating through ego will struggle to be empathetic toward others or be seen as vulnerable in others’ company. In extreme cases, their behavior may come across as sociopathic. This is because they remain somewhat detached from others to protect themselves out of fear that in presenting their authentic self, they may be rejected. People who operate in this mindset will often have such a deep fear of intimacy that they hide behind an aloof, disinterested, or overly confident exterior.
Core wounds of unworthiness and abandonment, and a fear of being seen as weak or vulnerable, strengthen a narcissistic shield over the heart and can result in the obsessive pursuit of approval, usually masquerading under the term of “self-love.”
What Causes Narcissism?
Collectively, we all run on the understanding of cause and effect. Therefore, our emotional bodies operate the same. If we have fallen in love before and that person has hurt us in some way, our ego will build a wall to protect us from the pain we felt.
When we meet another and the same feelings of love blossom, our ego will warn us against expressing our love freely, as it may trigger the same pain from the past. By listening to our ego, we build a suit of armor over our hearts and we fall out of alignment with love.
Narcissism can often result from childhood wounds of feeling inferior to others, being ignored, or being labeled as different. Bullying plays a huge part in narcissism for both the aggressor and the victim, because it teaches the binary of “good” (socially accepted) and “bad” (rejected). An “outsider” mentality is formed from what doesn’t fit the socially acceptable mold.
A person bullies because they feel threatened by someone who doesn’t “fit in,” and a person is bullied because they are expressing something that doesn’t “fit in.” Those who bully or are bullied can adopt narcissistic traits either out of resentment toward someone expressing their authentic self (bully) or in distress about expressing their authentic self (bullied). Thus, the authentic self is discarded to appease outside validation.
What’s also interesting to note is that the newer generation seems to have adopted the attitude that it’s cool not to “give a f*ck,” but in their constant assertion of this attitude (usually aggressively promoted through social media), their behavior implies that they very much do; they are desperate for outside validation.
In movements to assert individualism, it is fascinating to see that newer generations are unconsciously trying to tear down the “outsider” construct collectively. Is it okay if I dress like this? Is it okay if I express my gender like this? It is, and it should be noted as a brave step in the right direction of unity consciousness. However, it is still coming from a place of needing external validation to feel connected. (This is based on an observation of society as a whole and not to say that there are not individuals out there who are genuinely operating through their authentic selves.)
Control is the most important thing to a person operating through narcissism, mainly because they have experienced the dark side of their emotions, so they try to control them. By choosing to suppress, avoid, and, in extreme cases, deny their emotional body, they choose to operate through the mind—excessive rationality. In doing so, the heart’s desires are closed off and the person can feel powerful because they believe they are in control.
On the other end of the spectrum is the person who lacks any kind of control over their emotional body and cannot rationalize their feelings at all. This is also a trait of narcissism, because this person is hurt by their own expectations of others. They see others as the cause of their pain (seeking external validation) and are therefore refusing to address the self.
It could be argued that it doesn’t seem like such a bad thing to be able to control our emotional bodies and deny our impulses to avoid experiencing pain, however, it is not operating in “authentic self,” which balances both heart center and mind. This person is also refusing to address the self.
Being able to feel things as they rise, express them, and release them is mastering this balance; surrendering to your emotions fearlessly, allowing them to flow through you and be expressed as well as having the intellect to carefully rationalize why you feel a certain way is what I personally would deem as self-mastery.
In trying to control your emotions, this is a judgment in and of itself that these emotions need to be controlled. To master both emotional body and rationality is to master the feminine and masculine energies within you. It is true unity.
How to Grow in Self-Love.
- Practice meditation daily. Quiet the mind and go within.
- Notice your judgment of the outside world (good/bad) and try to neutralize this binary.
- Practice compassion—smile at a stranger, allow someone to go before you when you are waiting in line, help someone who is struggling with heavy bags, and so on. Allow yourself to also receive compassion from strangers.
- Spend time alone in self-reflection and take pleasure in solitude.
- Do something every day (as much as you can) that fills your heart with joy. Do it for yourself and not the approval of others.
- Practice gratitude. Write a list of what you are thankful for, take a moment when you eat breakfast to appreciate your meal, your health, and your journey.
- Remove yourself from social situations when you notice you are speaking negatively. Acknowledge and accept that your life is the result of your choices and any perceived struggles are there to teach you a lesson and strengthen your self-love.
- Treat your body like a temple. Eat healthily, respect when it is full or needs rest, don’t push, and be mindful of the energy you allow into it.
- Express your feelings openly without fear of being judged. Try to be less defensive and do not speak into existence things that are not in line with your heart’s desires. Be honest.
- Forgive yourself and others constantly. Don’t hold grudges.
It is in the pursuit of self-love that a human can learn to reconnect with their authentic self and feel the wholeness that most spend their entire lives trying to find in the external world. The self is seeking for you to find the balance between masculine and feminine so that you may live in a state of harmony.
It is no great mystery as to why Buddhist monks smile constantly and seem undeterred by the world around them—most operate through pure love, recognizing how ego separates us.
While ego encourages society with fear-based paradigms of not having enough money, being homeless, never finding a partner, or not receiving deserved recognition, the self allows us to release suffering caused by these paradigms to return to a place of pure contentment, acceptance, and flow.