No, You Don’t Have to Love Yourself

by Noise Pollution

I work in a bookstore and find that there is an exorbitant amount of media built around the concept of “loving oneself.” There are so many self-help books centered on this topic, and somehow even more fiction where learning to love oneself appears to be the moral of the story. For a while, I was on board with this concept. It seemed like something I wouldn’t be able to do anytime soon, but it looked like something resembling an answer. I’ve been stumbling around for about a decade looking for one, and after realizing that spirituality was not it, I landed on this idea of self-love as a possible solution. It was (and still is) entirely outside of my grasp, and seeing as I didn’t have the answer now, it was clear that it had to be something that was beyond me.

I don’t think self-love is the answer, though.

The longer I go on, the more I find myself recoiling at the idea of delusion as a substitute for enlightenment. I don’t believe that just because something makes me happy, I should believe in it. In fact, this idea was largely responsible for my initial falling-out with Christianity. It seemed to me to be easy to believe in an afterlife; to know that this void that hangs over all of our heads is not as frightening as it appears. It seemed easy to believe that there was no such thing as moral relativism. It was easy to think that as long as you know the rules, you can follow them. It was easy to believe that I was right, because there was an easily defined “right and wrong.”

But I don’t think that way anymore. Maybe it’s bad for me. Maybe I’m less happy; in fact, I almost certainly am. The fear of death clings to every fiber of my being, and I find my thoughts wandering to the darkness beyond every time I turn the keys in my car, or feel an inexplicable pain somewhere in my body. I struggle with questions of right and wrong, and find that almost everything, no matter how repulsive or downright evil it may appear, falls into a grey area of sorts. There is nothing that is universal, therefore it is hard to condemn people for their atrocities, as much as a part of me may scream to contrary; something inside of me believes that people deserve to be punished when they do wrong. And I suppose they do. But when “wrong” is so hazily defined, it’s hard to determine what it is people deserve. Right and wrong are fairly fluid. There are a number of thought experiments that support this idea, but seeing as they keep me awake at night, I don’t particularly want to burden anyone else with them. If you can accept that morality is about shades of grey without reflecting on impossible moral quandaries, you’re better off.

A lot of this is all meaningless; I’m not in a position where my opinion on crime and punishment and morality and whatever is really relevant to society. I’m not doling out punishments. I’m not determining anyone’s future. I’m helping people locate books and then spending a lot of time playing video games when I get home. But it all goes through my head, anyway. And some part of me deems it all as “important,” since I don’t seem to flush all memory of these thoughts away at the end of the night, when I lay down to sleep.

I’ve gone off-course of my original point, but working through that might make it more clear as to why I struggle with the idea of self-love as a solution to unhappiness. I value thinking, and I value self-awareness. I’m not as self-aware as I’d like to be; I find that I gloss over many of my faults and failures in my personal history of myself. I also have difficulty finding my strengths, though whether this is a failure of self-awareness or just a very clear indicator of personal weakness (implying that perhaps I don’t actually have any strengths to speak of) it’s hard to say. But I think that loving myself in ignorance of the many things that are not worth loving might just be wrong. I mean, it’s obviously not. I just got done explaining that I believe that right and wrong are not concrete ideas, but I think that it may not be the answer that I’m looking for.

Perhaps self-acceptance is a bit closer to the thing I think I need, but even that is likely just another step on the way to whatever my personal ideal of enlightenment is. I hope that one day I’ll figure it out. So far, I’ve made progress; even if that progress is only ruling out things that didn’t work. A million failures might one day lead to a single success, and hopefully, that’s all I need.