Thoughts on the ‘you got to love yourself first’ fallacy
Christopher Logue, from Mixed Rushes, 1974.
You got to love yourself before you love others. “You need to love your heart and who you are as a person before you can share yourself with someone else”. So says the common sense of 21st century pop psychology.
I can’t be dealing with it. It is through love for others that we find love for ourselves. Of course I understand that everywhere we go we bring ourselves with us and I know that we all bring unresolved issues and weighty baggage, some of which has to be discarded before you will be able to form a sensible relationship. But the whole insistence on that inward journey is in danger of leading to narcissism. It’s spiritualist individualism, dressed up as wisdom. One thing that needs to change in order to form healthy relationships is that very individualism itself. We must be willing to listen to others and being in love helps you learn to listen to others because for once there is someone who actually matters more to you than yourself. You then take that attitude out into the world. “You can tell when someone is in love,” my old university tutor used to say, because being in love makes us a better person. Neither loving yourself nor loving others comes first. Both make the other possible.
“You come first. Before any other bf/gf. Love yourself first. Take care of yourself first and things will fall into line.” Listen to that! On the other end of the love continuum, the opposite emotion is not hate – which is often in fact a symptom of love, or love gone wrong – but selfishness. And what is that statement other than selfishness? This idea that ‘things will fall into line’ is just a capitalist spirituality. You keep buying things for yourself – gym membership, home furnishing, holidays – and then you will be fixed and then everything difficult, like building long-lasting and meaningful, life-fulfilling relationships will magically fall into line. In fact, as Foucault said, in ancient Greek culture the real important message was not the Delphi oracle’s commandment “to know yourself” but the now much less well-known instruction “to take care of yourself.”
“I don’t feel that it is necessary to know exactly what I am. The main interest in life and work is to become someone else that you were not in the beginning.”
And I know that thing about heal yourself and then heal the world. That we can all be a tyrant in our own world. That the personal is political and that we must act in a way that is the change we want to see. Etc. However, part of fixing ourselves is to care about others, to care about the environment, to give your time selflessly, to be less self-obsessed. And as the patterns of thinking we have sadly inherited come from the mistaken and imposing mental structures of our society, we must work to challenge those structures in ourselves BUT ALSO in the world, partly so we can be fixed, mainly so that all can be fixed.
“So if you truly sick and tired of the bullshite hype,
Back a local man and make a stand!”
– Roots Manuva and Wildflower, Baptism.