THE BLOG
02/26/2013 03:16 pm ET Updated Apr 28, 2013

Is Loving Yourself Selfish or Self-Responsible?

In one of my free webinars -- one that focused on what it looks like to love yourself -- Grant asked the following question:

"Isn't it selfish and pathetic to love yourself? Isn't it better and healthier to put your full attention on helping others?"

I feel sad that anyone thinks it is selfish and pathetic to love yourself.

Then Sophia asked: "Please distinguish between 'self love' and 'selfish.' Thanks a million."
How did we get so confused between 'selfish' and 'self-love?'

I got confused early in my life because I was told I was selfish if I did what I wanted to do rather than what my grandmother wanted me to do. She lived with us when I was growing up and she had very rigid ideas regarding what was selfish and what was acceptable. She told me I was being selfish when I did my homework on the Sabbath. I was being selfish when I didn't eat what she wanted me to eat.

Of course, I absorbed the false belief that the only way I could be unselfish and caring is if I put others' demands before my own needs.

It took me years of inner work to understand that it was actually my grandmother who was being selfish. Now I know that we are being selfish when we expect others to give themselves up for us. We are being selfish when we demand that others prove their love by doing what we want them to do for us, rather than doing what is important to them.

Let's look at what loving yourself means and what it doesn't mean.

Loving yourself doesn't mean:

  • "I'm just going to take care of me and screw you."
  • "I'm not responsible for how my behavior affects you. That's your problem."
  • "If you love me, you will do what I want (whatever that is)."
  • "I'm only trying to help you and support you in what I believe is good for you -- even though you haven't asked for my help or my opinion."
  • "I'll put my full attention on you and sacrifice myself for you so you will put your full attention on me and sacrifice yourself for me."
  • "When I'm hurting it's your fault, and it's up to you to fix it."
  • "Since I need your attention and approval to feel good about myself, it's okay for me to do whatever I can to get what I need -- such as being overly nice, being angry, blaming you or withdrawing my love from you."
  • "If you love me, and I end up disabled or dying as a result of not taking care of myself physically, that's your problem, not mine."

Loving yourself means:

  • "I am responsible for learning to manage and regulate my own feelings so that I don't dump my anger, neediness and pain on you."
  • "I am responsible for defining my own worth and giving myself the attention I need, so that I am not in need of getting this from you, and so I can share my love with you, including supporting you in doing what brings you joy."
  • "I am responsible for managing my time, my space and my finances in ways that make me feel safe and don't place a burden on you."
  • "I am responsible for learning how to access a spiritual source of love so that I can share my love with you, rather than trying to get love from you."
  • "I am responsible for taking care of my physical wellbeing -- eating healthy foods, getting exercise and getting enough sleep, so that you don't eventually have to take physical care of me, unnecessarily."
  • "I am responsible for the effect my behavior has on you when I have acted out in ways that are hurtful to you."
  • "I am responsible for taking loving care of you when you are my responsibility -- because you are my child, or you are old, sick or disabled and I have agreed to take care of you. There are times when it is loving to me to put myself aside for you, like when you are an infant or toddler and you need me, or when you cannot take care of yourself."

There may be many more loving and selfish behaviors that I haven't listed, and I'd love to hear from you about your ideas.

Now I want to address this question: "Isn't it selfish and pathetic to love yourself? Isn't it better and healthier to put your full attention on helping others?"

I hope you can see that if you are not loving yourself, then putting your full attention on helping others may be manipulative. When you are not loving yourself, you create an empty hole within that pulls on others to get filled. When you are focusing your full attention on helping others, you may be pulling on them to give you the love that you are not giving to yourself. When you are loving yourself by taking responsibility for your own feelings and needs, then you are filled within with love and have love to share with others -- without needing anything back from them. We are loving to others only when we give to them freely and don't need anything back, which occurs only when we are taking loving care of ourselves and filling ourselves up with love.

Rather than it being selfish and pathetic to love yourself, it is deeply self-responsible.

Margaret Paul, Ph.D. is a relationship expert, best-selling author, and co-creator of the powerful Inner Bonding® self-healing process, recommended by actress Lindsay Wagner and singer Alanis Morissette, and featured on Oprah. To begin learning how to love and connect with yourself so that you can connect with others, take advantage of our free Inner Bonding eCourse, receive Free Help, and take our 12-Week eCourse, "The Intimate Relationship Toolbox" - the first two weeks are free! Discover SelfQuest®, a transformational self-healing/conflict resolution computer program. Phone or Skype sessions with Dr. Margaret Paul.

Connect with Margaret on Facebook: Inner Bonding, and Facebook: SelfQuest.

For more by Margaret Paul, Ph.D., click here.

For more on emotional wellness, click here.

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