On Self Love: Its Possibilities and Its Redemption

Betsy Calabaza
11 min readSep 27, 2017

I saw another post on reddit regarding loving yourself and some of the posters reached the conclusion of narcissism and “ethical egoism.” I don’t pretend to know what any of this is but I’ll wing it with reason and see if I can conclude with the possibility of self love as an enriching endeavor rather than either self aggrandizing egoism or self fetishizing narcissism. I’ll try to use Christianity as a backdrop because I like the abstract imagery of God-like and Christ-like figures to use as examples.

Onward to the definitions

* Love: 1 a (1) :strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties (2) :attraction based on sexual desire (3) :affection based on admiration, benevolence, or common interests
b :an assurance of affection give her my love
2 :warm attachment, enthusiasm, or devotion

* Ethical Egoism: the normative ethical position that moral agents ought to do what is in their own self-interest

* Narcissism: extreme selfishness, with a grandiose view of one’s own talents and a craving for admiration, as characterizing a personality type.

* Redemption: serving to offset or compensate for a defect

* Growth: to spring up and develop to maturity

* Enriching: to make rich or richer especially by the addition or increase of some desirable quality, attribute, or ingredient

* Obsession: a persistent disturbing preoccupation with an often unreasonable idea or feeling

To the quotes:

“Without love, I am half human

Without love, I’m all machine

Without love, there’s nothing doing

I will die without love

Without love, I am an island all by myself in a heartbreak sea”

- Nick Lowe

“If you love something, let it go. If it returns, it’s yours; if it doesn’t, it wasn’t. If you love someone, set them free. If they come back they’re yours; if they don’t they never were.” — Common Saying

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” — John 3:16

“We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” — 1 Corinthians 8:1

“In very fact it is love; love is the origin of everything, and spiritually understood love is the deepest ground of the life of the spirit. Spiritually understood, the foundation is laid in every person in whom there is love. And the edifice which, spiritually understood, is to be constructed, is again love; and it is love which edifies. Love builds up, and it is this which love builds up.” — Kierkegaard

*So love is a metaphysical concept.*

A reaction to circumstances. It’s something that is felt or observed like heat. We have the receptors to love evidenced by our ability to feel love and feel loved. We can observe others in love without ourselves being in love. The same for heat.

That love can be reduced to chemical reaction is to say that heat can be reduced to chemical reaction. That’s not to say it’s not real when you feel it. Heat is a subjective observation. We can observe heat and describe the circumstances in which they occur, but it’s different from experiencing heat and wielding heat. Reductionist argues that love and heat are just this and that reacting in your body. But this is logically absurd. In order to reach their conclusion, the reductionist trivializes first hand experience as an illusion, favoring reduction. But it’s a slippery slope because they are using the same framework to motivate their reduction. Inadvertently making an argument as to why reductionism is not enough to favor the “only chemicals” argument. It’s like arguing that an elevator is just levers, pulleys and gears. Right, but it’s also me not having to walk up the stairs. So it’s not “just levers, pulleys, and gears.” It’s “levers, pulleys, gears and me not having to walk upstairs.” To say it’s more one than the other it’s to jump into the world of theory. In theory it’s this. Ironically, theory at times seems to be the solace of *some* people that are anti-metaphysics. That is to say, because we cannot accept metaphysics in the real world, let’s create a theoretical world where things are real but we say they are not real but they really are. This as a way to bypass the fact that the elevator is getting me up the floor levels. It’s not theoretical. It’s actually a fact that has gone down in history. Documented. Observable. Being able to be recreated. All this to say that love cannot be reduced to just chemicals. In the same way that you can’t reach the top of Mt Everest by climbing a pebble because Mt Everest reduced is just a bunch of pebbles in theory. But back to heat.

Once we have experience with heat. Know the circumstances in which it arises. Know what uses it has and doesn’t have, then we use it to our advantage or disadvantage. If we are cold, we look for heat. If we are hot, we seek to get rid of it. Knowing how it works and its sources, we can look for heat or get rid of it with more consistency and accuracy. The same principle can be applied to love. But whereas heat has certain abilities, love has others.

Love is a complicated term because it describes both a state of being and our reaction to that state of being. So say that we love something is also to say that it causes love in us. But the action of being love and the reaction to love are separated by subjectivity. The significance of this separation being that how we feel love and how we react to love is not consistent. Heat is consistent/predictable with regards to how it reacts with other things. But our reaction to love is a learned behavior that we can change or modify. Usually with maturity. But love is also an instinct. As such, we don’t need to learn to love to love but loving can be learned as there are various ways of experiencing love and expressing love. If we have the necessary receptors, you don’t have to do anything to taste wine but put it up to your lips. But you can learn to distinguish between the subtleties of different wines. As such, you can learn to distinguish your instinctual responses and the subtleties they bring about you.

Once we feel love, we might actually respond with obsession. The feeling of affection and warmth might be met with a desire to restrict the context in which this occurs. Said less abstractly, if we find an object of our love, we want to keep that object as is so that our love can remain as is. The trouble being that a lot of times our object is a subject. Not just an object that exists but something that’s subject to change (either it deteriorates with time, or if it’s a person, the person may change their wants and desires so that the love that you receives ceases and the love that you feel fades). This is temporal love fought and obsessed over to make eternal. But that’s not how the eternal works.

*The question becomes does self love necessarily lead to narcissism?*

I would say no, because narcissism is a type of reaction to self love but you can express love in other ways directed at yourself. And actually if you think about it, narcissism is just a reaction of love. It’s an obsession with yourself, regardless of yourself. Ironically it’s a selfless love; the selfless love of yourself. So it may not even be a type of self love. It’s loving whatever you do. But it stunts growth. There is little growth in narcissism because whatever growth there is is smothered with love from yourself rather than critical analysis. Growth means to change. Survive different climates and learn from experience. If all this is shrouded in narcissism rather than critical analysis, there is not as much learning or maturity. There is some growth and maturity but not as much as there could have been with actual love of the self.

Actual love meaning that an affection for yourself that comes from learning who you are and getting to know yourself. *Learning what loves you and how to love are important factors. And if you love yourself before learning who you are, it’s a superficial love*.Learning about your own struggles and weaknesses, your motivation and your desires and how you fare these truths against your ideologies (morality, etc) is the right step towards self love. In the most intimate ways, only you can know yourself. And only you can learn to love these deep receded parts of you. But the narcissist cannot judge the self fairly and thus they grow and mature with a bias. Whatever may come, the narcissist is going to fare the self well; thus eliminating the need to know the self. And grow the self to its potential.

Moving on to ethical egoism, from wikipedia, it’s the position that moral agents ought to do what is in their own self-interest.. Ethical egoism contrasts with ethical altruism, which holds that moral agents have an obligation to help others.

*Does Self Love necessarily lead to Ethical Egoism?*

I would argue no because, again, loving oneself can mean protecting your self-interest but it doesn’t follow necessarily that that’s how love is expressed. There a various ways of expressing love. And protecting one’s own self-interest, I think, just falls into obsession again. Not full blown obsession, but obsessing over one’s condition in the world at the point of changing the conditions around, disregarding morality and virtues, so that your interests are protected is not reasonable if part of what you love about yourself is your morality and virtues that do not necessarily regard self-interest as primal.

One can argue that protecting your self-interest is virtuous and of value, but that’s beside the point. It’s possible that self love lead to ethical egoism, but I’m arguing that it’s not necessary.

*Jesus Loves You*

Now I interpret the Bible as purely allegorical and say “Jesus Loves You” as the title of this part a bit tongue-in-cheek. This is not to endorse any religion but to interpret love through an already established allegory.

To me God is the metaphysical ultimate Good. and evil is the absence of God. Heat is one thing. Cold is the absence of that one thing. When we try to realize heat (bring heat to physical reality by creating the conditions necessary for it to exist), sometimes it’s very very very hot and other times it’s lukewarm.

Depending on heat’s intensity, it can actually do harm to you. But balancing it with your needs can help you survive.

With morality, we find ourselves in limbo. We don’t know what’s good or bad at times. At times, we say screw it, our natural biological instincts is all the morality we need. Sometimes we say that we need pragmatic rules to maintain social balance and that’s the source of our morality. Some people want to say there’s an eternal morality manifested in our nature but that goes beyond our nature; reached through enlightenment or faith. Either way, morality is hard to grasp because it’s not physical.

The way that I interpret God sending His son to Earth to me means that the ultimate Good, metaphysical perfection, Objective Morality, took human form. It would be like saying if the ultimate form of humor took the form of a puppy. There would be a puppy so humorous, that it represented the ultimate form of humor possible. But if that ultimate form of humor took the form of a kitty, it would look radically different from its puppy counterpart but still represent the same thing.

I don’t really buy that Jesus was the Ultimate Good in human form because one would have to objectively identify all his actions as the most perfect Good.

But if we look at Jesus as the actual son of God, we can see that the Ultimate Good, Ultimate Consciousness, Ultimate Wisdom and Knowledge struggles to be human.

God loved us so much that he sent His son as a representative of what God’s love is. In sending him, however, he made him mortal. Subject to human follies.

God failed and we failed. God tried to get us as humans to ascend to his capacity so that we could feel the love of God inside us, recognize God’s love, embrace it and spread the love of God to others. Because that’s the Ultimate Good, Ultimate Peace, etc. But we killed him.

Did God fail or ironically succeed in failing (redemption)? God showed us another reaction to love. Self-sacrifice. Now we can sacrifice ourselves in vain (and Christianity’s biggest critics would argue that exploiting others to sacrifice in the name of God is one of its biggest sins), but we can also understand a type of sacrifice that results in growth (the greater good). God’s visit on Earth resulted in an Ego Death. Whose, I don’t know. But whatever remained of our humanity after killing God was left with the capacity to redeem ourselves. Try again to reach a higher plane of existence where morality is not outlined by logic or self-pleasure. But reached through love.

A father that’s a recovering heroin addict can choose to play catch with his kid rather than go back to heroin even if it doesn’t feel as good because of the greater good. But the greater good is greater because it’s further away from us. It’s more ideological and needs more faith to be understood. Or more dependence on logic if you’re afraid of the word faith. Regardless, logic and faith aren’t as concrete or tempting as heroin.

Now in a world without morality, the father playing catch vs shooting heroin doesn’t mean a damn thing. Narcissism wouldn’t logically conclude with the father playing catch. And Ethical Egoism could turn every which way navigating logic to avoid colluding with a contradiction but the father didn’t decide to play catch with his kid to avoid a damn corollary. But if the father loved his kid, he would sacrifice his own wants for the greater good that he can give to the kid. And in turn, the father can learn to love himself for the choices he’s made.

From God sacrificing his son to show us His love for us and at the same time show us an expression of love, and to the father playing catch with his son (loving his son and expressing the love through catch), we can see self love as loving oneself enough to let oneself go, so when it comes back we can love the self that returns even more for accomplishing things it couldn’t accomplish if it hadn’t gone in the first place.

In less abstract terminology, sacrificing oneself may be as insignificant as putting asides ones wants and desires. Donating money, giving to charity, advising others, teaching others while simultaneously making yourself weaker (e.g a karate master that teaches another to defeat them). Or putting ones safety at risk. Or putting others in front of yourself when expressing love. Learning from one’s past instincts and fighting them internally rather than releasing them into the wild. So that after all is said and done, whatever is left is something you can love more than before the sacrifice. And not only can you love more, but there’s more to love. Ironically, as you sacrifice yourself you learn what your actual self is by what returns. You grow through the experience and shed accumulated habits that aren’t really you but are associated with you. In the process, you discover new things about you. And can offer more to others. Maturing in a way that lets you experience love in different dimensions and circumstances and gives you more ability to wield it with discipline. Like heat.

Although the biggest dangers of self-sacrifice is burning yourself. Like heat.

The reductionist returns

And says, but everything is rooted in self interest.

Jay Z: Ok…

That’s why denying yourself doesn’t kill the self. But it exposes the self. Everything may be rooted in self interest but not all self interest reaches the same conclusion. The Earth always goes around the sun but it doesn’t mean every 23rd of September it looks the same.



Betsy Calabaza

blooms — crazy rants masked as abstract experimental philosophy. s/o CS Peirce