Many of us put on a good face, but in truth we’re broken and bleeding all over the place. Behind our smiles we battle sadness, insecurity, fear, guilt, mom-shame, negative thoughts, and overcommitment. We feel unloved, unfit, undervalued, and unknown.
How do we cope with all this negativity? Self-love could be the cure.
Or so we’re told.
Loving yourself is a popular ideology floating around these days. It refers to the idea of finding peace within through the art of self-acceptance. It includes the practice of developing a mindful, non-judgmental, nurturing attitude toward yourself and whatever you happen to be experiencing inside (John Amodeo Ph.D., Psychology Today).
But is it really working? And where did this idea of self-love come from anyway?
The Illusion of Self-Love
Birthed out of the self-esteem movement in the 1970’s, the ideology of loving yourself hinges on the belief that our pain is a self-conception problem. In other words, the dysfunction, sadness, shame and insecurity we experience is due to an “absence of self-worth [and self-love]. Until we can learn to love ourselves [the theory goes] we will continue to damage both ourselves and others” (Charles Krauthammer, the Washington Post).
When self-conception is the problem, then self-esteem becomes the solution.
Boosting self-esteem and self-confidence quickly took center stage. Over the next few decades things like self-care, self-awareness, self-reliance, self-help, self-improvement, self-love, self-empowerment, and self-promotion exploded in popularity (Jesse Singal, The Cut).
Personal happiness and individual freedom were exalted as life’s highest virtues. Healing, peace, rest, strength, courage, and wisdom could all now come from within you. The self is touted as the one-stop shop for all you need.
But did this mindset really help us?
For all our self-love, our country is now ranked the third most depressed nation in the world (U.S.News). Suicide has now become the second-leading cause of death for those under the age of 34, and the fourth-leading cause for ages 35-54 in America (USAToday).
After almost 50 years of investing in ourselves and our self-esteem, the truth is we’re still a hot mess.
The Truth About Self-Love
What may have started out in culture has now crept into the church. It’s easy for us as believers to be confused and conform to the ideology we hear on a daily basis.
Even in the church, we prop each other up with mantras like “You do you”, “Be your true self”, “Believe in yourself”, “Anything is possible”, “You’re good the way you are” and “Just love yourself more”.
But deceit is the greatest tool in the enemy’s toolbox. Slowly over time, the enemy is peddling lies in the form of half-truths (John 8:44, 2 Tim 4:3-4).
The truth is that we are valued, we are loved, we do have dignity, how we feel does matter – because Jesus says so.
God says you are His precious, treasured possession (Deut 26:18, 1 Pet 2:9).
God says you are fully loved; He will never reject or abandon you (Is 43:4, John 6:37).
God keeps track of your tears and numbers the hairs on your head (Ps 56:8, Luke 12:7).
God is for you (Rom 8:31). He fights for you (Ex 14:14).
Nothing can separate you from the love of God (Rom 8:31-39).
That is the truth. God created each of us unique and equipped us with special gifts so that we could fulfill our specific purpose and role within the church and the world. None of us are walking on this earth by accident. We are loved and valued, not because we say we are, but because God does.
The danger, however, is when we make a good thing the ultimate thing.
When I begin to separate what God says about me from the person of God, it becomes a slippery slope. Suddenly my focus is no longer on God, but on me. I start believing I can find within myself everything I need for life and godliness.
If all I need to do to feel better and be better is look inside myself, discover who I am and accept myself more – then Jesus didn’t need to come and die.
When I believe that I can find within myself everything I need – it’s called pride. Pride says I am the author of my destiny, I am the one who defines my well being; I am my own source of self-esteem, happiness, strength, and power.
The enemy’s tactic is and has always been the same: to get us to believe that we don’t need God. That I can just do me, be whoever I want to be, do whatever I want to do.
The idea of self-love is as old as time. It was the elevation of the self that led to the downfall of both Satan and mankind in the first place (Isa 14:12-15, Gen 3:1-7). Like he did with Adam and Eve, the enemy baits and hooks us with half-truths, leading us astray (2 Cor 11:3, 14). Since the beginning, we’ve been peddled the same classic lie – that we’re good the way we are and we don’t really need God – the very disposition that got Satan thrown out of heaven in the first place.
But Jesus came to free us from ourselves. God wants so much more for us than a positive self-image, feel-good messages and happy thoughts. He wants to do more than just encourage us and send us on our way. God wants to free us from the rule of sin and self (Gal 5:1, Rom 6:6).
Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). God doesn’t want his children to be deceived into thinking they can find peace, joy and life apart from Him (Col 2:8, 3:3-4).
The road back to me will always be a dead end (Job 15:31, Jer 17:9). I don’t ever want to buy into the idea that I can look within myself for what God has promised to provide. I don’t want to adopt any ideology that elevates the self to a position that is God’s alone to fill.
Following Jesus means tearing down the altar to self. It means I no longer look within myself for answers, encouragement, power and love but I look to God alone. I no longer rely on myself but on God. I don’t need to love myself more because God already loves me fully. I don’t need to put myself first because Jesus already put me first when he traded his life for mine. I don’t have to be happy because God is my joy. I can yield my rights to the desires and reign of God because I know He is good, He is for me, and He can be trusted.
I don’t need to love myself more. What I need is a better understanding of God and His love.
When I truly grasp who and Whose I am, it will radically change the way I see, think, feel and live. I need more awareness of the deceit and lies of the enemy so I can guard myself and reject the message he’s promoting. I need to hold fast to the Gospel because only Jesus has what I need and within Him lies the power to transform my life.
Editor’s Note: this article first appeared on AAC Women’s Blog as “Lies about Loving Yourself”.
3 thoughts on “The Illusion of Loving Yourself”
Great post, Rachel. It’s as timely now as it was four year ago — actually, even more so. I’m grateful people are shining a light on this very deceptive idea infiltrating our churches today.
It’s a tough topic to navigate today, for sure. Thank you for commenting!
Well, that certainly answers why I’ve been resistant to a popular ideology.
But I maintain that God helps those who help themselves, And he expects me to use the noodle, He gave me!