1983, rev. 1987
What is a self? A self has a body, feelings, thought processes, desires; but a self is probably not any one of these nor even the collection. Perhaps a self is a consciousness that is aware of its body, its feelings, thinking and desiring. This consciousness has the power of attention. It can focus on anything within the stream of mental events. It is an active choosing force that we call “the real me.”
A healthy self is one that is ready to meet any happening in the world with aplomb. It is never afraid (though it tries to be prudent), never angry (sometimes wary), never self-pitying (though sometimes hurting), never envious (but has real desires). In short, the healthy self never entertains negative emotions, even though tempted to do so.
The unhealthy self is afraid. It fears its body will be hurt or not nourished or rested. It fears its feelings will be wounded. It feels its thoughts to be inferior, and therefore is hesitant to be open. It fears its desires will not be fulfilled. It fears its actions will be rejected as wrong or insufficient.
The fear of the unhealthy self probably has root in rejection as a child. There was an experience of real hunger that was not met until fear of hunger had lodged deeply. There may have been unassuaged hurts that culminated in fearful anticipation of further wounds. There were situations of “put down” embarrassment which caused the self to wonder when such would happen again. There probably were unfulfilled desires which left the self wondering if this were perhaps a totally hostile universe.
These fear-engendering experiences of the self have given rise to a defense mechanism: self-love. The self essentially says: “No one else loves me, so I will undertake the cause of my own welfare. I will love and take good care of me, then I will have less to fear.” But that strategy has a problem: it doesn’t work. The love of self never satisfies the fears of the self. And the self feels, deep down, that self-love may be wrong, to boot.
When the self adopts the posture of self-love, it has embarked on a course of further destruction of the self, but now self-destruction. It becomes self feeding upon self. For the measure of true love is sacrifice. Whatever we give up of our own comfort and benefit to help another is the sacrifice that makes true love real. But when the “other” is one’s self, one tries to give up comfort and benefit to try to give oneself comfort and benefit. This self-love doesn’t work well because it is a diminishing of the person as one sacrifices something usually better to comfort oneself with something usually worse. The conscience of the person tells him this is a doubtful enterprise, and the person is further discomfited. Between the depletion of good, the depletion of resources and the bad feelings engendered, self-love turns into classic self-destruction.
Self -love leads to self-despising. Self-love, the pampering of oneself, is despised by others. We naturally tend to think less of ourselves when others around us despise us. The fact that this self-indulgence of self-love is insufficient to satisfy the needs of the self further lowers one’s self-respect. One’s conscience causes self-shame. The self-destructiveness of self-love is a final blow. Self-respect sinks to an intolerable low point.
It is difficult for anyone else to help wounded lover of self. Such an one cannot openly discuss the problem because the wounds are so deep and painful. Discussion usually exacerbates the hurt. Nor can the self-lover brook criticism, for that is taken as further despising heaped upon the deep self-despising, becoming more than one can bear.
The distraught self-loving, self-despising self has no comfort or peace. The supposed antidote has become a torment. The torment soul thrashes wildly, trying to find peace, comfort, security. Typical attempts at compensatory behavior are
Stimulation of the body: (I’ll drown my sorrows.)
High speed thrills Sexual libertinism
Seeking to be scared Loud and/or erotic music Escape: (I’ll forget my sorrows.)
Workaholic performance Professional student
Immersion in peer group Overzealous espousing of some cause
Hiding: (No one must know.) Lying
Hypocrisy Rejecting help
Reclusiveness Denigration: (I’m not worth anything.)
Constant apologies Masochism
Psychosomatic illness Carelessness
Suicide Aggression: (You rejected me, world.I’ll get back at you!)
Sports brutality Anger
Criticism of others Spite
If I can’t have real love, I’ll take .
Fashion clothing Jewelry
Cosmetics Famous friends
Arrogance Spendthriftness (I’ll be the generous one.)
A person who is bound down with self-love is in the bondage of sin. As in quicksand, every struggle to add more self-love takes him deeper.
The only cure for self-love, or sin, is to be loved with a pure love. When a person finds that instead of the usual patronizing love of another self-lover he is confronted by a pure love which accepts him as he is. (He does not despise him), which will not collude in causing him to sin or in accepting his sinning, and which sacrifices to be a friend to him, he is at first overwhelmed. Then he doubts it and tries to proved that it is hypocritical or not real. When doubt and attempts at disproof have failed, the self-lover must make a fundamental choice. He must either admit that sin and self-love are not good and don’t work, which the contrast with a pure love has shown him, or his must reject the pure love as spurious. Thus the person must either reject his own self-love for a better love, or he must turn and fight against the pure love by lying about it. Which is to say the person must at that point either repent of his self-love or sink more deeply into it by rejecting and lying about the real and pure love.
The only real and pure love in this world is the pure love of Christ as embodied in the Savior himself or in his true and faithful servants. To encounter this love is also to encounter the Holy Spirit, which witnesses to the person of the purity of that love and of the opportunity and necessity of repentance. Only through the Holy Spirit can one repent and come to the righteousness of pure love, replacing the self-righteousness of self=love.
The person who has loved himself, therefore only loved himself, can learn through the Holy Spirit how to forget about his own welfare and seek only to help others as the Holy spirit directs. He then realizes that he of himself does not know enough to really help anyone else unless he is given guidance by the Holy Spirit. That Spirit teaches him that God knows all and has all power, and that Jesus Christ is the only fountain of righteousness in this world. Feeling that pure love of Christ, he may yield himself as a little child into the arms of the Savior, not needing to fear nor to feather his own nest any longer. Being relieved of those burdens, he is free to follow the Holy Spirit in ministering to the needs of others in the pure love. He becomes a child of Christ, ready to obey every instruction the Savior gives him, willing to suffer humbly whatever the Savior sees fit to inflict upon him, ready to make any sacrifice to love purely. He feels that pure love of the Savior for himself, the pure love that casts out all fear because it is so satisfying. He never hungers nor thirsts again, but ministers freely and humbly of that which the Savior has given him to help others not to be afraid.
Thus the person lost to self-love may be reborn through the waters of baptism and in the warm spiritual cleansing of fire and the Holy Ghost. No longer needing to love and defend himself, he now focuses a true and pure love on the Savior, loving the Master as he himself is loved. Guided by the Holy Spirit he feasts upon the words, feelings, ideas and actions of his new father, Jesus Christ. He yearns to be nearer to Him and spends his best moments in mighty prayer, striving to draw ever nearer to his father. Upon arising from prayer he views the world with the eye of faith: it is his apple, the endless opportunity to demonstrate to his neighbors the wonders of his new father’s love. Thus he loves others without a trace of self-concern or self-love. He speaks the truth in all humility, visits the widows and the fatherless in their affliction, and keeps himself unspotted from the world.
Self-love has given way to pure love of God and of neighbor, the pure love of Christ for God and neighbor. This newness of life is not of this world. But the grateful possessor of this love is grateful to be in this world where he can reach out and comfort and share with others who are tormented by self-love.