Why Loving Yourself is the Greatest Love of All
Yes. The song got it right. Regardless of gender, age, race, beliefs, education, job, and culture, everyone has the right to love and be loved. But before that happens, the first step to take is loving oneself.
The process is not easy, as it takes time. Some achieve it, while others struggle to fully realize how to love themselves.
For many, self-love is similar to being selfish. Erich Fromm, in his "Selfishness and Self-Love" article in Psychiatry Journal for the Study of Interpersonal Process (1939), observes how modern culture "teaches that to be selfish is sinful and that to love others is virtuous." Fromm notes how such principle either supports or contradicts other ideologies, particularly those cited by theologist John Calvin and philosopher Immanuel Kant.
For Calvin, people are inherently wicked and have no value at all. He states that divine grace and/or devotion to God is the means to tame the troll in everyone. In Kant's view, pursuit of happiness should not be disregarded, but it would be virtuous to be concerned about other people. He further differentiates self-love from arrogance, where the latter is defined as "pleasure in oneself."
Fromm adds that Max Stirner and Friedrich Nietzsche also support Calvin's and Kant's basic premise that points to self-love and love for others as alternatives.
Self-love is Not Inherently Selfish
According to Fromm, the perspective of loving oneself as a selfish act has pervaded theological and philosophical discourses, as well as daily human life. He asks, "If it is a virtue to love my neighbor as a human being, why must not I love myself too?"
Fromm explains that "...not only others, but also we ourselves are the "object“ of our feelings and attitudes; the attitude towards others and toward ourselves, far from being contradictory, runs basically parallel." He says that people who love others also reflect the love they have for themselves.
How can self-love be realized then?
Certainly not through having inferiority complex or a heightened degree of self-dislike. People who think they are stupid or ugly manifest this kind of feeling. Aside from that, self-criticism is also not advisable. This happens when a man or a woman mentally punishes her/himself by thinking that s/he is such a complete failure and is never good enough.
Fromm argues that love is about freedom and equality. He defines it as a spontaneous act that if a person cannot love her/himself, then s/he cannot love others. Furthermore, it unites human "intellect, emotion and senses" and strives for not just development and liberty, but as well as for happiness, which "is not simply a subjective feeling of satisfaction." In Fromm's view, love enables a person to have "the ability and readiness to love." Its seed is planted in childhood and is influenced by cultural beliefs.
Though self-love may seem selfish, Fromm notes that the opposite fuels an individual to stop loving her/himself. Unselfishness for any reason - whether for romantic, political, or whatever - incapacitates a person from fully appreciating and accepting her/his total self. He laments how the sacrificial concept of love has pervaded modern society, crippling everyone's ability and readiness to love themselves first before loving others.
Self-love then becomes a human and humane imperative. It is human nature to preserve oneself and survive. At the same time, it is essentially humane to value and accept that humanness in spite of imperfections.