The gift of love is divine. It blesses the lover and the loved. But few of us realise that our capacity to love others depends on our ability to love ourselves. For, what can one give that one does not have?
In the Bible’s immortal message, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself,’ the latter part, usually neglected is, however, equally significant. It enjoins us to love ourselves first. For, the more we can do so, the more we are enabled to love others.
But it is not easy. Others may overlook our faults and follies but we cannot. Moreover, we judge ourselves more severely than we do others. It makes us more susceptible to what others say about us. In their criticism, we see the confirmation of what we secretly suspect ourselves of. And in their praise, we be come unduly elated. This can make life miserable.
A person who cannot love himself is like driftwood in the sea. He can be manipulated to do outrageous things. In extreme cases it can drive him to become a criminal or a terrorist, or even kill himself.
To love oneself, one has to have high self-esteem. It can be acquired by focusing on the positive side of one’s personality, by being honest to oneself and by shunning everything that one considers wrong. It requires great effort, it can be done with practice. Self-introspection and meditation can be of great help here. Loving oneself, however, does not imply that we should indulge ourselves in obsessive self-love or narcissism. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Narcissism is nothing but excessive attachment to one’s ego.
It is the worst kind of bondage and damages us. It makes us difficult, ungenerous and afraid to love another. True love, on the other hand, is a liberating force. It can lighten one’s spirit so that one soars above petty personal concerns. Do let us love ourselves. This is the deeper meaning to Oscar Wilde’s observation, “To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.”