Sixty years ago, Erich Fromm proposed a re-evaluation of self-love, arguing that in order to be able to truly love someone else, we first need to love ourselves, as in respecting and knowing ourselves. Not surprisingly, the Internet is awash with advice on how to be more self-loving, but what really is the difference between a healthy love of oneself and egoistical pride?
“There is a great difference between the two, although they both look very alike. The healthy love of oneself is a great religious value. The person who does not love himself will not be able to love anybody else, ever. The first ripple of love has to rise in your heart. If it has not risen for yourself it cannot rise for anybody else, because everybody else is farther away from you.
“It is like throwing a stone in the silent lake – the first ripples will arise around the stone and then they will go on spreading to the further shores. The first ripple of love has to be around yourself. One has to love one’s body, one has to love one’s soul, one has to love one’s totality.
“And this is natural; otherwise you would not be able to survive at all. And it is beautiful because it beautifies you. The person who loves himself becomes graceful, elegant. The person who loves himself is bound to become more silent, more meditative more prayerful than the person who does not love himself.
“If you don’t love your house you will not clean it; if you don’t love your house you will not paint it; if you don’t love you will not surround it with a beautiful garden with a lotus pond. If you love yourself you will create a garden around yourself. You will try to grow your potential, you will try to bring out all that is in you to be expressed. If you love, you will go on showering yourself, you will go on nourishing yourself.
“And if you love yourself you will be surprised: others will love you. Nobody loves a person who does not love himself. If you cannot even love yourself, who else is going to take the trouble? And the person who does not love himself cannot remain neutral. Remember, in life there is no neutrality.
“The man who does not love himself hates, will have to hate – life knows no neutrality. Life is always a choice. If you don’t love that does not mean that you can simply remain in that not loving state. No, you will hate.
“And the person who hates himself becomes destructive. And the person who hates himself will hate everybody else – he will be so angry and violent and continuously in rage. The person who hates himself, how can he hope that others will love him? His whole life will be destroyed. To love oneself is a great religious value.
“I teach you self-love. But remember, self-love does not mean egotistical pride, not at all. In fact it means just the opposite. The person who loves himself finds there is no self in him. Love always melts the self: that is one of the alchemical secrets to be learned, understood, experienced. Love always melts the self. Whenever you love, the self disappears. You love a woman and at least in the few moments when there is real love for the woman, there is no self in you, no ego.
“Ego and love cannot exist together. They are like light and darkness: when light comes, darkness disappears. If you love yourself you will be surprised – self-love means the self disappears. In self-love there is no self ever found. That is the paradox: self-love is utterly selfless. It is not selfish – because whenever there is light there is no darkness, and whenever there is love there is no self.”