Narcissus - The First Guru of Self-Love


So you’re looking for love. One day you’ll happen to tell a friend or acquaintance that you’ve come to a point in your life where you are ready to meet someone and I can guarantee, at least once, you will be told that what you should do first, is love yourself. It’s well intentioned but what does it really mean? It’s a common mantra you will hear over and over again in the spiritual/New Age/self-help community. It varies to a certain degree but the basic gist is that in order to find romantic love and have a relationship, you must first practice self-love and it’s close relative, self-acceptance. As someone who has endeavoured to self-enquire and self-develop it was always a mantra I took as gospel and took for granted. On some level it made sense. If you want to find someone special, you should kinda be special yourself so that you can attract that in The Other. After many years of living and exploring this concept, I feel it’s time to call absolute bullshit on it once and for all. Platitudes like this are basically just meaningless without context and qualification. Here are some bullet-points regarding this reflexive phenomenon:

Narcissism

The idea that you need to love yourself at first sounds reasonable but on closer inspection, is in fact the epitome of narcissism. In Greek mythology, Narcissus was a beautiful hunter. The story goes that whilst gazing at and admiring his reflection in the river, he fell in love with himself. This self-love was so deep he became distressed that a love this profound could never be requited and so he killed himself. I think you know where I’m going with this… So my simple question is, what does self-love consist of? If we are talking about building self-esteem and having the assertiveness to set healthy boundaries, then I’m all for it. But then, why not just call it that? Because this is never explicitly said in the self-love mantra, instead, people genuinely looking for wisdom in fact begin to associate self-love with concepts of mainstream body images and cultural trends. What actually emerges is self-gazing and self-love becomes predicated on ones physical appearance, diet, practices of various New Age therapies and a shopping list of attributes that The Other must possess. These things, as lovely and as life affirming as they undoubtedly are, do not form an adequate foundation for healthy relating. Self-love is not the same as relating, which is quite possibly the most important and key component in relationships! Connected to what is learnt from childhood, our issues in relationships often aren't about not loving ourselves enough but actually stem from unconscious patterns of relating that have been established while growing up. I once knew a guy that, like Narcissus, loved himself like no Other could but on reflection I see this was a form of avoidance, rather than a healthy expression of self-worth. Self-love here was an inability to compromise and see ones own fallibility. Therefore we see that relating is not just about your love of self but also about authenticity, surrender, trust and humility when relating to The Other. And actually, realising we are not always the most important person in the equation. Which brings me to my next point…

The Mirror

If relationships are about relating and The Other is a mirror, then self-love is an incomplete equation when it comes to the subject of romantic love. How are you to know which aspects of yourself could improve without the feedback, relating and experience of The Other? Let me tell you a personal story. Before I last became involved in my last relationship, I was single for around seven years. This was predominantly out of choice as I had realised, after another previous failed relationship, that I had some healing and self-work to do. In this time I really took this self-work very seriously and a new me emerged so that when I finally met my partner, I was at a point in my life where I could honestly say I ‘loved myself’ and felt ‘whole’ blah blah. Well… Lol. What I discovered quite quickly was that this self-work was wh