The love that lifts us out of self-hatred
Are we supposed to love ourselves? Most would agree that doing so is essential for living a happy and successful life. “Love yourself” is a popular admonition.
But does this conflict with the Christian demand to be humble and selfless? After all, Christ Jesus said, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23). As I’ve thought about what it means to love oneself, I’ve gained a spiritual perspective by exploring this question about identity: What exactly am I loving as myself?
The view of ourselves as basically a physical body with a human personality is not the correct perception of man. This view arises from the belief that we are made both spiritual and material, and thus are subject to limitation and personality flaws. This false self is susceptible to the extremes of either a crippling low self-esteem or an inflated ego, which can lead to flawed decisions that may be harmful to oneself or others.
Christian Science explains that this false concept of man must, and can, be rejected. The reality is that we are each created entirely spiritual, and we must reject the false concept in order to acknowledge the true: our good and pure spiritual identity in God, divine Spirit. Jesus understood his spiritual identity as the Son of God. By demonstrating his spiritual identity through his humanity, Jesus showed us how we can each prove our dominion over the false concept of material personality and express our true, spiritual individuality.
Jesus was the humblest man to walk the planet, and yet he never lost sight of his true spiritual worth and purpose. The Science of Christianity is based on his example, and shows us how to see the spiritual value of ourselves and others as he did. Acknowledging and claiming our spiritual identity, and loving it, gives us confidence, joy, and humility. It enables us to progress in our understanding of God as our spiritual source, to strive for a full expression of our potential, and to resist entertaining dark thoughts of self-condemnation, self-doubt, and selfishness.
When I was a first-year college student, I struggled with an acute sense of self-hatred. I was not generally depressed, but I would have periods of such dark thoughts about myself that sometimes I couldn’t even leave the house in the morning. I was also clinging to some destructive relationships, and my living situation sometimes felt unsafe.
I had been occasionally attending Sunday School at the Church of Christ, Scientist, near my school, and I became more committed to it after a friend commented that he noticed I was always happier after I had gone to church.
One Sunday morning, my Sunday School teacher said to me, “You have to love yourself.” I don’t remember the context for that conversation, but that one statement stuck with me and shook me awake. I considered all I had learned in Sunday School from the time I was little about my identity as a child of God, created perfect in His, Her image and likeness.
Because our true selfhood is a reflection of God, we are worthy of love.
The first chapter of Genesis in the Bible explains that God made man (all of us) in the image and likeness of Himself. Christian Science brings out the fact that because we are made in the likeness of God, who is Love and absolute good, everything that’s true about us is spiritual, good, and lovable. Our real identity is defined by the spiritual qualities that are found in God, whom we reflect—qualities such as love, intelligence, strength, and goodness.
I began to see the complete mistake of entertaining any thoughts of self-hatred, since I was truly a beloved daughter of my Father-Mother God and deserved the same respect and kindness that every other person deserves. I was surprised to realize I’d been generously loving others with a love that I withheld from myself.
Because our true selfhood is created in the image and likeness of God, we are worthy of love. And as we realize this, we see how obeying what Christ Jesus identified as “the first and great commandment”—to “love the Lord thy God with all thy heart”—is inseparable from obeying what he pointed out as the second great commandment, to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, as spiritual ideas that reflect all of God’s goodness (see Matthew 22:35–39).
The next time thoughts of self-condemnation tempted me, I was able to reject them right away and stick with my confidence in being divinely loved and worthy of love. I now had a clear spiritual understanding of my identity as a perfect reflection of God, and no depressing thoughts could shake this knowledge I had gained. As a result, I experienced a more settled peace of mind, and my attendance and the quality of my work in the college courses I was taking improved, too. In the following months, I was also able to let go of those destructive relationships and find a safer living situation.
Mary Baker Eddy writes, “Self-renunciation of all that constitutes a so-called material man, and the acknowledgment and achievement of his spiritual identity as the child of God, is Science that opens the very flood-gates of heaven; whence good flows into every avenue of being, cleansing mortals of all uncleanness, destroying all suffering, and demonstrating the true image and likeness” (Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896, p. 185).
Jesus renounced the material concept of man through humility that included an unshakable confidence in God’s love and purpose for him. This enabled him to surrender all that could be called a material self. Jesus’ true identity as the Christ, or divine idea of God, was proved to be immortal when he rose above the sentence of death and demonstrated fully and finally that man’s life is not material but spiritual. A spiritual understanding of Jesus’ experience on the cross and his resurrection emboldens us to give up our attachment to a material sense of ourselves and strive to assimilate more of our forever spiritual, Christly identity, created and preserved by God.
Unlimited divine Love is the source of our being.
For me, the antidote to experiencing extreme self-loathing was acknowledging my identity as a precious child of God and giving myself the respect due to those who belong to God. We can do this without feeling any sense of superiority. In fact, this kind of love for one’s true self has nothing to do with human personality and everything to do with humbly admitting that unlimited divine Love is the source of our being. This love is totally devoid of selfishness, self-pity, self-condemnation, and self-will, and frees us to express the boundless joy and liberty of our divine inheritance as God’s children.
Mrs. Eddy encourages us in her book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures: “In patient obedience to a patient God, let us labor to dissolve with the universal solvent of Love the adamant of error,—self-will, self-justification, and self-love,—which wars against spirituality and is the law of sin and death” (p. 242). The self-love that we are to dissolve is the selfishness that is based in that misconception of oneself as material and separate from God, good. It is the tendency to set oneself above or before others, which is the opposite of humility.
True humility means being able to acknowledge God as the source of our identity, and is the fount from which our obedience to the two greatest commandments flows. It is found through a diligent search for God, is expressed by a faithful devotion to the spiritual facts of being, and blesses all with the pure love of God and man. Humility puts us under the protection of the Divine, the strongest defense against both depression and a selfish self-love.
Since that lesson in college, I’ve continued to embrace all humanity in this spiritual love. This has enabled me to see more clearly that all people are worthy of love, and also capable of love, no matter who they are. Gratefully, I know I am forever protected from suffering hateful or unloving thoughts about myself or anyone through this spiritually true sense of selfhood.