When Self-Love is Not Love at All


“Loving only himself, a man loves neither God nor his fellow-men.  He does not even love the man that is in himself; he loves only his thoughts about himself, his illusions about himself.  Were he to love the man in himself, he would at the same time love God’s image in him, and would quickly become a lover of God and man, for he would be seeking man and God in other men, as objects of his love.  Self-love is not love, but is rejection of God and contempt for men, whether open or concealed.  Self-love is not love but sickness, a serious illness that inevitably brings other illnesses in its train.  As pox inevitably produces fever throughout the body, so self-love produces the fire of envy and anger in the whole body.  A man full of self-love is full of envy of those who are better than he is, or richer, more learned or more respected by men.  With envy there always goes anger, like flame with fire; a concealed anger, that flares out at times and, in so doing, reveals all the ugliness of the man’s sick heart, that has been poisoned with the poison of self-love.”  (St Nikolai Velimirovich, HOMILIES Vol 2, pp 277-278)

St Nikoai opens his comments on the self-loving person by someone who is very much like Narcissus of Greek mythology.  Insightfully, St Nikolai recognizes that the narcissistic person isn’t really in love with himself or herself.  Narcissus was in love with his image – enamored with what he believed others saw in him.  He stares endlessly at his own reflection, not paying attention to his real self (which in some versions of the myth leads to his death from self-neglect).  He believes his image shows perfection.  Narcissus believes that no one could really love his image as much as it deserves love so he rejects all the overtures of love that others offer him completely oblivious to their reactions.


The cure for narcissism?  Instead of seeking your own reflection and admiring it, look for the image of God in yourself.  Look into the mirror – not the one above the sink, but rather the mirror of the heart in which God can be seen.  The image of God in us is more beautiful than our self devoid of God.  In looking beyond the self and for the other, we learn to truly love – because love is always other oriented.  Once we learn to love others, we learn to be like God.

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