Why Loving Yourself is Not Narcissism
By Chris Chandler, MA, LMHC, CSAT-C, Seattle Christian Counseling
References “The New Codependency” by Melody Beattie
Oftentimes the Christian community can make self-love feel like narcissism. We feel guilty for dwelling on our accomplishments rather than our shortcomings. But is this really what God wants for his people? For us to dwell in the emotional gutter? That is not the impression he gives us when speaking through the prophet Jeremiah. He told the exiled Israelites, “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jer. 29:11 NIV)
Self-love can be particularly challenging for believers with sullied pasts. It is hard enough maintaining the “perfect Christian” façade when you haven’t detoured from the straight-and-narrow. Struggling addicts, and even recovering addicts, can feel unworthy of God’s consideration or forgiveness.
The Difference Between Self-love and Narcissism
There is a difference between loving yourself as you would love others, and feeding your ego. One helps you take care of yourself. The other helps distract from insecurity. Self-love is not about thinking that you’re better than everyone else or ignoring your own faults. It is about respecting your limits and allowing yourself to make mistakes.
The disciples were to care for one another as a celebration of the affection God had for them. As Jesus told the disciples, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34 NIV) That is self-love. What the Pharisees practiced was not self-love. They did not love themselves as a reflection of God’s love for them, rather as a reflection of their own self-conceit. Narcissism. That is why they had to rely on putting others down to sustain it.
In her book, “The New Codependency,” Melody Beattie says the reason so many people struggle to love themselves is because they’re not sure they deserve it. This is particularly tricky for believers. We are committed to loving others, but balk at loving ourselves. We worry that anything less than abject humility is narcissism.
Why should we practice self-love? It keeps you healthy. It enables you to show yourself respect and compassion. Recovering addicts need compassion more than perhaps anyone else in church. Jesus forgives them, but they are not sure if they should do the same. But this grinding cycle of self-abasement stalls recovery. It fuels the same emotion that drove you to the source of your addiction in the first place– despair.
Self-love is admitting when you do wrong, while also remembering that you can do better. People make mistakes. That is why they put erasers on pencils. But you do not have to let those past mistakes overshadow your future. II Corinthians tell us we are made new in Christ. Instead of marking our history though with a red pen, God erases it. He gives us the opportunity to begin anew. What is more, he empowers us to live new lives. While we still struggle with sin, we are no longer slaves to it.
Christian Counseling for Depression and Addiction
Jesus went to some of worst outcasts of his day, and told them they did not have to hate themselves. He did not excuse their sin, but neither did he encourage them to be consumed by their shame. Take the example of the woman caught in adultery. Jesus could have gone along with the Pharisees in their holier-than-thou condemnation. Rather, he gave her the opportunity to pull herself out of the mire and live a better life.
They can help you discern the difference between looking after yourself and narcissism. A professional Christian counselor will help you understand why you get so down on yourself, and how to change that. They will use therapeutic techniques and spiritual principles to guide you toward a more loving way of living.
“Beautiful Woman At Wat Maheyong Temple. Ayutthaya – Thailand” by Sira Anamwong
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