Though I think this is unnecessarily binary, I think there's a middle ground between unconditional self-love and irrational self-destruction.
There is. Just like there's a middle ground between perfect health and terminal illness. That doesn't mean a person is better off being somewhere in the middle. I'm not perfect. I'm not always unconditionally self-loving. Sometimes I succumb to old patterns of negative, self-critical thinking, the same way healthy people sometimes get colds or fevers. But my unconditional self-loving, when it's there, allows me to love myself in spite of these lapses.
I think that's why so many people practise self-delusion, because their minds seem to be wired to believe whatever will make them happy or reinforce their pre-existing views at the expense of accuracy
A person's beliefs shape their perceptions. People interpret their experience according to their beliefs. It would be impossible to learn anything if that weren't so. But people vary widely in the rigidity of their thinking, and their willingness to update their beliefs in light of new evidence. In general, it takes a really stubborn piece of data or a very
convincing argument to force someone to change the way they think. Because human brains are extremely good rationalizers. Almost anything can be rationalized to fit a person's existing beliefs.
Here's an example. Many people with poor self-esteem believe: "I'm unlovable." This belief becomes part of every interaction they have with other people. If someone is mean to them, they think: "Ofc they're being mean to me, I'm unlovable." If someone ignores them, they think: "Ofc they're ignoring me, I'm unlovable." If someone is nice to them, they think: "They just want something from me. They don't really like me, because I'm unlovable." There is literally no way to change this belief. No matter what evidence you give them, it will fit neatly into their preexisting beliefs and confirm, in any way you can imagine, that they are unlovable. If you tell them, "No, that's not true, you just believe you're unlovable," they recite the million experiences they've had that confirm that no, you're
wrong, because X, Y, Z to the power of ten million. (Go ahead. Try it with some of the people here and watch them rationalize away every one of your objections.
) And those experiences are
absolutely real and true and valid to them because they've interpreted all of their interactions based on the premise that they're unlovable. That's literally
what they experienced, so that's all they remember. They have no contradictory evidence. All their experiences have been molded to fit the belief the same way a Christian explains everything as "God's will". Dinosaur bones were planted by the Devil to lead people astray. People take their self-concept very religiously.
I find the concept of love to be incredibly poorly defined, almost to the point of it being a useless word to me. This sounds more like the absence of self-hate and the presence of self-acceptance, if that's love then I guess I love myself.
It is an incredibly hard to define concept. Words fail. But there is something real there behind the semantics. Imagine you had a child. Unconditional love is being able to look at that child and say (no matter what they've done or haven't done): "It's okay. You're still my child and I love you." What is that? It's absolute acceptance. But you'll notice what it isn't. It isn't liking or agreeing with everything they do. It isn't giving them permission to do whatever they want. It's simply loving them no matter what. It's never saying: "You know what, I'm sick of being your parent. I'm selling you for a new car." This is how a self-loving person relates to themselves. They say: "Yeah, you know what? You really screwed up. But it's okay. We'll get through this."
Now this part seems like a bit of a contradiction. If you reject the idea of people being superior or inferior to one another that must therefore mean that all people are of equal value. If that's the case then surely the concept of improvement becomes redundant, whatever you become will be of equal value to what you were, otherwise your "improved" self would have to be considered superior.
All people are
of equal value. Every person is a consciousness, and every consciousness is made of exactly the same stuff, even if the contents of that consciousness are different. A jungle isn't "superior" to a desert, it's just different. A tiger isn't better than a flamingo, they're just different. People aren't superior, they're just different. That doesn't mean people aren't better or worse at different things
, or more useful or likable to you personally. All colors are equally 'valuable', but that doesn't mean I can't prefer orange. I can prefer flamingos over tigers.
When it comes to self-improvement it's not about being better in the sense that: "my old self was worthless, but now I'm really
worth something". That's conditional thinking. I might be a terrible cook right now (no, I am
a terrible cook right now
) but that doesn't mean I'll be worth more when I stop being a terrible cook. It doesn't mean I'll suddenly have a right to love myself. It just means my food will taste better. I'm not going to wait until I'm a good cook to start loving myself. I'm going to love myself right now. I'm going to enjoy being a bad cook while it lasts. Then I'll enjoy being a good cook while that lasts.
The problem people with conditional self-esteem have understanding this is that they've been holding self-love as a carrot/reward for good behavior for so long they don't know any other way to live. They want
to feel that burst of self-love when they see improvement, or achieve a goal, because self-love feels good
. It seems terribly depressing to live in a world where they never get to feel those bursts of self-love. But I enjoy that feeling most
of the time.
And self-love isn't the only type of pleasure. There's the pleasure of learning, the pride of accomplishment, the joy of making another person happy, the adventure of watching yourself evolve and change. I have more reasons to keep improving myself than I know what to do with.
But people who punish
themselves for failing often fear the stick more than they want the carrot. They're afraid to try anything
, because if they fail, they know they're going to give themselves a fierce ***-whupping.
The way I see it is like this. If someone told me they loved me I would be flattered, if I then learned that they just say that to everyone because "they love everybody, man" it would immediately lose all value to me.
Would you be happier if your parents only loved you sometimes? Would it mean more if they only loved you when you really, really
deserved it? Like when you cure cancer, or create world peace? I mean, if their standards for loving you are that high, then it must be worth a lot
, right? But if they loved you all the time, well ... that kind of love is worthless. It doesn't matter what you do, they're still going to love you, so why care at all what they think, right? Their total love and acceptance means absolutely nothing because it never varies.
Can you see how this attitude would be problematic in a relationship? Would you prefer to date someone who only loved you some of the time, when you were really on your game and in top form, but who stopped loving if, for example, you broke down and cried or lost your job?
If I had the same values as I do now but treated people badly, never thought about anything, never tried to be a better person, I wouldn't like myself. I would either have to try and become someone I could like or just learn to accept that I'm a sh***y person.
And this is the objection all conditional self-lovers raise: "Wouldn't it be horrible if I was a bad person and loved myself anyway?!
This is the boogeyman our culture instills in everyone to convince them to keep their self-love on a tight leash. I mean, if you just loved yourself all the time, no matter what, imagine what would happen! Planes would fall out of the sky, doctors would remove the wrong organs, soldiers would take tanks on joy rides.
But that ISN'T what happens. Loving yourself doesn't make you stupid; it doesn't make you inconsiderate; it doesn't make you selfish and greedy and self-absorbed. The logic of self-love prevents that from happening. You can't believe that you are a worthwhile person even though you're poor without also believing that other poor people are worthwhile people. If you believe that it's wrong to abuse yourself by withholding self-love arbitrarily, it's hard to justify abusing anyone else.
I have zero desire to inflict harm on anyone else. I take the feelings of other people very seriously. Not because I'm a 'good' person, but because I see the worth in everyone. It's people with conditional
self-esteem who pose a serious threat to others. People who believe that some people can be worth more than others. For example, that Jews are an inferior type of person and that therefore it's okay to exterminate them.
A racist is a conditional thinker par excellence; they rate their own worth in terms of genetic purity; the more pure they are, the more they're worth. It's completely moronic, but there you have it. If I believe that, no matter what my race, sex, or orientation is, I'm a worthwhile person, then it stands to reason that I feel the same way about other people. (And I do.) If I am always a worthwhile person no matter what, then so is everyone else
. Including the bad people who need to be isolated from other worthwhile people so that they don't hurt them.