Why Do We Have Difficulty Loving Ourselves?

Published by Charles Francis on

By Charles A. Francis

Last night at our sangha (meditation group), the facilitator brought up the topic of loving ourselves. Sometimes, the topic doesn’t generate very much discussion, but this one sure did.

Several people shared about the difficulties they’ve had loving themselves, and why. Most of the comments revolved around our upbringing and how we were taught to always put other people before ourselves. Otherwise, we were labeled as being selfish and uncaring.

Though I’ve heard similar comments before, I could see that some people were deeply affected by the discussion. It reminded me of how much our society reinforces the notion of placing other people before ourselves. Though it is changing, there are still many people who grew up in a time when we were expected to put ourselves last on our list of priorities. Our families always came first. While this sentiment is noble, how can we take good care of other people if we are spiritually weak?

There is an old story about a man and his daughter. His wife had died years earlier, and the two of them performed an acrobatic act to make a living. The father one day said to his daughter, “We need to look out for each other while performing, so that we don’t make a mistake, get hurt, and jeopardize our livelihood.”

The daughter thought about the father’s comments, and in her wisdom she said to him, “Wouldn’t it be better if we each took good care of ourselves and made sure that we performed our act correctly? That way, we would be taking good care of both of us.”

We’ve all heard the adage; “We can’t love other people until we’re able to love ourselves.” Since most of the people I associate with are on a spiritual path, I see this sentiment in action every day. People who’ve neglected themselves their entire lives are beginning to take good care of themselves physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

I was fortunate to have begun a spiritual path at a young age, so I’ve made considerable progress toward loving myself. I know that by taking good care of myself, I can be of better service to others. Though I don’t forget that other people still struggle with loving themselves, I don’t always see how deeply they’re affected.

Whenever I see how deeply some people suffer from having difficulty loving themselves, it is a stark reminder of how important our work is here at the Mindfulness Meditation Institute. There is still a lot of suffering to overcome.

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