"You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection," said Buddha.
Our self-centred lives may suggest we love ourselves rather well. Yet, despite pampering ourselves with the best of what life has to offer, we still suffer from sadness, despair, anger, loneliness, incompleteness, rejection, helplessness and bitterness. The attention we lavish upon ourselves disproves that we don't love ourselves enough. However, our insatiate longing for harmony and happiness means that we don't love ourselves the right way.
Given our ethical conditioning, many balk at the overt thought of self-love, even though it is nearly impossible for it not to exist. This is because we confuse self-love with selfish disregard for others. The benign state of self-love is unconditional self-acceptance- which does not in any way preclude love for others-and is therefore not the same as its malignant form, narcissism.
Loving oneself is the prerequisite for loving others and for others to love us. We are made by our reactions -- to people and situations -- extensions of our own feelings and thoughts. Our inability to like, love, respect and trust ourselves therefore comes back to us as feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness.
Strangely, most of us lie at the extremes: we either gloat or groan excessively, forever boastful or regretful for who we are. It is therefore naive to equate our self-centeredness with true self-reverence. Self-reverence is not just about being in constant communion with ourselves and our higher state, but also about gaining enhanced clarity regarding the people around us.
However, much of our sense of self gets shaped by how we want others to see it and so we constantly compare ourselves with them. The focus isn't so much on honing and harnessing our originality as it is on being one-up on the rest.
We keep getting caught in the very moulds and stereotypes we help perpetuate as a society. In Shakespeare's words, "God has given you one face, and you make yourself another."
True self-love doesn't incubate in the perceptions of others. Since that is where we seek our identity, no measure of accomplishment or possession is ever enough for us to feel good about ourselves. Our over-dependence on external adulation and reassurances leaves us feeling anxious, sceptical and powerless, corroding self-value and pushing us so hard to stay ahead that the pressures and compulsions of performance eclipse the joy of being. Even in public life, our role models happen to be people whose sense of self-importance is driven more by their misled egos than affectionate views of their real selves.
Ego is what separates us from the rest of the universe.. Our ego invariably finds an expression in pride and haughtiness and is often what makes us our worst enemies. It must therefore not be given a free rein to block out our soul and world-view. Instead, it should be acknowledged and befriended to allow us to extricate ourselves from its subservience and transform its energy into a reinvigorating force of existence that helps us connect with our aspired self and see the other facet of spirit.
Whatever the medium-overcoming the control-freak in us, taking on our fears and insecurities, or dealing positively with what annoys us-this can keep us from squandering our energies on brooding over insignificant things that makes us continually looking for someone to blame. Loving oneself the right way is clearly about turning the ego into a benefactor instead of a burden.