Development of “self-love” and formation of “healthy selfishness”

This is a very common topic in the psychological literature. The concept of “self-love” in the sense that modern psychology puts into it is not found anywhere used in a positive context in the patriarchal literature. On the contrary, the holy fathers had a negative view of self-love. For example, St. Caesar of Arelat, who lived in the sixth century, writes:

“As through self-love one destroys oneself, so through self-denial one is saved. Self-love was man’s first fall. “

This thought becomes understandable if we remember the Savior’s words:

“He who loves his soul will lose it; but he that hateth his soul in this world shall keep it unto life eternal ”(John 12:25).

Elsewhere, the Lord calls His disciples:

“If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23).

That is, the love of one’s own soul (in this case, one’s own life) is condemned by the Lord; we must hate ourselves and deny ourselves in order to follow Christ. What is this really about?

The patriarchal thought usually makes an anthropological distinction between the nature of man and the sinfulness introduced into him. In the quoted passages of the Gospel, where self-hatred and self-denial are spoken of, it is precisely the rejection of sinfulness and vicious passions that is spoken of. Since they are deeply rooted in people, they have become habitual and even seemingly natural (how can we not remember the saying: “Habit is second nature”), getting rid of them requires a lot of effort and radical determination. And although the sinful addition to human nature is cut out, subjectively this process is experienced very painfully, sometimes even as self-destruction, as approaching the edge between life and death.

To theologically justify “self-love” and “healthy selfishness,” psychologists often try to use the gospel words of Christ: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Matt. 22:39). This leads to the conclusion that you must first love yourself and only then can you learn to love your neighbor. We will immediately say that nowhere in the holy fathers is such a reading of these gospel words found. This interpretation was introduced into the Christian tradition by psychology, by the neo-Freudian Erich Fromm. In his treatise The Art of Loving (1956) he wrote:

The idea expressed in the biblical “love your neighbor as yourself” implies that respect for one’s own wholeness and uniqueness, love for oneself cannot be separated from respect, understanding and love for the other individual. The love of one’s own self is inextricably linked to the love of every other being. “

An important difference between the views of modern psychologists on this issue from the view of Fromm, who saw love of self and love of neighbor as a whole and indivisible phenomenon (unlike Freud, who believed that these things are opposite and incompatible), is in the fact that now in psychology the opinion dominates that in the beginning you should love yourself, and then learn to love the other, ie. these two aspects of love are placed in chronological order. At the same time, no clear answers are given to the question: when, at what stage of the development of love for oneself is one able to begin to love one’s neighbor? It is also not clear: will not love for oneself become such a fascinating activity that there will simply be no time or energy left for other people? This danger was also noticed by Oscar Wilde: “Self-love is the beginning of a romantic relationship that lasts a lifetime.”


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