Self-love is NOT Selfish

Recently I wrote a guest blog post, Thriving Requires Letting Go of the Lies, for Sue’s Over Fifty and Thriving series. The idea for that post was inspired by the book, Girl, Wash Your Face, by Rachel Hollis (my review here). I have since decided to turn the subject into a new blog series: The Lies I’ve Believed. 

In the original guest post, I introduced Delilah, my harsh inner critic who constantly reminds me I am not good enough, brave enough or smart enough. Her loud, commanding voice tells me I am better off alone than out in the world pursuing my dreams. She is quite convincing.

But I’m tired of living this way. I’m merely existing rather than embracing an abundant life. It is time to replace Delilah’s lies with the truth.

This week’s lie: Self-love is Selfish.

I’ve shared my experiences with parochial school before. At the time, I enjoyed and respected the institution. I earned gold stars for memorizing scripture which jived well with my rote-memory learning style. I am a rule-follower, which was also rewarded in this legalistic environment. Faith, hope, love, modesty, and humility were the cornerstones of my education. As a child of the 1960s, this appeared an idyllic culture.

In hindsight, however, I’ve discovered this harsh, critical environment severely undermined my self-esteem and nearly robbed me of any kind of relationship with the Divine.

The Bible was our textbook. And the fear of the Lord its constant refrain. As a child, however, I equated fear the Lord to be afraid. After all, there was no hiding from Him, and He knew everything I did or thought. In my mind, He was always lurking behind the door, trying to catch me in a compromising position. And He relished writing down each infraction in the Ledger of Life.

Four years ago I decided to rectify this erroneous view. I did not recognize the Good News because I did not find God good. I changed the focus of my Bible study. Instead of focusing on His judgment and wrath, I  concentrated on the loving nature of God, on His mercy and grace. Slowly I began to grasp the truth: I am loved by God – unconditionally.

Recently, however, I became aware of another childhood misinterpretation of a key scripture verse:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.   (Matthew 22:36-39)

While my eyes read, love your neighbor as yourself, my mind interpreted, love your neighbor instead of yourself.

Yes, we are to love others, minister to those in need, extend grace and mercy to our enemies – but we are also to do the same for ourselves.

Even the airlines understand this truth. In case of emergency, they advise parents to secure oxygen masks on themselves first before trying to help their children. They know we cannot properly administer life-saving care if we ourselves are struggling.

If we do not accept and love ourselves as God loves us – if we do not tend to our personal needs – if we do not extend grace and mercy to our shortcomings, we will deplete the well and have nothing left to give to others.

An empty well breeds resentment and the seed of bitterness will take root. This harms our relationship with the Lord and our ministry to others.

The truth: Self-love is necessary to love others.



  • Janet Mary Cobb

    Molly – another great post. I think many who were raised in similar parochial ‘God-fearing’ situations can probably relate. Isn’t it amazing how something so beautiful as an all-knowing, all-loving God can become so twisted in the minds of small minded people? I appreciate the way you’ve come to realize the AS yourself not instead of — but in my contrarian, always challenging the status quo mind, when I read your final point that ‘self-love is necessary to love others,’ I can’t help but think ‘self-love is necessary’. PERIOD. God loves unconditionally. And if God loves me, why wouldn’t I love me? The ‘to’ that follows implies that we have to ‘do’ something to validate that love. Does that make sense? Just what struck me when I read the line — I haven’t quite thought it through. Thanks for another thought-provoking post!

    • Molly Totoro

      WOW, Janet… I never realized the power of the word “to” (I think that may become the subject of another blog post!) You are SO very right. I am putting conditions on self-love. It is only okay to love myself IF I can transfer that love to serving others. Otherwise, I fear delving into the realm of egotism. These lies run deeper than I imagined, but I am so grateful to be discovering the truth at this point in life.

      And I really love how you express, “If God loves me, why wouldn’t I love me?” Indeed… why not?!

  • Pat

    Molly, I too am finding so many similarities between us. And really liking this series of posts.

    Growing up I recall the concept of infractions being “put on your permanent record”. Amazingly, that seems to be more real today with everything on social media, but still, I know I was raised to be the good girl, to put others first, to share what I had, to not break the rules. I was not raised to love myself. And since the airlines need to remind us every time we fly to put ourselves first, I’m sure we are not alone.

    Recently, I tried to write down 10 things I loved about myself…and got stuck after one. I like how Janet rephrased the truth…Self-love is necessary. Going to work on that.

    • Molly Totoro

      Ah… the permanent record …or What would other people think? …or You have a reputation to uphold (and it will follow you the rest of your life). SO many harsh axioms to keep us in line, Pat 🙁

      I’ve never tried to list things I love about myself, Pat, but I have a feeling I would tap out after one as well. We need to build one another up to a healthy level of self-love!

  • Donna

    Hi, Molly – This is a great truth that so many of us miss. If we don’t love and care for ourselves, it is impossible to give fully to others. Thank you for sharing this. #MLSTL

  • suzanne

    Hi Molly, I play Mahjongg with a group of ladies every week. There are many life lessons to be learned from playing Mahjongg, but the one that jumps out at the very beginning is to consider yourself first. It is mandatory that the ‘dealer’ serve her tiles first. There is one lady in the group that refuses to remember the rule and every time she has to deal, she reminds us that it is completely ‘unnatural’ to serve yourself first, period. We’ve developed a mantra and chant in unisance, ‘Brenda put your oxygen mask on first’. Some habits are hard to break.

    Personally, I believe that the love of others is not authentic without self-love and that absent that acceptance, much of our doing and caring is born from obligation and compulsion rather than true love.

    Thank you for another compelling post with much to consider.

    • Molly Totoro

      I’ve never played Mahjongg, Suzanne, but I am highly interested now!

      I hate to admit it, but I think you’re right. As I look back on life … my prime motivation for doing anything for others has been obligation and responsibility. Love never entered the equation. In fact, for years I proclaimed to dislike the word. I mean, how can I use the same word to describe my favorite food (“I love pizza”) as I do for my spouse and children? Perhaps fear of love, or denial of self-love, was the real issue (?)

      So many facets of these lies to consider and try to rectify in this second-half of life…

  • Natalie

    Thank you, Molly, for sharing this. I think self-love is so necessary and is not selfish at all. We have one life to live and wouldn’t want to become bitter or resentful from lack of self-love. #MLSTL

    • Molly Totoro

      Indeed, Natalie. We do only have one life and I want to live the rest of it to the fullest. Bitterness and resentment are no longer allowed 🙂

  • Leanne | www.crestingthehill.com.au

    Molly I’m from a strong Baptist background and they’re great rule makers too. It took me a long time to grasp the truth of being saved by grace and not by works. I still struggle with guilt when there’s jobs to be done and I’m not putting my hand up, but I’ve also come to terms with the fact that I’m allowed (after 40 years of service on multiple levels!) to take a step back and let others have a turn. Being gracious and kind to ourselves shouldn’t be so hard and I’m sure Jesus shakes his head at how wrong we’ve gotten it previously!
    MLSTL and I’ve shared on my SM 🙂

    • Molly Totoro

      You are so right, Leanne! Why is it so difficult to extend grace and kindness to ourselves!? Perhaps it is tied to the saved by works mentality. I gave myself imaginary gold stars for treating others with love (double stars for extending grace and love to those who hurt me) but somehow I didn’t warrant the same treatment. In fact, if I crossed the line and thought too highly of myself (which I interpreted as don’t think of yourself at all) or if I was too self-indulgent, then Delilah’s chastisement often came with perceived heavenly demerits. I’m glad Jesus’ true message finally broke through her lies. His way is by far more liberating and joyful.

  • Denyse

    A post which has resonated with many. I was brought up in the 1950s and 60s with rule-keeping parents (whose one upbringing was based on their parents and so it goes) and I am a rule keeper (eldest child and teacher??) BUT I have struggled to let the voice of disapproval shrink (getting better) and that voice is still my father’s. He is still alive and in sound mind and I am sure I could “have a conversation” with him about it but I am letting it go and instead introducing a more compassionate inner voice of my own. Denyse #mlstl

    • Molly Totoro

      Denyse, I am also the eldest and a teacher. Hmmm…. 🙂
      I love the expression “introduce a more compassionate inner voice of my own” Yes, I need to strengthen that compassionate voice in order to turn down the volume of Delilah’s criticism. Kudos to letting go of the things you cannot change and moving forward with grace!

  • Victoria

    I can so relate to your younger self and the fear the Lord thoughts. It took me a while to realize God loves me no matter what. Not beating myself up over everything I see in myself as a flaw is a work in progress.

    • Molly Totoro

      We are all a work in progress, aren’t we Victoria? I still cling to the idea of perfection and achieving the goal, rather than giving myself grace and simply enjoy making progress toward that goal (no matter how small the baby steps may be). Thank you for the reminder!

  • Debbie

    I agree with you Molly and those who have left comments, we need to love ourselves and it’s definitely not being selfish to do so. By the way I’m so the eldest and a teacher 😊 #mlstl

    • Molly Totoro

      What a small world! What subject did/do you teach? I was a French and Political Science major (no teaching certificate) who somehow found herself teaching a variety of English class (currently, dual-credit English Comp) 🙂

  • Johanna Castro

    I agree that self love is so important. I’m always reminded of the safety procedure on an aircraft when they tell you to sort out your own oxygen mask before helping others around you. If you can’t function, then you’re of no jolly use to anyone else 🙂 Great post. #MLSTL and shared on SM.

    • Molly Totoro

      Johanna… I think I misdiagnosed my ability to function 🙂 I am faithful to take my car in for a tune-up every 5,000 miles. I’m not sure what made me think I could go 100,000 miles without any sort of self-care.

  • Kay

    I, too, am an oldest child, but not a teacher. I did go into fairly ordered jobs – accountant, librarian. Lots of rules (and the new way of making the library a place for the community has taken a bit of getting used to – there is noise! – Ha!). Anyway, I was also raised in a strict Christian home with all the themes that you mentioned. I don’t think my mother meant for my picture of God to be quite so ‘sinners in the hands of…’, but it ended up that way for a long time. However, over time, that changed. And my relationship with God has changed too. I think losing family members to illness and turning them over to God in my mind has helped. I now have the verse from Hebrews as my favorite – ‘never will I leave you, never will I forsake you’.

    As to self love, again, my mother didn’t mean to make it seem so wrong to love ourselves. However, I can remember her saying over and over ‘I’m not just laying on the couch reading a book all day, I’m working’. In my mind, that set me up to feel guilt over – yes, laying on a couch reading. Quite a dilemma in my book-loving mind. We had a neighbor who was an avid reader and she took an hour every afternoon and actually read. Her kids knew that was her time and to only bother her in an emergency. Somehow, my mother saw that as a bad thing. Sigh. I think that woman was ahead of her time, right? Lots to ponder here, Molly. So enjoying these posts!!

    • Molly Totoro

      WOW, Kay!! I can see how your mom’s off-hand comment could have a radical effect. I know in my house reading was either homework or a quiet before bedtime activity. I don’t ever remember seeing either of my parents reading in the middle of the day. And, now that I think about it, I struggle to allow myself that “luxury” today. Your neighbor had the right idea. We can all learn from her example 🙂

  • 1010ParkPlace

    I’m sorry you grew up feeling that way, Molly. I’ve been a practicing Christian for 20 years, but many of the women in my Bible study group grew up “in the church,” feeling like you do. I’m beginning my sixth reading of the Bible and find the differences in the of God in the Old and New Testament to be so interesting: Sending His Son to die for our sins definitely reveals another side of God. Actually I’m glad I didn’t grow up in the church. It’s difficult enough to find our confidence and footing in life without feeling less than and fearing God’s wrath. Brenda

    • Molly Totoro

      Brenda… As I look back on my parochial school upbringing, I am confident I was only taught about the old testament God. In fact, it wasn’t until my 30s that I knew the Old and New Testaments were connected (how embarrassing is that?!) But for that past four years, I have focused my Bible reading on the New Testament and Christ’s example of unconditional love. It is truly GOOD news 🙂

  • RJ Thesman

    Powerful post. And I would add the importance of the word “as.” Love others AS you love yourself. Implies a sense of balance. Thanks, Molly, for reminding us to find that balance.

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