I’m sorry to report there is no ancient wisdom on this topic.
It seems as if we had no problems with self love in the past. So, what the hell went wrong?
The ancients gave us a three way understanding of love eros, philia, and agape. Eros is the passionate love you feel towards your lover. Philia is a feeling of fondness and loyalty toward your friends, family and even abstract things and disciplines. Agape is best understood through a religious prism as an all encompassing love towards god and humanity, that is passionate yet not seeking reciprocity. Even later variations such as courtly love, have something in common with the Greek notions of love. Love is relational. In the past it was sufficient to love something external to your self. One could love their lover, child, god, ideas… Thus the obvious question is when did the subject that loves also become the object of that love and why?
The first part of the question is not too difficult to answer. We can find a fantastic explanation in the BBC documentary The Century of the Self. The “great” age of consumerism, which started in the 20th century, put the spotlight on the individual, and that changed the perception of the human life, i.e. how we see ourself and our role in the society. The second part of the question is a bit more tricky, and I will leave it unanswered for the time being.
I will, however, treat you with some Žižek’s wisdom. I think it serves as an excellent illustration of the self love problem.
“When we love somebody we don’t accept him or her as what the person effectively is. We accept him or her insofar as this person fits the co-ordinates of our fantasy. We misidentify, wrongly identify him or her, which is why when we discover that we were wrong, love can quickly turn into violence.”
This means that when I don’t meet the standards of my fantasy self, when I discover that my fantasy does not convert into reality, I quickly turn violent towards myself. It almost seems a rational thing to do.
So, what does it mean to love yourself?
I’m afraid hearing constant praise or saying super positive affirmations about oneself does not work for everybody.
The only practical advice I can give relates to the Žižek quote, and that is to catch yourself in the fantasy, or better yet, to love yourself means to really get to know yourself as you truly are.
And now I’m curious about you dear reader. What does it mean to you to love yourself?