#LIEBE: DARING TO BE CRITICAL IN LOVE (WITH YOURSELF)

If you have ever opened TikTok, Instagram or basically any other social media app, chances are that you have encountered posts propagating messages such as ‘If people don’t like you for who you are, that’s their problem,’ ‘Just focus on yourself, there is no room for others,’ and ‘Guilt is a pointless emotion.’

These bite-sized manifestos are made in the name of self-love and are supposedly meant to encourage us to love ourselves. Sounds fair, you might think, and then attempt to implement these ideas for yourself and your life. But what if you took a minute to consider what is actually being said here? Beyond the sound intent of inspiring us to love ourselves, each of these statements and their numerous variations are also actively encouraging the erasure of opposing opinions, which should, in any case, trigger some alarms.

Cultivating a loving relationship with ourselves is quintessential for our own wellbeing. But when does this love turn from a healthy, nurturing thing to a narcissistic self-obsession? In our highly individualistic culture, we are increasingly wrapped up in ourselves and, just like Narcissus, we have turned the gaze onto ourselves, though instead of staring at our own reflection in a pond, we nurture our self-fixation through the selfie lens of our smartphones. 

In the age of late stage capitalism, anything and everything can be turned into a product which can be sold for profit – and this includes self-love.

How many times have you seen the motto ‘self-love is self-care,’ followed by the suggestion that this smelly candle or this caviar cream can be just the proof of this self-love? Whether the relationship is between friends, parent and child, romantic, or simply with oneself, love is not something that can be bought with expensive gifts. Certainly, there is nothing wrong with treating yourself and those you care for with heartfelt gifts; however, materialistic objects cannot be the foundation upon which you build a relationship. 

Just like every other relationship in our lives, the relationship with the self has to be open to develop and evolve and we have to be able to take (constructive!) criticism from both ourselves and others. We need to allow conversations about issues without lashing out at those who point out things that are disparate with our self-perception. If we cannot take an opposing opinion, it is likely an indicator that our relationship with ourselves is not as strong or honest as we like to think is it. If we only allow approving voices into our sphere, we will end up living in echo chambers where all our energy goes towards desperately defending the feeble construction we have created. And, personally, that sounds like a nightmare.

The American singer Lizzo is often referred to as the “Queen of Self-Love.” And, sure, with lyrics like “I am my inspiration, I am my inspiration” and “I don’t see nobody else / ’Scuse me while I feel myself,” one would be forgiven for presuming that all she seems to need is herself. However, what we often tend to forget is all the times she has spoken about the hard work that lies behind her relationship with herself and how she relies on support from the people close to her. 

Undoubtedly, loving yourself is important and your relationship with yourself will affect every other relationship you have: A healthy, sound self-relationship is a great foundation for your other relationships, just as a self-absorbed, egotistic self-relationship can be a toxic base for your social life. Our self-love should not come at the cost of others or be competitive. We have to remember that though we are individuals with emotions and dreams that should be respected in their own right, we are also part of a collective and if we forget this, we will end up alienating ourselves from the world around us. Compassion and empathy are how we relate to the world and are some of the most beautiful traits in human beings. Without them, we would act like psychopaths. Of course, this does not mean that we have to take criticism that is made with harmful intent or always turn the other cheek. But once we truly love ourselves, honestly and wholeheartedly, we will have a much easier time handling those who are set on hurting us and others.

Slogans like ‘Only one person’s opinions matter – and they are yours’ are catchy and easy to embrace. But the problem with building a relationship with yourself based on one-liners taken from social media is that they neglect the true nature of relationships: Relationships are not a matter of black-and-white, right or wrong, this or that. No, relationships are complex, infuriating, amazing, confusing and hard things, which require a lot of work.

You will make mistakes and you will be called out on them and you will feel ashamed – and that’s ok! It’s human. We need to stop perceiving shame as a concept which ruins us, but rather as a tool from which we can learn and grow. Self-love, like any love, is not selfish and it’s not always great. True self-love is being able to sit with yourself on a shitty day, with all the things about yourself that you don’t love, ashamed of yesterday’s behavior 

– and still be able to say ‘I love you.’ Like the vows that have been exchanged countless times in ceremonies cementing partnerships, ‘for better or for worse’ are words that ring just as true when applied to the relationship with oneself.

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Words by Erhan Kobak