Posted by: thealienist | March 4, 2010

Foundations of Mental Health: Love (Part II)

While love (agape) for yourself is important, the main problem that many have in loving themselves is not knowing how to practice it.  Some make the mistake (in my opinion) of simply doing what feels good for themselves.  The problem they encounter is not that it is wrong to make ourselves feel good (as some ascetics would have it) but that our feelings are an untrustworthy guide.  Many things that make us feel good are good but only under certain circumstances and in particular doses.

Christianity offers a paradoxical answer to the question of self-love.  It says that the best way for you to love yourself is to love (agape) others.  There is a children’s song we used to sing in Bible school called, “Love is Something if You Give It Away.”  The message of the song is that if you give your love to others, you will end up having more love for yourself.  It’s true.  If we look for opportunities to assist those around us in getting the best for them, we will be giving ourselves the best we can get as well.  For example, if I take it upon myself to look out for the interests of others, several things will happen.  First, some will be grateful, and I will receive the good will of my neighbor (even if some of them were not my friends to begin with).  Second, some will take this opportunity to grow spiritually, morally, physically, emotionally, intellectually, or financially; and I will be surrounded by better people.  Third, I have opened my life to those around me and can enjoy their successes and be happy with them.  Fourth, (for those who believe in such things) I have made my God happy with my service to others.

In addition to showing love (agape) to my neighbors as a way of loving myself, I can use agape to energize other kinds of love that are important to me.  If I love (agape) my wife, I want her to be happy and successful.  I will make sure that she has the opportunities to exercise her abilities and entertain her interests, and I will be a partner in these activities if I can.  In short, I will be a friend (philia) to her, and she will be a friend to me.  I will also want her to be sexually fulfilled and have the greatest erotic relationship I can give her, at the same time showing her constant affection (storge).  Oddly enough, if I do these things, my wife will help me be happy and successful.  She will be affectionate and be willing to provide the erotic relationship I desire.  The song is right, I end up having more.

Some might see this argument as selfish.  I know this because I have been accused by some Christians as promoting selfishness.  I would counter that this is not selfishness, this is simply Christian self-interest.  God set up the rules that we would be blessed if we bless others.  He does not guarantee that we will be rich or powerful, but he does say that he loves (agape) us and will give us the best things.  He knows what we need, and we need love (all kinds).



  1. While I can see how this argument could be seen as selfish, cause and affect is not by its nature selfish. And much of this is cause and affect. Not always, but often, good we do comes back to us. So I think I agree Dr. Casada. I really enjoyed the post! I also still refer back often to what I learned in Abnormal Psych last semester.


  2. Thank you for your comments. It’s good to see that some of my students have found my blog.

    By the way, I stopped in at your blog and enjoyed it very much.


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