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Real vs. False Self-Love: a Key to Successful Couples Love


Synopsis: Here we explore questions of how healthy self-love helps a couple’s relationship and how false self-love harms it; what may be getting in the way of healthy self-love and the help it can give love relationships; how healthy self-love goes beyond self-esteem; and how healthy self-love is one of the keys to healthy, lasting, couple’s love.


Couples Love and Self-Love

It is likely you have heard it said, “To love another you must first love yourself” and maybe then heard something like “that is the key or a key to succeeding in couple’s love.”  It might be more accurate, although not as simple and catchy, to say “To romantically, and as an adult, succeed at couple’s love, healthy real self-love can be extraordinarily important”.  There are quite a few ways healthy self-love supports healthy, successful, couple’s love.  There also are a number of things that get in the way of developing healthy, real self-love which in turn negatively affects couple’s love and all other forms of love relationships.  One of the most important is your attitude toward self-love.

How Have You Been Taught to Think and Feel about Self-Love?

In many places it still is taught and preached that self-love is to be considered a serious sin or at least a very bad and selfish thing.  It wasn’t until the late 1800's that the super-influential psychologist, William James, put forth the idea that there were two kinds of self-love that were actually positive.  One had to do with feeling positive affection for oneself which helps with enjoying life and the other was about self protection which, of course, helps with survival.

Not much happened with that idea until Dr. Eric Fromm in the 1950's in The Art of Loving pointed out how important self-love was not only to survival but also to loving others.  This positive view of loving yourself was very controversial and much condemned in many authoritative religious and dominant philosophical circles, much as it had been since the Middle Ages.  In the highly influential theology of Calvin and the equally important philosophy of Kant, self-love was reasoned to be extremely destructive to individuals, to society and, furthermore, it was seen as spiritually corrupting.

Whether you know it or not consciously, it is likely you have been influenced by those leaders and other standards setters of commonly accepted moral thought.  If so you may be subconsciously prejudiced against self-love or at least conflicted about it.  If you are even only moderately anti-self-love consciously or subconsciously, that is likely to be harming your love relationships.  That is according to recent clinical thinking in couple’s and family therapy and research on the effects of negative thinking about yourself.

What We Do Not Mean by “Self-Love”

By self-love we do not mean being egotistic, narcissistic, hedonistic, self-indulgent, selfish, uncaring, having a me first attitude, or anything like what those words refer to.  Those words, in fact, describe characteristics of false self-love.  Healthy, real self-love actually is seen as leading away from those character traits rather than toward them.  That is what a growing body of recent psychosocial and clinical research points to.  People who become narcissistic, egotistical, etc. are clinically viewed as trying to make up for a lack of love in their life, especially self-love.  They just are going about it in a very poor way.  As one little kid in children’s therapy once put it, “There’s a hole in my self-love bucket and I can’t plug the leak – yet.).

Getting into “As” and Its Magnificent Importance

We want you to get into the word “as” and what it can really mean.  It can mean at the same time, in the same way, to the same degree and along with.  Now apply that to the great, early, Hebrew admonition which also is the second of only two commandments from the Christian’s Jesus teaching that goes “love others AS you love yourself.  This statement also is interpreted as “love your neighbor as you love yourself”; neighbor being explained as everyone you may have any effect on.

If you love another as you love yourself, you highly value both, you are concerned with, desire for, and when possible act for and take pleasure in the well-being of both.  You also enjoy both in many ways, are protective of both, have a strong sense of connection about both, you wish to nurture both, and if possible you work to heal both if sick or injured.  All this and more is encapsulated in what is meant by “AS”.

Going Beyond Self-Esteem

Some people get self-esteem and self love confused with each other.  Healthy, real self-love definitely includes but goes far beyond self-esteem, sense of self-worth, self respect, positive self regard, self appreciation, etc.  The kind of love we are talking about here involves a feeling of strong, genuine affection toward our own person, a big sense of awe about one’s self, an appreciative curiosity for discovering more about ourselves, a constructive desire for being healthy and happy and for doing the self-care involved in that, and involves the spiritual joy of being in existence.  There is pride but there also is a thankfulness for all the good fortune involved in becoming who one is.  There also is great  gratitude for being the unique work of art that we can experience ourselves to be.

This is different from the false form of love of the narcissistic egotist who looks down on others and falsely elevates himself, taking all credit for who they try to see themselves as being.  With healthy self-love there is self honoring but not looking down at others.  Instead healthy self-loving people look across to others as equals while appreciating differences seeing others also as unique works of art.  It is a self-love that motivates us to love others ever better as part of our own self-fulfillment.  From that comes a love of life, of others, of nature, of art, etc. which in turn makes us far better people with much more to offer the world and those we love.

Learning about Self-Love for Couple’s Love

There are many important reasons for learning the differences between real and false love and applying that knowledge to self-love.  One good reason is it is healthy self-love to avoid the various forms of couple’s false love that can ruin your life.  Another good reason is it also is healthy self-love to convert destructive couple’s false love to real love, or if you can not convert it to the real thing it is healthy self-love to escape toxic, couple’s false love.  These are some of the reasons Kathleen McClaren and I wrote our e-book, Real Love False Love.  It is the first and so far only book known to us which covers 12 Major Forms of destructive, false love.  Real Love False Love also offers quite a few fresh, different, very practical ways of understanding and dealing with all sorts of love issues.  It details how you can tell the real from the false along with many fresh ideas for attaining the real thing. (Real Love, False Love is now available at Amazon.com: Kindle e-books link at a new low price.  If you get it there, we would be ever so delighted if you give it a brief review and a rating – yes, that is a plug).

How Healthy Self-Love Improves Couples Love

When we love ourselves we feel good about ourselves.  Not all the time, but often.  When we feel good about ourselves we know we have something to offer and want to offer it and help those we love to feel good about themselves too.  We enjoy them better and enjoy life with them better.  When we have low self-love, we tend to be down on ourselves much more frequently and that makes us less for those we love.  To love someone well, it helps to often be up and to be able to participate with energy, with up emotions and when necessary with empathy and caring.  Low self-love leads to low and poor, quality output in just about everything, including in our love relationships.  Creativity, motivation, loving interaction, sexuality, generosity, sharing and many more, all suffer in relationships where there is low, healthy, real self-love.

How False Self Love Harms Couple’s Love

False self-love tends to bring on defensiveness, selfishness, arrogance, conceit, disdain, being overbearing, deceitfulness to hide inadequacies and to appear as having more worth and okayness than is true.  Low self-love tends to result in becoming critical as a way to appear better than others and commits the mistakes and causes the harm described in Carl Jung’s “Superiority Complex”.  Superiority complexes are in fact created to cover a secret, inferiority complex.  People in this kind of false self-love can and do play a lot of destructive, psychological games of the “I’m okay, you’re not” type.  Putdowns and passive aggressive attacks are also common here.  They sometimes tend to quite subtly and sometimes more obviously tear down more than build up the people they supposedly love.  At the very least, they neglect them and cause love malnutrition.  All this, over time, can be very destructive to the supposedly loved one and to the relationship.

Another form of low self-love results in poor self-care, needless self-sacrifice, a destructive lack of confidence, under-judging one’s own competence and generally not being able to offer the best of oneself because of self negation.  Those who have good self-love know they have quality to offer and they offer it much more freely and frequently.  Those with false self-love secretly tend to sense what they have to offer is not so great so they are much more stingy when it comes to giving of themselves.  They also sense their bucket has a leak in it so they are much more likely to be selfishly greedy working to get love rather than give it, or only giving it to get it.

To learn more about healthy self-love link to this site’s other mini-love-lessons which contain the word self-love in the title.  They can be found both in the Subject Index and the Title Index which can be found under the blue banner at the top of this site.

As always – Go and Grow with Love

Dr. J. Richard Cookerly

Love Success Question:  How are you helping those you love, including yourself, have greater, healthy, real self-love?

Subject categories: False Love and Myths, Kinds of Love, Problems and Pain, Theories and Understandings

Keywords: self-esteem, self-confidence, couple’s love, key to success, lasting love

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