You can’t love others until you love yourself. As Erich Fromm was fond of saying, there is no concept of humanity of which you are not a part, and any doctrine that insists on the need to love others while excluding the need to love yourself proves itself to be fundamentally flawed and contradictory. You are a person, and humanity is made up of people.
Some feel guilty for spending time working on themselves, as if they are being narcissistic or selfish. This probably has to do with confusion surrounding the huge difference between selfishness and self-love. Actually selfishness is undeniable proof that you don’t love yourself. The compulsive need to take from everything and everyone is an unconscious compensation for this lack of love. The goal, whether consciously recognized or not, is to try to fill up the black hole that exists where love for yourself should be, hoping that things like admiration, fame, possessions, money, or a position of power will do the trick. But it never does and this is why people who are selfish are never satisfied and always need more.
It can be painful to shine the light of mindfulness and realize you’re not doing a very good job of loving yourself. If you’re not taking care of your body with exercise and a healthy diet, if you overly abuse drugs or alcohol, if you smoke lots of cigarettes, if you overwork to the detriment of your personal relationships, if you’re obsessed with external validation, or if you feel aimless in your life it’s worth taking some time to quietly reflect on what these manifest symptoms have to tell you about the way you really feel about yourself deep down.
Think about the person you love the most in the world. All of the great things you want for them, all of the encouragement and help you have given, your unceasing desire to keep them from harm and see them live a full life, are the exact same feelings you’ve got to have for yourself. There is nothing wrong or selfish about this. You deserve your love just as much as they do.
You can take outward steps to care for yourself, like exercising or pursuing your passions, and an inward transformation will start to occur too. We become more generous and start to think about how to help others live fuller lives that are authentically theirs once we’re on the path to doing this for ourselves. We can’t help others light their lamps until we have lit our own.