This concept of self-love is alien to me

 

THAT'S MEN: I DON’T LOVE myself. Never have, never will – and it doesn’t bother me in the least.

The thought struck me for the first time last week when I eavesdropped on two women on the bus, tearing an

absent colleague to shreds (a pleasure I realised I have greatly missed since I began to work from home).

The colleague had many faults, ranging from not having a clue how to do his job (from which I deduce that he was a manager) to sporting a suspect head of hair which his critics believe may be dyed.

Note, by the way, that men “dye” their hair which they are then supposed to wear as a badge of shame, while women get a “colour” in their hair and bask in the admiration of everyone in the vicinity.

Of all his faults, though, one in particular stood out: “He just loves himself. Oh, he loves himself. He thinks he’s the greatest thing ever,” one declared. “He’d sicken ya,” her companion chimed in.

That was it – his besetting sin, the one from which, judging by the scorn in their voices, there could be no coming back.

It was when I was thinking over that episode later that I had my realisation: if these harridans ever accuse me of loving myself they’ll be sorely mistaken because I don’t.

In certain quarters, loving yourself is seen as a prerequisite for happiness. Moreover, if you don’t love yourself you can’t love anyone else, we are told.

Tosh and nonsense. I have encountered many people whose love for others is undiminished by the fact that they don’t love themselves.

Indeed, up to the later part of the 20th century, people would have looked at you as though you were mad if you announced that you loved yourself. When I was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, self-love was not a concept we heard about.

Still, my new realisation that I did not love myself surprised me. Why had I never thought of it before? Is it because I grew up at a time when people didn’t think about such things? Or could it be that self-love isn’t, in fact, a prerequisite for a satisfactory life?

Whatever the answer, what most surprised me about the realisation was that it seemed to matter so little.

When I say I don’t love myself, does that mean I hate myself? Not at all. I even like myself a lot of the time.

I look on myself as a sort of butler to myself. A butler who has stayed in the job for a long time has grown, I imagine, to have a tolerant affection for his master who still annoys him intensely from time to time, but who has sufficient good points to keep the relationship going. That is where I stand in relation to myself.

That will do.

Addendum: What a pity we have lost our ability to express joy physically in everyday life – or, more likely, have lost permission to do so.

At the official opening recently of an extended facility for Enable Ireland in Crumlin, Dublin, we all stood or sat to listen to a choir who had come in from the nearby Rosary College.

What took my attention, and that of some of the members of the choir, was a man who moved to the music as he sat, not just listening but expressing his joy. He simply allowed the vivacity of the choir to flow through him.

It was great to see the joy of the occasion put into movement – after all, there is much to be joyful about when you see a service like Enable Ireland expanding a facility in these times.

But what, I wondered, has happened to us as humans that a person expressing joy on a joyful occasion should be noticeable? Are we losing the connection with the natural flow of our feelings? And where does that leave us?


Padraig O’Morain (pomorain@ireland.com) is accredited as a counsellor by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His book, Light Mind – Mindfulness for Daily Living, is published by Veritas. His mindfulness newsletter is free by e-mail.