Christianity: The Real Self-Love Movement

I have been intrigued by the self-love movement for years. Watching it has led me to wonder: is self-love prideful and evil? Or is it inspired and good?

What is the self-love movement?

According to theself-lovemovement.com, “Self-Love is the act of putting your own happiness & well-being first, something that is lacking within our current society.”

The self-love movement takes place largely online, but it has extended into a culture offline as well. It has become common and trendy for bloggers, social media influencers, writers, and other celebrities to promote self-love.

A whole industry is prospering to serve the demand for self-love treatment (also known as self-care). Self-love retreat organizations thrive on providing people (especially women) personal vacations as a way to escape the world and find themselves.

The problem

I propose that the problem the self-love movement seeks to resolve is valid and real.

I define this problem as: too many people struggle with self-identity, self-confidence, and even self-love, and women are at particular risk of insecurity.

Indeed, mental illness and loneliness are on the rise, especially among millennials and Gen Z. A quick visit to the ADA’s website confirms that 18% of adults in the US suffer from anxiety, and that anxiety affects women more than men. (Anxiety and Depression Association of America)

Doctrinally, this problem is also confirmed. Satan works tirelessly to discourage us. An Ensign article from 2009 reveals Satan’s motives and methods: “One way that Satan attempts to overcome us with [despair, discouragement, despondency, and depression] is by telling us lies about our worth and about God’s feelings toward us.” (Truths and Lies)

The Plan of Salvation (which explains where we come from, why we are here, and where we are going) reveals to us part of why we feel out of place in our physical lives and bodies. Elder Gerard of the Quorum of the Seventy seconded a quote often attributed to Pierre Teilhard de Chardin: “As the well-known axiom reminds us, ‘We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.’”

The world’s solution

The self-love movement has much to say about how to achieve self-love.

Courtesy of Instagram

Besides turning to social media influencers and registering for a week-long retreat in Fiji, simple Google searches for self-love tips quickly produce the following (and millions more):

  • Practice mindfulness, accept the feelings you experience, use self-talk to encourage yourself (Psychology Today)
  • Create a self-love ritual, know that your body is a loving vessel, clean out your closet, explore your spirituality (mbgmindfulness)
  • Travel once a year, love yourself by saying no to others, make a list of your accomplishments (The Law of Attraction)
  • Light some candles and enjoy some wine, take a hot shower, do some creative writing, watch YouTube videos of cute animals, take a full day (even if you have to call in sick) and just take care of yourself (The Law of Attraction)
  • Drink some water first thing in the morning, have a mini dance party, get a tomato plant, sit up straight, do some planks (Women’s Health Magazine)
  • Unplug for an hour, inhale an upbeat smell, stroke a pet (Tiny Buddha)

I am grateful for the immense information available at our fingertips. I believe, however, that loving ourselves in the ways the online self-love movement recommends will bring, at best, only fleeting peace and self-gratification, and at worst, lasting disappointment and regret.

God’s solution

God wants us to feel His love and to understand our self-worth. He teaches us how to do this in ways different and higher than the world’s. His ways don’t start with us loving ourselves, but they do lead to true self-love and a full understanding of our own self-worth.

I’ve identified 3 main ways God teaches us what the world can’t about filling our need for self-love, self-identity, and self-confidence:

1) Love God and find yourself

And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.

Mark 12:30

The Lord grants us commandments for our happiness. (Doctrine and Covenants 130:20-21, The Love and Laws of God) Therefore, I believe the first great commandment is the one most critical for our happiness.

We can love God more by praying to Him, studying His word, and striving to live His commandments. As we do so, we will better understand His love and even more fully accept it into our lives. Only this can truly fill the vacancy in our hearts and teach us who we truly are: beloved sons and daughters of God.

Elder Taylor of the Quorum of the Seventy confirms this claim: “Coming to know our Father changes everything, especially our hearts, as His gentle Spirit confirms our true identity and great worth in His sight. God walks with us along the covenant path as we seek Him through prayerful pleadings, scriptural searchings, and obedient strivings.” 

2) Serve your neighbor to find yourself

Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

Mark 12:31

Some Christians (particularly in the self-love movement) have claimed that, because we are to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, we cannot love and serve others until we love ourselves. They use this as justification to withhold service until the self has been served.

I disagree.

First of all, Christ also commands us to “love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.” (John 13:34) This actually raises the bar! No one has loved us more than Christ. We can only strive to one day reach this level of love. 

Photo by Anna Earl on Unsplash

But second (in case that wasn’t enough to destroy that argument for you), the Lord didn’t ask us to love our neighbors once we love ourselves. He only asked us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. I believe these two are bound in positive correlation; as one increases, the other does as well, and vice versa. If we struggle loving others, we can rely on our “self-love” (or rather, sense of self-worth) to acknowledge them as children of God, just like us.

Likewise, when we struggle loving ourselves, we can turn outward in loving others. As we do so, we will better understand our self-worth and divine identity. Ezra Taft Benson, former president of the Church, agreed: “If you would find yourself, learn to deny yourself for the blessing of others. Forget yourself and find someone who needs your service, and you will discover the secret to the happy, fulfilled life.” (General Conference 1979)

3) Repent and come unto Christ to become your best self

Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourself of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God.

Moroni 10:32

This is perhaps the biggest difference between the world’s version of self-love and God’s love for us. While the world flatters you that you are already enough, Christ tells us we are enough for Him to begin working on us. “’Come as you are,’ a loving Father says to each of us, but He adds, ‘Don’t plan to stay as you are.’” (Elder Jeffrey R. Holland)

The natural man (and Instagram) will insist you need no change, but sometimes, your feelings of dissatisfaction with yourself are a sign of “divine discontent.” (Sister Michelle D. Craig) There really may be things about yourself that you are not meant to love. For example, you may hold a grudge against someone, spend your time in unworthy causes, or eat very unhealthily. We are called to deny ourselves of these things.

“When we choose to repent, we choose to change! We allow the Savior to transform us into the best version of ourselves. We choose to grow spiritually and receive joy—the joy of redemption in Him. When we choose to repent, we choose to become more like Jesus Christ!” (President Russell M. Nelson)

God knows what we need to be happy, and He loves us. Christ has laid the way. He lived the most selfless life, and He is now exalted. He too wishes all blessings and happiness for us. We can gain this only by becoming more like Him.

“…increasing in holiness was the only path to happiness. He made it plain that greater holiness is made possible through the Atonement of Jesus Christ cleansing and perfecting us. Only by faith in Jesus Christ, continuing repentance, and keeping covenants are we able to claim the lasting happiness we all yearn to experience and retain.” (Elder Henry B. Eyring)

What the self-love movement gets so close

Some Christians have claimed that the self-love movement is entirely evil and inspired by Satan. I believe that, in most cases, it is simply well-meaning people trying to overcome the world without heaven’s assistance.

By itself, the social media version of the self-love movement cannot bring lasting happiness. However, giving credit where it is due, much about it is good and almost hits the mark. In combination with the Word of the Lord, many precepts of the self-love movement may help us achieve peace, balance, and even a better sense of our self-worth.

No person without God can be perfect, and neither can anything else—including a movement. That person or movement may, however, have many good morals, practices, and advice. It is important to accept goodness and truth wherever it comes from, even if it is limited in measure.

Here are 3 examples:

1) Acknowledging your good attributes

One thing the self-love movement often preaches is to acknowledge your good traits or actions. I have heard some suggest that you write things you love about yourself. 

There is evidence from good authority that God agrees. Former president of the Church, Thomas S. Monson, gave this brief address to women on Facebook: 

“Sometimes, my dear sisters, you feel inadequate and ineffective because you can’t do all that you feel you should. Rather than continually dwelling on what still needs to be done, pause occasionally and reflect on all that you do and have done. It is most significant.

“The good you have done, the kind words you have spoken, the love you have shown to others, can never be fully measured.”

LDS Living

Additionally, we are encouraged to identify and understand our spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12 and 13) as well as receive and study our own patriarchal blessings.

2) Meditation

Meditation is a very popular form of self-love. Many promote daily meditation as a removal and rest from the world as well as an exploration of thought and self.

God has asked us to ponder prayerfully, counsel that sounds like nearly the same thing:

  • “Be still and know that I am God” Psalm 46:10
  • “Therefore, go ye unto your homes, and ponder upon the things which I have said, and ask of the Father, in my name, that ye may understand, and prepare your minds for the morrow, and I come unto you again.” 3 Nephi 17:3
  • “To meditate and think deeply, often upon the scriptures or other things of God. When combined with prayer, pondering the things of God may bring revelation and understanding.” Topical Guide, Ponder

3) Health

Many self-love advocates and influencers focus heavily on health and fitness. I’m concerned that jumping on the latest health craze or devoting too much time and money to fitness fads can prove dangerous to one’s life balance and perhaps even lead to excessive focus on one’s number on the scale or clothing size. (How quickly has science jumped on and off the coconut oil train? Be careful where you put your faith.)

Of course, much of this part of the movement is good, like general encouragement to exercise. Science has consistently proved that exercise is a great way to relieve stress, improve physical health, and alleviate the effects of mental illness.

However, we must remember that our Father, the authority above all, has commanded us to care for our health. He even gives details about how to treat our bodies: Doctrine and Covenants 89.

In conclusion

The self-love movement is rooted in good intentions and a real social necessity. The best solutions it can offer may tap into spiritual truths, but no combination of these solutions from the world is complete. Even its best parts are destined to fail if they stand alone.

The Lord has given us the way to really understand our self-worth. It is only through His word and His commands that we can fill our need for true love.

What do you think?

There’s so much more to say about the self-love movement. What’s your take? What’s been your experience with it?

One thought on “Christianity: The Real Self-Love Movement

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