Dear Dr. NerdLove:
A common truism you hear a lot about dating is “You have to learn to love yourself before you can love anyone else”. I’m bringing that up so I can tie dating to something I want to pick your brain on, which is about self-love.
I find the messaging around how one should feel about themselves to be confusing to navigate. One hand, it’s generally understood one should learn to be humble and self-critical, because the mind is naturally biased towards itself and will resist hearing negative things about itself. On the other hand, we warn about self-loathing and excessive self-criticism. A person having too much negative self-talk is a sign of depression.
To make this more personal, I’m one of those people prone to self-deprecating humor. It’s a habit I’ve had since middle school. I admit, it was definitely unhealthy back then when I would say things like I’m stupid or ugly, things I didn’t really believe but got laughs. Nowadays I try to be more realistic (I’m a knowledgeable person and I look okay when I dress well, I think) but I’ll still joke about how much of a loser I am occasionally. I see some criticism of self-deprecating humor and ironically it’s makes me defensive. I think, “Yeah, I’m making myself look bad, but at least I’m humbling myself. Better than being egotistical”.
And that’s what I want to know. How can I have confidence and practice self-love without becoming a narcissist? I see people online express love towards themselves in ways that I could never feel comfortable doing because I believe that if I said them, it would be arrogant. I could never say “I’m hot” or “I’m cool” because I just don’t believe those about myself. I’m not saying that people who do are arrogant, I’m just saying I don’t have the will to stand up for myself if I got push back for saying those things. And I just have a hard time relating to people who do.
And I mean, while lack of self-confidence can be harmful to one’s health and social life, arrogance does still exist right? Whenever we see someone gassing themselves up to an extreme level and acting like they’re the hottest shit in the room we all recognize that person as an asshole. I mean look at the Artist Formally Known as Kanye. Few people looked at that guy and thought “That man is an example of radical self-love”.
What makes the pressure to gain self-love worse for me is the political aspect of it. There are people who practice self-love not just for their mental health, but to push back against a society that devalues anyone who isn’t a cishet white male (What’s that phrase? “Lord grant me the confidence of a mediocre white man”). I’m a POC so I understand the importance of that, but if I’m in a situation where I’m not being valued, I just can’t imagine getting away with responding with “You just don’t want to see a proud afro-latino thrive”.
Where I’m at is that I think I love myself as much as I would if I were a separate person, and that I could love myself more if I felt I’ve improved. I believe my humility is honest and not just a shield to make people comfortable. It might have been back in middle school, but I swear it isn’t anymore. Yet people make it sound like loving yourself is something anyone can learn to do no matter who they are and what state they are at. And if that’s true, then I have no idea what’s holding me back.
So what do you think? How does one gain self-love without feeling arrogant?
Love At Fifth Sight