The Problem of Unconditional Self-Love

Ethan Hill
Jun 5, 2018 · 4 min read
A stock image I found on Google that I thought depicted deep, melancholic thought well enough.

As I often do whilst procrastinating more important work, I was browsing Instagram, and from inside a story, I read a quote that got me thinking. At the top of the screen, the user had sprawled the words ‘love yourself unconditionally’ without much context. I held my thumb there for a while. I hadn’t ever stopped and really thought about that phrase before, which in retrospect I remembered seeing a few other places. Unfortunately for my project, when I get started on a philosophical rabbit trail, I usually don’t stop until an essay has been written.

For your reading pleasure, here are the fruits of said thought process.

In order to love something unconditionally, it would mean that, under any circumstances, it is still given love (sacrificial devotion). Because of this definition, it is therefore impossible to love two things unconditionally unless they are perfectly synchronized. Otherwise, if their intentions opposed, no options exist but to apply conditions on your love of one and not the other. It’s a prime example of the irresistible force paradox —reality isn’t The Phantom Tollbooth — something has to budge.

Let me explain. If you love yourself unconditionally, that means that you are willing to sacrifice others and other things in order to benefit yourself. This is where the phrase turns from a seemingly self-empowering message to an incredibly self-focused problem. Someone who loves themselves unconditionally will never put themselves in harms’ way to save someone or sacrifice time and money for something else without getting an obvious benefit, and when they die, everything they fought for will die with them — the only things that remain are the side-effects of their self-infatuation. Upon reflection, it’s without question a truly miserable way to spend the few days we have here on this planet.

But I understand the sentiment behind this statement. It’s designed to combat the opposite extreme, which is ironically also self-focused — self-loathing. These extremes are two sides of the ‘ego coin’, and in many ways, are indistinguishable. Someone who hates themselves are sacrificing the joy they could receive from others by wallowing in a quagmire of their own self-pity. Ironically, in an effort to free themselves from this, the application of ‘unconditional self-love’ is less of an antidote to the anxiety problem and more akin to an egoistic costume change.

With all that said, what is the solution to the true problem lying behind all of these cesspools of self-destruction (as I like to call them)? The best-case hypothetical scenario solution for the dilemma presented above is a situation in which one overarching, perfectly benevolent, fully capable entity is receiving your unconditional love, and through this act, the residual effect is behavioral mimicry, where you love everyone else conditionally yet with more strength behind it than otherwise. If you have made a commitment to someone who will never disappoint you and whom loves those you love more than you do, then suddenly you no longer need to worry about loving others unconditionally.

“…the application of ‘unconditional self-love’ is less of an antidote to the anxiety problem and more akin to an egoistic costume change.”

But who or what could possibly maintain a relational system even remotely close to the above move? Well… Jesus can, as is the usual conclusion in my posts, but he is for a reason. The gospel is the solution because the act of worshiping Jesus pulls the focus off yourself and towards someone who is deserving of self-sacrificial love. Because he loves everyone else, including those who you can’t stand, by loving him unconditionally, the residual effect is that you love everyone else, too.

It’s alright that I love my family and friends conditionally because if I love Jesus unconditionally, it will work in their best interests — they’ll be loved just the same, if not more so. Best of all, I don’t have to worry about trying to love myself and then getting anxious about my self-focus — he loves me for me! I don’t have to worry about self-improving or any of that since he does it for me, leaving me time and effort and energy to love him, instead.

So, if loving yourself unconditionally isn’t working out for you as well as you thought it would, or if it’s making you into a jerk, or if it’s causing you more anxiety that you hoped it would get rid of, there is a vastly superior alternative.

But I’m just an eighteen-year-old with too much time on his hands to write essays. You go out there and pursue truth as well. Your solution exists.

Ethan Hill

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Author, programmer, and unconditional devotee of Jesus Christ.