Rather, I am referring to the feeling of self-worth and self-acceptance, both recognized as components of a person's ability to effectively function and co-exist in society.
Growing up, most of us heard a thousand times how it is better to give than to receive. That's true, but in the process of giving, some of us (particularly, I would say, women and mothers) get so used to selflessly giving to others that we forget about giving to ourselves.
Over the years, I have tended to neglect myself to a fault while taking care of others. However, we know from both the Quran and Hadith that we have obligations to ourselves as well — obligations to nourish our souls, minds, and bodies with the bountiful resources that Allah has blessed us with.
Also we have an obligation to get proper sleep, to exercise, to strive for our sustenance. In fact, taking care of ourselves actually helps us draw closer to Allah and better serve His creation.
While I could not find much written about the Islamic perspective on self-love, most of us are familiar with the saying, "We cannot know (or worship) Allah until we know ourselves."
Self-knowledge requires positive self-regard and self-acceptance. A person who is afflicted with feelings of negative self-worth, and self-doubt is not at peace to optimally worship Allah.
There is a considerable body of literature on the importance of self-love from the perspective of psychologists, psychotherapists, and spiritual teachers. Self-love is a crucial aspect of self-esteem, which psychologist Abraham Maslow recognized as a higher need in his hierarchy of human needs.
Life coach Cathy Holloway Hill also speaks to the spiritual aspect of self-love, which she defines as:
Inner peace, a connection with God... a condition of awareness, a way of perceiving, an attitude, which results in an integrated perception of the world, and in turn, a perception of your connection with God” and the restoration of our innate spiritual center so that “love from our Divine Creator flows freely into our body, minds, emotional bodies and spirit. Love is (then) expressed outwardly towards others and oneself as a natural flow.
If asked, the majority of us would say we love ourselves. However, upon examining our overall behavior and our lives, we might conclude that our feelings of self-worth leave something to be desired.
Some experts consider low-self esteem to be a rampant problem today, and some even tie it to all other problems that humans suffer — relationships, health, money, or work problems. Psychotherapist Nathaniel Branden describes inadequate self-esteem as the one common denominator in all neurotic problems.
Dean Ornish, medical doctor and author of Love and Survival: The Scientific Basis for the Healing Power of Intimacy, reveals how he came to realize that having loving relationships is not about finding the right person; rather, it is about being the right person:
The more love I feel for myself, the more love I have to give others. As I feel more compassion for myself, I have a greater capacity to view others with more compassion and with less judgment.
In his highly-acclaimed best seller, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey discusses how independence (which requires self-belief and self-reliance) must precede inter-dependence.
How do we go about developing positive self-esteem so that we can lead healthy, balanced and satisfying lives — individually, and within our relationships and communities?
In the last article, we talked about how we are naturally inclined towards relationships. Allah gives us clear injunctions in the Quran, and examples through His prophets as to how we should live our lives. Our submission towards Allah regarding the structuring and the nature of our relationships is the first step in this direction.
Every child is born to two parents who, if aligned with their natural fitrah (disposition), love one another. The Quran says:
[It is He who created you from a single person, and made his mate of like nature, in order that he might dwell with her in love] (Al-A`raf 7:189)
The example of the love that a child's mother and father have for one another is one of the most important gifts that he or she can receive. As well, the role that parental love plays in developing self-esteem is paramount.
For some, counseling is one avenue for improving self-esteem. Opening our hearts so we can recognize and receive Allah's love and the love of those around us is another. However, that requires being vulnerable. Daring to be so is the topic of a future article.
Ornish, Dean. MD. Love and Survival: The Scientific Basis for the Healing Power of Intimacy, pp. 92-93. Harper Collins, 1998.
Olive, Pauline. Love and Stuff. Wikipedia. " Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs " Accessed 01 Jan 2009.