Self love and oxygen masks

The whole ‘love yourself’ thing has never sat quite right with me. I understand what people are saying when they suggest we should love ourselves but it often feels a bit self-indulgent to me. You’re probably a lot smarter than me and have figured out the balance.

I’ve heard a lot of Christians promoting the idea of loving ourselves over the years. They base their thoughts on passages like the following where Jesus is asked which is the greatest commandment.

…. But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”Matthew 22:34-40 (ESV)

The thinking goes that if we’re to love our neighbour as we love ourselves, we first have to love ourselves. What Jesus said presupposes that we love ourselves. I can’t argue with that but I still feel a bit uncomfortable.

So why do I have trouble with promoting the notion of loving ourselves?

Of course I love myself. Too much probably. I feed myself, look after myself, and think way too highly of myself and my needs a lot of the time.

For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. – Ephesians 5:29,30 (ESV)

Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve seen many people use the concept of loving themselves simply as an opportunity for an unhealthy focus on their own needs and wants. When Jesus spoke about loving ourselves it was in the immediate context of loving others. He said we’re to ‘love our neighbours as ourselves’. Some people get the whole ‘love yourself’ bit but never advance to loving their neighbour.

Maybe I just need to change the way I think about why I should love myself.

I’ve recently been thinking about the airline safety spiel. As well as telling you about how to do up and undo your seatbelt and how count the rows to your nearest exit, they always stress that in the event of a sudden loss in cabin pressure, you should fit your own oxygen mask first before helping others. While I’ve seen others use that idea to talk generally about looking after yourself, I think there’s a subtle but important difference when we use the oxygen mask analogy.

There’s a sense of urgency in the airline mask thing.

Yes, you need to put your mask on first before helping someone else but in that moment, as the plane starts to shake and the pressure drops, when the masks fall from the ceiling of the aircraft, you take the action you need to take for yourself before immediately turning your attention to others. You don’t sit there adjusting the mask until it feels ‘just right’. You don’t have some ‘me time’ with your mask, you grab it, put it on, and then get on with the job of assisting those around you who are struggling.

If someone I loved was sitting next to me in an aircraft emergency I’d get my mask on as quickly as I could so that I’d be best prepared to help them. Even during the act of securing my own mask my thoughts would be about getting oxygen for the person in the seat next to me.

Some people certainly do try to help others without caring for their own needs to their own detriment. They manage to fumble around and get oxygen sorted for everyone else but they’re left gasping for breath. That’s not how it should work.

On the other hand, if we focus on ‘loving ourselves’ until we feel sufficiently ‘loved up’, we’ll spend more and more time looking out for number one.

It’s another one of those times in life where we need to find balance.

We should think well of ourselves without putting ourselves above others. We need to ensure our own oxygen supply so that we can serve others. We shouldn’t think too highly or too little of ourselves. Yes, we should love ourselves but love should never be self satisfying. Love should be bigger than that.

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. – Philippians 2:3,4 (ESV)

I’d love to read your thoughts. Leave me a comment or two. Do you think I’m on the right track? Is it about balance? Let me know.

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About the author

Rodney Olsen

Rodney is a husband, father, cyclist and blogger from Perth Western Australia.

He previously worked in radio for about 25 years but these days he spends his time at Compassion Australia, working towards releasing children from poverty in Jesus’ name.

The views he expresses here are his own.

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12 Comments

  • I’ve been thinking on this lately too. The wave of recent “love yourself ” stuff bugs the wobblies out of me. ?

    The most selflessly loving people I’ve known in my life would gag on the idea they need to love themselves.

    I think “as yourself” is simply the baseline… the existing reality.

    It’s the reason the drivers seat in the car is the most safe place to be regardless of whether a person believes themselves to love themselves.

    What if we lived in a world where we considered the good of the other as reflexively as we do when we drive? The point is loving others so it bothers me to make more of the lesser than the main point.

    I do agree with the need for sensible self care… but at least in a healthy mind – humans are pretty good at that as a rule.

    I don’t think what you’re written is over the top at all and I don’t think you’ve reversed the importance of the points – but you did ask for feedback!!! ? ? ?

    • Some great thoughts, Heather. Thanks for adding to the conversation.

      (I’m glad that I’m not the only one who’s feeling a little uncomfortable at some of the stuff out there.)

  • I think you’ve nailed it. I have also been writing and thinking about this topic and I think the oxygen analogy sits well with me.

    Even Jesus went to pray and restore his energy. I think that’s what loving yourself is about. If we destroy our health and well-being and are unable to help others, we are irresponsible.

    If we are in things for the long haul, looking after ourselves, loving ourselves, helps us to care for family, do our work and fulfil our purposes. When it tips over into obsession or selfishness (very hard to avoid!) then we need to check our attitude.

    Interesting topic and discussion!

    • Thanks for dropping in, Elaine.

      I think your point about checking our attitude is one of the keys. Without descending into constant introspection, if we take the time to consider what’s driving us we can correct our course before we find ourselves too far down the wrong road.

    • Thanks, Stacy. I agree. A healthy relationship with Jesus will always help us find the balance we need in all areas of life, including loving others and ourselves as we should.

  • Hi Rodney.
    I do like this article in particular and I am continuing to work on finding just a little bit more ‘me’ time, so I can continue to love and respect my Family, Friends and other fellow people in general. I like to use a method involving 2 lolly jars. It’s very nice to hand out a lolly to somebody whether it be to say thankyou for something, or just because we like handing out lollies (in moderation of course). But we still need to make sure that there are enough lollies in our own lolly jar in order to keep on handing them out. Maybe not as many as the first jar, but still enough to help us out along the way none the less.
    Take Care.

  • It is a conundrum Rodney. It can be taken both ways to the extreme. Love yourself too much; love yourself not enough (false humility or even downgrading yourself). There needs to be a balance. I believe Jesus knew we would struggle and laid it out that we would love Him first. When that is in line, most generally the other is seen from a proper perspective.

    • Great point Bill. After all, Jesus said the great and first commandment is, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” When we let that underpin everything else, we’re more likely to find that balance.

  • I really liked your treatment of the airplane illustration. I’ve always appreciated what Romans 12:3 says: “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” He then goes on to say, “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” An unrealistic view of self limits our service of others.

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