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IIC 98: Self-Love: What Catholics Need to Know


Confusion and controversy abound in the Catholic Church about self-love. Learn four ways to understand self-love, why we avoid self-love, the six reasons it is important to cultivate proper self-love, what is appropriate self-sacrifice, and receive two practical spiritual means for growing in proper self-love: The Litany of Self-Love and also an entirely new way of examining your conscience.


Today we are talking about self-love: the love of self. There is so much controversy, so much confusion about self-love among Catholics. Is self-love good and holy, or is self-love bad and dangerous? Is self-love necessary for loving others? Is self-love unavoidable? The answers from Catholic writers and thinkers and saints are all over the board with regard to self-love, with so many apparent contradictions that it can make your head spin. And the positions from different reputable Christian sources are extreme; their positions seem irreconcilable.
Here is just a sampling: St. Augustine said, “there can be only two basic loves…the love of God unto the forgetfulness of self or the love of self unto the forgetfulness and denial of God.” St. Maximus the Confessor, “Flee from self-love, the mother of malice…” Thomas A Kempis, in the ‘Imitation of Christ’, “Know that self-love does you more harm than anything else in the world.” Father Jean Nicholas Grou, Jesuit priest, “Self-love is the one source of all the illusions of the spiritual life. By its means, the devil exercises his deceits, leads souls astray, drags them sometimes to hell by the very road that seems to lead them to heaven.” St. Thomas Aquinas says, “Inordinate self-love is the cause of every sin”. And here’s from Pope Francis from December 9th, 2015, “The movements of self-love, which make mercy foreign in the world, are so numerous that we often fail to recognize them as limitations and as sin.” ‘The Catechism of the Catholic Church’, paragraph 1850, “…sin is thus ‘love of oneself, even to contempt of God'”. And St. Paul in 2 Timothy 3:1-5, said this, “But understand this that in the last days there will come times of stress. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, fierce, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding the form of religion but denying the power of it. Avoid such people.”Lovers of self. Now we also hear from St Thomas Aquinas that, “Self-love is in one way common to all, in another way proper to good men, in another, proper to evil men.” Father, Jacques Philippe, in his book ‘Called To Life’, with his pastoral approach, says, “Love of God, love of neighbor and love of self grow together and sustain one another as they grow. If one is absent or neglected, the others will suffer. Like the legs of a tripod, all three are needed in order to stand, and each leans on the other.” He also says, “Love travels along two paths that are inseparable in the end: love of God and love of neighbor. But as this text suggests, there is another aspect of charity–love of one’s self. (“You shall love your neighbor as yourself”). This self-love is good and necessary. Not egoism that refers everything to “me”, but the grace to live in peace with oneself, consent to be what one is, with one’s talents and limitations.” And the Bishop of Sioux Falls, Donald Edward DeGrood, said this, “We are called to love ourselves as God made us and loves us. It is sometimes difficult to know our inherent dignity, to receive God’s love and live out of the truth of who we are. And just as God loves us and indeed rejoices and delights in us, so too are we call to rejoice and delight in who we are and who others are.” And Catholic moral theologian, Michel Therrien, in a December 3, 2020 article in Denver Catholic said, “…the proper love of self is the foundation for knowing how to treat others.”Alright, so you might be asking me, “Dr. Peter, Which is it? Are we supposed to be loving ourselves or not loving ourselves?” Laura, an Australian Catholic writer, in her blogpost, ‘Self-Love for Catholics: What is the Catholic teaching on loving yourself’ says this, “Depending on who you ask, the idea of self-love can get some very different reactions. Even the Bible seems a little confused. On the one hand, Jesus calls us to love our neighbors as ourselves. On the other hand, St. Paul condemns those who are ‘lovers of self’. I won’t like to bag out the Bible but mixed messages much? There is no section in the catechism on self-love. There is no treatise entitled ‘Loving Thyself’ by St. Bernard or ‘The Internal Positive Dialogues” of St. Catherine of Siena. There definitely aren’t any ancient meditations on “How Awesome a Monk Am I Today!”, or “Eighty Affirmations for the Doubting Deacon” from the Patristic Era. And if I’m honest, this is super frustrating. Maybe you found the same?”Well, Laura, thank you for bringing this up. I find this whole body of Catholic literature on self-love both fascinating and frustrating at the same time and also so very important. We really need to sort this out because the stakes are so high. So rather than curse the darkness, here is my attempt to light a candle for you, to illuminate the best that I’ve found on this essential theme: Self-Love.I am Dr. Peter Malinoski, clinical psychologist, passionate Catholic. And this is Interior Integration for Catholics. The Interior Integration for Catholics Podcast is all about bringing you the best of psychology and human formation and harmonizing it with the perennial truths of our Catholic faith. Each month we take the most important human formation issues head on. We don’t shy away from the tough topics, and today we have a tough topic. How do we rightly understand self-love? What is self-love and how should we as Catholics understand it, given this whirlwind of confusion and controversy that has stretched back for centuries? This is episode 98, titled ‘Self-Love–What Catholics Need to Know’, and it’s released on October 3, 2022.We have been working through a series on trauma and wellbeing–we started that with episode 88. In the last episode, episode 97 titled: ‘Unlove of Self: How Trauma Predisposes You to Self-Hatred and Indifference’, we looked at the impact of trauma and how it contributes to us not loving ourselves.Today, we’re switching gears. We’re looking at what it means to be in an ordered relationship with ourselves. Is self-love a part of right relating with ourselves? We are going to bring so much clarity to this topic today.It is so good to be with you, thank you for listening in, thank you for being together with me once again. I’m glad you’re here and I’m glad that together we’re exploring what self-love really means.Now, I want to do a little introduction here to this topic. About 20 years ago, a theologian friend of mine was encouraging me to get out more. I was pretty sheltered, I was in private practice. I wasn’t doing any public speaking, but he was really impressed with some of the things that we were talking about in our conversations. At the time, I was sorting out the psychology thing, too. I was really trying to figure out how to practice as a psychologist and ground that practice of psychology in a Catholic understanding of the human person. I had a keen sense that after I die, on my day of particular judgment I will be responsible before the Lord for every word that I uttered to every client, for everything I taught or said or advised, and I was worried. I didn’t want to lead anyone astray. I didn’t want to lead my clients astray. And I knew that I was speculating, because frankly, there wasn’t a lot out there about how you grounded the practice of psychology and a Catholic anthropology.Matthew 18:6 rang in my ears. “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” I was like, alright, I don’t want to lead anyone to sin. And so, I was pretty quiet–didn’t want to get out there. Plus, I was starting a family and I wanted a simple, contemplative life. I wanted a life of prayer as much as was compatible with my duties of state as a husband and a father.Alright, fast forward 20 years. Now, I have to share. I have a strong sense of a call to be much more public, to be much more vocal. I still am committed to a deep life of prayer, I’m still strongly committed to my wife, Pam, and to my children. But now four of my seven children are grown and gone. And I still know that I’m responsible for every word that I utter in this podcast, every word I write in my weekly reflections. The last thing I want for you is for me to lead you astray. That’s the last thing I want. But I also don’t want to be like the servant that buried his master’s talent out of fear. I also now realize that I’m responsible for the words that I don’t say–for the gifts that I don’t share with you, for the topics I don’t bring to you. But I want to do all of this from an absolutely Catholic position. An unapologetically Catholic, completely Catholic worldview. 2 Timothy 4:2-4, St. Paul says, “preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke and exhort. Be unfailing in patience and in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths.” And if there is ever a topic where people reject sound teaching and with itching years, heap up teachers to suit their own likings, that topic has got to be self-love. Self-love is it.Now you need to know that when I take on these really tough topics, especially a topic like self-love, where so many great souls have been in disagreement, I could be wrong about some of the things that I tell you. I could be teaching something in error. That’s entirely possible. I need to be straight up with you about that. I’m not trying to deceive anybody. I’m saying what I think is the truth. But I am very open to fraternal corrections. I’m very open to collegial corrections. And so if you hear something that I’m saying in one of these podcasts or that I write in one of my weekly reflections, and it’s wrong, I want you to get in touch with me and let me know; and then give me a source–quote me something from the Catholic Catechism or something from some other authoritative Catholic source of teaching. If you have access to Ludwig Ott’s Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma or Denzinger–give me something encyclical, give me something where you’re showing me what I say contradicts the truths of the faith, because I really want to be correct in this. So with that said, let’s move on.There is so much avoidance of discussing this topic of self-love. Why? Well, the first reason is because there’s so much confusion about self-love. Gene Outka, a Catholic Philosopher who wrote a book on ‘Agape’, said this, “To say anything very useful about a phrase as generally ambiguous as ‘self-love’ may well be impossible. For it serves as a classic example of the difficulty already noted: a single word or phrase may shuttle back and forth between distinct experiences in different and sometimes rival concepts.” John Lippitt in his article, ‘True Self-Love and True Self-Sacrifice’ said, “Yet self-love and self-sacrifice are notorious problems in Christian thought, and the tradition is littered with apparently incompatible claims about them.” Gene Outka said, “Hence, frequently ‘self-love’ has several meanings which have to be clarified before one can determine the nature and extent of substantive as contrasted with verbal disagreements.” He’s going to be really helpful to us in a little bit, Gene Outka, in determining the different types of self-love. Oliver O’Donovan in ‘The Problem of Self-Love in St. Augustine’ said, “Mutually incompatible assertions about self-love jostle one another and demand to be reconciled. And Augustine himself refuses to undertake this task for us. There is no ‘theory of self-love’ articulated in his pages. He rarely tells us what he means by the phrase, and when he does, he is misleading.” It’s really interesting because Oliver O’Donovan argues that St. Augustine was sort of all over the board with his approaches to self-love, and he wasn’t very systemic in the way that he treated the topic.So, for example, these are three quotes from St. Augustine that Oliver O’Donovan put side by side to show us how different even this doctor of the church was in approaching the topic. Quote one: “The primal destruction of man was self-love.” The primal destruction of man was self-love. Quote two: “There is no one who does not love himself; but one must search for the right love and avoid the warped.” Quote three: “Indeed, you did not love yourself when you did not love the God who made you.”Alright, so in the first quote, we were taught that self-love is destructive–that it destroys man. And in the third quote, that we didn’t love ourselves when we didn’t love God.Some of this may also be just limitations in the English language. For example, we’ve got this one word; ‘love’, and then we put self in front of it, ‘self-love’, and it can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. We don’t have a wide vocabulary to describe this concept of love.So I think one reason why there’s an avoidance of discussing self-love is because there’s just so much confusion about the topic. How many times in the last 10 or 20 years have you heard a homily or a sermon on self-love?I also think there’s a lot of avoidance on the personal level. There’s an often a de facto rejection of the concept of self-love by individual Catholics as being just selfishness. Sara Swisher writes, “Many Catholics are raised with the notion that they must serve others without regard for themselves. In order to be a ‘true’ Catholic, one must deny oneself, and love and care for others.”A lot of times self-love is not discussed–you don’t hear about it. So there can be an assumption that self-love is not an important topic. Self-love is sometimes condemned as ‘weird’. Self-love is something that those New-Agers are into, along with crystals and karma and reincarnation. Yes, self-love is sort of in that wheelhouse. Self-love is in that kind of category.And another thing is that it’s difficult for us to love ourselves. Father Jack Philippe wrote in his book ‘Called To Life’, “People today have great difficulty loving themselves–the proliferation of pop psychological books and personal development and the acquisition of self-esteem are symptoms of that.” Finally, St. John Chrysostom, in his homily on 2 Thessalonians, said, “There are many things that distract us from love.” There are many things that distract us from love–including this question of self-love.Then also there are certain types of spiritualities that actually don’t really focus that much on love, especially self-love. I refer to this one kind of spirituality as a power spirituality or a macho spirituality, that really focuses on the development of virtue and self-perfection–not so much on love. That may be appealing, especially to men; there’s a focus on fasting, on cold showers, on becoming like a spiritual special forces warrior. This kind of power spirituality is not particularly relational. It’s much more focused on behaviors, on stopping the sinning–whatever the sinning is for that person. And it’s not as much focused on loving, including a proper ordered love of self.Finally, I don’t want to omit the importance of shame. So many Catholics are carrying so much shame, and some don’t even know it. Shame resists ordered self-love and shame promotes disordered self-love. And you can check out episodes 37-49 of this podcast for a 13 episode series on shame. It’s vitally, vitally important that we understand what shame is.So, let’s get into definitions of self-love, because some of the disagreement about self-love is really semantic differences. It’s just differences in how we’re defining this nebulous, ambiguous term ‘self-love’, and some of it is more substantive disagreements.This is where Gene Outka’s book ‘Agape’ is going to be helpful to us. He has four value judgments of self-love–basically four ways that people look at self-love.One, as wholly nefarious–that it’s just bad. Self-love is bad. That’s the first one. Second, is to look at self-love as normal, reasonable and prudent. The third way is to look at self-love as justified derivatively from other regard. What that means is self-love is okay, because we need to love ourselves in order to be able to provide other good things to other people. We’re not really going to look at it as a good in itself, but it has a utilitarian value–if we love ourselves, then we can love others better. And then the fourth one is to look at self-love as a definite obligation, independent of loving others. So those are the four.So let’s start with self-love as wholly nefarious. Now Outka, he says, that “the single word which best connotes those attitudes and actions characteristic of nefarious self-love is–acquisitiveness.” Basically when self-love is being condemned, it’s usually because of this quality of acquisitiveness. The person is just trying to satisfy himself or herself, and in that effort is trying to find some state or some possession that is satisfying personally, and that that goal of acquisitiveness dominantly pervades every relation with others. People know that a person is just in relationship to try to get what they want. Bernard Brady says, “Sinners love their sensitive nature at the expense of their rational nature. They love their physical self, thinking it is their essential nature. Their love is misdirected.” Okay, so what Brady is telling us is that the love is misdirected. There is self-love in this nefarious way of looking at it, but it’s because that love is disordered. Sinners, when they are acting out of nefarious self-love or disordered self-love is they are loving just their sensitive natures–they’re just loving their bodies, they’re loving their concupiscence desires. And Anthony Flood writes that, “Through wicked love of self, a person seeks the bodily pleasures and material goods at the expense of the goods perfective of his properly personal nature. Wicked or disordered love of self perverts natural self-love away from the full spectrum of goods perfective of human nature, including interpersonal unions toward a more restricted set of goods willed solely for oneself. Through this disordered manner of willing, wicked self-love constitutes the root of all sin.” Remember St. Thomas Aquinas said that inordinate self-love constitutes the root of all sin. Here we’re seeing it. It’s selfishness, essentially–it’s pursuing something just because I want it, not because it helps me to enter into a deeper relationship with God, not because it helps me to enter into deeper relationship with anybody else, not because it helps me to love anybody else, but just because I want it. That’s destructive, that’s disordered, that’s the wicked self love. Okay, so one can see why there would be such condemnations by St. Maximus, for example, “flee from self-love, the mother of malice”, Thomas A Kempis, “know that self-love does you more harm than anything else in the world.” That’s entirely consistent with this thomistic understanding that inordinate self love constitutes the root of all sin. St. Thomas writes that in the Summa.Alright, so that’s one way of understanding self-love. And that’s maybe the most commonly understood way–as sort of self-love as nefarious; self-love as equivalent to selfishness.But let’s go on to the second one–self-love as normal, reasonable, and prudent. So I’m going to walk you through what Gene Outka has to say, and I’ll try to translate this philosophical writing into something a little more understandable. But let’s just grapple with the quote first. Jeanne also writes, “The second value judgment is that self-love is normal, reasonable, prudent: it is not especially praiseworthy, but not necessarily blameworthy. One encounters here a relatively straightforward assumption. People do not need just in general to be urged toward concern about their own welfare; we have plenty of attachment to that and of an immediate and unreflective kind. Thus our pursuit of it does not involve moral merit or virtue. Considered in itself it is not an obligation. At most one may call it normal, reasonable, and prudent. On the other hand one need not disparage it altogether.” So what Gene Outka is saying here is that–yeah, of course we love ourselves. That’s normal. That’s natural. We don’t need to be urged to be concerned about our own welfare. We have plenty of attachment to that. But it’s not inherently sinful for us to be concerned about our welfare. Outka says, “Such an assumption, I think, stands behind one very common interpretation of the ‘as yourself’ clause in the second great commandment, namely, ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself'”. So what he’s saying there is–yes, of course, we love ourselves. Everybody knows that, we have an attachment to ourselves and we should love other people like that. Rudolf Bultmann says, “It is stupid…to say that…justifiable self-love a necessary standard of self-respect must precede love of neighbor, since the command runs, ‘love your neighbor as yourself’. Self-love is thus presupposed. Yes, it is indeed presupposed, but not as something which man needs to learn, which must be expressly required of him. It is the attitude of the natural man which must be overcome.” Alright, so basically this interpretation of the second great commandment is that–yeah, of course we love ourselves, everybody loves themselves; that’s the standard of reference by which we should love other people. We should have the same degree of concern for other people as we do ourselves. Loving ourselves is not a virtue, but it shouldn’t be condemned either. That’s the second way of understanding self-love.The third way is that self-love is justified derivatively. Let’s unpack this a little bit more. This is where we should take care of ourselves; we should actually proactively love ourselves and take care of ourselves because we need to in order to love others. So Outka says “Those who treat self-love as not especially praiseworthy in itself sometimes allow for the deliberate concern about the agent’s own welfare, as long as this can be derived from other regard.” Alright, so in other words, if I need to take care of myself in some way so that I can take care of others, then self-love is justified as a derivative of loving somebody else. W. G. Maclagan says, “There can be a disciplinary value for others in not permitting them to treat our happiness with indifference. Not only have we no obligation to make ourselves, as it were, ‘everybody’s doormat’; we have something of an obligation not to do so. Nor is the reason for this adequately given in the form that others considered separately as individuals will be better men and women if they learn to respect interests not their own, though that is true enough. Inseparable from this is the further fact that the realization of a good community, which is the moral concern of us all, is impossible in any other terms.” Okay, so let’s unpack that. Basically, what Maclagan is saying is that, you know what? Sometimes it’s important not to let others treat us badly because that’s bad for them. We might be putting them in a near occasion of sin for example, if we allow them to exploit us. And so we protect our own self-interest; we love ourselves, but we do that because we’re trying to love them.In other words, you know, we don’t want to be everybody’s doormat. We have sometimes an obligation not to let other people wipe feet on us because that’s bad for them, but even more that’s bad for the community. That’s a bad norm to establish in the Christian community. Outka, says, “Another sort of case, already alluded to, which seems to justify the agents asserting his interest at the expense of another’s, is one where the interest of third parties are at stake and a sacrifice of his interest would constitute an unjust betrayal of theirs.” So this is where, for example, a mother may go in and have a chronic health issue treated so that she could better take care of her children. And that might inconvenience her husband–if she’s got to go away and she’s got to have a procedure done and spend three or four days in the hospital–that may inconvenience her husband, but she’s doing that because there are these third parties, these children, that need her to be taking care of herself, that need her to be to be loving herself. So the focus here is not on the intrinsic good that the mother is seeking for herself in her recovery. It’s really the derivative value that’s important because it it leads to a good for those third party–for those children.And finally, Outka says, “The agent may also be obligated to look after his own welfare: negatively, in order not to burden others and then positively in order to most effectively further their good.” So this is where someone might love themselves by taking care of themselves so that they don’t cause somebody else more trouble. So that they don’t unnecessarily burden others, or so that they are able to further others’ good. So, a dad that exercises so that he can play ball with his kids, you know–that he can get out on the basketball court and play with them, again is this idea that self-love is justified derivatively.That’s different than the fourth value judgment of self-love, and that’s where self-love is a definitive obligation. In this form of self-love, self-love is seen as something that is good for the person to do for his or her own sake. It’s not contingent on what it means for somebody else. In other words, if somebody is loving one’s self, there is a good just intrinsic in that love. It doesn’t depend on what the effect of that love is for anybody else.Outka writes that, “self-love as self-respect may refer to laudable attitudes and actions, not all of which can be either encompassed under prudence or linked necessarily with a benefit to others.” Father Jacques Philippe, in his book called ‘Called to Life’, said, “Love of God requires the love of self. Not to accept myself as I am means not recognizing God’s love for me. And loving me after all, God is not loving some ideal being, the person I ‘ought to be’ or ‘would like to be’. He takes me just as I am, and I cannot fully welcome this love without accepting myself. Pride, perfectionism and the fear of rejection are among the obstacles to that.” So just to be clear, I am very clearly in the fourth camp, along with St. Thomas Aquinas, I believe that self-love is a definite obligation. It’s something that is good in and of itself–that it is good for you to love you, even if it doesn’t have an immediate benefit for someone else.What are the reasons that self-love is important? Why should we be discussing it? Why should we focus on it? The first one–we are going to love ourselves one way or another. We’re either going to love ourselves in an ordered way, or we’re going to love ourselves in a disordered way. We’re going to love ourselves in a proper way, or we’re going to love ourselves in a wicked way. And so let’s figure out how to love ourselves in a good way. Second thing, self-love is an antidote to selfishness. Third, self-love brings peace. It helps us with an interior sense of peace. Fourth thing, self-love is essential to loving God. Fifth thing, self-love is essential to loving others. Sixth thing, there are consequences for not loving the self in an ordered way.So let’s start with the first one. We are going to love ourselves in one way or another. Either we’re going to love ourselves in a proper, ordered way, or we’re going to love ourselves in a disordered way. The question isn’t whether you will love yourself. The question is how you will love yourself. Will it be in a nefarious, disordered way or will it be in a reasonably prudent way, or will you justify self-love in a pragmatic, utilitarian sense, because it benefits somebody else, or will you see self-love as valuable, important and essential to loving God and your neighbor?Anthony Flood in his book ‘The Metaphysical Foundations of Love’, said, “All actions, both good and sinful, proceed from the will. The basic act of the will is to love, and all actions are motivated by love. Thus, sinful acts will necessarily be motivated by love, must be caused by disordered love.” So what kind of self-love will we have? The Dominican father, Paul A. Duffner, in his article ‘Two Kinds of Self-Love’ says, “So we have the rightly ordered love of self which God commanded, and the inordinate love of self to which we are all inclined by reason of our human nature. The whole of the Christian life is a struggle to overcome the latter in order to attain the former.” So what Father Duffer is saying–the whole of the Christian life is a struggle to overcome inordinate love of self.And how do we do that and why do we do that? We do that in order to have a rightly ordered love of self. And again, not just for its own sake, even though it is a good in and of itself, but because a rightly ordered love of self opens up the door to being able to love our neighbor and ourself. That’s very, very clear in St. Thomas Aquinas in the Summa.Secondly, ordered self-love or proper self-love is an antidote to selfishness. Anthony Flood says, “Love of others in general and friendship in particular, for Aquinas, derives from a more basic source–namely a person’s love of self. A person does and should love himself more than he loves other human beings. Aquinas is not endorsing selfishness and self-preoccupation. In fact…proper self-love functions as the antidote to selfishness and self-preoccupation.” When we are ordered inside–when we are secure inside, when we love ourselves, we are so much more free to get outside of ourselves. We don’t have to be so self-absorbed if things are quiet and peaceful inside. The other part of this is that no one can love you in lieu of you. You can’t delegate the responsibility for self-love to somebody else. No one else can make up that love for you, not even God, because you are called to love you. And we all know of cases in which somebody was loved by God, by other people, but did not love himself. And you can see what kind of tragic results can happen from that. Ordered self-love, proper self love is an antidote to selfishness. It allows us–it frees us to be able to get outside of ourselves–to turn away from ourselves, to be able to enter into others phenomenological worlds.The third reason is this sense of peace. Anthony Flood writes, “The roots of benevolence and beneficence and self-love concern willing and seeking true goods that enhance both one’s nature and the integrity of one’s interior life. Thus, the activity of self-governance itself derives from self-love. In friendship, delight and concord relate to the affective dimensions of the experience of the other. In terms of self-love, they relate to the affect dimension of the experience of one’s self.” Here’s the money quote, “A noticeable absence of inner strife or discord, and in its place, the presence of a consoling interior piece mark the inner heart of a person with a well-ordered love of self.” When you have a well-ordered love of self, there is interior integration, there is a sense of peace, there is a sense of calm inside. And I want that peace for you. So ordered self-love leads us to that interior piece. And you can see that theme in Father Jacques Philippe’s book, ‘Searching For and Maintaining Peace’–excellent book. He’s talking about interior integration. He’s talking about us being able to relate to ourselves, to accept ourselves.The fourth reason that ordered self-love is important is that self-love is essential for loving God. So I’m quoting from Eleanor Stump. Her book, ‘Wandering in Darkness: Narrative and the Problem of Suffering”. She says, “On Aquinas’ views, for every person, internal integration is necessary for the real good of that person, and the ultimate real good is union with God…So, on Aquinas account, love of one’s self is in fact necessary for any love of another, including God. A perfect love of God, therefore, cannot compete with the love of one’s self. A perfect love of God requires love of one’s self.” So here we’re getting into Aquinas’ thought that love of oneself is a prerequisite for being able to love God.Anthony Flood, in his review of Aquinas’ view of self-love says, “A person cannot love God without self-love, but the love of God ought always to be greater than one’s love of self.” And Sarah Swisher from her pastoral experience says, “Rediscovering the love of self allows for movement to love both God and others more fully.”The next point I want to bring up is that ordered self-love is essential for loving others. Father Jacques Philippe, in his book ‘Called To Life’, writes, “Love toward others is also supported by love of self. If I do not accept myself as I am, it will eventually be reflected in resentment and conflict. Many conflicts with others are projections of conflicts within ourselves: I refuse to put up with the feelings of others because I do not accept my own. If I am not at peace with myself, I make others pay for my unhappiness.” And I’ll just say–this is so true. This is where I like Father Jacques Phillip so much is because he has a real pastoral sense. He’s not busy citing the Church Fathers and Thomas Aquinas all that much in his writings, but man, does he really nail it. It very much converges with what I see clinically.Anthony Flood writes, “The ways in which an individual seeks good for himself becomes the model, a template for how he loves other persons–‘we do unto them as we do unto ourselves'”. So in other words, the way that we relate to ourselves becomes our model, our template for relating to other people. That’s really, really important, and I see this all the time. Anything that we reject in ourselves, we will reject in another person. Let me say that over again. Any experience that you reject in yourself, you will reject in another person.Let me give you an example of this. A number of years ago, my oldest son had just learned how to drive. He spun out on I-465 on black ice; my wife went to pick him up. The car was perfectly drivable, but he was just really shaken up. This is a while ago, and at that time I wasn’t tolerating my own fear very well. I didn’t like fear within me, and because I rejected fear within me, because I suppress that, because I denied it, because I wasn’t able to love myself as a fearful person, and because I confused having courage with being fearless, I wasn’t able to connect with my son in his fear because I rejected fear within me, because I wouldn’t love the part of me that carried fear. I was not able to be present for him in his fear. I rejected his fear. And we do that all the time. You can see this in the classic example–many of you have witnessed this or you’ve heard about it, seen it in movies–when a father gets angry with an upset child. Father is there with a toddler or a preschooler and he says, “stop crying. If you don’t stop crying, I’ll give you something to cry about”. Well, what’s often going on in those situations is that the father is not accepting the neediness within himself. He doesn’t accept that he sometimes feels like that little child. Sometimes he may feel like he wants to cry or to be held or to have needs, and because he’s rejected that within himself, he can’t accept it in the little child. Why? Because it’s activating his own needs. It’s activating his own needs, and those seem so threatening to him that they’re going to overwhelm him. So what does he do? He shuts it down in the child. He shuts it down in the other person I tried to shut the fear down in my son and tell him things like, “well, come on, buck up. Just do it”. You know–you’ve just got to man up. Not helpful. Not helpful. So anything that we reject in ourselves, we’re going to reject in other persons. We need to be able to love ourselves and the things that are within us. That doesn’t mean that we endorse everything within us; that doesn’t mean that we embrace everything that’s within us–because obviously we have concupiscence and things like that, but that we accept that it exists. Father Jacques Philippe is very big on that–accepting what is real within us. So Anthony Flood, “the ways in which an individual seeks to do good for himself becomes the model, the template for how he loves other persons–we do unto them as we do unto ourselves.” And if we’re not very good at loving ourselves, we’re not going to be very good at loving other people. That’s just how it is. That’s just how it is.Anthony Flood writes, “union between two persons derives from unity. Two persons seek a union between them that approximates each one’s substantial unity. However, union can never reach the intensity afforded by unity itself. Moreover, the love of self, as the most basic activity arising from substantial unity must be appropriately cultivated to allow both for a pleasant interior life and the possibility of true friendships with others…the more a person develops the appropriate level of self, the more he will be capable of and desire to love others appropriately.” Alright, that’s pretty dense. Let’s unpack that. You have to understand that Aquinas makes a distinction between ‘unity’ and ‘union’. Union is between two persons. Unity is the way that he describes integration within one person. And he says basically that if you don’t have unity within yourself, you can’t really have union with another person. Your level of unity–or your integration, within yourself, sets an upper bound on how connected, how united, how in union you could be with another person. The more that you are able to develop this unity within, the greater your capacity to be able to connect with others in union–the better you’re going to be able to love another person. So if you are really fragmented, if you are really disconnected inside, that’s going to have a negative repercussion; that’s going to have a negative effect on your capacity to connect with another person.Now, there can be a lot of merit in somebody who’s fairly fragmented, loving to the best of their ability, and some people who are more integrated may choose not to love very much. So there’s another variable in here when it comes to actually looking at merit. I’m not going to get into all of that, but I don’t want folks to go away from this saying, “Oh, no, I’ve got a lot of internal disconnects, I’ve got a lot of fragmentation. I’m not able to love other people.” No, no, no, no, no, no. There’s always a way that you can love, and there’s great merit in us loving to the degree that we can. And the more that we love others and the more that we love God, the more that we love ourselves, the more capable we’ll be of loving God and others–it’s a great adventure of being able to love. And yes, we’re going to be bad at it. I’d be very suspicious of somebody who said, “Yes, I’ve reached the pinnacle of being able to love others and to being able to love God. And of course, I love myself very much.” That last part, I would believe, but more in a nefarious way, right. This is something that we are going to continually be challenged by–this challenge of loving. That’s the great big challenge of our lives. It’s to love God, love our neighbor and love ourselves.I focus on this theme of really loving yourself with therapists, actually a lot. When therapists become destabilized by a client, when therapists are agitated, when they lose their peace, it is never about what the client is doing. Something is getting tapped within the therapist–some unresolved issue is being tapped within the therapist, and the client is merely opening a portal to that in some way. But it’s not what the client’s actually doing. It’s something that pre-exists within the therapist. When therapists are losing their peace, when they’re becoming agitated, it’s tapping into something within the therapist, something that’s unresolved, something that’s unloved, something that the therapist is having difficulty handling in his or her own life, something within the therapist that the therapist is having trouble loving. And so most conventional supervision, most conventional consultation focuses on the client–what the client needs to do, how the client needs to change, the resistance and the client, the defenses of the client– client, client, client, client.That’s not how I do consultation. I focus on the therapist. If the therapist is losing a sense of peace, if the therapist is being destabilized, there’s something going on within the therapist that needs to be addressed. It’s not being primarily generated by the client. Now, that doesn’t mean that clients can’t do terrible things to therapists– they can cause therapists pain, just like people can cause Jesus pain, right, when he was walking the face of the earth, but he didn’t lose his peace over that. Losing your peace is a different thing than experiencing suffering because one is aware of the self-destructive actions that a person is doing.So I have a webinar on the Catholic Psychotherapy Association website called ‘Of Beams and Specks: Therapist-Focused Consultation’ that describes how we do that. That’s also what I’m doing in the Interior Therapist Community–is working with Catholic therapists to address their own stuff–to actually work on their own human formation. And you know what? That’s actually not that easy. A lot of times therapists are very used to looking for the difficulties in other people, right. We need to remove the beam from our own eye. We, as therapists need to be really examining what’s going on within us. If we lose our peace, if we are becoming destabilized in some way.Alright, so the sixth reason why dealing with this self-love is important–is the consequences of not loving the self in an ordered way. There are consequences, and this I talked a lot about this when I dealt with shame and episodes 37 to 49. I also dealt with this in the last episode, Episode 97 ‘Unlove of Self’. What’s the consequence for our bodies, for example.Anthony Flood says, “For Aquinas, a prideful, improper self-love constitutes the root of all sin. In effect, through improper self-love, a person attempts to forsake his relational identity for one of imminence. Selfishness, self-preoccupation, and self-concern become the norm through pride. However, since this goes against one’s true metaphysical identity, the net result is sorrow and self-isolation.” In other words, if we don’t love the self in ordered way, we get miserable. And think about people who have not loved themselves. I’m just going to appeal to your personal experience–when you have come across somebody that is not loving himself or herself. Is there a joy in that? Is there peace in that? No, there is not. No, there’s not. Okay, so Micole Amalu wrote a paper in graduate school called ‘The Necessity of Loving Oneself: Healthy Boundaries in the Virtue of Charity’ and in reflecting on the virtue of love, in summarizing the literature on love, she’s basically said there were five essential elements.One is the inclination of the heart, two is the action of the will, three is the evidence of its fruits, four is the sacrifice of self, and five is an orientation toward God. If it’s a real love, there’s going to be a particular inclination of the heart, there’s going to be an action of the will, there’s going to be evidence of good fruits, there’s going to be self-sacrifice. And–I’m not sure about that one, actually. I think sometimes there is, but not necessarily everything is sacrificial, so I’m not entirely convinced of that one. And then the fifth one, an orientation toward God. And she goes through those in that paper–about how those apply to the self. And she concludes that all of those can be evident in self-love. In other words, self-love is real love. That’s what she concludes.It’s an interesting paper, but let’s talk a little bit about that fourth one, the sacrifice of self. There has been a lot of ink spilled over the last two millennia about the importance of self-sacrifice. And so, in fact, some writers make self-sacrifice basically the central component of Christian self-love. And that’s understandable because if we look at Our Savior on the Cross, what do we see? We see self-sacrifice, literally self-sacrifice.But sometimes that can be taken to an extreme. Outka, in his book, ‘Agape’, in page 288, said something I think is very important to listen to, and that is that “self-sacrifice must always be purposive in promoting the welfare of others and never simply expressive of something resident in the agent.” So this is more philosopher speak here. I get it. He’s basically saying self-sacrifice must promote the welfare of another person, alright. And it can’t just be something weird within oneself, right? So somebody that does something that seems self-sacrificial, but it’s because of something that’s very disordered within himself or herself.An extreme example would be somebody in a psychotic episode who does this really dramatic, self-sacrificial act, but it’s not grounded in what anybody else needs–that’s actually a problem. That’s not real self-sacrifice in terms of love, in terms of loving another.Micole Amalu, in her paper, wrote, “The view that one should at all time sacrifice one’s needs for others without thought is faulty, since love must be directed toward the good. It is prudent to use judgment to consider if sacrifice is the best. Self effacement the complete neglect of self to serve others is not the call of Jesus, nor is it authentically loving towards others or oneself. The call is to consider the good of others first, not to deny that one has needs to.” She writes, “…self-sacrifice can never be at odds with one’s spiritual needs and relationship with God.” Sara Swisher writes that “…self-sacrifice can be taken to the extreme in a negative and detrimental way.” And this is absolutely true. This is absolutely true.I want to talk a little bit about my clinical experience of the kind of part that dominates certain Catholics, and that is a self-sacrificing part. And this is a common definition that I give for self-sacrificing parts, a self-sacrificer is a part who focuses excessively on meeting the needs of others, even at the expense of your own dignity and well-being. The most common reasons are–to prevent causing pain to others, to avoid guilt from feeling selfish, or to maintain the connection with others perceived as in need. This impulse often results from your self-sacrificer’s acute sensitivity to the pain and needs of others. This parts inclination can lead to a sense that your own needs are not being adequately met, and to resentment toward those for whom you care and sacrifice, and it can fuel the grievances of an angry part. When you look at this self-sacrificing behavior, you will often find–if you unpack it, if you get deep enough, you will find that there is an implicit hope in the self-sacrificing. It’s not done out of some pure kind of charity. There’s a hope that if I do these heroic sacrifices, that God will take care of me, or that the other person will take care of me. There’s a sort of implicit quid pro quo that the person is going for here, that they may not even be aware of in consciousness. So we want to be really thoughtful about our self-sacrificing behaviors. Are they really oriented toward the good? Sometimes people dominated by self-sacrificing parts get into enabling relationships with other people who take advantage of their self-sacrificial tendencies and exploit them. That is not a good thing, right. So we need to be weighing all of these things in the balance and seeing–are my behaviors bringing me closer to God, are they bringing the other person closer to God, are they really loving?Bernard Brady says that “self-sacrifice is a required element of love, but not all self-sacrifice is love.” He’s absolutely right about that. And he goes further and says, “We have a moral obligation not to relate to another person in a way that is truly destructive of ourselves as persons.” And that can happen. There can be ways that people sacrifice that are quite destructive of their identity as a person. So Bernard Brady says that “love includes sacrifice, but love is not fully defined by sacrifice.” Brady says that “a dominant feature of agape is a readiness and a willingness to subordinate the fulfillment of my needs so as to be able to help the other fulfill her needs. This subordination may, in extreme conditions, call for my life, but it can never demand that I violate my deepest values and my fundamental relationship to God.” It’s really important.Sarah Swisher in her Pastoral Synthesis project, which was published (it’s online) a part of a master’s thesis at Loyola Marymount University in 2013. She describes how she was trying so hard to give of herself in her work, in her graduate program, and in her volunteer ministry work, that she pushed herself beyond reasonable limits. And she writes, “One week before I began my second year in the graduate program at alum you, I walked out of urgent care with a brace on my right wrist. I was just informed that I developed a form of tendinitis, as a result of the way I worked at my job. In the fall semester of 2011, I struggled to keep up with my job, my classes, the additional ministries that I was involved in throughout the archdiocese. I could no longer work at the same pace as prior to my injury, and therefore I felt less productive and more of a burden to people around me. I had come to the realization that in trying to please others, I had stopped taking care of and loving myself. I overworked myself and claimed that I was, ‘too busy’ to set aside any personal time for myself.” And she has recognized that this is a common thing in ministry workers.She has this great quote–I just love it, “Overwork is a learned skill disguised as a selfless act of putting others first.” There are a number of things that masquerade as charity, but they are not charity, right.So, I like this quote from Frederick Buechner. He says, “…Love yourself as your neighbor. Love yourself not in some egocentric, self-serving sense, but love yourself in a way like you love your friends, in the sense of taking care of yourself, nourishing yourself, and trying to understand and comfort and strengthen yourself.”Alright, so let’s have a call to action here. Let’s talk about what we can do. Micole Amalu, remember she was the DMU graduate student that I had quoted from her paper. She has written this litany of self-love. You can find it if you just do an internet search, ‘litany of self-love’. It’s at The Mission of the Face of Mercy–this is Micole Amalu’s ministry–is to provide mental health advocacy and education within the church, in order to encourage her to love better as we strive to be ‘merciful like the Father’. And I met Micole and her husband, Christian Amalu, at the last Catholic Psychotherapy Association meeting, really enjoyed our time together and our conversations–very supportive of her work. And in this area of self-love, this is really a unique prayer. I don’t know of any other prayer that focuses on self-love like this one does. Remember, love/charity is an infused virtue. We have to ask for it. And this litany is a great way to pray for greater self-love and to pray about self-love. It can be a really illuminating experience. I’ve prayed it myself. Highly recommend it. Check it out–Litany of Self-Love,, now I’m going to talk about the examination of conscience–the general examination of conscience. That’s the examination of conscience that’s done at the end of the day. Now, typical examinations of conscience tend to focus on the Ten Commandments, the Decalogue. The first three Commandments focus on loving God, second seven commandments focus on the love of neighbor. There’s a lot of cataloging and counting sins. Did I break any of the commandments, did I violate the rules?I’m going to invite an alternative way of doing your general examination of conscience at the end of the day–and that is to frame the examination in terms of love. Of how did I love today and how did I not love today in these three areas. How did I love God today, and how did I not love God today? How did I love my neighbors today, and how did I not love my neighbor today? How did I love myself today in an ordered way; how did I love myself today in a disordered way? So basically kind of a grid of six things. How did I love God, how did I love my neighbor, how did I love myself in an ordered way, how did I not love God, how did I not love my neighbor, how did I love myself in a disordered way, not in an ordered way? Looking at it in terms of love relationships–because all of those commands are really about the two great Commandments, right? Loving God, loving your neighbor. So instead of going to the Decalogue, instead of going to the Ten Commandments, instead of going to the rules, instead of writing down the thing that you habitually sinned against, think about the relationships. That’s ultimately what we’re called to as relational beings, anyway–is a relationship. And don’t forget to put down the good things, the ways that you actually did love. So many times we just focus on the negative.St. Ignatius of Loyola, who was really the saint that advocated and came up with the examination of conscience in a lot of the forms that we use today, advocates for looking at the good–recognizing how grace is working within you, recognizing when there is a greater degree of the infused virtue of charity that allows you to love better and to give praise to God for that, not to take it in some sort of narcissistic sort of self-agitating way, but to be appreciative of that.The other thing is to have this–not to have this as some sort of accounting of sins and sort of checking boxes, but to make it a conversation. Father Emile Neubert, in his book, ‘My Ideal: Jesus Son of Mary’, writes in such a way that Mary is telling us Mary is telling the reader this, “In the evening before going to bed, cast a glance back over the day to see what you will have to avoid or do in order to improve matters on the morrow…make this examination in the form of a conversation with Jesus and with me. In this manner you will succeed much better than if you make a dry enquiry into your spiritual work all by yourself. Tell us where you succeeded and where you failed; submit your resolutions to us and ask us to help you live the life of Jesus more fully.”So often people do their examinations of conscience and this really self-enclosed way. They’re just doing their own evaluation of themselves–it’s actually not involving God that much at all. Or Our Lady that much at all. That’s what Father Emile Neubert is offering us. It’s a way to enter into our examination of conscience in a conversational way–in a relational way, in a way that looks at this from the perspective of love.And I’m going to say ask for light to see how you did love God, your neighbor, and yourself. Ask for light to see that. Ask for light to see the failures to love God, your neighbor, and yourself. Ask for the light–get into that dialogue and then wait for the response, wait for the light. Don’t just ask it and move on–wait in that receptivity. Wait in that openness for a response. Listen to what the Lord will say. And then, to offer everything of who we are to God, including all of our shame, including all of our junk, including all our disorder, including all the stuff that’s wrong inside. To be able to offer all of that in the confidence of a little child to Our Lord, to Our Lady.We’re going to make lots of mistakes. We’re going to make lots of mistakes of commission. We need to keep trying and to do this more and more in relationship. And that will work.Now, in the next episode–in episode 99, I’m going to get into many more specifics of the nitty gritty of how to love yourself better in the natural realm. I gave you some recommendations for spiritual practices today. The next episode we’re going to be dealing with much more in the natural realm. I’m super excited about that, we’re going to bring parts in–more of a multiplicity of self type of model because that is so helpful in actually learning to love ourselves. So I’ll give you lots of examples about how you can love yourself in that next episode. I wanted to lay the groundwork today so that we can understand what ordered self-love really looks like–what we’re looking for from the Church, from St. Thomas Aquinas especially, so that we’ve got that as a base to move on.Alright, so, if you are a Catholic therapist and you want to really engage with this, if you really want to learn more about loving yourself and you want to do it through experiential exercises and you want to do it with other Catholic therapists, I am starting Foundations Experiential Groups in the Interior Therapist Community. Second and fourth Wednesdays from 1:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. EST beginning on October 12th, 2022. Join me. I will help you personally with this. I lead these groups–they’re small, they’re no more than nine. If you’re a therapist or if you’re a graduate student and you want some of this, let me know. Go to for ‘Interior Therapist Community’–that’s our landing page. And register–let us know you’re out there, or you can send me an email You got to move quick though because those are filling up, and we’re going to get started in just a little while.We are in an exciting time. There’s a new cohort that’s onboarding right now for the Resilient Catholics Community. If you’re interested as a Catholic, if you’re a Catholic and you’re interested in these kinds of issues, if you’re interested in learning how to love yourself in a more ordered way, I’ve put together a whole program that’s focused on that. How do you get to know yourself, how do you get to accept yourself, how do you get to care for yourself, how do you get to understand yourself better? All of it oriented toward you being able to love you so that opens the door to you being able to love your neighbor better and you being able to love God better. That’s the Resilient Catholics Community. Check that out––that’s our landing page. Get on the waiting list. We’re going to start admitting new people in December. That’s when you can go through the onboarding process for that.If you are a single Catholic woman aged 35 or older, there is still time to get into Anne-Marie Klobe’s Ready for Love Masterclass series. It’s running from October 3-16. Lots of excellent speakers who are sharing their wisdom. They’re opening their hearts to you, helping you in your state of life right now. Check that out. You can register by going back to one of my weekly reflections–there’s links in the September 14th or September 21st 2022 weekly reflections. You can get those by going to, going to those reflections and clicking on the link.One more thing–‘Life Giving Wounds’, great ministry. Souls and Hearts, we are active supporters of ‘Life Giving Wounds’. ‘Life Giving Wounds’ supports the adult children of divorce or separation. They are doing their annual retreat. It’s running from on Thursday evenings from 8:15 p.m. to 10 p.m. That’s ongoing–it’s already started, but you can still register for another day or two. That’s going to run to November 10th. Excellent speakers. Check that out. It’s really helpful for understanding the wound that was left by your parents’ divorce or separation, even if that divorce or separation happened when you were an adult. Just because you were grown up doesn’t mean that that doesn’t really, really hurt. You’re going to have advice concerning love and trust of others–an experience of Christ and experience of community with other people that have gone through their parents’ divorce or their parents’ separation that leads to greater understanding–leads to healing. Registration closes on Tuesday, October 4, 2022. So act quick on that.Don’t forget, you can reach out to me in conversation hours every Tuesday and Thursday 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. EST, 317-567-9594. That’s my cell phone number–317-567-9594. Conversation hours every Tuesday and Thursday 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. EST. You can also email me, and let people know about this podcast. So many people do not know about this podcast that could benefit from it. Let them know. Maybe there’s a person that you think like, “wow, this could really be helpful”. If you were talking about this topic of self love, send them a link, share it on social media, let them know.And thank you for being here. Thank you for making it through another really long podcast, one of these solo casts where Dr. Peter just goes on and on and on and on. Thank you for staying with me to the end. And with that, we will invoke our patrons and our patron, Our Lady, Our Mother. Untier of Knots, pray for us. St. John the Baptist, pray for us.

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