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Self-love has often been seen as a moral flaw, akin to vanity and selfishness. The Merriam-Webster dictionary later describes self-love as to "love of self" or "regard for one's own happiness or advantage". Synonyms of this concept are: amour propre, conceit, conceitedness, egotism, and many more. However, throughout the centuries this definition has adopted a more positive connotation through self-love protests, the Hippie era, the new age feminist movement as well as the increase in mental health awareness that promotes self-love.
Cicero considered those who were sui amantes sine rivali (lovers of themselves without rivals) were doomed to end in failure – a theme adopted by Francis Bacon in his condemnation of extreme self-lovers, who would burn down their own home, only to roast themselves an egg.
Self-love was first recognized in 1563 but was only later studied by philosophers William James and Erich Fromm, who studied emotional human behaviour, such as self-esteem and self-worth. However, it was later defined in 1956 by psychologist and social philosopher Erich Fromm, who proposed that loving oneself is different from being arrogant, conceited or egocentric, meaning that instead caring about oneself and taking responsibility for oneself.
Eric Fromm proposed a re-evaluation of self-love in more positive sense, arguing that in order to be able to truly love another person, a person first needs to love oneself in the way of respecting oneself and knowing oneself (e.g. being realistic and honest about one's strengths and weaknesses).
Erik H. Erikson similarly wrote of a post-narcissistic appreciation of the value of the ego, while Carl Rogers saw one result of successful therapy as the regaining of a quiet sense of pleasure in being one's own self.
Self-love or self-worth was later defined by A.P. Gregg and C. Sedikides in 2003 as "referring to a person's subjective appraisal of himself or herself as intrinsically positive or negative". Robert H. Wozniak described William James's theory of self-esteem and claimed that self-love was measured in "... three different but interrelated aspects of self: the material self (all those aspects of material existence in which we feel a strong sense of ownership, our bodies, our families, our possessions), the social self (our felt social relations), and the spiritual self (our feelings of our own subjectivity)".
Mental health was first described by William Sweetser (1797–1875) as the maintenance of "mental hygiene". His analysis was demonstrated in his essay "Temperance Society" published August 26, 1830, which claimed that regular maintenance of mental hygiene created a positive impact on the well-being of individuals and the community as well.
According to the American Association of Suicidology, there have been 44,193 suicides in 2015 alone, 5,491 of them being youth aged between 15–24 years old. The number of teenager and young adult suicides are escalating at an alarming rate every year, further demonstrating that the social environment has an impact on mental health conditions. The association conducted a study in 2008 which researched the impact of low self-esteem and lack of self-love and its relation to suicidal tendencies and attempts. They defined self-love as being "beliefs about oneself (self-based self-esteem) and beliefs about how other people regard oneself (other-based self-esteem)". It concluded that "depression, hopelessness, and low self-esteem are implications of vulnerability factors for suicide ideation" and that "these findings suggest that even in the context of depression and hopelessness, low self-esteem may add to the risk for suicide ideation".
Self-love was first promoted in the early years of the Hippie era (also known as the Beat Generation of the 1960s). After witnessing the devastating consequences of World War II and having troops still fighting in the Vietnam War, western (especially North American) societies began promoting "peace and love" to help generate positive energy and to promote the preservation of dissipating environmental factors, such as the emergence of oil pipelines and the recognition of pollution caused by the greenhouse effect.
These deteriorating living conditions caused worldwide protests that primarily focused on ending the war, but secondarily promoted a positive environment aided by the fundamental concept of crowd psychology. This post-war community was left very vulnerable to persuasion but began encouraging freedom, harmony and the possibility of a brighter, non-violent future. These protests took place on almost all continents and included countries such as the United States (primarily New York City and California), England and Australia. Their dedication, perseverance and empathy towards human life defined this generation as being peace advocates and carefree souls.
The emergence of the feminist movement began as early as the 19th century, but only began having major influence during the second wave movement, which included women's rights protests that inevitably led to women gaining the right to vote. These protests not only promoted equality but also suggested that women should recognize their self-worth through the knowledge and acceptance of self-love. Elizabeth Cady Stanton used the Declaration of Independence as a guideline to demonstrate that women have been harshly treated throughout the centuries in her feminist essay titled "Declaration of Sentiments". In the essay she claims that "all men and women are created equal; ... that among these [rights] are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness"; and that without these rights, the capacity to feel self-worth and self-love is scarce. This historical essay suggests that a lack of self-esteem and fear of self-love affects modern women due to lingering post-industrial gender conditions.
Self-love has also been used as a radical tool in communities of Color in the United States. In the 1970s Black-Power movement, the slogan "Black is beautiful!" became a way for African-Americans to throw off the mantle of predominately White beauty norms. The dominant cultural aesthetic pre-1970s was to straighten Black hair with a perm or hot comb. During the Black Power movement, the "afro" or "fro" became the popular hairstyle. It involved letting Black Hair grow naturally, without chemical treatment, so as to embrace and flaunt the extremely curly hair texture of Black people. Hair was teased out the hair using a pick. The goal was to cause the hair to form a halo around the head, flaunting the Blackness of its wearer. This form of self-love and empowerment during the 70s was a way for African-Americans to combat the stigma against their natural hair texture, which was, and still is, largely seen as unprofessional in the modern workplace.
The emergence of new technology has given society an easier way to communicate with one another and research faster. Social media has created a platform for self-love promotion and mental health awareness in order to end the stigma surrounding mental health and to address self-love positively rather than negatively.
A few modern examples of self-love promotion platforms include:
Beck, Bhar, Brown & Ghahramanlou‐Holloway (2008). "Self-Esteem and Suicide Ideation in Psychiatric Outpatients". Suicide and Life Threatening Behavior 38.
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