I recently was at a benefit, where I had the misfortune of witnessing a celebrity behaving badly. That incident got me started thinking again about love, specifically self-love as it is defined in the secular world versus according to yiddishkeit. In my mind, when someone exemplifies self-love as ego like this said celebrity, that self-love is counterproductive.
We often hear that in order to love someone else, we need to have self-love. But what is self-love? What does it mean to love ourselves sufficiently? I like to think that self-love is understanding that "I" have value because "I" was made in Hashem's image and infused with the ability to invoke positive change in the world through my relationship with Him, with people, and with the other aspects of Hashem's creation. That's why, for example, I love animals; they never fail to inspire awe in me because they are wondrous creations by Hashem.
So to a degree, self-love means self-respect. That is not the end all and be all of it though. After all, self-respect does not mean that we value ourselves above all else, i.e., we cannot give ourselves free rein. Rather, if self-love/self-respect means that we should feel regret when we do something wrong and should take steps to rectify the wrong-doing. We should forgive ourselves in order to move on and improve, to escape the self-defeating cycle brought on by endless guilt.
Now when we interact with others, we are experiencing love times X. In other words, either person could be having a good day or a bad day; that is certainly more frequently the case than both having the same type of day. So we need to have self-love to navigate the ups and downs that come with being in a relationship. That's where love versus in love plays a role.
When we are in love, we are often blind to the negative traits of the other person. Instead, we focus on all the marvelous qualities our intended possesses. We consequently tend to skew our perception of our partner and their actual personality. In contrast, when we develop love over time, we come to accurately perceive what is happening with our partner and are able to overlook and/or overcome, as required, the given bump in the road. Positive change is possible under such circumstances.
Finally, I have often stated that I don't care what other people think of me. If we go back to defining self-love, I believe that this statement summarizes the general concept of self-love. To reword, I love myself enough to do what I have to do without being swayed by what other people may think. If you think about it, this a basic tenet of yiddishkeit: we do what we have to, because it is what Hashem has commanded. By extension, when I say I don't care what other people think, what I mean is that I will do what I have to do. However, that does not mean that I do not contemplate the impact of my actions/words on others. If my planned course of action/speech will negatively impact someone else, then I will not act as planned. Thus, the statement I don't care what other people think of me means that I will do what I have to do if it is the right thing to do. It goes without saying that as a frum yid, the right thing to do equals following Hashem's laws. That includes avoiding maris ayin, or to put it differently, acting brazenly out of self-love.
Self-love then, is a combination of self-respect and awareness that while we may make mistakes, we can learn from them and improve, that we have innate merit and can do much with it to help others and the world at large- if we choose to stay on the Torahdik path. I really believe if we cultivate such self-love and have it operate as our guiding principle, we can bring Mosiach.