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Philautia – Love of the Self
Philautia, or love of the self, is where we start out in life, and this kind of love is the basis for all other kinds of love, including romantic love and Christ-like love.
As infants, our self-concern is overwhelming, because it’s really all we know. We cry, and if we’re fortunate, someone answers our cry. We are hungry, and if we’re fortunate, someone is there to feed us.
But we don’t realize we’re fortunate. Not right away. And philautia is not something we come to naturally – we have to be taught how to love the self. It’s not an easy thing to do, and not something we can do without significant help from those who know how to do it.
“I have never found a man that knew how to love himself.” – Shakespeare, Othello, Act 1, Scene 3
The World’s View of Philautia
“On earth I confess an itch for the praise of fools – that’s Vanity…” – Elizabeth Browning
Our culture creates problems in this regard.
One viewpoint that many people carry is that love of the self as selfish, and something we should grow out of as we mature. Once we learn there are other people in the world, those other people’s wants and needs should be more important than ours, if we are to become good people. But then we give and give and give until there’s nothing left in us to give, which leads some otherwise good people to self-destruct in service to others.
Others see self-love as a healthy – even responsible – a rebellion against this first belief system above (when taken to extremes); a defense against being taken advantage of. A worship of the temporal by the individual to ensure they don’t “waste their life.”
The term, according to many in the world, refers to sexual self-stimulation which, when done outside the Lord’s designated boundaries, only serves to reinforce this second belief system, but only to our detriment.
This paradigm says we should think of ourselves first, and always see to our own needs above any others, under any circumstances. “What’s in it for me?” “What is the market value of the person I am thinking about entering into a relationship with?” “Am I getting as much from this relationship as I am putting into it?” When this belief is followed to its outer extreme, we see and hear the devilish belief, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”, uttered by the man who became Perdition.[i]
The Gospel View of Philautia
The Lord sees things very differently. Instead of self-love being a selfish concern, we hear the Lord and His servants describe it as an essential human need:
“[Philautia] goes to the very heart of our personal growth and accomplishment. Self-esteem is the glue that holds together our self-reliance, our self-control, our self-approval or disapproval, and keeps all self-defense mechanisms secure. It is a protection against excessive self-deception, self-distrust, self-reproach, and plain old-fashion selfishness.”[ii]
How Does Philautia Affect Sex in the LDS Marriage?
James E. Faust’s talk on self-esteem contained six ways to keep self-esteem strong. To me, these points he mentioned correspond in every way to cultivating philautia in our marriages and our lives.
*Keeping ourselves free of addictions, particularly any addictions to profane erotica, is critical to a healthy self-esteem and an improved sex life in marriage. When we’re viewing such material, can we view these people making the videos, as children of God? Can we view our spouses as children of God? Or do all people become objects for personal satisfaction instead?
There is no room for profane erotica in a gospel marriage, or in our marriage beds.
Other physical and mental addictions, such as overeating, abusing prescription or illegal drugs, or anything else we put above God or our spouse requires quick and frequent repentance if we’re to keep a healthy self-esteem.[iii]
*Cultivating humility helps us to realize that, while we are children of God and God loves us, God also loves our spouses, even when we’re angry at them.[iv]
*Honesty in our marriages includes realizing and admitting our own faults, and involving the Lord’s help, our spouse’s assistance, and the appropriate assistance of Church leaders or other professionals to build upon and shore up our weaknesses. Weaknesses can become strengths with help.[v]
“When our authentic self doesn't work in the world, we create a false self which lets us feel safe and accepted--but at significant cost….”[vi]
Dr. David Schnarch speaks of a process in marriage called ‘differentiation’ that we must pass through in order to obtain happiness in a long-term relationship.[vii] Differentiation is a process of taking responsibility for ourselves – to end our dependence on our spouse for our happiness. This is a difficult and painful process to endure, but a necessary one, and one that can’t be done through deception. Those who have a sense of self-love, of philautia, can take responsibility for themselves and soothe themselves better through conflict than those who struggle with self-love.
*A love of work will pay dividends in marriage, because marriage involves work. Building and strengthening our sexual identity and practices within our marriage is sometimes pleasant, and sometimes incredibly challenging. We shouldn’t shrink from that challenge, any more than Christ shrank from achieving his mission and performing the Atonement for us.[viii]
*Building our love for others, once we have felt the love of our parents and the love of the Lord, expands on this healthy concept of philautia. Our spouse will see every side of us, good and bad. Can we laugh at ourselves in our marriage? Can we accept compliments from our spouse, and accept them as truth?
Sins and transgressions eat holes in our philautia, but repentance is always there to heal us. Life can deal us setbacks that harm our self-esteem, but looking to help others can help us to feel the love of God again
*Strengthening our love for God will strengthen our marriage. Charity enhances and lifts all kinds of love, including self-love. When we feel the truth of it, that we are children of a kind and caring Father in Heaven, others can feel it too. Children first come to feel the love of the Lord (ideally) through the love of their parents, and then perhaps the love of a friend or teacher or some other kind of mentor. Philautia, the (gospel-centered) love of self, then develops in others through us and the service we render.
“As much as we want to control our own destiny, the humbling truth is that sometimes the only way to learn self-love is by being loved-precisely in the places where we feel most unsure and most tender. When that happens, we feel freedom and relief-and permission to love in a deeper way. No amount of positive self-talk can replicate this experience. It is a gift of intimacy, not of will-power.”[ix]
As children grow, they develop ludus, which we’ll explore in next week’s article.
[i] Genesis 4:9; Moses 5:24
[ii] Faust, James E. Self-Esteem: A Great Human Need. Speeches.byu.edu. www.lds.org
[iii] Exodus 20:3-5
[iv] “A story is told of an encounter between the Prophet Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. In the presence of a rather large group of brethren, the Prophet severely chastised Brother Brigham for some failing in his duty. Everyone, I suppose somewhat stunned, waited to see what Brigham’s response would be. After all, Brigham, who later became known as the Lion of the Lord, was no shrinking violet by any means. Brigham slowly rose to his feet, and in words that truly reflected his character and his humility, he simply bowed his head and said, “Joseph, what do you want me to do?” The story goes that sobbing, Joseph ran from the podium, threw his arms around Brigham, and said in effect, “You passed, Brother Brigham, you passed” – Edgeley, Richard C., “The Empowerment of Humility”, October 2003 Conference
[v] Ether 12:27
[vi] Page, Ken, LCSW. “How to Love Yourself First”. Psychology Today. May 21, 2011; https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/finding-love/201105/how-love-yourself-first
[vii] “Intimacy is the two-prong process of confronting yourself and self-disclosing to your [spouse].” – Schnarch, David, Passionate Marriage, pg. 106
[viii] Luke 22:41-43
[ix] Page, Ken, LCSW. “How to Love Yourself First”. Psychology Today. May 21, 2011; https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/finding-love/201105/how-love-yourself-first