Smart Health

Love Humanity, Love Yourself

Is it time to enlarge your emotional boundaries?

Our news and social-media feeds are filled with entire groups of people and communities being targeted for their gender, race or ethnicity, or sexuality or gender identity. The recent mass shootings and hate crimes directed against the Asian American/Pacific Islander community in California serve as a stark reminder of the real dangers that historically marginalized groups face every day. It is deeply saddening to witness the senseless loss of life and mounting fear about the constant threat of domestic terrorism in community “safe spaces” that are no longer safe.

Just as concerning, these horrific tragedies have occurred against a backdrop where the passage of invalidating legislation in Florida implies that there is no place for African American history. Nationwide, over 120 anti-LGBTQ bills have already been proposed just this year, with the attacks coming from all sides.

Additionally, there are those who are forgotten, discarded, or erased because they are unhoused, or because of their disability status or affiliation with other historically marginalized groups.

Perhaps one of the most challenging aspects of finding or expressing love in the modern era isn’t about focusing on self-love, or love for our own family and community. Rather, the thought of loving humanity—all of humanity—feels like an impossible challenge. How can we develop a comprehensive love of others that includes even those who are not in our immediate circle? Is it even necessary to carry that type of love, care, and concern for others? And just what will we gain from expanding our need for love and connection to humanity as a whole?

Ancient philosophers, as well as modern-day thinkers, spiritual scholars, and armchair pop psychologists, have all weighed in on this topic, and their opinions are widely varied.

Indian politician and social activist Mahatma Gandhi, for example, espoused the principles of nonviolent protest and love for  humanity. “True love is boundless like the ocean and, rising and swelling within one, spreads itself across all boundaries and frontiers, enveloping the whole world.”

On the other hand, modern-day scholars such as Stephen Asma argue that to “love your neighbor as yourself” is not only impossible, but impractical. He states, “All people are not equally entitled to my time, affection, resources, or moral duties.”

Ultimately, our love for humanity is perhaps the reason that we can allow ourselves to continue wrestling with and challenging even its darkest and most offensive parts.

Can anything be gained from trying to love all of humanity? We commonly hear the adage, “I cannot love others if I don’t first love myself.” What if the opposite is also true?—“I cannot love myself if I do not first love others. I must show compassion to others in order to know how to show compassion for myself.”

The concept of self-love, while important, seems to have been misinterpreted. In many cases, people express love for themselves through selfish acts, without any care for the impact those actions may have on others. This type of self-love seems to be increasingly driven by fear, or a ‘scarcity mentality’—the sense that things will be taken away.

It’s important to not confuse the fear of loss with an actual love of self. Self-love is a radical acceptance of the self—of one’s strengths, weaknesses, and flaws. The love of self does not have to inflict harm on others or spread collateral damage. Self-love is also not a destination we arrive at and exclaim, “I’m done!” Instead, our journey as human beings is marked by our constant striving to accept and love all of the parts of ourselves—even the parts that are most challenging.

As LGBTQ people, it can be terribly challenging to connect to a sense of self-love, particularly when so many of the messages we receive, both direct and indirect, are rooted in hatred and condemnation. There’s also the tendency, particularly in the age of social media, to compare ourselves and our internal feelings to the sunny external images posted by friends, acquaintances, and distant loved ones. This comparison can be extraordinarily toxic, resulting in a sense that one is never good enough, or that our natural strengths and talents do not measure up to those displayed by others. Ultimately, this can contribute to a general sense of futility as we question our lives and all of our unhealthy habits and behaviors.

Is it by loving others that we might come closer to the ideal of self-love?

We cannot love ourselves without loving others, and that love cannot extend only to those that we know. Instead, our challenge is to love even those who do not always wish us well.

In truth, there are times when we don’t always wish ourselves well, yet we still strive to find a way to make peace with our flaws. We can easily sabotage our relationships, or make financial or wellness decisions that are not in our best interest. By wrestling with our ability to love even the most difficult humans, we can find ways to love and accept even the most difficult parts of ourselves.

What we may need, ultimately, is to actively direct love toward others in order to be psychologically healthy. Our love and care for all parts of humanity actually enriches our sense of connection and our spirit. By caring for others, we can hopefully find forgiveness for ourselves. As we wrestle with the challenges of loving all of humanity—even when humanity does not love us back—we can make peace with the parts of ourselves that we find unacceptable.

As you celebrate Valentine’s Day this month, how can you express your love and acceptance for someone who perhaps doesn’t deserve it?

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Daryl Shorter, MD

Daryl Shorter, MD, is a Diplomate of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology and is board certified in both general and addiction psychiatry. His clinical practice focuses on the use of psychotherapy and medications to treat mental health and substance use disorders. Dr. Shorter serves as the psychiatrist of record at The Montrose Center and lectures widely on LGBTQ mental health and wellness. Dr. Shorter can be reached at dr.darylshorter@gmail.com.
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