bell hooks on self-love.

copy of bell hooks all about love

Love is action. This includes self love.

For anyone familiar with bell hooks, you will know that she was a social activist, writer and professor, who offered blazing and vital critiques on class, race and sexism. Her work is brilliant, though provoking and necessary.

In ‘All About love’ she critiques the passive notion of romantic love, and a society wide lack of knowing how to love well, and offers a working model of love based on positive action.

The whole book is brilliant, and here I wanted to write about a chapter called ‘Commitment: let love be love in me’ which is about self-love. Some of her ideas in this chapter have also been influenced by the book ‘Six Pillars of Self Esteem’ by Nathaniel Branden.

hooks says that love is not a passive act. It is a commitment to a series of actions that we take on our own behalf, or on behalf of another that promotes spiritual growth and wellbeing. She says that rather than seeing love as a passive set of spontaneous feelings, we have to be able to see love as a commitment to treating ourselves or others with a combination of trust, commitment, care, respect, knowledge and responsibility.

So how would it come to be that we don’t love ourselves? These quotes from the chapter on internalizing negative messages from others give insight:

“People who think they are unlovable, have this perception because at some point in their lives they have been socialized to see themselves as unlovable by forces outside their control.”

“We can develop a constant negative voice. And that voice enjoys the indulgence of an endless negative critique. And because we have learned to believe negative is more realistic, it appears more real than any positive voice”

I love this framing of critical voice, that we learn to give more weight to the negative, so it appears more real and like the ‘truth’. The positive voice then is less real and easier to dismiss. I think we can all relate to that.

Themes of low-self esteem, self-confidence, self-like and self-love come up often in counselling. Understanding how we feel about ourselves, and where this has come from is really useful. So is getting familiar with our own negative voice and all the particular things it likes to tell us.

hooks makes a point that while understanding the roots of our self-hatred is useful, it can only bring us so far. The ideas in her writing aim to bridge the gap between the place of understanding why you feel this way about yourself, and being able to take action to do something about it. Giving tangible steps and actions to take so there is some sort of forward momentum.

I think her critique of the limits of the passive idea of love, as an organic, spontaneous feeling that we just have to wait to arise, is really important. We might think that we need to already feel good about ourselves to be able to treat ourselves well. Afterall it can feel impossible to want to treat yourself well if you don’t like yourself.

In reality, it’s the other way around. If we can find a way to do the actions of love- treat ourselves with care, respect, trust, responsibility, even and especially when we cant look ourselves in the eye or feel like we are a hideous monster then gradually, overtime, we will hopefully start to like, or even love ourselves.

When we feel unworthy and unlovable, this is exactly when we need to double down on the commitment to treat ourselves lovingly. Even if we don’t want to, even if we don’t feel it. We have to find a way to do it. This is the commitment part of hooks’ working model of self love.

So to summarise bell hooks’ working model for love, including self-love. And I reiterate, if you feel like a hideous monstrosity right now, this is exactly the right time to get on with the actions from the working model of love.

Making a commitment to yourself that you will do the actions of love even when you are struggling to feel any kind of way positive about yourself.

To treat yourself with care (what would that look like for you? Is it physical care, tending to sleep and nourishing your body, and also is it be emotional care, accepting and expressing how you feel, not denying yourself.

Treating yourself with respect, including boundary setting, acting with integrity & dignity.

Developing self-trust, through understanding what you want and making decisions based on this, in testing and trusting your resilience. In getting to know the landscape of your inner world.

Self responsibility, owning what’s yours, working on your shit, exercising choice and free will in your life.

I’ll finish this post with a final and favourite quote from the book:

“One of the best guides to self loving is to give ourselves the love we are often dreaming about receiving from others”

Take care, N.

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: