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Original research article, a qualitative exploration of chinese self-love.

self love research paper

  • Faculty of Psychology, Southwest University, Chongqing, China

Although self-love is an important topic, it has not been viewed as appropriate for psychological research, especially in China. We conducted two studies to understand how Chinese people view self-love. In the first study, we surveyed 109 Chinese people about the dimensions of self-love using an open-ended questionnaire. In the second study, 18 participants were selected by means of intensity sampling and interviewed about the connotations and structure of Chinese self-love. The two studies revealed three important aspects of the Chinese understanding of self-love: (1) self-love has four dimensions: self, family, others, and society; (2) it comprises five components: self-cherishing, self-acceptance, self-restraint, self-responsibility, and self-persistence; and (3) the five components of self-love are linked together to form a stable personality structure. The reliability and validity of the two studies were strong. Finally, the results showed that Chinese self-love is dominated by Confucian culture, which provides guiding principles for how to be human. At the same time, it shows that there are differences in the understanding of self-love between Chinese and Western cultures, which provides an empirical basis for further research based on cross-cultural psychology and self-love psychology.


In our search for self-love, we have only reached the discovery that self-love remains an unknown world to us .

—François de La Rochefoucauld

Self-love is an important aspect of human life with personal and moral significance. It enhances health and longevity, prompting individuals to strive for their own good and perfection ( Rocha and Ghoshal, 2006 ; Gebauer et al., 2012 ); moreover, it enables individuals to conform to social norms and is even regarded as an important force in the fight against terrorism ( Kruglanski et al., 2013 ). In psychology, researchers have viewed this important topic in different ways. Some researchers saw self-love as self-feelings that comprise four self-relevant emotions (ashamed, humiliated, proud, and pleased), also known as affective self-regard/self-love ( Cai et al., 2007 ; Brown, 2010 ). From this perspective, studies have found that, when using implicit measures, cross-cultural differences in self-esteem and self-enhancement tend to disappear ( Kitayama and Uchida, 2003 ; Kobayashi and Greenwald, 2003 ; Cai, 2006 ; Yamaguchi et al., 2007 ). Based on this, it has been suggested that self-love may be a fundamental, implicit human motive to fit into a specific cultural role ( Leary and Tangney, 2012 ). However, some researchers have regarded self-love as a positive way of treating oneself that remains stable over time and across situations. For example, Fromm (1947) put forward that self-love is to love oneself; to love oneself is to care for oneself, be responsible for oneself, respect oneself, and understand oneself. Freud (1957 , p. 67) believed that self-love was a form of narcissism, where the libido was directed toward oneself and inversely proportional to the love felt for others. Benjamin et al. (2006) considered self-love to be a gentle love for oneself that focused on the cultivation, care, and development of oneself. However, Chinese scholars believed that self-love included not only taking good care of one's body but also cherishing one's reputation and paying attention to one's words and deeds—in other words, to please, cherish, and respect one's own body, character, ability, reputation, position, and future ( Lin et al., 2003 ; Yang, 2009 , p. 66; Huang, 2017 , p. 56). It is apparent that Western and Chinese scholars have different views regarding self-love. Western scholars' description of self-love is relatively broad, while Chinese scholars' description of self-love is more specific, including body, ability, reputation, etc., and has the meaning of restraint. According to this notion, just as people who love themselves will not do anything harmful to their body, so will they not harm their reputations.

The difference between the manner in which Chinese and Western psychologists understand self-love may be due to their respective cultural backgrounds. In ancient Greek philosophy, oikeiosis (self-love) was considered the source of all good and radiated a circle of love, first for oneself, then for one's children, then for one's family, and even for all humanity. According to Aristotle, self-love was the core of friendship; a person should be their own best friend first, then extend love to others. The ancient Greek philosophers regarded self-love as one's relationship with oneself and as a person's inner sense of value. Therefore, it was considered to be a basic moral relationship ( Chazan, 1998 ). During the Spring and Autumn period of Chinese history, scholars such as Confucius and Mencius regarded self-love as both the starting point and the acme of Ren (one's natural virtues). They stated: “The man of virtue, while establishing himself and pursuing success, also works to establish others and enable them to succeed as well” ( Chen and Xu, 2015 ); “Love, from self-love; and Ren , from Ren . To be kind to people, and then to love living things. It can be said to be Ren if the three are consistent” (Mencius one); “You can be called a wise Junzi (a man of noble character), if you can respect and love yourself” ( Fang and Li, 2015 ). Therefore, self-love is “everyone has the virtue of a Junzi ” ( Fang and Li, 2015 ; Xue et al., 2020 ) as a foothold and “considers others in one's own place.”

Although Chinese and Western philosophers believe that self-love is a virtue, their function orientation is different. In the Western philosophical context, self-love is concerned with the individual's rights, dignity, and intrinsic sense of value, as well as one's relationship with oneself, and society as a whole only serves to promote an individual's happiness. In the context of Chinese philosophy, self-love focuses more on the individual's conduct and ethics, and the peace, harmony, and order of the whole society depend on the individual's self-cultivation ( Thompson and Tu, 1987 ). This difference in the philosophical background underlies the cultural differences in the understanding of self-love between Chinese and Western cultures. Some studies by Western scholars of specific groups (e.g., African-American girls, female college students who have experienced sexual violence, or people living with AIDS) have found a variety of manifestations of self-love, such as self-confidence, self-acceptance, participation in self-care activities, physical recovery, challenging negative self-concepts ( Phelps-Ward and Laura, 2016 ; Lahad and Kravel-Tovi, 2019 ; Sinko et al., 2019 ; Tokwe and Naidoo, 2020 ). In the context of Chinese culture, Xue et al. (2020) conducted a psychological analysis of self-love in the Siku Quanshu (the most systematic and comprehensive summary of the official books of classical Chinese culture). The results showed that self-love, as understood by the ancient Chinese, included three levels: personal self-love (self boundary), individual self-love (family boundary), and social self-love (country and world boundary). It also included three components: self-cherishing (cherish and care for one's life, body, reputation, property, monarchy, country, people, and so on), self-acceptance (be able to accept oneself under any realistic conditions), and self-restraint (restrain oneself with law and morality and be careful in words and deeds). To some extent, the above results reflect the differences in people's understanding of self-love in different cultural backgrounds.

Unfortunately, self-love has not been regarded as an appropriate research topic. Especially in the context of Chinese culture, self-love research is rare. Considering this, how do modern Chinese adults understand self-love? What does self-love involve? What are the components of its personality structure? These are the questions we sought to answer in this study. According to Chen (2000 , p. 12), qualitative research is

a kind of activity that takes the researcher as the research tool, uses various kinds of data collection methods in the natural situation to carry on the overall research to the social phenomenon, uses the induction method to analyze the data and the formation theory, obtains the explanatory understanding through the interaction with the research object to its behavior and the meaning construction .

Qualitative research is a tool used to describe and understand the world of human experiences. To comprehend Chinese people's understanding of self-love in both breadth and depth, to provide a reference point for psychological research into self-love, and to provide evidence for the differences in the understanding of self-love in cross-cultural contexts, we conducted two qualitative studies in the context of Chinese culture. First, we conducted a survey of Chinese participants using open-ended questions to learn about the different aspects of self-love. Then, we conducted in-depth interviews with Chinese participants to explore the components of self-love. Because humans remain biased throughout the research process, even the most experienced researchers struggle to eliminate subjective experiences ( Bashir et al., 2008 ). Therefore, trustworthiness (reliability and validity) must be considered ( Golafshani, 2003 ). The coder agreement coefficient is usually used to evaluate the coding reliability in qualitative research. We used the coder agreement coefficient to evaluate the reliability of studies 1 and 2. The higher the consistency, the higher the reliability ( Yang et al., 2006 , p. 663; Zheng et al., 2010 , p. 135). “Validity” represents whether people's real-life experiences can accurately be reflected in qualitative research. In Study 2, we adopted participant and nonparticipant test methods ( McMillan and Schumacher, 2006 ; Fu et al., 2020 ).

Materials and Methods


A purposeful sample was recruited on the Internet using the snowball sampling method. First, we published a poster of the recruitment questionnaire on the Internet and then asked participants, “Who else do you think is more suitable to answer?” or “Who do you think we should ask for more information?” After obtaining the participants' consent, the questionnaire poster was sent to them. Finally, we collected 109 questionnaires. Two of the questionnaires were carelessly answered, and one was answered by others and submitted twice, so these four questionnaires were regarded as invalid, leaving 105 valid questionnaires.

The participants came from nine provinces and three municipalities in the People's Republic of China. The sample was roughly gender-balanced, consisting of 47% men and 53% women; their ages ranged from 18 to 61 years ( M = 32, SD = 11.5). The participants were very diverse, consisting of students, teachers, salespersons, nurses, the unemployed, etc. In terms of educational background, high school education accounted for 5.71%, university education accounted for 74.29%, and master's degree and above accounted for 20.37%. In addition, 48% of participants were unmarried, 4.7% were married with no children, over 47% were married with children, and 2.8% were divorced; no participant was widowed.

The study was conducted between September 11 and October 19, 2018, after receiving the approval of Southwest University's ethics committee. During the period of questionnaire distribution, the researchers published a poster for the recruitment questionnaire on the Internet every day. The participants could scan the QR code or click the questionnaire link to answer through the questionnaire star (China's questionnaire collection website). The questions were as follows:

(a) “Do you think you are a self-loving person? What are the main manifestations?”

(b) “Do you know people around you who love themselves? What are their main manifestations?”

(c) “What do you think ‘self-love’ means in today's society?”

The participants had to answer the questions after reading and signing the informed consent form. The participants were asked to provide as much detail as possible and to write no <10 words in response to each question. Each participant was given 2 yuan as compensation.

Data Coding

First, we sorted and coded some of the answers. We used content analysis to analyze the text data of the answers through the following process: (1) reading and understanding the statements on self-love repeatedly; (2) establishing categories—based on the analysis of self-love-related statements, the principal investigator, through a discussion among psychology majors and experts and according to the different perspectives involved in the interpretation of self-love in the corpus, divided it into four dimensions: self, family, other, and society. A content analysis manual was developed, including the definition of each dimension, classification criteria, and typical examples. Then, we continued to collect answers. When new codes could not be generated anymore, saturation was considered to have been reached, and no more questionnaires were collected. Therefore, we obtained 105 responses about self-love. After that, we formed and trained the analysis group: a psychology doctoral student and two Chinese language master's students formed the analysis group; they used manuals and practice materials and discussed them with the group. The researchers of the analysis group independently classified and coded according to the analysis manual. In principle, each unit could only be classified into one category, and the frequency of classification for each category was recorded. Finally, we checked to see if there were any errors or duplications in the classification ( Xue et al., 2020 ).


The coder agreement coefficient is usually used to evaluate the coding reliability in qualitative research ( Zheng et al., 2010 ). The coder agreement coefficient was done through the following procedures. First, we calculated the mutual agreement of each of the two coders using the formula [L = 2M/(N 1 + N 2 )] (where M stands for the number of completely agreed, N 1 stands for the number of categories for the first coder, and N 2 stands for the number of categories for the second coder), we calculated the three coders' mutual agreement degree separately and then averaged it. At this time, we got an “ L .” Then, we applied L into the formula [ n × (n/L)/[1 + (n−1) × (n/L)] (where n is the number of coders) ( Yang et al., 2006 , p. 664; Zheng et al., 2010 ), and we got the coder agreement coefficient.

Level 1: The Dimension of Self-Love

In “self,” there were four main types of patterns. Among them, “cherish self” comprised 40% of the total items; it referred to cherish and respect oneself, protect oneself, take care of oneself, and improve oneself. For example, the participants answered, “Self-love is love of self, respect for self; take care of your body and emotions; make everything about you look your best and live happily ever after.” “Accept self” (6%) concerned “being able to accept the past self, being satisfied with the present self, and not being hard on oneself for the frustration of the outside world.” “Restrain self” (18%) referred to “managing your body, emotions, and personal life; not doing bad things, not doing things that damage your reputation or personality; having strict demands on yourself. Be a clean person.” “Persistent self” (11%) referred to “be yourself; in any condition to adhere to their own outlook on life, values, and worldview; have their own moral bottom line and principles.”

Participants who described self-love also mentioned their family members (17%). How one treats family members is also a part of self-love; some answers included, “Don't be a burden on the family; care for the family and be responsible for them.”

In the dimension of others (6%), respondents thought that they should treat and cherish others well. On the one hand, they should not embarrass or trouble others; on the other hand, they should care for, respect, and love others. Furthermore, because of their self-love, people around them would become better and more comfortable.

In the Chinese public's view, society (18%) was an important part of self-love. Self-love meant realizing one's own value, not causing trouble to society, integrating into society, and respecting and contributing to society.

Level 2: The Reliability of Dimensions

The results showed that the coder agreement coefficient of each dimension (self, family, others, and society) was between 0.80 and 0.91.

The purpose of the content analysis was to explore the public's view of self-love in the context of Chinese culture. Three coders completed all the text data analysis independently. The coder agreement represents the coders coded the item into the same dimensions. The coder agreement coefficient was more than 0.80, which indicated that the content analysis had good reliability.

Self-love plays an important role in Chinese life. It involves the individual, relationships, and society. The findings are in line with previous research into the psychology of self-love in the Siku Quanshu and, at the same time, conform to the “ Ren ” in Confucianism. Generally, Chinese self-love includes not only self but also family and society. Confucius put forward “for Ren from self” ( Chen and Xu, 2015 ) and “Be able to be yourself first, and then help those in need. This is the way to Ren ” ( Chen and Xu, 2015 ). The Chinese public's view includes not to drag down the family and to be responsible for one's family. Filial piety is an important concept in Confucian culture: “It's rare for a person to be filial to his parents and respect his elder brother but to enjoy offend the superior. There is no such person who doesn't like to offend but likes to make trouble. When a gentleman is committed to the foundation, and the foundation is established, the Tao comes into being. Filial piety is the root of Ren !” (Lun Yu·Xueer, p. 8). Confucian culture recognizes human self-love as the starting point and premise to love others.

This preliminary study revealed the general view of self-love in China: it accorded with the concept of “ Ren ” in Confucian culture, but a deeper understanding of self-love needed to be explored. Therefore, in the second study, we used in-depth interviews to investigate what self-love means to Chinese adults.

In Study 2, we aimed to explore what constitutes self-love. Therefore, we conducted a series of in-depth interviews with people of different ages and educational backgrounds to explore their inner world of self-love.

We adopted the Grounded Theory (GT) as our research method. GT is used to develop tentative theories and provides a set of clear and specific research steps. This method begins with the induction of data, through the process of iteration and comparison, until reaching data saturation ( Stauss and Corbin, 1990 ). Data were collected through in-depth interviews. This approach provides a more relaxed atmosphere to collect detailed information and allows us to observe the participants' nonverbal expressions during the interview to understand Chinese interpretations of self-love ( Boyce and Neale, 2006 ). Therefore, in strict accordance with GT procedure, we explored the connotations and structure of self-love using the information collected during the interviews.

We combined intensity sampling (based on the characteristics and functions of the sample itself to complete the research task) with snowball sampling (the researcher's own way of action); this is theoretical sampling in GT ( Chen, 2000 ; Corbin, 2017 ). In the preinterview, seven Chinese college students from Southwest University participated. In the formal interview, we first published information about the candidates needed on the Internet and selected candidates who actively and enthusiastically signed up for the interview. In addition, through snowball sampling, these participants recommended people they thought to have the character of self-love and interviewees who could provide the largest amount of information. In order for this research to be considered valid, we needed to recruit at least 12 participants ( Lincoln and Guba, 1985 ). After each interview, we started with open coding. When we found that there was no new opening code, the interview stopped. We eventually terminated recruitment after 18 interviewees (six males, 12 females). Their age ranged from 19 to 59 years ( M = 31.59, SD = 10.25). Their educational background ranged from junior high school to doctoral degrees, and their professional identity included civil servants, university teachers, public institution staff, freelancers, college students, etc. They were mostly from the northeast of China.

Materials and Procedure

Preinterviews and formal interviews were conducted after receiving the approval of Southwest University's ethics committee. The participants read the informed consent form ( Appendix 1 ), agreed, and signed it before the interview took place. They were informed that participation was voluntary and that they could withdraw from the study at any time. Interviews were audio recorded using the voice memo application on the researchers' mobile phones. The researchers obtained interview experience during the preinterview. Based on the results of the preinterview, we consulted experts and held a team discussion to determine the final formal interview outline.

The formal interview was arranged in the participant's free time. Each interview lasted from 45 to 70 min and took place in a quiet, comfortable environment (the school's counseling room, office, etc.). The formal interview outline included five questions: (1) Are you a person who loves yourself? (2) What are the main manifestations of self-love in life? (3) Are you surrounded by people who love themselves? (4) What are the aspects of your self-love? (5) What do you think of self-love in today's society? Each question contained the instruction “Please answer with specific examples.” Once the information obtained from the participants reached saturation, the interview ended. Each participant was given an incentive of 40 yuan or a gift of equal value for their participation. The interviews were conducted from March to June 2019.

Data Analysis

The researchers transcribed the interview recordings into a Microsoft Word document as soon as possible after the interviews and carefully checked for errors and unclear phrases in the transcripts. After sorting the responses, each text file was between 7,000 and 17,000 words, with about 200,000 words overall. The text data were imported into the qualitative data processing software NVivo 11.0 and combined according to the general process of GT ( Figure 1 ). Each participant was given a number according to the order of their interview (the number of participants ranged from z001 to z018). In the comparative text data, half sentences or whole sentences were classified into different nodes, and the text was encoded at three different levels according to the degree of abstraction ( Stauss and Corbin, 1990 ).


Figure 1 . General flowchart of grounded theory (based on Wu and Huang, 2012 ).

In the open coding stage, sentences related to the meaning and expression of self-love were coded. Using the participants' unique expressions, we generated 315 distinct open codes, such as paying attention to health, not getting physically sick, cherishing one's roles, not relaxing, etc. In this stage of coding, the researchers adopted a completely open attitude and entered the original data freely and wholeheartedly without any theoretical framework ( Chen, 2000 ; Corbin, 2017 ). According to our repeated reading of the interview text and the group discussion, we merged, refined, and sorted the data and clarified the internal relationships of each node ( Fu et al., 2020 ) and combined them with the context at that time. The initial 315 open codes were summarized into eight categories: self-cherishing, self-acceptance, self-restraint, self-responsibility, self-persistence, foundation, necessity, and relevance. Through core coding, the relationships between each node were connected in series, and the preliminary connotation and structure of self-love were developed.

Reliability was improved by coder agreement coefficient and inquiry audit ( Yang et al., 2006 , p. 663). The coder agreement coefficient was the same as in Study 1, but the coding group was organized by two psychology postgraduates with qualitative research experience. “Inquiry audit” comes from the experience gained during the preinterview.

Validity was used in both participant and nonparticipant tests. In the participant test, the researcher selected three participants (all of whom had high school education or above) to provide feedback on the coding and conclusion; in the nonparticipant test, three coders with psychological training were invited to give feedback on the coding and conclusion.

Level 1: Components of Self-Love

According to the associative coding presented in Table 1 , self-love consisted of five components: self-cherishing, self-acceptance, self-persistence, self-restraint, and self-responsibility.


Table 1 . The connotation of self-love.


This component was associated with 228 key words. It contains four subcomponents: cherish oneself, protect oneself, take care of oneself, and respect oneself. It shows people's positive self-feelings and actions toward themselves. Cherishing one's body, health, job, family, and so on were coded as “cherishing oneself”; protecting one's own safety, reputation, and dignity were described as “protecting oneself”; “take care of oneself” appeared most frequently, including being kind, adapting, and paying attention to and satisfying oneself; the last components included respecting oneself and others and respect from others.


This component was mentioned 91 times, and it means people accept their real selves, and they are committed to making themselves better and ultimately achieving their ideal self. A clear understanding and acceptance of oneself was ascribed to “accepting one's real self,” which appeared most frequently. Another category, “improve oneself” included constantly improving, acquiring new abilities, and learning until finally becoming what one wants to be.


Self-persistence suggested that people adhere to their own beliefs and do not compromise when dealing with people; this component was mentioned 62 times. “Have principle” indicated that individuals have their own principles when they do things and cannot violate them. “Love your country and nation” indicated that individuals have inviolable identities and the integrity of being humans, which was associated with “have dignity.” “Have judgment” referred to the individuals' independence, respect, and adherence to their own ideas. “Have a bottom line” meant that when people do things, they cannot go below their minimum threshold.


Self-responsibility suggested that self-love is the individual's own responsibility and obligation, which consisted of two subcomponents: sense and behavior. It appeared 76 times. “Sense of responsibility” referred to playing one's own role in life, the responsibilities of different identities, and knowing what one should and should not do. In life, the responsibility to implement practical actions is more frequent, including trying one's best, doing a good job, taking good care of one's family, and living by one's own values.


Self-restraint suggested that individuals consciously constrain their behaviors according to societal expectations (such as law and morality). This category consisted of social norms, prudence, and self-discipline, which came up 105 times. Self-love meant that an individual could conform to basic social requirements (do not cheat, do not do bad things, do not take drugs, etc.), which could be summed up as “prudent behavior.” Self-discipline meant to consciously live normally and restrain oneself without the supervision of others.

In general, self-love was not only about loving self, but it was also closely related to loving others. From the original data, it was found that 12 participants mentioned loving oneself 25 times. In addition, when talking about self-love, most of the participants mentioned the relationship between self-love and loving others, such as “Self-love, in fact, I think another level is to love others, which should also be undertaken; I think if we say that the realm is a little higher, it may also include that it is better to love others” (z014).

Based on the above analysis, it can be summarized that (1) self-love mainly included five components: self-cherishing, self-acceptance, self-persistence, self-responsibility, and self-restraint; and (2) self-love was not equivalent to loving oneself but was closely related to loving others ( Figure 2 ).


Figure 2 . The connotation of self-love. SA, self-acceptance; SC, self-cherishing; SP, self-persistence; SR-1, self-responsibility; SR-2, self-restraint.

Level 2: The Relationship Characteristics and Structure of the Five Components

Based on the aforementioned findings regarding the five components of self-love, a comparative analysis was used to explore the relationship between these components. After repeatedly returning to the original materials for induction, this study found a correlation between the five components of self-love. In addition, self-love and self, interpersonal, and social harmony exhibited characteristics in common.

In Table 1 , self-responsibility had a sense related to taking responsibility for oneself. In Table 2 , the results illustrated that self-responsibility was the basis of self-restraint. One participant thought that self-love was the embodiment of responsibility and lust. He narrated controlling lust by being responsible in life.


Table 2 . The relationship and structure of self-love.

Self-restraint was a necessary but not sufficient condition. Six participants mentioned that self-love involves a kind of constraint, which reflects a necessary condition of self-love. As the participants mentioned, “In fact, the universal sense of self-love makes me feel a little constrained” (z016) and “It is a restriction of the self” (z014). However, the content of self-restraint embodied different standards from that of individual self-restraint. It can be said that self-restraint was not a sufficient condition for self-love.

According to the participants, self-cherishing restrained them from doing bad things. When the participants mentioned cherishing their bodies, they stated they would not harm their bodies. Protecting oneself meant not doing things that harmed one's dignity. “Take care of oneself” meant controlling stress, not feeling forced into decisions, and adapting to prevent emotions from getting out of control.

Self-love could help people accept their own lust and/or control it. One participant reported that he did not fool around with his classmates. He thought he resisted lust and therefore loved himself.

Finally, six participants mentioned that self-persistence would restrain them from doing things beyond their bottom line, boundaries, violating principles, or damaging the national system.

The results of this study suggested that Chinese people's understanding of self-love is presented as a comprehensive whole in the form of self-cherish, self-acceptance, self-restraint, self-responsibility, and self-persistence in every aspect of their lives. The integrity of personality meant that, although personality has multiple factors and characteristics, they are not isolated in real people but closely related and integrated into an organic organization ( Huang, 2002 ). In conclusion, these five factors were integrated in the person with self-love ( Figure 3 ).


Figure 3 . The structure of self-love.

At the same time, the participants mentioned the relationships among self, family, others, and society. The relationships among self, interpersonal relations, and social harmony had the same direction. As mentioned by the participants, in terms of relationship with the self, “Internally, if I do self-love, I will feel that I also have this ability, which is a manifestation of self-development, or I can get some sense of achievement or value from it” (z001). In terms of relationship with the family, “In this kind of environment, I am stretching because the surrounding environment is like this. If my family is with me, it is also a feeling of stretching. This family must be very harmonious, and the atmosphere is very good” (z005). In terms of relationship with others and society, “In fact, in this society, if we all love ourselves, believe in ourselves, cherish our reputation, and don't care what others see, we may make a lot of contributions to the development of society” (z002).

Level 3: Model and Testing of Research Results

Reliability test.

The reliability test still used consistency reliability. After reviewing the original data, we invited two graduate students majoring in psychology to code 50% of the interview's texts each ( n = 9) and finally calculated the coefficient of conformity with the researcher's classification. The final reliability value was 0.89.

Validity Test

We assessed the examination method for participants and nonparticipants. After obtaining the preliminary results, the researchers shared the coding and conclusions with the participants and nonparticipants to test the descriptive and analytic validity of the data.

In the participant test, the researcher selected three participants (all of whom had a high school education or above) to provide feedback on the coding and conclusion, including one university teacher, one master's student, and one freelancer. The participants were required to review the interview content and combine the interview results to ensure the accuracy of the expressions in the interview research. In the nonparticipant test, three people with psychological training were invited to give feedback on the coding and conclusion. One was a psychology professor at Shenyang Normal University and two were doctoral students in psychology. The feedback from six inspectors was summarized, examined, and dealt with in detail ( Appendix 3 ). In addition, we checked the nonverbal information of each participant and the recorded keywords to compare with their verbal information.

Study 2 explored the psychological components of Chinese self-love using GT, and we found that Chinese self-love includes self-cherish, self-acceptance, self-restraint, self-responsibility, and self-persistence; and these five components are interrelated and form a stable personality structure.

Compared with Study 1, there are several points to be noted. First, the factors used in Study 1 were repeated in the interview: cherishing self, accepting self, restraining self, and persisting self, which represented the public's view of self-love. At the same time, the results of Study 2 elaborated the content of Study 1.

First, the results of Study 2 did not reflect the four dimensions (self, family, others, society) shown in Study 1; in fact, the interviewees included family, others, and society into their self-concept. This may be because the participants' answers were more detailed and clearer during the interviews.

Second, these components are based on the Confucian culture. They indicate that self-love is how a man demands self-cultivation through his conscience or moral sense. “Self-responsibility” is also a fundamental component of self-restraint. It is in line with the Confucian culture stressed by the Neishengwaiwang (internal saints and external kings), “To the world as their own responsibility” of “ Junzi” personality. “Self-restraint” is the core component of self-love. As well as the Confucian culture advocates taking the individual as the starting point, through the subjective cultivation of “honesty” and “respect,” “Unity of knowledge and practice,” they internalize this as a moral principle to restrain themselves and supplemented by external punishment, to achieve the responsible personality of “restrain self and give others more convenience” ( Ling et al., 2003 ; Ren, 2008 ). This also reflected in other components; this is the reason “take care of your body and emotions” is considered part of the “self-cherish” category, but “managing body, emotions, and personal life” is considered part of the “self-restraint” category. Others such as “self-acceptance,” people accept their own desires, but also to restrain their own desires. Confucian culture is to realize the “ Ren” of oneself with the practical spirit of “deny self and return to propriety” ( Chen and Xu, 2015 ). In addition, modern Chinese are influenced by Confucian culture, but they are also developing. People began to put more emphasis on independence and autonomy, adhere to their own beliefs, and do not compromise. This may be an increasingly popular trend of individualism in modern Chinese society ( Huang et al., 2018 ).

Third, self-love is an interrelated and integral personality structure. Since ancient times, self-love has been an important part of the ideal personality of Confucian culture, and it is also the basis of sound personality in modern times. When participants described self-love, they first mentioned holistic self-love and then described its behavioral characteristics. They also emphasized the relationship between the behaviors typical of self-love.

General Discussion

This study explored Chinese self-love from two perspectives. Dimensions and components. The results of the internal consistency reliability tests showed that the two qualitative studies were strong. Based on the background of Chinese culture and data collected through open-ended questionnaires, this study showed that Chinese people's understanding of self-love is expressed in four dimensions. Through the in-depth interviews, we delved deeper into the connotations and psychological structure of Chinese self-love by using GT as our analytical method. Based on these results, we conclude that Chinese self-love is a complex personality structure dominated by Confucian culture and that it is a guide for Chinese people to choose what kind of person one should be ( Wang, 2012 ).

From the results, we conclude that Chinese self-love is still society-oriented. It is in line with self-love being society-oriented that the harmony, tranquility, and order of the society in Confucian culture are achieved by individual efforts. As the “ Daxue ” wrote, “Cultivate one's moral character, complete one's family, govern one's country and bring peace to the world.” In the open-ended questionnaire survey, we found that the respondents thought that self-love included the dimensions of others and society. People are more likely to include their family members in their self-concept and to associate themselves, family, and society with others. The idea that Chinese self-concept includes family and friends has long been known ( He and Zhu, 2010 ). Further, the results of the second study show that self-harmony, family harmony, and social harmony are closely related. In addition, self-responsibility is an important component of self-love. These results also reflect the differences in the understanding of self-love between Chinese and Western cultures. Chinese people's understanding of self-love is based on self-responsibility and centered on self-restraint; the Chinese concept views individuals as embedded in a network of social relationships. Personal self-love cannot cause trouble to others but can also make the whole society better. However, self-love in Western culture tends to not reflect social orientation but to focus more on the self. Such as the research involving female college students who had experienced sexual violence, self-love was described as feeling “comfortable” and setting aside time to nurture self, etc. ( Sinko et al., 2019 ). Tokwe and Naidoo (2020) concluded self-love is one of the journeys toward a new normal experienced; it could make the person who lived experiences of human immunodeficiency virus take ownership of diseases. Therefore, it is clear that people's understanding of self-love is different between Chinese culture and other cultures.

Limitations of the Present Study

Our research has limitations. First, the collected data consisted of participants' self-reports. In general, self-report methods are easily influenced by the participant's desire for social approval. More importantly, we used a small sample to gather exploratory data; therefore, the results are not generalizable to the Chinese population at large. In addition, gender, age, and occupation were not strictly controlled in the study. Women seem to be more interested in this topic, and individuals of different ages and occupations might have different understandings of self-love; thus, controlling for these variables might yield different results. Considering the diversity of self-love in daily life, this was an initial study that revealed an effective way to collect further data on self-love. Future studies conducting experimental tasks might provide relevant information about the construct of self-love.

As stated in the Introduction , this study sought to understand Chinese people's understanding of self-love in both breadth and depth, to provide a reference point for psychological research into self-love, and to provide evidence for cross-cultural differences in the understanding of self-love. To accomplish these aims, this study sought to explore Chinese people's understanding of self-love in both breadth and depth through two qualitative researches. We found that the Chinese view of self-love includes four dimensions: self, family, others, and society. In the real world, we found that the connotations of self-love comprise five components: self-cherishing, self-acceptance, self-restraint, self-responsibility, and self-persistence; these components help form the structure of self-love. This study provides a reference point for self-love in Chinese culture, which may be used for future psychological and cross-cultural studies.

Geolocation Information

This study was conducted at Southwest University (106.43 degrees east and 29.82 degrees north).

Data Availability Statement

The raw data supporting the conclusions of this article will be made available by the authors, without undue reservation.

Ethics Statement

The studies involving human participants were reviewed and approved by Southwest University's ethics committee. Written informed consent to participate in this study was provided by the participants' legal guardian/next of kin. Written informed consent was obtained from the individual(s) for the publication of any potentially identifiable images or data included in this article.

Author Contributions

LX: Writing – original draft preparation, investigation, and data analysis. XH: project administration, supervision, and funding acquisition. NW: writing – reviewing. TY: funding acquistion. All authors: contributed to the article and approved the submitted version.

This study was supported by the research funds for the Central Universities (SWU1809212) and the PhD research startup foundation of Southwest University (swu118092).

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.


We would like to express our gratitude to all our colleagues who assisted us in testing the reliability and validity of our research and to all the participants for their assistance.

Supplementary Material

The Supplementary Material for this article can be found online at: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.585719/full#supplementary-material

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Keywords: self-love, qualitative study, Chinese, public view, connotation, structure

Citation: Xue LM, Huang XT, Wu N and Yue T (2021) A Qualitative Exploration of Chinese Self-Love. Front. Psychol. 12:585719. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.585719

Received: 21 July 2020; Accepted: 22 February 2021; Published: 29 March 2021.

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Copyright © 2021 Xue, Huang, Wu and Yue. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY) . The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

*Correspondence: Xi Ting Huang, xthuang@edu.con

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The science of self-love: the evidence-based benefits of loving yourself

Dr. Andleeb Asghar

Self-love is seen by many as a futile, even narcissistic pursuit. With influencers urging you to love yourself without much substance to their advice, the concept of self-love may seem like an empty one. However, there is lots of scientific evidence suggesting that self-love can have a positive impact on your mental health, self-esteem, and overall life satisfaction.

Modern society creates so much pressure on people — whether it’s pressure to achieve status, wealth, or beauty — that it can sometimes feel easier to focus on our failures and ignore the areas where we have grown. This strive for perfection can make us forget to take care of our basic needs, such as psychological safety, companionship, and personal creativity.

Self-love is not selfish. Self-love is about acknowledging the need to take care of our needs, not our wants, and to work towards self-betterment instead of sacrificing our needs to prioritize the happiness of others.

The self-positivity bias

Nowadays, the definition of self-love has moved away from its traditional negative connotations such as narcissism and selfishness. It is seen as a positive psychology practice which can help people better manage their emotions and their mental health.

As Jeffrey Borenstein, President of the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation, puts it : “Self-love is a state of appreciation for oneself that grows from actions that support our physical, psychological and spiritual growth. Self-love means having a high regard for your own well-being and happiness. Self-love means taking care of your own needs and not sacrificing your well-being to please others.”

The scientific term for self-love is self-positivity bias, which is defined as the way people rate themselves as possessing more positive personality traits and displaying more positive behaviors than the average population.

Cultivating this self-positivity bias has many evidence-based benefits. Eric Fields and Gina R. Kuperberg, both researchers from the Department of Psychology at Tufts University, explain that: “Positively biased self-views are argued to be a key component of healthy psychological functioning, influencing self-esteem, motivation, and determination. Indeed, a lack of a self-positivity bias (or even a self-negativity bias) may contribute to mood and anxiety disorder.”

Here are some of the evidence-based benefits of self-love, or self-positivity bias:

  • Better mental health
  • More self-acceptance
  • Higher self-esteem
  • More motivation
  • Stronger determination
  • Increased self-awareness
  • Less anxiety
  • Better sleep

The great news is that, even though it may be more difficult for some people compared to others, anyone can learn how to practice self-love.

Five ways to practice self-love

Fundamentally, self-love is mostly about managing our inner critic so we can develop a more nuanced view of our failures, and appreciate all our effort and personal growth in a kind, loving, and respectful way towards ourselves.

  • Avoid negative self-talk. In her book , Dr. Kristin Neff asks: “What type of language do you use with yourself when you notice a flaw or make a mistake? Do you insult yourself or do you take a more kind and understanding tone? If you are highly self-critical, how does that make you feel inside?” Paying attention to how you internally talk to yourself is the most important step in learning how to cultivate self-love.
  • Create personal rituals. The main difference between habits and rituals is how aware and intentional you are. Rituals are meaningful practices with a deep sense of purpose. Take time out of your busy day for self-care rituals, whether it’s giving love to your body by exercising, or giving love to your mind by meditating .
  • Set healthy boundaries. It can be hard to love yourself when people around you are not respecting your time or acknowledging your value, whether at work or in your daily life. Getting out of the yes autopilot and learning to say no to protect your time and energy is a powerful way to practice self-love.
  • Be compassionate towards yourself. Self-compassion is very similar to being compassionate towards other people. It consists in noticing that you are suffering and offering yourself understanding and kindness. As Dr. Kristin Neff puts it: “​​You may try to change in ways that allow you to be more healthy and happy, but this is done because you care about yourself, not because you are worthless or unacceptable as you are.”
  • Make space for self-reflection. Sometimes, things don’t go to plan. Instead of blaming yourself, fail like a scientist so you can learn from these failures and use them as an opportunity for personal growth. Self-reflection can take the form of a journaling practice, a weekly review, or a regular meeting with a trusted friend to reflect on your recent experiences and challenges.

As you can see, just a few changes can nurture more self-love. These changes can be as simple as appreciating our hard work and efforts without being overly or harshly critical, adopting healthy rituals, and setting healthy boundaries.

Self-love can lead to better mental health, higher self-esteem, more motivation, and many other evidence-based benefits. It doesn’t need to be cheesy. Give it a try, and don’t forget about the power of self-reflection. Failure is not the end of the world, it’s an opportunity for learning and personal growth.

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Self-Knowledge and Self-Love

  • Open access
  • Published: 14 March 2015
  • volume  18 ,  pages 309–321 ( 2015 )

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  • Jan Bransen 1  

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In this paper I argue for the claim that self-love is a precondition for self-knowledge. This claim is relevant to the contemporary philosophical debate on self-knowledge, but mainly because it draws attention to the role of claims of self-knowledge in the larger context of our ordinary practice of rationalizing and appropriating our actions. In this practice it is crucial for persons to open-mindedly investigate the limits of their own responsible agency, an investigation that requires a warm and gentle kindness to avoid both being too easy in welcoming and too merciless in resisting one’s own imperfections as a minded agent. This kindness, I argue, is grounded in an evaluative relation of caring , a type of relation that is incompatible with self-hatred.

Avoid common mistakes on your manuscript.

When we rationalize our behaviour in ordinary everyday conversation, we do in a significant sense engage in projects of self-knowledge. This is not merely because we try to correctly report the mental states we are in, but also because we try to articulate the reasons for being in those states and – often in response to the questions of our interlocutors – because we intend to appropriate those reasons as our reasons, as reasons that really reveal some truths about ourselves. But self-knowledge does not come easy; an age-old platitude familiar since Socrates explained that to know thyself is the first and most difficult task for those who love wisdom. The advancement of contemporary scientific psychology has not relieved our predicament. Quite the contrary, or so it seems (Wilson 2002 ).

Part of the reason for this difficulty, as I argue in this paper, is that self-love is a precondition for self-knowledge, and it is self-love that is so hard to attain. If we want people to improve their self-knowledge we should encourage them to love themselves. Self-knowledge is not primarily the product of an epistemic relation between a knowing self and a known self, nor primarily the product of a rational relation between an expressive self and the accountable self spoken for. Rather, I argue, self-knowledge is the product of an existential and affective relation between a loving self and the self she loves to be.

The plan for the paper is as follows. In section 1 I discuss a small piece of ordinary conversation that involves questions of self-knowledge. Contrary to some dominant strands in contemporary analytic philosophy, I shall show that in such bits of conversation self-knowledge is not a narrow epistemic issue and is not about the actual mental state of the person in question. Rather, as I argue in section 2, when we talk about a person’s self-knowledge, we talk about the person’s capacity for reflexive self-determination, that is, their capacity for appropriating their thoughts and actions as their own . Footnote 1 Such appropriation requires the person to open-mindedly investigate the limits of their own responsible agency, an investigation that itself requires a warm and gentle kindness to avoid both being too easy in welcoming and too merciless in resisting one’s own imperfections as a minded agent. In section 3 I discuss the objection that my argument is vulnerable to the intelligibility of a person who hates themselves yet knows themselves. In response I argue that we have reason to believe that a truthful relation of self to self is grounded in an evaluative relation of caring , a type of relation that is incompatible with hatred.

1 Self-Knowledge in Rationalising Behaviour

As so-called non-epistemic accounts of self-knowledge have pointed out, bits of self-knowledge occur in ordinary conversations as part of the commonsensical routine to give reasons for one’s state of mind. (Moran 2001 ) Here is part of such an ordinary conversation:

— I am sorry, Frank, but I think I have to cancel our meeting of today. — Oh. Are you sure, Emma? — Yes. I am afraid I am. It is my son’s birthday tomorrow and I still have to buy him a present.

It is obvious for Emma that Frank does not ask her to closer inspect the content of her thought, as if he doubts whether Emma correctly reports what she thinks. Emma rightly understands Frank straightforwardly as inviting her to give him her reasons for her decision. Frank’s question expresses his entitlement to an explanation of her change of mind. It would be weird for her to merely repeat the content of her thought, adding “really” to emphasize that she knows what she thinks. For Emma to know what she thinks means in such ordinary conversations to know her reasons for the state of mind she is in.

This commonsensical focus on a person’s reasons for their state of mind can be used to clarify how a non-epistemic account of self-knowledge analyses the transparency and authority that are characteristic of self-knowledge. Emma’s self-knowledge is transparent because she does not need to inspect her mind in order to discover the evidence she will use to infer the state she is in. She merely needs to inspect the reasons themselves. She thinks about her son’s birthday, the present she still has to buy, the limited amount of time still available and the relative importance of her meeting with Frank. Weighing these reasons allows her to make up her mind and to determine the proper commitment to avow. Her self-knowledge is a feature of her being a rational, deliberative agent, not a feature of her capacity to introspect the contents of her own mind. Emma’s deliberation also elucidates the authority characteristic of self-knowledge. She does not collect solid evidence to make a sound estimation of what she believes about her appointment with Frank. Her first-personal authority is not inferential, not a matter of the reliability of her introspective capacities, but is a matter of her being a deliberative agent, of her being in charge of her mind. Emma’s self-knowledge is authoritative, because she is entitled to undertake commitments in her own name.

Frank’s situation with respect to Emma’s beliefs is, obviously, different. Epistemically speaking, Frank’s perspective is third-personal. He does need the evidence. Rationally speaking, however, Frank’s perspective is second-personal. He is not a somewhat displaced scientist who tries to read Emma’s mind, but a rational companion inclined to invite Emma to share her reasons with him. Frank is a deliberative agent too, disposed to weigh Emma’s reasons, not merely to determine the truth of Emma’s belief, but to make up his own mind about their meeting, and thus to engage with her in practical reasoning.

For Frank to engage with Emma in practical reasoning is – by the same token – for him to engage with Emma’s self-knowledge. Frank is not merely attending to Emma’s reasoning as an impersonal exercise of a general human capacity, namely practical rationality, but as a personalized example of the particular way in which Emma’s mind works. Here is a further unfolding of their conversation that might help to elucidate the point:

— Yes. I am afraid I am. It is my son’s birthday tomorrow and I still have to buy him a present. — I see. But, Emma, when we made this appointment last Friday you knew of course that it is your son’s birthday tomorrow. So why didn’t you plan to buy his present earlier? What went wrong?

Frank’s questions will contribute to a shared attempt of him and Emma to exercise their practical reason. Frank asks for Emma’s reasons to treat the reasons she mentions as sufficient for her conclusion to cancel the meeting. This might bring about an exchange of reasons that leads to the articulation of a tree of hierarchically ordered pro- and con-reasons, a tree that hopefully grows into a substantial set of reasons both accept as conclusively supporting Emma’s decision to cancel their meeting. But it is unlikely and uncommon for this set to be an impersonal and decontextualized set of reasons. Frank asks Emma for her reasons in the present scenario. He wants to understand why Emma considers her reasons to be sufficient for her decision about their meeting later this day.

There are three issues at stake here. First, there is a question about the frame within which Emma’s reasons may be conclusive for her decision to cancel the meeting. Frank seems to question Emma’s reasons for treating this frame as an established fact. Emma may actually have no reasons for this, or at least, no reasons she paid attention to. Perhaps Emma just did not plan her days well enough, and has to acknowledge, with some embarrassment, that it is indeed a fact now that her son’s birthday is tomorrow and that she has no present yet. If she would have been a more attentive person she might have considered this yesterday, as indeed Frank is suggesting. Perhaps her earlier negligence should be added to the balance of reasons which might then turn out to count against Emma’s decision. Frank, we may say, is questioning the rationality of Emma’s background narrative. This is the narrative that explains what it means for her to be a rational agent. This narrative employs Emma’s implicit assumptions about the limits of her agential space, the depth of her moral luck, the degrees of freedom she enjoys and the scope of her need to take responsibility. (Wolf 2004 ) It is, for instance, just Emma’s impulsive and procrastinating way of doing things that puts her and Frank in this uncomfortable situation that she now leniently tries to resolve by confronting Frank with what she suggests is an established fact.

This brings in a second issue. Emma is not merely presupposing the rationality of an isolated narrative of her own life, that depicts her as a particular kind of rational agent, but she is also attuning to Frank’s style of reasoning. Part of her background story is a story about the specific agent she takes Frank to be. Emma apparently expects Frank to accept the frame of her reasons as a fact and the force of her reasons as conclusive. Emma may be right. There may be a history they share in which Frank has given her ample reason to think he is easy-going. No doubt Emma would not expect just anybody to accept her reasons for cancelling a meeting in this relaxed way. If she would know that Frank is a very rigid and neurotic person who needs a lot of stability and structure, she would surely have adapted her reasoning automatically to suit Frank’s style of practical reasoning.

The third issue concerns the quality of Emma’s assessment of the salient features of the scenario as they strike her within the frame she mindlessly assumes to be in place. We don’t know that much about Emma, Frank and their relationship based on this short conversation, but we might plausibly infer that their meeting is not an event of great importance. It seems not much of a serious appointment given that Emma thinks it can be cancelled one-sidedly. Should it have been a job interview or their first meeting after an amazing one-night stand, it would be quite unlikely that Emma would introduce her son’s birthday present as a potentially sufficient reason for cancellation. Their meeting is clearly a casual event, likely to be easily replaceable by another one.

To summarize, Emma’s rationalisation reveals bits of self-knowledge because it builds on her implicit assumptions about (1) the basic narrative of her life as lived by the kind of agent she is, (2) the rational requirements she and her interlocutors are inclined to respect, and (3) the saliency of particular features of the scenario she finds herself in.

Emphasizing these issues allows me to clarify the distinction between self-knowledge as it is commonsensically understood by ordinary people and as it is often discussed in contemporary analytic philosophy. Philosophers tend to focus on the single, occurrent state of knowing the content of one’s actual mental state. This implies a serious exclusion on two sides of the self-relation. On the side of the knowing self philosophers tend to restrict their attention to the current subject of a single belief, the actual entity referred to by “I” in a self-report at the moment of its expression. Thus, in the case of Emma the knowing subject is considered to be the actual reflecting person, Emma, who has made up her mind in deliberation and who is now in a mental state of entertaining (as philosophers call this) the balance of reasons for and against cancelling her meeting with Frank. Focusing thus exclusively on Emma’s current reflective state of mind is likely to neglect the role of Emma’s tacit knowledge of the background assumptions that co-determine the balance of reasons in important ways.

On the side of the known self philosophers tend to restrict their attention to the explicit propositional content of the mental state reported by the reflecting person. In Emma’s case this is the mental state she is in in virtue of her deliberately having settled the issue of whether or not to cancel her meeting with Frank. Focusing thus exclusively on the propositional content of the mental state that concludes Emma’s deliberation, and that Emma reports as the state she is in, is likely to neglect the rich significance of the narrative background against which Emma’s decision stands out as meaningful.

However, the ordinary understanding of a person’s self-knowledge is quite different: it is a person’s general capacity to be in tune with herself, to know what kind of person she is and thereby to understand, and to endorse, the mental state she finds herself to be in. Self-knowledge is for ordinary people not the isolated surface phenomenon of being able to speak one’s mind, but rather the grasp of the implicit background narrative, of the rich content of one’s own autobiography that is tacitly assumed by someone who is “at home” in her own life. Incidentally, “home” can be used here by analogy to explain the difference between a ‘subject matter’ and the ‘instant object of a single belief’. If I say that I know my brother’s home it is very unlikely that I have seen it only once. “Home” is not a word used to refer to the instant object of a single belief, but rather a subject matter with which I am well acquainted, both over time and affectively. Footnote 2 The same is true about the way in which ordinary people use the word “self”. Someone who knows herself is not an isolated subject who is capable of accurately reporting only once the propositional content of the current mental state she is in. Knowing oneself implies being well acquainted, both over time and affectively, with the key features of the narrative of one’s life. It is a matter of knowing the protagonist of one’s biography, the person living one’s life.

This means that the self-knowledge Emma displays by rationalizing her behaviour in this specific conversation with Frank, is much more than merely an epistemic relation between a knowing self and a known self. It is also much more than merely a rational relation between an expressive self and the accountable self spoken for. It is primarily, as I shall argue in the next section, an existential and affective relation between a loving self and the self she loves to be. I shall elaborate on this by discussing two alternatives of Emma. Footnote 3

2 Rationalisations: Lovingly Embracing One’s Limits

In the previous section I have introduced Emma and Frank, two people engaged in a rationalising conversation. One of them, Emma, reports a change of mind. Footnote 4 Whereas she initially intended to meet Frank this afternoon, she now wants to cancel their meeting. Frank asks her whether this is what she really wants, which is not a narrow epistemological question, but primarily an invitation to engage in a joint deliberation. That is, Frank’s question is primarily an expression of Frank’s entitlement to expect Emma to give him her reasons for not keeping her appointment. Emma, therefore, does not merely need reasons to justify her change of mind to herself, but she also needs reasons that are strong enough to expect Frank to grant her this change of mind even though this may be a disappointment to him. Footnote 5 Although the situation is obviously not heavily moral, it seems to fit the moral scheme of Emma owing Frank an explanation that he might have reason to consider unsatisfactorily.

This scheme of one person owing another person an explanation will prove useful to elucidate the structure of the self-relation characteristic of self-knowledge. To that end I shall introduce two alternatives of Emma that differ in their inclination to examine the limits of their agential space, that is, the scope of their commitment to take responsibility. For reasons that will emerge from my discussion I shall call them Evasive Emma and Truthful Emma .

Remember Frank’s uncomfortable question:

— I see. But, Emma, when we made this appointment last Friday you knew of course that it is your son’s birthday tomorrow. So why didn’t you plan to buy his present earlier? What went wrong?

Now this is how Evasive Emma responds:

(EE) — Well, I did plan to buy the present yesterday. But a colleague at work needed my attention. She was a real pain in the ass, absorbing all my time. That wrecked me. I just couldn’t reach the shopping mall before closing time.

And this is Truthful Emma ’s response:

(TE) —Well, buying the present was on my mind yesterday. But I had a bad day. A colleague complained about my work, and I guess she was right, which was rather embarrassing. It took away all my energy, so I went home early. I’m sorry.

I am aware of the fact that the possibly poor quality of these fictional replies and their specific details might be an obstacle to the force of my argument. But I take this risk because the argument needs the context of ordinary life and of commonplace excuses.

Evasive Emma does not seem inclined to acknowledge that she has an obligation to apologize for her change of mind. She appeals to an externalizing story that tells itself as a sequence of events, events that happen to her and that simply overrule her willingness to meet with Frank. Despite her good intentions, the world just does not cooperate with her on this occasion. Evasive Emma invokes a quasi-objective perspective that seems to suggest that any reasonable person would have come to the same conclusion. There is nothing special or noteworthy about her. It is only to be expected that Frank will agree that the balance of reasons constrains her in this scenario: there is simply no other option available to her but to cancel their appointment. Evasive Emma suggests that the way the world is gives her a compelling excuse for her change of mind, as if she is really precluded by outside forces from meeting with Frank. She made up her mind, but she did so in this purely outward-looking way by paying attention to the rational force of the salient features of the scenario she found herself in. It would be inappropriate for Frank to be disappointed about her . If he is disappointed he is bound to confirm that she will be disappointed too, disappointed about the world that did not offer her any degree of freedom. Evasive Emma ’s story implies that it is futile to request her to take responsibility for her decision to cancel their appointment. She is obviously willing to do so, if pressed, but she had no choice. There was no reasonable option to do otherwise.

Truthful Emma ’s story is different. She apologizes to Frank without trying to use the way the world is to excuse herself. She personally feels sorry and responsible for changing her mind. She has her reasons, but she definitely recognizes that Frank may find these reasons wanting. She offers her personal perspective on the scenario she found herself in. She acknowledges that her reasons have much to do with her take of things, not merely in the sense of her having to take responsibility for weighing these reasons but also in the sense of her being a sentient, emotional being who is affected by the way the world confronts her and who has limited resources. She feels rather confident that Frank will agree with her because the balance of reasons she considered seems to provide her with a pretty reasonable excuse to cancel their meeting. But she acknowledges that she changed her mind and that Frank may be disappointed. And rightly so. She seems willing to live with that. Truthful Emma seems to endorse her reasons as if they offer herself a justifying excuse, that is, an excuse she may grant herself, self-consciously, even though she acknowledges too that Frank doesn’t owe her to grant her this excuse.

I introduce Truthful Emma and Evasive Emma to explore opposite tendencies we may distinguish in Emma’s dedication to self-knowledge. That is, I introduce these alternatives in an attempt to identify different directions on a continuum between, in one extreme, Emma’s absolute commitment to know herself and, in the other extreme, Emma’s absolute attempt to mask, conceal or obscure herself. In addition to this argumentative artifice I should like to use the interpersonal conversation between Frank and Emma as a frame for Emma’s ‘conversation’ with herself, that is, for her reflexive endeavour to articulate and endorse the reasons she takes herself to have for justifiedly making up her mind the way she does. This means that the picture I should like to suggest is that in exploring the responses of Truthful Emma and Evasive Emma to Frank’s challenge I offer an elucidating analogy for Emma’s self-relation as either contributing to a growth of self-knowledge or to a decrease of self-knowledge. The argument, thus, invites you to imagine what Emma would think of herself if she, rather than Frank, would be the addressee of Truthful Emma ’ s and Evasive Emma ’ s replies to Frank’s questions.

Truthful Emma is paradigmatically motivated to know herself. That is, she is reflexively interested in knowing what makes her make up her mind in the way she does. Note the double level. Truthful Emma has her reasons, and she knows they count in favour of cancelling her meeting with Frank. But in addition to acknowledging the normative import of these reasons, Truthful Emma is interested in knowing what makes these reasons her reasons, or stated the other way around, what makes her appreciate these reasons as sufficiently accounting for her change of mind. This reflexive interest reveals that Truthful Emma is aware of the fact that in making up her mind she is relying on implicit assumptions about (1) the basic narrative of the life she lives given the kind of agent she is, (2) the rational requirements she and her interlocutors are inclined to respect, and (3) the salient features of the scenario she finds herself in.

What does this fact tell Truthful Emma about herself? How should she relate to it? What should she make of it? It is in responding to these questions that Truthful Emma will recognize that her reasons for self-love are crucial to her self-knowledge. Let me explain.

To begin with, Truthful Emma wants to own the decision to cancel her meeting with Frank. That is, she wants to identify herself as Footnote 6 a person who actively makes up her mind, who intended to meet with Frank but now wants to cancel their meeting. Emma changed her mind, but for Truthful Emma this is not just an event that happens to her. It is a mental act for which she is willing to take responsibility. It is a change of mind that she undertakes and that she should be able to give her reasons for. The point is a familiar one for the non-epistemic, deliberative accounts of self-knowledge such as Moran’s. A crucial feature of knowing one’s own mind is after all the awareness of the fact that the mind one is supposed to know is one ’ s own mind. And ownership is not merely a brute factual relation but a normative relation: it is a matter of the person having a certain status with respect to the mind in question. (Brandom 2000 ; Kalish 2005 ; Benson 2005 ) Whatever she encounters in her mind calls for a deliberate and reasoned response.

But in appropriating Emma’s change of mind Truthful Emma will have to acknowledge that she treats the implicit background narrative about her life as a rational agent as offering her an excusatory justification for her change of mind. The idea is this. Emma’s resources to rationally justify her change of mind are obviously limited. This is a global feature of her human condition, involving among other things her dependency on all kinds of physical and biological processes, her emotional vulnerability, and her cognitive, linguistic and communicative limitations. It is for Emma – as for every human being – simply impossible to fully rationally appropriate her own mind. Emma changed her mind, and she has reasons for it, reasons Frank might accept as sufficient. These reasons, however, consist to quite some degree in the recognition of Emma’s limits. Her limitations frame the background narrative of her life as lived by the kind of agent she is. In everything she does and in every rationalisation she undertakes she implicitly assumes this background narrative. She revises it, for sure, adapting and accommodating it to the scenarios in which she enacts her life, but in many ways it will remain implicit and will uncritically reinforce limits that apparently will never be rationally scrutinized. It is unclear, however, how much the mindless reinforcement of these limits can carry by way of rationally justifying Emma’s being in the state of mind she happens to be in. Truthful Emma will therefore know that she takes for granted that the background narrative of her life gives her an excusatory justification to conclude her rationalisations at some essentially contestable point . The existence of such a contingent limit is a crucial, defining feature of her being the kind of deliberating agent she is. Footnote 7

In the case at hand, for example, Truthful Emma recognizes that the complaint of her colleague took away all her energy. Well… that might be a fact. But it is unclear in which sense this is a fact that gives Truthful Emma a reason to cancel her meeting with Frank, or a reason to expect Frank to accept this fact as a sufficient reason for Emma’s decision to cancel their meeting. Truthful Emma could of course offer further support for her contention that the fact does indeed give her a sufficient justifying reason to cancel her meeting with Frank. But whatever she would add in support of her decision, there would necessarily come an end to her rationalisations. And having reached that end, Truthful Emma can only hope, trust or assume that the background narrative of her life will support her contention to treat her reasons as sufficient. This means, in the end, that Truthful Emma will have to accept that she cannot do more than she can. This does not necessarily mean that, in some absolute sense, she has done enough to justify her change of mind. Truthful Emma will have to acknowledge that in the final analysis the background narrative of her life as a rational agent might amount to nothing more than the bare excuse that, as Wittgenstein famously observed, “this is simply what I do.” Footnote 8

Embracing her limits in this way is not a leap of faith. Truthful Emma is not embarked on a narrow epistemic or merely theoretically rational enterprise. Taking responsibility for the endorsement that she is right as a rational agent to cancel her meeting with Frank, is not merely a matter of accepting a proposition as true. Even though Truthful Emma is paradigmatically dedicated to know herself, I have already argued in section 1 that self-knowledge involves much more than merely an epistemic relation between a knowing self and a known self. Part of what more is involved is highlighted by non-epistemic theories that stress that self-knowledge crucially is a matter of avowal, of making true what is claimed to be true by acting on the balance of reasons that present themselves in the scenario at hand. But this balance is not, as we have now seen, merely an objective feature of the scenario an agent such as Emma finds herself in. The balance of her reasons is importantly co-determined by the background narrative that she implicitly accepts in making up her mind. Appropriating her decision as hers , therefore, entails Truthful Emma ’s acknowledgement that she accepts the responsibility to stand for an excusatory justification that her interlocutor, Frank, might have reason to consider insufficient.

Accepting this responsibility cannot be grounded in an impersonal and decontextualized set of reasons, but will be a matter of Emma’s capacity to lovingly identify herself as Truthful Emma . The reasons Frank is asking Emma for are, for Emma, not merely the reasons that make her change her mind. They are also reasons the appropriation of which shows Emma’s care for the person she could love to be. This is not a blind egocentric love. Truthful Emma ’ s ambition to know herself requires self-love, but it does not mean that she needs to proudly and narcissistically recognizes herself to be a lovely person, someone who it is a delight to know. Quite the contrary. Real love implies a warm and gentle kindness to welcome and embrace a person regardless of perceived weaknesses, flaws and imperfections. To be sure, these imperfections are not the reasons for Emma to love herself. They figure in her reasons to change her mind, and her appropriation of them as sufficient reasons for her change of mind discloses the self-love she needs to be true to herself about her imperfections. This is the kind of love Emma should be capable of, and it is the love Truthful Emma evokes by truthfully maintaining the delicate balance between being too kind and too harsh with herself, between being too easy in welcoming imperfections and too merciless in resisting them.

I have argued elsewhere that self-love essentially involves a concern for the quality of one’s own attunement as an agent to the normatively significant features of one’s environment. (Bransen 2006 ) I obviously cannot reconstruct this argument here, but hopefully a rough sketch of some of the highlights will do to explain the role of self-love in self-knowledge. Self-love is a feature of agents , living human beings that interact with their environment in ways that involve not merely the metabolic autopoiesis of living organisms but also a normatively structured self-regulation required for persons to maintain themselves in social and cultural environments. People’s deep and natural drive to care for themselves is a motivational state that is much the same as what Frankfurt has analysed as the volitional necessity that is characteristic of love. (Frankfurt 1994 , 2004 ) We cannot but care for the things we love. But importantly, loving ourselves is not a matter of acting out of self-interest. After all, besides volitional necessity love is crucially characterised by a deep disinterestedness. It is the well-being of the object of one’s love that motivates the lover. Whatever it takes – the lover is willing to sacrifice themselves for the sake of the object of love. This creates special difficulties but also special opportunities in cases where the lover and the object of their love are one and the same person. Self-love, I argued, requires a rather peculiar kind of self-relation, one that implies the reflexive capacity to discern an alternative of oneself that presents itself as an alternative one is capable of loving. (Bransen 2006 ) The identification of such an alternative requires contrastive knowledge of the different ways of maintaining one’s agency in a world that need not cooperate. Self-love, I argued, entails the capacity to distinguish between different alternatives of oneself and the affective experience of one’s peace of mind in imagining oneself to be this rather than that alternative.

With respect to the argument of the present paper, this short sketch of self-love suggests that Emma, in responding to Frank’s questions, should try to figure out whether she is capable of loving Truthful Emma or Evasive Emma . Exploring such contrasting alternatives is a familiar feature of self-determination. Think of such attempts to imaginatively project yourself into the future, to use Catriona Mackenzie’s phrase, when you try to determine whether you want to pursue a career as lawyer or as musician, or whether you better think of yourself as a banker or a sheep farmer instead (Mackenzie 2008 ; Bruckner 2009 ).

In this section I have explored whether Truthful Emma evokes feelings of self-love in Emma, and I have tried to argue that she does. Truthful Emma is motivated to determine the contours of her responsible agency and this requires her to sincerely and open-mindedly investigate the limits of her own agency in a world that need not cooperate, a world that might ruthlessly reveal her weaknesses, flaws and imperfections. To know herself Emma should not shy away from facing her own limits and shortcomings as a rational agent. Emma therefore needs to love herself to appreciate Truthful Emma ’s reasons as her own , that is, to determine the characteristics of her agency, which includes embracing her background narrative and its essentially contestable rationalising force.

In the next section I shall explore whether Evasive Emma is capable of self-knowledge without a warm and gentle kindness towards herself.

3 Is Self-Love Really Necessary for Self-Knowledge?

It may be objected that my argument so far merely supports the idea that self-knowledge presupposes that someone has an affective relation with oneself, but that it seems mistaken, or at least unwarranted, to claim that this relation should be a matter of love. The objection might take the form of accepting that Evasive Emma does not love herself – which I seem to have stipulated – but that it is unclear why she would lack self-knowledge. Evasive Emma might know that she went home early and that she did because she was painfully embarrassed by her colleague’s complaint. She might know that her colleague was right about her failure to perform as well as she should, given the responsibilities of her job. She might even know that she lacked the energy and the mood to buy her son a nice present. And it even seems plausible – why not? – that she knew all along that her failure to buy her son a present would imply that she would have to cancel her meeting with Frank. She might know all this, and precisely because of this self-knowledge, Evasive Emma might have been motivated to avoid reporting these truths, truths she knows but prefers not to share with Frank, perhaps even precisely in order to prevent the pain of one more confirmation that she is not worthy of her love. And, the objection might run, she even knows she is not worthy of her love, because she will disappoint Frank and even chooses to lie about that.

This might seem to be a psychologically plausible picture, perhaps even a convincing picture, so why do I make the ambitious claim that only Truthful Emma is authorized to know herself? Does my argument merely hinge on the question-begging use of the adjectives “evasive” and “truthful”?

Let me focus on Evasive Emma ’s alleged self-knowledge, by adding a confronting reply by Frank to his fictional conversation with Evasive Emma . Remember her original response:

And here is Frank, pressing Evasive Emma to challenge her self-knowledge:

(F) — Nice excuse, Emma. But I have my limits, you know. This has been your pattern for years. You don’t seem to take me serious at all. Just about any reason seems to be good enough for you to push me around. What do you think of me? And, beware, I don’t want you to talk about me, now, but about how you talk about me. What do you think of yourself? What kind of person are you, given that you think it is okay to treat me like this?

Now suppose Evasive Emma bites the bullet and responds quite frankly as follows:

— To be perfectly honest, Frank, here is what I think of you and of myself. I think you are a weak and insignificant person whose feelings don’t really matter. As for me: I am a proud, arrogant and self-involved person, convinced of my own superiority, even while I also can find my self-regard easily deflated by other people’s negative comments. And I despise myself for all of this. Footnote 9

What should be in place to make this a conceivable reply that displays Evasive Emma ’ s self-knowledge?

First, we should distinguish between a situation in which Evasive Emma overtly responds in this way to Frank and a situation in which she explicitly thinks of this reply but decides, for further reasons, not to be that sincere to Frank but to respond in a more shallow and concealing way. My argument, of course, cannot be built on merely the first type of situations. After all, as I said above, the interpersonal conversation between Frank and Emma functions merely as a frame for Emma’s ‘conversation’ with herself. If Evasive Emma is capable of thinking in an articulated manner about the above response, it doesn’t matter for her self-knowledge whether she chooses for additional reasons not to share her thoughts with Frank. But is she capable of formulating the above reply, and if she is, does this show she knows herself? What would it mean, for Emma, to know that everything she thinks here is true?

There are two issues that deserve attention. On the one hand Emma will have to face questions of coherency and on the other hand she will have to face questions of ambiguity. The objection claims that Evasive Emma has knowledge, knowledge of herself, and this means that the picture she has of herself should be coherent. This is an ordinary requirement for knowledge claims. Of course, the object one has knowledge of may be incoherent to a certain degree, but in such a case the incoherence should be a feature of the object, not of the propositions about the object. There are some ordinary limits to this possibility. Objects that are too incoherent lose their conditions of individuation and may turn out to be unintelligible. A tomato may be green and red, but not in the same spot at the same time. If you have knowledge of one tomato that is indeed both green and red your claims about the tomato’s colour should be coherent and they should explain in which sense this tomato is both green and red. You cannot just claim that it is but you should add spatiotemporal indices to specify when and where it instantiates those colours. In Emma’s case, this means that it may be possible that an incoherent set of propositions is true about her. It may, for instance, be true about her that she both believes that she is a helpless victim of an unpredictable world and believes that she is arrogantly using a false excuse because she is an irresponsible agent who does not care at all about other people’s entitlements. But also in this case we would need indices in the propositions that articulate the knowledge to guarantee that the propositions form a coherent set. What indices could these be?

From Frank’s point of view this need not pose a serious problem. Frank could simply think that Emma is incoherent, that she claims both to be a helpless victim and offends him by shamelessly admitting she doesn’t care at all about his feelings. He may add a mood index, thinking that Emma at first cowardly tried to get away with her excuses and later overstated her self-regard due to her anger. In such a way Frank could have a coherent picture of an incoherent person. But what options are there for Evasive Emma ? The difficulty, obviously, is that the coherency requirement for knowledge poses special constraints to instances of self-knowledge. The fact that the knowing self is the same person as the known self makes it quite difficult for someone to form a coherent set of claims that clearly articulate that there is no incoherence in this set of claims even though there is incoherence in the person who accepts these claims. If Evasive Emma really knows that everything she would want to say to Frank is true, then she should also know that her earlier reply was a false and lame excuse, and thus that she is not a helpless victim but a responsible agent with some degree of freedom. But if she knows that she is a responsible agent Evasive Emma needs to explain why she first tried to get away with a false excuse and why she responded with such a fury when Frank addressed her self-regard. She may add mood indices, but then, of course, if she claims to have self-knowledge, she needs to acknowledge the relevance of the right kind of mood for knowledge claims: an open-minded and sincere calmness to inspect, in an epistemologically virtuous way, the incoherence of her thoughts and actions. That is, if Evasive Emma explains her thoughts and actions in terms of her sensitivity to certain moods, she should wonder whether what she takes to be self-knowledge is itself also sensitive to one of her moods. Given that she is an ordinary human being, it is quite likely that she is sensitive to moods. But then she should at least wonder whether her self-hatred is the proper kind of mood for truthful and coherent claims of self-knowledge.

At this point questions of ambiguity arise, and they concern the issue of whether Evasive Emma is inclined merely to mask herself to Frank or also to herself. That she masks herself to Frank is clear. This is perhaps merely obvious in her first response, when she tried to put off Frank with a cowardly excuse, but it might also be true in her arrogant second response, in which her fury might preclude a clear view of the person Emma is. Interestingly, both her first and her second response apparently seem to suggest the same thing to her: that there is no reason for Evasive Emma to inspect the limits of her agential space. Yet the two responses are clearly contradictory with respect to where those limits are located. In ordinary cases such a contradiction would give Evasive Emma definitely a strong reason to at least wonder about the limits of her agential space.

So why doesn’t she inspect the scope of her responsible agency? Evasive Emma can give multiple answers. She simply knows she is a bad person, so there is no need to highlight the obvious. Or she doesn’t want to feel the pain of her blameworthiness. Or she doesn’t want to blame herself again. Or it is just obvious that she won’t get away with a really convincing excuse. Etcetera. All those answers strengthen the suspicion that perhaps Evasive Emma is masking herself not merely to Frank but also to herself , even in the case in which she merely considers the second reply in inner conversation. But if she is, the assumption that Evasive Emma has self-knowledge seems unwarranted, if not simply wrong because of the intrinsic ambiguity of her claims. Evasive Emma ’s self-hatred seems to motivate her to avoid the opportunity to potentially improve her self-knowledge by discouraging her to explore the limits of her responsible agency.

I take this to suggest that Evasive Emma ’s self-hatred motivates her to be too harsh to herself about the distinction between herself and her environment, which is just as bad for her self-knowledge as the narcissistic opposite of being too kind to herself about that distinction. Footnote 10 For self-knowledge Emma needs a firm grip of the delicate balance between being too easy in welcoming imperfections and too merciless in resisting them, a grip Evasive Emma is unable to offer because she avoids striking this balance. But Emma needs it to know herself; that is, to determine the precise scope of her responsible agency. (Tugendhat 1986 ) And she needs self-love for her grip on this balance, the warm and gentle kindness to welcome and embrace her agential space, large or small as it may turn out to be given the person she is – a responsible agent with weaknesses and strengths, flaws and blessings, imperfections and virtues.

If she wants to know herself, therefore, Emma must love herself. In thus knowing herself she will acknowledge that she is not merely an epistemically motivated knowing subject nor a merely rationally motivated avowing agent, but an affective, loving self motivated to care for the agent destined to live her life. It is this self-love that is essentially characteristic of truthful self-knowledge. It is this self-love that is challenged (and reinforced) in ordinary conversations that – at the surface level – mainly seem to challenge our self-knowledge.

My view of self-determination is influenced by Tugendhat 1986 .

This seems to be a convincing observation whatever the ontological commitments implied by our preferred account of personal identity. Cf. Holton 2001 , 55–6.

I am building here on earlier work on the concept of an alternative of oneself. See Bransen 1996 , 2000 , 2008 .

Although the emphasis in my argument shall be on changing one’s mind, the fact that a change is involved, does not restrict the plausibility of the argument to cases of self-knowledge that involve a change. One can of course also know one’s stable convictions, but in such cases my argument will apply too, in the other direction, as it were, as involving reasons not to change one’s mind.

We can imagine situations in which Frank is sensitive to different reasons than Emma. However, this does not play an important role in the argument of the next section, where I shall treat Frank as somehow merely a stand-in to emphasize that Emma needs to appreciate her own reasons from an outsider’s perspective.

As I have argued in Bransen 1996 , in matters of autonomous, responsible agency the preposition ‘as’ fits better with the verb “identify” than the much more common proposition “with”. Using “with” suggests a problematic division within the person that is not needed to account for responsible agency.

Here and elsewhere in my exposition of reflexive self-determination I am influenced by Tugendhat 1986 .

Wittgenstein ( 1953/2001 ), Philosophical Investigations , 217.

This response is suggested by an anonymous referee who was not convinced by an earlier version of my argument in this section.

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This paper has been in the making for too many years. I thank audiences in Oxford, Nijmegen, Rotterdam, Leusden and Modena for their helpful comments on predecessors of the present paper, especially Martin Weichold, Nicole van Voorst Vader, Fleur Jongepier, Michael Kühler, and Katrien Schaubroeck. I should especially like to thank an anonymous referee of this journal for numerous highly useful critical comments on earlier versions of this paper.

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Bransen, J. Self-Knowledge and Self-Love. Ethic Theory Moral Prac 18 , 309–321 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10677-015-9578-4

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Accepted : 24 February 2015

Published : 14 March 2015

Issue Date : April 2015

DOI : https://doi.org/10.1007/s10677-015-9578-4

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International Journal of Research (IJR)

International Journal of Research (IJR)

self love research paper

Self-love is a state of appreciation for oneself that grows from actions that support our physical, psychological and spiritual growth. Self-love means having a high regard for your own well-being and happiness. Self-love means taking care of your own needs and not sacrificing your well-being to please others. Self-love means not settling for less than you deserve. Self-love means accepting yourself as you are in this very moment for everything that you are. It means accepting your emotions for what they are and putting your physical, emotional and mental well-being first.

Loving yourself doesn’t mean you think you’re the smartest, most talented, and most beautiful person in the world. Instead, when you love yourself you accept your so-called weaknesses, appreciate these so-called shortcomings as something that makes you who you are. When you love yourself you have compassion for yourself.

It can mean:

  • Talking to and about yourself with love
  • Prioritizing yourself
  • Giving yourself a break from self-judgement
  • Trusting yourself
  • Being true to yourself
  • Being nice to yourself
  • Setting healthy boundaries
  • Forgiving yourself when you aren’t being true or nice to yourself

To practice self-care, we often need to go back to the basics and

  • Listen to our bodies
  • Take breaks from work and move/stretch.
  • Put the phone down and connect to yourself or others, or do something creative.
  • Eating healthily, but sometimes indulge in your favorite foods.


  • Start each day by telling yourself something really positive. How well you handled a situation, how lovely you look today. Anything that will make you smile.
  • Fill your body with food and drink that nourishes it and makes it thrive.
  • Move that gorgeous body of yours every single day and learn to love the skin you’re in. You can’t hate your way into loving yourself.
  • Don’t believe everything you think. There is an inner critic inside of us trying to keep us small and safe. The downside is this also stops us from living a full life.
  • Surround yourself with people who love and encourage you. Let them remind you just how amazing you are.
  • Stop the comparisons. There is no one on this planet like you, so you cannot fairly compare yourself to someone else. The only person you should compare yourself to is you.
  • End all  toxic relationships . Seriously. Anyone who makes you feel anything less than amazing doesn’t deserve to be a part of your life.
  • Celebrate your wins no matter how big or small. Pat yourself on the back and be proud of what you have achieved.
  • Step outside of your comfort zone and try something new. It’s incredible the feeling we get when we realize we have achieved something we didn’t know or think we could do before.
  • Embrace and love the things that make you different. This is what makes you special.
  • Realize that beauty cannot be defined. It is what you see it as. Don’t let any of those Photoshopped magazines make you feel like your body isn’t perfect. Even those models don’t look like that in real life.
  • Take  time out  to calm your mind every day. Breathe in and out, clear your mind of your thoughts and just be.
  • Follow your passion. You know that thing that gets you so excited but scares you at the same time. The thing you really want to do but have convinced yourself it won’t work. You should go do that!
  • Be patient but persistent. Self-love is ever evolving. It’s something that needs to be practiced daily but can take a lifetime to master. So be kind and support yourself through the hard times.
  • Be mindful of what you think, feel and want. Live your life in ways that truly reflect this.
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self love research paper

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Self-Love and What It Means

Happy woman practicing self love and self care

What is self-love? 

Before a person is able to practice it, first we need to understand what it means.

Self-love is a state of appreciation for oneself that grows from actions that support our physical, psychological and spiritual growth. Self-love means having a high regard for your own well-being and happiness. Self-love means taking care of your own needs and not sacrificing your well-being to please others. Self-love means not settling for less than you deserve.

Self-love can mean something different for each person because we all have many different ways to take care of ourselves. Figuring out what self-love looks like for you as an individual is an important part of your mental health.

What does self-love mean to you?

For starters, it can mean:

  • Talking to and about yourself with love
  • Prioritizing yourself
  • Giving yourself a break from self-judgement
  • Trusting yourself
  • Being true to yourself
  • Being nice to yourself
  • Setting healthy boundaries
  • Forgiving yourself when you aren’t being true or nice to yourself

For many people, self-love is another way to say self-care. To practice self-care, we often need to go back to the basics and

  • Listen to our bodies
  • Take breaks from work and move/stretch.
  • Put the phone down and connect to yourself or others, or do something creative.
  • Eating healthily, but sometimes indulge in your favorite foods.

Self-love means accepting yourself as you are in this very moment for everything that you are. It means accepting your emotions for what they are and putting your physical, emotional and mental well-being first.

How and Why to Practice Self Love

So now we know that self-love motivates you to make healthy choices in life. When you hold yourself in high esteem, you're more likely to choose things that nurture your well-being and serve you well. These things may be in the form of eating healthy , exercising or having healthy relationships .

Ways to practice self-love include:

  • Becoming mindful. People who have more self-love tend to know what they think, feel, and want.
  • Taking actions based on need rather than want. By staying focused on what you need, you turn away from automatic behavior patterns that get you into trouble, keep you stuck in the past, and lessen self-love.
  • Practicing good self-care. You will love yourself more when you take better care of your basic needs. People high in self-love nourish themselves daily through healthy activities, like sound nutrition, exercise, proper sleep, intimacy and healthy social interactions.
  • Making room for healthy habits. Start truly caring for yourself by mirroring that in what you eat, how you exercise, and what you spend time doing. Do stuff, not to “get it done” or because you “have to,” but because you care about you.

Finally, to practice self-love, start by being kind, patient, gentle and compassionate to yourself, the way you would with someone else that you care about.

- Written by  Jeffrey Borenstein, M.D. , President & CEO of the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation. This blog post also appears on the  Gravity Blankets Blog .

Find more articles containing tips and advice by clicking here.


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