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Psychology professor and students share how culture influences an individual's view of self-love and selfishness

An illustration of a woman hugging herself with a heart in the background

BYU–Hawaii students and a professor of psychology agreed loving significant others was important, but they also stressed the need for self-love. They said taking care of oneself is key to learning how to care for others.

Dr. Eric Orr, assistant professor the Faculty of Sciences, defined self-love as “valuing yourself, being willing to take care of yourself, being willing to say no to others and having healthy boundaries.” He added people cannot properly take care of others without first knowing how to take care of themselves.

It is a necessity for individuals to identify what brings them personal joy, said Orr. Referring to 2 Nephi 2:25, he said, “Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.” He added, “It is essentially a commandment [to have joy.]”

Orr continued by comparing self-love to a gas tank. He posed the question, “Have you ever failed to take time to refill the gas tank?” He added, “Because if you don't, you will literally run out of gas and have a much bigger problem. This is what happens when we do not take care of ourselves.”

Fiona He, a junior from China majoring in TESOL, discussed her personal and cultural view of self-love. She said self-love is “when you love yourself and trust in your own abilities.” She said mental health and self-care in her country are not often discussed. However, it has become more of a recent popular topic among females.

Jenna Hardisty, a senior from Arizona majoring in communications, shared the way in which self-love is viewed in her culture. “[The United States] a very capitalist society. So we buy things to make ourselves feel better.”

Self-love or selfishness?

Orr shared his definition of selfishness as “putting yourself as a priority at the expense of others, and saying yes to yourself all of the time even in times where you should not.”

He commented on what role culture plays in identifying the difference between self-love and selfishness.

“I think our cultures and our values help us identify what is selfish and what is not. The definition of selfishness and self-love comes from our culture and will tell us what we ought or ought not to be doing,” he said.

According to Inosi Kinikini, a junior from Fiji, he said taking care of yourself through self-care is not common in his Fijian culture. For this reason, he said he felt inspired to study psychology.

He commented, “I am taking psychology because I need to educate the Fijian people about self-care and self-love. It is not common in my culture because of the collectivist lifestyle.”

When considering her culture in the United States, Hardisty said she believes seeking help for mental health is becoming less of a taboo. She said, in the past, she felt it was uncommon or difficult to talk to someone about personal issues, making it harder to provide self-care for oneself. However, she said she was gratitude that mentality is changing.

For those who striving to recognize selfishness when it occurs, Orr explained how one of the key ingredients to selfishness is pride and comparison. “To me, the danger of pride is comparing [oneself] to others. Whether we win or lose in our comparison to others, we lose because we separate ourselves from others. We put ourselves above or below, but we are not with.”

Kinikini shared an example of what is represented as selfish within his culture. “The idea of [hanging out] with friends, we are so used to it,” Kinikini added. “If I have something going on, saying no can be selfish or they are being selfish by taking you away from what you are doing.”

In relation to his education here in Hawaii, he shared how coming to Hawaii for school is an expression of self-love toward himself, and love for his family because he can give back to them through the opportunities education presents. “Me being here and knowing I can get a job after, it will help me give back to my family.”