To love ourselves?

Jesus says that we should "love our neighbors as ourselves" (Mk 12:31//). This assumes that we, in fact, do love ourselves.

I'm reading Dr. Townsend's Loving People. I deeply respect his field of study and his capacity to explain his field so well. In his book he says of this Bible verse:

"Love requires a subject and an object, and they are different from one another. We can no more love ourselves than we can tell our car to fill itself up with gas from the trunk. Sometimes people understand Jesus' words to 'love your neighbor as yourself' as teaching self-love. Actually, it makes more sense that it teaches that we are to love our neighbor as we would want to be loved--again, a relational meaning" (22-23).

Dr. Townsend's saying that you can't hug yourself. Love doesn't exist without another human. He has apparently used Jesus's other statement about treating others as we'd want to be treated (Matt 7:12) and used it to interpret this text. 

However, I don't find this reading compelling for one chief reason: he has a misunderstanding of the biblical definition of love (though he defines it well on p.18).

"Love" towards humans in the Bible is best understood as "to care for the good of" or "to take care of." It is certainly possible to care for yourself in various ways as acts of love.

What would have Jesus meant?

He meant that we care for others' good as much as we care for our own good. (It does not mean that we care for others' good as much as we want them to care for us.)

What are some things we do to "care" for (i.e., "love") our own good? And how does that relate?

Do you seek shelter from the weather? Provide that for others. Do you seek good food to eat? Provide that for others. Do you tell yourself encouraging things? Provide that encouragement for others. Do you avoid people who want to use you, suck the energy out of you, or hurt you? Then be a safe, boundary-respecting person to others. Et cetera

Whatever healthy, Christian needs we have and provide for our own selves, we are to seek to provide that for our neighbor.

Who's "our neighbor"? Anyone with whom we come in contact who needs us. Jesus didn't say, "and love the  world as you love yourself." It's not broad and nondescript. Rather, it's the person right in front of you. The person you could touch. The person who needs help, from you, right now (read Luke 10, esp. v. 33).

Now we see the real difficulty. Most people don't love themselves in various ways. We allow ourselves to be manipulated or guilt-ed into doing things. We overeat. We overspend. We smoke, over-drink, and do all kinds of things to hurt our bodies. We say hateful, awful things to ourselves sometimes. Our internal dialogue can be vile and despicable.

It's the hard question, but the only one worth asking right now: Do I really care for my own good? Do I love myself?

If not, it will be difficult to love your neighbor well. 

And that's the ultimate goal.