Having examined the misshapen forms of spirits in the hells, forms that as noted are all forms of contempt for others, of threats against people who do not respect and revere them, and of hatred and vengeance against people who do not support them, it has become clear to me that in general they are all forms of love for oneself and the world and that the evils that give rise to individual forms can all be traced back to these two loves. I have also been told from heaven, and it has been witnessed to me by an abundance of experience, that these two loves, love for oneself and love of the world, do rule in the hells and actually constitute the hells, and that love for the Lord and love for one’s neighbor rule in the heavens and actually constitute the heavens. I have also learned that the two loves that are hell’s loves and the two loves that are heaven’s loves are absolute opposites.
At first I wondered why love for oneself and love of the world are so diabolic, why people who are absorbed in them look so frightful. After all, in the world we scarcely give love for ourselves a second thought. We focus only on that outward inflation of spirit called pride, which we believe is the only self-love because it is so visible. Not only that, if love for oneself does not express itself in pride, then we in the world think it is the vital fire that rouses us to work for high position and to do constructive things. We believe that if we saw no prospect of esteem and glory in these efforts, our spirits would become sluggish. People ask, “Who would do anything decent or useful or remarkable except to be praised and respected by others, [openly] or in their thoughts; and where does this come from except from the fire of a love for glory and esteem—that is, for the sake of self?” This is why people in the world do not realize that in its own right love for oneself is the love that rules in hell and that makes hell within us.
Since this is in fact the case, I should like first to describe what love for oneself is, and then explain that everything evil and false wells up from this love.
from Heaven and Hell, Sections 554-555