Yes, if you hate yourself and you’re living a reckless life, you probably should work on you a little (life coping tools) before investing in someone else. But the idea that you have to fully love yourself before loving someone else is not true. It’s a banner hung by people who have read too many self-help books. It can be a wall we hide behind because we’re afraid to love.
It’s also lined with shame. It sets you up to ring a high bell that’s unattainable because loving yourself doesn’t come with a certificate or a finish line. It’s a life-long process. It’s not a class. It’s a concept.
Like any relationship, your relationship with yourself goes up and down and sideways and requires a daily feed. It changes as you change, as your circumstances change, and as the people around you change.
So, no matter how much work you’ve done on yourself or how far you’ve come in life, there are days you’re not going to love yourself, because of so many other factors. You may be kinder to yourself. You may no longer hate yourself. But we all snap back at times. We all live with our demons to a certain extent, because we all have our stories. And our stories have caused imprints and false beliefs. None of us enter adulthood unscarred.
That banner injects people with fear, and they begin to dig moats instead of building bridges.
So it’s actually not about loving yourself. Let’s move away from the pressure of that, especially when it comes to qualifying yourself to love someone else.
Instead, see loving yourself as the action of self-love and self-care in your everyday life and your everyday choices — from what you decide to eat, to who you decide to love and surround yourself with. Loving yourself is the practice of self-love, and it’s ongoing. Forever. Until you die. It’s not a bar to measure yourself before getting into a relationship.
Entering a relationship should not require you to be a certain person or at a certain place in your life.
What’s more important when it comes to investing in a relationship is that you like yourself. That’s more of the constant. That’s the island to swim to. That’s real. That’s a secondary change.
When you get to a place where you like yourself, the action of loving yourself will come more naturally. You’ll have non-negotiables. You won’t tolerate certain behavior from others. You’ll seek less approval. Your friendships will be less lopsided. You won’t have as many holes to fill within you. You’ll be more gentle with yourself, more forgiving. You’ll believe you deserve more, better, different. You’ll finally stop breaking the promises you’ve made with you. And the relationship you have with yourself will improve.
Still not convinced?
Okay, here’s the other reason why “You have to love yourself before you love someone else” is a bumper sticker.
We love ourselves through others.
The way we learn to love ourselves is through other people and the relationships we have with them. We are literally designed to learn, grow, and love through other people. We are tribal creatures. We’re not meant to do life alone.
I understand the importance of The Hero’s Journey. It’s the solo quest, especially after your relationship has expired and you need to do some soul searching. But that is temporary. It’s not a lifestyle. It’s not meant to be.
Eventually, you choose to love someone new and bring what you’ve learned about yourself, love, and the world into the relationship. This relationship, assuming it’s healthy, creates the space for you to love yourself exponentially more because you are actually experiencing someone loving you.
Someone else loving you will always be more powerful than you loving yourself. It’s easier to love someone else than ourselves, no matter how much work we’ve done on us. Think about it. The love you have for your children. Your husband, wife, brother, sister, friends. You would do so much more for them than yourself, but that doesn’t mean you don’t love yourself. It means you’re human. And that’s what makes us magical.
When we experience healthy love back — someone treating us like we have value, without conditions and judgment — we learn to treat ourselves that way. The relationship lays the tracks.
On the contrary, when we are in unhealthy, toxic relationships where we are controlled and not allowed to be ourselves, we learn to turn the gun to ourselves and not love ourselves.
That’s why it’s so important to be in a healthy relationship. The relationship itself becomes a self-love machine.
So you don’t have to love yourself to love someone else. But you should like yourself because when you like yourself, you will make healthy choices and create a space (build a relationship) that will promote self-love.
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Written By John Kim Originally appeared on Psychology Today