Since I’ve been on a kick of debunking common self-care myths, let me tackle the biggest one of all: that you have to fully love yourself before you can love and be loved by others. Like most of these ideas, this started with the best of intentions, but has mutated into something that often does more harm than good.
Loving yourself is wonderful. I have Leo for daaays, and I want everyone to regard themselves as luminous sparks warming and lighting the world! I even created a reading just for reminding people how wonderful and strong they really are!
Furthermore, loving yourself is protective. When you have proper regard for your own worth, you don’t accept poor treatment. You will not tolerate anyone treating you as less than human, and you will create boundaries to keep out anyone who would try. That is vitally important, and it’s no wonder that people have emphasized it so much over time.
But what if you have different challenges? What if, for instance, you’ve never seen love modeled? What if you’ve been deprived of affection for most of your life and told you were unlovable? Are you telling me that finding someone to love you purely and unconditionally as you already are isn’t a good idea? That it wouldn’t be healing? That experiencing real love from another for the first time wouldn’t be its own teaching experience about self-love?
Or what if you’ve been in relationships that have hurt you? Maybe you’ve been abused or betrayed or abandoned. Maybe love feels like a minefield. Maybe you’re too afraid to trust again, and maybe you have good reason. Well, then, wouldn’t the unconditional love of, say, a pet help soothe your heart? Wouldn’t the pure, innocent trust and unbreakable bond remind your soul of what real love is?
Again, self-love does matter, and it’s an admirable goal. And it’s true that when we don’t love ourselves, we can be prone to making painful mistakes in relationships. But this idea that a bad relationship with yourself means that you are somehow fundamentally unsuitable for relationships, or that you have to earn the ability to be loved is incredibly harmful.
The truth is, we all need love. We are all worthy of it. Difficulty giving and receiving love is a genuine tragedy that we should work to remedy. But I don’t think we can remedy it with lack and exclusion and gatekeeping. We remedy lack of love with love. It’s as simple as that.
What do you think about the idea that self-love has to come first?