You know how people say you can’t love others until you love yourself? Well, it’s trite, but true.
The reason you have to love yourself first is because, if you don’t, then in every relationship your focus is on getting the other person to reassure you that you are lovable. Which is not a reliable source of reassurance. Sometimes people are distracted, or in a bad mood, or equally preoccupied with wanting you to prove that you love them. Which leads to a lot of fights that center around accusations and demands.
Before I could even say what the rules were, I learned that I had to prove I was worthy of love in a variety of ways. And it wasn’t enough to be good. I had to be perfect. The best, if possible. The #1 seed on the tennis team with an undefeated record and no unforced errors in any of my matches, for example. And in the rare cases in which I could achieve this moment of perfection, the target moved. The carrot stick just a bit further, still out of my reach. I needed to work harder. Be better.
I’m not saying this to blame my parents. I know that they were under the same kind of pressure from their parents. Which they learned from their parents. And I did the same thing in my relationships. It’s painful to remember all of the unreasonable demands that I made on other people. How nothing was ever enough to reassure me that I was loved. If I wanted him to buy me flowers, and then he bought me flowers, I’d be like, you just did that because I told you to so you don’t really love me. It was a no one situation for both of us.
Not so long ago, I hit rock bottom. I couldn’t stand being this person in my relationships anymore. Which is why I embarked on that 4 year journey of solitude. I was determined to love myself, even if it killed me!
How does one learn to do this, you ask? Because you can just be like, I love myself! Done. Ready for love. I didn’t have examples of what that looked like, and there weren’t any textbooks on it in grad school. Self-love 101. So it has been a very slow process. Like learning a second language on your own. It has only been in the last decade or so that I have found any helpful advice on how to cultivate self-love, and that was when I learned about self-compassion. Which I write about a lot. But rather than make you go back and read 300+ blog posts, I’ll give you a cheat sheet on what I have learned so far.
- Forgive yourself for the love you didn’t give. We are all going about life, trying to love and be loved, using whatever limited resources we have at our disposal.
- Forgive others for the love you didn’t get. The same thing applies to them.
- Remind yourself that your feelings count. Even if you don’t know why. Or it doesn’t seem like a good enough reason. Or the feelings don’t go away when you want them to. Be willing to be there, with your pain, for as long as necessary.
- Embrace who you are, exactly as you are, in this moment. Your flaws. Your mistakes. The embarrassing things you’ve said and done. You don’t have to be perfect to be worthy of love.
- Strive to love better. Most forms of self-improvement come from a place of unworthiness. I don’t think we ever convince ourselves that we are worthy, but we can try to love ourselves–and others–despite all of our glorious imperfections. And it feels way better than blaming and shaming.
These steps have become my daily practice. My self-love workout. But despite my daily practice, my internal monologue still doesn’t sound very loving at times. But I try to forgive myself. Try to accept wherever I am in this moment on the path to wholeheartedness.