Love yourself. Before you can love another person you have to love yourself first. I’m sure most of us have heard one or both of these two bits of advice at some point.
Maybe we even gave it to someone else who was struggling.
Since I’m a person who’s usually very open about my personal struggles (depression, loneliness, dating, relationships etc.) I’ve heard the philosophy of self-love first, expressed to me many, many times. Friends, relatives and an ex-lover have all advised me to improve my self-love and self-confidence.
This is not, on the whole, bad advice. In fact it’s very truthful. Yes, a person needs to have a certain amount of self-assurance, confidence and love for themselves in order to be a good friend, coworker lover and human being. I certainly needed to improve my self-love. I still do. But in trying to understand how to better love myself I got a lot of things wrong as I think many others do too.
I’ve grown more certain of my own strength and value as a person. As that’s happened I’ve also come to realize that sometimes the ideas people have of what it really means to love themselves, can be pretty skewed and even counterproductive.
I think this is especially true when it comes to the idea of being able to love oneself before loving another person.
For a long time, I tried to achieve self-love by telling myself that I needed to eliminate all negative thoughts or forces in my life. Yet time and time again, life, depression and anxiety pushed negativity into me and I found myself despairing.
I told myself it was my fault, I didn’t love myself enough. If I only loved myself enough than I wouldn’t feel these dark emotions. If I only loved myself enough like everyone else around me than I wouldn’t have any of the struggles with self-hate I have.
‘Love yourself! Why can’t you love yourself!?’ I remember repeating this line in my head over and over again during my really dark depressive episodes. How could I possibly love myself if I couldn’t be 100% strong 100% of the time? Why couldn’t I achieve this level of perfect never ending self-esteem and love that people told me was out there if I only wanted it hard enough?
It was only after some CBT therapy, discovering the wonderful School of Life and some unusually frank and honest discussions with people I know that I realized my approach to self-love was all wrong.
Self-love I came to realize, was not becoming a ‘perfect’ human being that never took a wrong step, experienced sadness, depression, self-loathing, anxiety or doubt. It wasn’t about being a person that never asked for help that never admitted their dark times.
Self-love was about accepting your darkness as well as your light and realizing that despite your profound flaws you were still worthy of love and respect.
I didn’t have to be a demi-god with no weaknesses in order to love myself or for others to love me.
I didn’t have to be perfect and neither did anybody else. Many times the people I looked up to and thought could never experience the kind of doubt, loneliness and insecurity I did turned out to be struggling with that every day.
I was flawed and imperfect creature. I could and would fail. I could and would have days that would make me question my worth and my existence. This was all true and it was also true that I was still a worthy human being.
This is also true of every other human being on the planet and this has given me a lot of reassurance as I’ve begun exploring dating and relationships after a long hiatus.
I don’t have to be flawless and totally void of insecurity to be worthy of love and neither does anyone else. Everyone I know and you know is deeply, profoundly damaged in one way or another and that’s nothing we need to hide.