Have you weighed in on the debate? The one that says you can’t love someone else unless you love yourself first. It’s a conversation that can get pretty heated on peoples’ different opinions on the matter.
I am totally ‘that guy’ because I will be the first to say I understand what both sides of the fence are saying… not sure if I can fully commit to either side just yet.
On the one hand, I think you can absolutely love someone else regardless about your feelings toward yourself. And on the other, I think the reason people will argue the contrasting point is because loving yourself offers you a much different loving experience with others that is arguably deeper and more connected.
Here’s the thing though. The reason that this debate becomes so heated is because A) SO MANY people struggle with loving themselves and B) no one wants to feel that they are incapable of love. Therefore, this would leave a greater sum of the population believing that they aren’t showing up for the people in their lives that they obviously cherish greatly. And that sucks, right?
In my regularly and weirdly keen observation of humans… I’ve noticed the love parents have for their children. This fascinates me so greatly because it’s such a unique experience and you can’t have it until you have it. So I do my best to collect whatever data I can through observation – and leave room in my imagination to fill in some of the gaps that I know are missing by my lack of personal experience.
From what I can assess so far there are few, if any, forms of love that are as deep as a parent’s love for their children. What’s even more interesting is that the love is constant. It doesn’t matter how old the parent or the child become. The love is unchanged. Perhaps the expression of that love changes. But the volume of love itself is the same.
I was talking to a friend a while ago, he was expressing that he had more concern for others’ well being than his own. I believe this to be a relatively common way of thinking. Likely most people would volunteer their own lives for someone they cared about. He proceeded to tell me that when he would go skiing alone, he would venture into very risky territory. Potentially life threatening trails. Not because he’s suicidal (or maybe he is – no judgement. Been there!) but for the experience and the rush. However, if he’s ever in the company of friends, he won’t even consider taking these types of trails.
It’s a slight paradox though, if you think about it.
Because, if you were to claim that you were truly more concerned for others’ wellbeing… then wouldn’t you be even more intentionally cautious with your life and safety? Hear me out on this one.
Depending on your belief system, if you die you either (this list is probably longer, but for the sake of time) land in heaven (which is way better than earth from what I’ve heard), you’re enlightened and omni-understanding, and/or you turn to dirt and have no awareness of your death or anything else. So essentially – it might be the only linking consensus of all belief systems – we conclude: if you’re dead, you’re probably pretty okay with it.
The only people suffering are the people you love. They’re going to be devastated to lose you. So if you truly are someone that claims to place others’ wellbeing before your own, wouldn’t this be something you’ve considered? That caring for yourself is exactly that, an expression of caring for others.
When we grow up, we turn 18 (or 25, 31, 53 whatever) and without much thought we venture into the amazing world of adulting. We move out of the familiar comfort of our family home and being to focus on our new responsibilities, paying bills, surviving, getting through that first job or those University papers. The actual responsibility of truly ‘taking care’ of ourselves is far from our minds… if it even crosses it at all.
In that same transition, our parents had an entirely different experience. Those people that love us SO much, literally handed over to us the responsibility of ensuring the wellbeing of the thing that they love and cherish the most in the world. There is literally nothing that could replace you to them. So by that measure, you would be doing a service to them by taking care of yourself, right?
If you have kids, don’t you want them to one day take care of themselves like you take care of them? To love themselves like you love them; understand their abilities, potential, and gifts like you do? You forgive them when they make a mistake, don’t you want them to forgive themselves? You do right? YOU are somebody’s kid. Someone loves you so much, they want that for you.
Even if you were someone that grew up with shit parents. Say they really dropped the ball on the whole loving, supporting and appreciation thing; or maybe they were abusive, critical or neglectful. If you see that, and you know that. Then you are acknowledging that you deserved more. Which means you deserve more now. You owe it to yourself to love you. You’re due. You are entitled to love.
In my opinion, the only other form of love that has the potential to be as deep, connected and meaningful as parental love is self-love. I think it’s simply that most of us just haven’t found a way to tap into it. And if we did… can you imagine?
All those little holes, flaws, and self-perceived deficits would soften. Fear would be replaced by trust. Trust that you have and that you are everything you need. Guilt, shame… nope. No room for that. You love yourself. You forgive yourself. Therefore, guilt and shame would become obsolete. This doesn’t mean ignoring your flaws; it’s not ignorance or arrogance. It’s not turning a blind eye to the parts of you that you’re working on. It’s simply acknowledging those qualities, forgiving them and having patience with yourself while you sort through it.
Parental love isn’t blind either. Your parents know you’re a butthole sometimes. They know all of your character flaws. Probably better than you do. But isn’t it cool how they love you through that? They aren’t ignorant to your bullshit. They just keep loving you. Deeply and endlessly. For no justified reason except for that they just DO.
I can’t remember when I came to realize it… but one day I did. I thought – my parents aren’t here to take care of me anymore. I’m all grown up. So now it’s my job to take care of me. I need to make sure I eat my vegetables and I go to sleep when I’m tired. I need to make sure I don’t watch too much TV and that I get my work done on time. I have to clean my room, do my laundry, and make sure I have a shower everyday so I don’t smell bad.
I parent myself. I truly do.
Sometimes I’m a super lax parent…
Me: “Can I have popcorn for supper?”
Parent me: “You know what, why the hell not. Fibre. Sure!”
And other times I’m a bit more mindful parent.
Me: “Can I have another cookie??”
Parent me: “You’ve already had 2 (or 5). I think that’s enough. If you’re hungry you can have a cucumber – or I’ll make you lunch. No more cookies though.”
[Yes. Most of my self-parenting skills are tested at meal times.]
But what about the times when you’re tired, you’re sad, you’re angry or broken… What do you do with yourself? Are you kind? Do you let yourself cry it out, give yourself a metaphorical hug and take it easy? Maybe you’re someone that has grown so accustomed to your own abuse, you don’t even recognize it as abuse anymore. Maybe you’ve become so used to not loving yourself, that simply the absence of abuse feels like love. You need to know there’s more. And that you have the capacity to create it.
Sometimes it’s too hard or too much to move from abusive inner-statements to positive mantras and self-affirmations. It was for me. It felt so false and gross coming out of my mouth.
“I am beautiful and radiant” would be followed by this cruel sarcastic mental dialogue in a mocking tone repeating I am beautiful and radiant followed by a mental eye roll and taunting laugh. (I still think affirmations are stupid but hey if that’s jam, you go rock that shit.)
Start small. And in ways that feel real to you.
I think sometimes when people talk about self-love they say it like it’s just going to happen. Like it’s something that just ‘IS’ … like ‘Go love yourself.’ is the same as ‘Go make a sandwich.’
Like it’s this thing you just do and then you have it. But it’s not like that at all. Maybe it started that way… when we were really little… but we forgot, and that’s okay. So now, we accept that it’s a process.
Few lasting relationships had a first date that began with “I love you so much, I want to spend my life with you. You are my everything.” There’s a natural evolution of getting to know each other and slowing showing small forms of affection. Establishing trust, commitment and eventually love.
Go date yourself. Get to know you. Build a friendship, show yourself small acts of kindness and let those grow in to more meaningful acts of love.
I don’t conclusively know if you can or can’t love someone without loving yourself. But I feel confident in saying that even the intention – just the effort of trying to love yourself can make some huge, unparalleled shifts in your body, your relationships and your quality of life.
So go on now, go fall in love with you. ‘Cause you’re awesome.