Should you “learn to love yourself first”?
There are variations of this advice such as “No one can love you if you don’t love yourself”, or “You can’t love others if you don’t love you” but for those who find self-love tricky it can become another reason to just walk away from connection.
So how useful is this advice? What do people mean by it and what can you say to someone instead?
We’ve all seen people bounce from relationship to relationship searching for something they just don’t seem to find and hurting themselves and others in the process. Maybe you’ve done it yourself too.
Often this involves repetitive patterns — each relationship following a well-trodden pathway and ending up in the same result. Someone who doesn’t love themselves can fall into situations which cause them more pain because they’re less likely to see their needs as valid.
But is ‘learning to love yourself first’ really the best advice to give a friend whose soul is crying out for partnership?
Connections are important. As individuals we need attachment and love and to feel connected to others. Lack of these makes depression and feelings of isolation worse, which ultimately makes it much harder for a person to feel love towards themselves.
That’s not to say romantic love is the answer or that they shouldn’t give themselves a break and step away from searching for their hearts and ribbons ideals. But love isn’t all about romance.
When someone who doesn’t have self-worth hears ‘love yourself first’ they often translate it as ‘you don’t deserve anyone’s love’
That isn’t and has never been the case.
It’s easier for some people to love others than it is to love themselves.
Making your affection dependant on a person’s self-worth increases their feelings of isolation and not being whole enough or good enough to receive affection.
It’s okay to not love yourself all the way through just yet.
It will come.
But that doesn’t mean one day you’ll wake up and realise you’re full of self-directed love. Confidence and self-worth are a work in progress and most people aren’t as full of self-love as they’d like to be.
The thing with love is there’s no magic measurement. You don’t get to half full and be ‘better’ or hit a specific volume and be declared ready for relationships.
Every single drop of love you feel for yourself improves your life.
Each tiny step forward, each little grain of effort is one hundred per cent worth your time, and the time of others because…
Love and affection from others will help people to love themselves
Some people never learnt unconditional love from their families and as such don’t have a baseline for their own self-love.
The affection from others actively helps them see themselves as worthy of love. It’s not about proving you’re loveable, it’s about acknowledging being loved is for you, not just for other people. And that’s a beautiful thing.
But for many, self-love can’t come without first learning what unconditional love and affection really looks like.
That doesn’t mean it’s healthy to gain *all* your self-worth through others
Allowing affection from others to help you learn to love yourself is quite different from judging your value on the actions of partners and potential partners.
Which is why sometimes taking a break from romance and seeking connections elsewhere helps to reset our love-o-metres.
When people swear off love to ‘learn to love themselves’ they have more time for friends
They aren’t learning to love themselves; they’re learning how to love and be loved without the added pressure of romance.
Often people who don’t feel self-worth don’t make good partners. Sometimes they don’t even make good friends, or good parents either.
You’ve heard me talk about mental and emotional load before. It doesn’t just apply to the emotional work we take on for others, it’s also the emotional work we take on for ourselves.
If you’re focused on self-hatred and trauma, the hurt takes up so much emotional load there’s less room for love.
But all is not lost… love and connection and affection displace or neutralise some of the hurt. This allows us to work on the rest.
The all encompassing romantic love many people seek doesn’t always fit in small spaces, but growing friendships do. And then they elbow out the hurt to make more space for love — both self-love and romantic love.
That’s not to say you can’t learn to love through romantic partnerships. But the faster you want a relationship to be a big space filler in your life the harder it will be for it to find it’s hole and gently grow.
You can’t pour from an empty cup. Love is an exchange.
Rather than ‘learning to love yourself’ it’s worth learning a few other things instead.
People who don’t love themselves often don’t have good boundaries. They find it harder to maintain their sense of self and ask for their needs to be met. This makes it harder for them to get what they need from any connections.
It also makes it more likely they’ll stay in relationships where love doesn’t live or left a long time ago.
Learn your worth and what your needs are within relationships.
Learn how to communicate these needs clearly and unapologetically.
And most importantly, learn how to walk away when things don’t feel right or aren’t bringing you joy.
As an aside to this, there are people in the world who love themselves unconditionally and meet all their own needs at the expense of others. They enjoy forming connections with people who don’t have self-worth and boundaries. We call them narcissists.
Learning to recognise and walk away from situations which are damaging is far more important in the short term than self-love.
Help your friends to love themselves, but don’t make it an impossible hurdle they need to meet before they can be loved.
Instead of saying ‘learn to love yourself first’ say ‘I love you and you’re worthy of my love’