We've all heard people say “you can’t love someone unless you love yourself.” But a lot of my clients believe they are being loving to their partner, their children, their friends—even when they don’t love themselves. I believed that myself for many years.
I enjoyed being there for others, which I thought meant I was fully able to love someone else. But I later realized there was always an underlying agenda to my love—to be loved back.
The hard truth is this: You cannot give to others purely if you’ve abandoned your own heart.
When you neglect yourself by judging yourself, ignoring or numbing your feelings, or making others responsible for your feelings, your inner self feels alone, empty, unimportant, and unloved—just like anyone would feel if treated so unlovingly by someone they inherently knew was supposed to treat them with love and kindness.
When you feel alone or unloved at a molecular level, you always hold out hope that the person you’re giving your love to will love you back, thus filling the hole inside you that comes from self-abandonment.
But giving “love” in order to be shown love in return isn’t actually loving someone at all. Love is only love when it comes with no strings attached.
Real love comes without agenda or expectation. You don’t love someone in hopes of receiving attention, approval, or validation. Unless you’re giving love simply for the sake of loving, you’re probably not at peace with yourself.
If you believe that you can only be fulfilled by others' love, you will continue to abandon yourself in order to grasp for love and approval from others. This misguided approach to relationships is responsible for many breakups. Loving someone else with an agenda will never satisfy either person. Love that comes from insecurity is fundamentally unsatisfying to both people in a relationship. It’s manipulative and ungrounded. It isn’t love.
No matter how kind or caring you are toward others, not acknowledging and respecting your own wants and needs first will imbue the generosity of spirit you’re attempting to embody with disingenuousness. We can’t really ever hide or ignore our own self-abandonment. It always shows up eventually.
Is Loving Yourself Selfish?
Were you raised to believe that love and self-sacrifice go hand in hand? That loving yourself is selfish? Nothing could be further from the truth.
Loving yourself doesn't mean that you ever ignore the effect you have on others or that you don't consider their feelings. Loving yourself does not mean being careless of the needs of others.
Loving yourself means that you want to take responsibility for your own hurt and learn to deal with it. That is also integral to loving others. It precludes the need to blame or suspect anyone else for hurting you.
By the same token, it puts you in charge of creating your joy. That is incredibly empowering. It also frees others in your life from the burden of creating joy for you. That often results in resentment and distancing rather than mutual love and shared joy.
It means learning how to heal your pain rather than being a victim of it. It means that you learn to define and value yourself through connection with your higher power—internal or external—rather than feeling that your worth is contingent upon others.
It means you engage in relationship with others to give rather than to take. It means other people are no longer your source of confidence, love, or fulfillment.
When two or more people come together in individual wholeness, then—and only then—are they able to fully support each other in pursuing their highest good and what brings each of them joy.