“You (can)’t love somebody else before you love yourself”?


“You can’t love anybody else until you love yourself”

Lets be honest, we’ve likely all seen or heard this statement somewhere. Personally, I never really stopped to consider it until recently. Which brings us to the reason for today’s post – I’m here to tell you why I disagree.

First of all, I took to Instagram to do a quick survey – Respondents consisting of a fraction of the population who happened to be online and to respond to my story within 24-hours.

61% said they did NOT agree with this statement and 39% said they did.

I think the reason this statement is so common is because of the positive connotation it implies, associated with promoting self-compassion, however, from personal experience I would argue against the specific stipulation itself.

Scott from Huffpost argues against this quotation saying that “If we waited to get to the point of full-blow self-love before we dared love anyone else, this would be a desperately lonely planet”.

I do not think that self-love is a prerequisite for loving anyone outside the self.

In fact, Psychology Today says that there is little compelling evidence to confirm the notion.

One of my followers asked:

“How are you supposed to know how to love another person when you don’t love yourself?”

To which my response would be that your negative relationship with yourself might even serve as a guide of “what not to do”.

Just because I don’t always treat myself with kindness and compassion doesn’t mean I don’t know how to do so to others. It also doesn’t even mean I don’t know how to show myself love – its just quite difficult sometimes. Doing cognitive behavioural therapy often makes it painfully obvious just how significant the discrepancy is that exists between my attitude towards myself and my attitude towards those I love. To combat my negative thought patterns and resultant behaviours that have been engrained in my mind with a couple decades of practice, I have found it helpful to consider how I would treat others. This CBT practice fundamentally relies on the fact that practicing love and forgiveness for others can help us learn to do it for ourselves, which strikingly contradicts the statement above.

Maybe, in the very unfortunate circumstance someone has had absolutely no exposure to a caring relationship or if they don’t know what it is like to love or be loved, it may be difficult to know how to love someone else. My argument is however, that your self-love doesn’t have to be the prototype for your love of others.

Self-Views do Impact Interpersonal Relationships

While I don’t think that you have to deny any relationship until you perfect the one you have with yourself, I do think however, that consequences of a lack of self-love can make loving others and being in intimate relationships more difficult.

It can commonly occur that people seek out more superficial relationships in attempt to restore a sense of “completeness” within themselves, or to execute any other number of compensatory strategies. Consequently, if the criteria for these relationships lie in the external realm, there’s no saying that this “love” will be fulfilling or lasting.

Considerable research shows that there is very little that is intrinsic about wealth (or external materials). We’ve probably all heard a story of someone who seemed to “have it all” yet still struggled to find happiness, or even worse, may even have committed suicide. For this reason, it’s important we dissect what they mean by “love” in this truism as I think the interpretation we draw from it depends on the kind of love we’re referring to. As psychology has repeatedly noted, the external is not always reflective of the internal, and avoiding inconsistencies between what you truly desire and what you pursue because of extraneous influences can prevent disillusionment.

If depending solely on your relationships for emotional support, advice, or to fill your needs comes before the intrinsic value of your relationship, or at the cost of your own ability to take care of yourself, it seems logical that you will be left with not only an imbalanced relationship with others, but also with yourself.

While I believe you can love someone else even if you don’t love yourself, I think that a lack of self-love can significantly impact the way interpersonal relationships play out. Our thoughts and beliefs about ourselves tend to be self-fulfilling prophecies by guiding the way we interpret situations and choose behaviour, subsequently influencing how others see us in return. For example, if you had a very confident friend who believed they were very smooth, charming and considerate and very much worth dating, you can imagine how they might approach a social situation very differently than someone who feels like they will always be rejected and thinks they are too awkward to date. Low self-esteem can be a self-fulfilling prophecy and can often lead to maladaptive coping strategies and self-sabotaging behaviour. I think therefore, that the statement may not be correct, yet heeds warning that one should first look within prior to relying on other people for true healing.

Maybe even though the statement isn’t entirely correct, what it’s really getting as is that not loving yourself can manifest in different ways that hinder your ability to be comfortable being your true self and can prevent you from finding genuine connections that lead to love. The adage, instead of being true, may be trying to warn us to be conscious of our vulnerabilities and how they might play out with other people.

I believe that self-awareness, even in the absence of self-love, can allow us to navigate interpersonal territory safely.

Interestingly, Seltzer points out that while we don’t know if learning to love oneself might make us more able to love another, it likely can smooth our relationships and make us more intimate. Emphasizing that behaviours stemming from a place of self-acceptance might statistically be more likely to be secure and healthy.

I may be young, and my relationship has yet to withstand the test of time, but I think that true love (or genuine love) or however you want to define it, occurs when a relationship holds a sense of intrinsic value. In these cases, I believe that you genuinely can love someone despite a lack of love for yourself. I think the main point is that no one else can be your source of self-love. There is no substitute for taking responsibility for your own choices, behaviour, or happiness.

My personal experience leads me to disagree with this statement for several reasons.

One is that knowing someone loves you for who you are is empowering.

You don’t need to fix yourself in order to be worthy of love. In the words of self-compassion queen Kristin Neff, everyone is worthy of compassion and kindness simply because they are human.

There has been a time in my life where I likely stayed alive for those who loved me.

There have been days where taking care of myself was a chore I did for them.

I have relied on my loved ones more times than I can count, but their steadfast belief that I am worthy of love despite everything I think I need to fix, helps me believe that there is a chance I will one day be able to love myself.

Hope is a powerful thing, and for me it often grows from places of love.

Love has fuelled my self-discovery journey & encourages me to practice self-compassion

Being in a loving relationship has provided me with a safe place to be myself, where I feel accepted and safe.

Like humanist Carl Rogers proposed, the unconditional positive regard from loved ones is a crucial aspect promoting the development of our true self, and love can provide us with this, regardless of whether or not we are able to provide it for ourselves.

Loving and supporting my boyfriend has opened me up to receiving love and support myself. Gradually sharing more of who I am and being honest with him has encouraged me to relax around others as well and to more consistently feel like I am at home in myself.

There is no type of growth quite like that we experience by engaging with other people. Opening ourselves up to be vulnerable and receive others’ vulnerabilities in return provides an opportunity to learn about ourselves and others more deeply. That being said however, not every moment of your life is going to be a suitable time to dive into an important relationship, romantic or otherwise.

The meaning of this saying can change at different times of your life

I’ve already given several different possible interpretations of the statement, and I don’t think anyone is more correct than another. There may very well be times in your life when you’re fighting a personal battle where you don’t want other people getting caught in the cross-fire. There may very well be times when they do. Recognizing either situation is important to learning ultimately about what’s best for ourselves.

Taking care of yourself can be a lifelong challenge – and an exhausting one at that. I have been lucky in that I had a well-established, stable relationship prior to going through some of my tougher times. My boyfriend and I already felt comfortable sharing things and our relationship had a strong foundation. In many ways he was my rock. If you had asked me in the midst of a depressive episode if I would consider going for a date with someone new, I would have thought you were crazier than me.

I think this axiom simply reminds us to look within before we look to others for healing. It is a reminder not to forget that no number of Instagram “likes” can make up for your lack of “self-likes”.

If you feel ready to embrace love, do it. Don’t hold yourself back because you haven’t yet reached a place of unwavering self-love. If someone loves you in return, that’s wonderful. If you don’t feel ready, don’t do it. If you think your pursuit of love from others is an attempt to compensate for love from yourself, don’t be afraid to take a step back and consider committing to a relationship with yourself first.

One thought on ““You (can)’t love somebody else before you love yourself”?

  1. I was recently reading a book by Brene Brown in which she argued that self-love is necessary for loving others, but the approach she seemed to be taking was that a sense that we are worthy of being loved is necessary for a mutually loving relationship with someone. The idea of worthiness in that context makes more sense to me than needing to “love” yourself.

    Liked by 1 person

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