“You must love yourself before you can love someone else” – this saying is usually spoken as an undeniable truth, like 2+2=4. But it’s not that simple. As with so much else with us humans, the relationship of loving yourself and loving someone else is complicated.
It is true that when you don’t love yourself, your feelings for someone else can be affected. Like a severely parched traveler in the desert, you may see a mirage of the thing you so very much want and need – a highly worthy person who affirms you are lovable. What you see is a fantasized version of them, perhaps even endowed with the very traits that you think you are missing. So, rather than loving who they really are, you may love your image of them.
And, even if you are able to see your partner clearly, your lack of self-love will likely interfere with being able to fully receive love from your partner. If you feel deeply flawed, you probably have difficulty understanding and accepting that someone could truly love you. You might think that they are deluded or haven’t gotten to see the real you yet. And you may be on guard for what you imagine as the inevitable time when they will reject and abandon you.
Even so, people who struggle with not loving themselves can sometimes find love, and even experience a healthy relationship as healing. You may find that a loving partner leads you to view yourself more positively. Their acceptance, warmth, and caring can help to heal the inner pain and sense of brokenness that prevents you from feeling worthy – but you need to be able to take in their love for that to happen.
If you have found someone who truly appreciates and cares about you (whether friend or lover), consciously practice taking in these feelings even as you have doubts. Just as when you go to the movies, allow for the suspension of disbelief. And be open to the experience, despite it being unfamiliar or uncomfortable. Note how the person is being honest in their response to you – assuming this is the case. Then, despite your doubts, allow yourself to feel loved, not just for who you appear to be, but for who you really are. You might also notice an inner sense of warmth as you do this.
The experience of feeling loved may be fleeting, but that is all you need at first. Once you have it, choose to revisit it. The more you practice, the more easily it will probably come. This can lead you to valuing and loving yourself more, which will also help you to more fully love someone else.