“You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe deserve your love and affection.” ~Buddha
A popular topic in the glossy magazines, learning to “love yourself” always seemed to me to be a self-indulgent first-world pastime.
It seemed obvious that the commonly-repeated mantra “love yourself first” was just a sign of the times in a world where something like half of all marriages end in divorce. When I dug a little deeper I often found either a list of new spa treatments or a litany of new age catchphrases.
All meaningless—that is until a series of failed relationships taught me the hard way why you have to love yourself first.
I had always walked into relationships from the standpoint of something I needed or wanted. I wanted to feel valued and loved. I needed to feel that my struggles had meaning, and I found this in external validation. I craved for someone to stand by me and tell me that I was worth it.
In my extremely busy and fast-paced life, I was surrounded by people so very lonely, starved of meaningful connections in a world of transactional relationships. Always the alpha-male, I craved a safe space where I could lower my defenses and be affectionate. A relationship became my way of getting what I thought I needed.
For a decade of my life, this didn’t go well, and it certainly didn’t end well. It ended with me on the floor of my living room surrounded by pills and full of suicidal thoughts. But, after I picked myself up, this and many other truths revealed themselves to me.
A need arises from something we find missing in ourselves.
We need someone to tell us we’re important because we don’t feel worthy to begin with.
We feel lonely because our lives aren’t full, and we’re waiting for someone to fill them up.
We so crave those affectionate and reassuring words from someone we care about because we don’t feel pretty, smart, promoted—or whatever—enough. If he or she is a good mate, our need is satiated. This is why “you complete me” became such a widely expressed notion of the power of love. Unfortunately, that sort of thinking leads to dangerous places.
We aren’t “complete” to begin with because of the very thing(s) we feel we’re lacking, or the inadequacy of our being.
We make ourselves as attractive, accommodating, or desirable as we can to cover up these faults and fool an eligible partner into looking past our shortcomings. Eventually, we win, and then the prize is ours. And they both lived happily ever after. Except that rarely happens because that void always needs to be filled.
We’ve told ourselves the story of our lives and convinced ourselves of the short (or long) list of things our partner can give us that will make us happy at last. But somehow it’s never enough, and when we get it, we want more of it, or something else entirely. Our demands to be listened to or supported or valued somehow seem to increase over time.
And maybe we even become resentful. After all, we need to keep our partner fooled into continuing to see past our inadequacies, so we “hustle” for love.
We have put so much effort into making ourselves attractive to begin with, and it’s very difficult to ever let the mask slip, lest he or she find the truth and see us for who we are. It all takes so much effort, and maybe we begin to think “It’s his fault I feel this way.”
This is where coming into love from a place of inadequacy leads. But, when we accept ourselves for who we are, when we recognize our flaws but do not doubt our worth, we don’t seek wholeness in another person. Perhaps we even work on our perceived flaws, but we recognize these as suboptimal behaviors, not something wrong with us. We do bad, but we are not bad.
It’s still totally natural and healthy to have a set of desirable characteristics when we seek out that someone and boundaries for acceptable behavior, but this is a matter of choice, not need.
When we enter a relationship from a place of worthiness and self-acceptance, we don’t hold our partner accountable for our shortcomings or expect her to fix us. We can focus on joy—which is happiness from within—rather than expecting or demanding that the other person supply it from without.
After all, when we expect our partner to supply stuff to us in order to make us happy, crudely put, he or she becomes our dealer. Though of course it’s a bit more emotionally complicated than that, we are in a sense using the other person to fulfill our own ends, and guess what? He or she is probably doing the same to us. It somehow works!
And what does it mean to accept yourself wholly, warts and all? What is it to say: “Maybe I let my jealousy get the better of me sometimes, but my heart is in the right place, and I don’t need anyone to prove that to me”?
How is it that someone can say, “I’m responsible for my own happiness, and I want so very much to share that with another person”? That is loving yourself first, and that love has to stem from a deep place of worthiness.
Love is many things, but one of them is total acceptance with no barriers. If we can’t feel that way toward ourselves, then how can we feel that way with someone else? What we do not accept about ourselves, we do not reveal to someone else.
Love is also the most highly evolved, pristine form of connection, and connection is what gives meaning to people's lives. This then leads to the false assumption that we need to be given love by other people in order to feel whole.
In fact, the reverse is true. When we feel whole, we are able to love other people, and that is how we connect.
This took so many years and so much heartache for me to figure out. When I looked back on all those failed relationships, though I typically still felt justified in some of the grievances I had, I took responsibility for the fact that it never would have worked out as long as I was seeking validation from another person.
It would be nice and neat for me to say that now, possessed of this understanding, I found the one and am in the midst of my happily-ever-after. That’s actually far from the case! But, what I can say is that I’ve been in a couple of relationships since, and although their endings hurt, they in no way destroyed me or shook me to my core the way they had previously.
Never again did I doubt if I was worthy of that kind of happiness or having those kinds of boundaries of self-respect. The grieving process happened, but it ended, and I remained who I was.
To love myself first is to never have to say “you complete me” again, because I am complete just the way I am. It is to stop hustling for love and allowing myself to be loved. Far from being self-indulgent, it is such a humbling feeling, and it will set you free.