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Why Self-Love Means Never Having to Say “You Complete Me”

“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 peoples’ 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.

About Joshua Kauffman

Joshua Kauffman is a recovering over-achiever and workaholic. Leaving behind a high-powered life in business, he has become a world traveler, aspiring coach, and entrepreneur of pretty things. Amateur author of a recent memoir Footprints Through The Desert, he is trying to find ways to share his awakening experience, particularly to those lost in the rat race like he was.

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  • next steps

    Thankyou for writing this. It made so much sense to me. I have had a hard time moving on after an end of a relationship with someone i thought was my soulmate and needed to read this. Like you, i used to believe self love was a selfish thing and something i didn’t have time for, but I’ve now learnt differently. The phrase ‘we feel lonely because our lives aren’t full and we are waiting for someone to fill them up’ really resonated with me. Take good care of yourself.

  • Wonderful post, Joshua! Thank you so much for sharing and I so can relate to this “I craved for someone to stand by me and tell me that I was worth it.” IN FACT, it was some sort of disease, really – I often looked for external validation and thought that self-care was about being selfish… I was wrong. Self-care is absolutely essential: we can’t pour from an empty cup.

  • Enrique Hernández

    Thank you for sharing this, I’ll write it down and read it everytime I feel the need for validation.

  • Cate

    A wise reflection; thank you! What you say is so true in observing that what passes for love is often acting as each other’s “dealer” in an “I’ll meet your needs if you meet mine” transaction. It’s usually unconscious, yet both people come to sense they’re not being seen and loved for who they are, but rather what they are (or aren’t) providing the other. At which point the “love” usually ends. While some people keep repeating the same dynamic with new people, others arrive through their suffering on the emotionally accountable path you so beautifully illuminate.

  • Ros

    Very well said.
    The only thing that I personally found a bit out of synch with the whole concept was this sentence: “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”.
    How is this relevant? When I read this I take it as if the ultimate goal for loving oneself was finding the one and living “happily ever after”.
    I find this to be directly in conflict with the rest.

  • Josh Kauffman

    Hi Ros,

    Thanks for your question. This was meant to be an idle thought. In other words, it would always be “nice” to say: “Yes, I understand this all now, so it’ll all be roses from here.” However, not only is that not the point, but the truth is that there is no “happily-ever-after.” Joy, relationships and life itself are a constant work-in-progress. But, as enlightened or awakened as we may think we are, we often find these little thoughts creep up in the back of our mind…then we have to remind ourselves of a lot of the basic truths. It’s always a work-in-progress.

  • Josh Kauffman

    Thanks so much. I’m so glad you find this helpful. I find that as I move forward I often need to remind myself of these things that I already know!

  • ShaunTheCHB

    Self love. A concept that I will never be able to grasp. Many years I have tried……. Read lots of books, tried meditation and other weird stuff. But I still loathe the man I see in the mirror.
    Even my counselors have given up. I pretty much accept that loving myself is something that I just cannot do. I admire people who can for themselves. It’s good that you have found a way that works for you Josh. I wish that I could. I just can’t seem to.

  • Josh Kauffman

    Hi Shaun,

    I feel for you because I remember that feeling. Everyone can do it, but most people don’t – they either have a negative view of themselves or they substitute external approval for self-approval, and when (as other have noted) that external approval is withdrawn (e.g. a breakup, a fight, public criticism, being fired or demoted, etc.), then they are miserable.

    I’d say a good place to start for you is cognitive therapy. By yourself or with a therapist (no shame in that – I needed one for a time!), try to identify the thoughts driving your inability to love yourself. Try to isolate the individual reasons that you are not deserving of that love. Only then can you come up with ways of addressing those specific, discrete reasons.

  • Trudging Destiny

    Wow!!! So very close to what I blogged about last night and very similar to my own journey. So glad to know I am not the only one who has discovered these same truth although you wrote about it much more eloquently than I.

  • Drea

    Shaun/others,

    Self love is nothing more but self respect. These articles make it sound like it some magical thing.

    What your feeling for that man is YOUR feelings and just because you feel so deeply for this man does not mean you don’t love yourself.

    No one can technically love themselves like another could. It’s like calling a sandwich a sandwich with only one piece of bread.

    Meditation, etc etc can never replace love shared for and with another.

    And, I don’t understand why this phrase is such a big deal. You complete me – can merely be a sweet romantic jesture, some people are just helpless romantics, so what. Some people the love is strong that they may never be the same without another. Each situation is different.

    Sure you shouldnt “chase” or act needy for someone to validate you. But cmon we see a reflection of ourselves through others eyes. We need to feel loved. Period.

    Google “self-love why I’m over it”

    And Look at the work of Sue Johnson. It’s more balanced and practical,

  • Drea

    I never understood why this is ‘so wise’

    It’s simple. Respect yourself. Take care of yourself… but ultimately we all yearn to love and be loved esp with a person who feels the same about us. Thats it!

    Obviously you shouldn’t chase anyone down for anyone’s approval/validation.

    Cate you said…

    what passes for “love” is two people meeting each others needs, not for who they are, what they are, (or whatever you said, ) etc

    Errrr …

    Sounds like the act of uhh sharing love mutually to me.

    Let’s be clear in that we all need love, reassurance, recognition, affection, to feel important from to time to time.

    It’s simple. Respect yourself. Take care of yourself. Thats it!

    Being alone can be a good thing if that is truly your own preference or need time to reflect, but for the most part we are not hard wired to go at it alone. It also takes courage to be vulnerable to another. Some people even heal
    through together.

    Google “self love why I’m over it”

  • Drea

    To the author while I agree that others cant necessarily “validate us” yes we need to respect ourselves, but many times we feel
    Worthy because another person made us feel
    Worthy im some way or another and confirmed the way we felt. We all need a healthy dose of that.

    Everyone walks into a relationship with a need of some sort. Call it a choice, call it a need, whatever.

    Most everyone wants to feel like they mean something to someone else, or important, told their amazing, etc.

    But everyone wants to feel loved by the person they love for those reasons. I think it’s important to make that clear.

    There’s a difference between it being a need and being “too needy” .

    Just because you want to feel that, that person makes you feel important doesn’t mean you don’t think your worthy, however in relationships we may go through periods of time when we’re feeling low, or not worthy, and the person that loves you picks you up.

    What it sounds like to me is that you just had failed relationships because you haven’t found the right person. The reality is once we find someone who appreciates us and sticks it through with us you won’t necessarily need expectations.

  • Cate

    What I said — exactly — is that acting as each other’s “dealer” in an “I’ll meet your needs if you meet mine” transaction is not love. But if you think it is, that’s fine. Hopefully, those of us who choose to be in intimate relationships are wise enough to partner with people whose views are similar to our own in this regard.

  • Drea

    Yes, but you could easily say any relationship is a “meeting needs transaction” so I’m. It sure what you mean.

    I don’t like the way it’s worded, but yes.

  • Drea

    Just because your relationship didn’t work how does that now equate to you should “fill your life up”

    You say that as if making the one you love a priority is a bad thing and “doing you” is the thing to do.

    Maybe perhaps the relationship just didn’t work out and your feeling naturally hurt and lonely because you uhh truly loved her. Maybe the timing was bad, etc. Ever thought about that?

  • Drea

    Shaun,

    Sounds like you’ve been pretty bruised in your rationships which I’m sorry to hear.

    When you say 2 people meeting ‘each others needs’ transaction? Care to elaborate what you mean by that, and why in your opinion that’s not a good thing? Not sure what you meant by we bring this “stuff”?

    The way you worded it made it sound negative but part of a healthy relationship is loving eachother and yes you could say is about meeting basic needs such as affection, love, reassurance, from time to time. It kind of goes without saying. It does help immensely when another person believes in you, even when sometimes your down on your own. Some people even heal through relationships so I’m guess maybe I’m a little tripped up by what your saying. Thanks

  • Josh Kauffman

    Hi Drea,

    To your point, I write: “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.” Of course you want to be with someone who is nice, listens, supports you, has a good sense of humor, etc., but your joy in life cannot depend on finding those things – you need to be able to feel whole and joyful by yourself first.

    What I (and I believe many other people) was doing was looking to a relationship to make me feel adequate, valued, important, etc. The point is you already need to feel whole when coming into a relationship because those things must come from within. If you seek them externally, whether through a job, a relationship or whatever else, you will be disappointed as a matter of fact. This is why I think so many people who are so externally successful (e.g. Hollywood celebrities) have such dramatic and unhappy lives…it would be great to be a celebrity…the money, the fame, the excitement, the attention and love you receive. But, what you “need” is not something you can get externally, so whatever it is you think you need will never be enough. You need first to be full internally (or reasonably so, as we all have our egos and moments of feeling inadequate). The other thing you do is, because your needs often stem from a perceived deficiency in yourself (e.g. someone who lacks confidence), you try to conceal this by acting out in ways you think are desirable (i.e. “hustling for love”) in order to avoid being really seen. Over time, this often leads to a resentment and discomfort because you innately feel the strain of putting on an act all of the time to try to cover up your perceived failings. “I tried so hard to be pretty tonight, and he didn’t even notice!” That becomes anger and then an even greater lack of confidence. You need to know you’re beautiful without him telling you that.

    And, another thing I’ve noticed but didn’t write about here is that peoples’ “needs” are often complementary (in a bad way), making for a dramatic relationship. As a stereotypical example, a girl lacks confidence so seeks a guy to reassure and “take care of” her, while the guy also lacks confidence and seeks a damsel in distress to make himself feel like a big strong man. They supply these things to each other, but of course it’s never enough, so they act our a repeating dramatic cycle in which they rachet up their demands for attention, recognition, reassurance, etc. What they don’t know is what they’re looking for cannot be found from without. Sure, if you’re the girl in this situation and you’re dating a jerk who never supports you, you try to fix and/or get out of that relationship, But, your own feeling of adequacy and joy in life cannot be dependent on finding that guy to supply these things for you. In fact, I think it’s best to turn the whole situation around and instead of thinking first “what do I need in this relationship?” you can think “what do I bring to this relationship?”

    Drea, you seem to have a lot of interest in this topic and have challenged people here about their beliefs in a rather aggressive way. I think if you want to look into this topic some more, the book (among MANY MANY books) I would most highly recommend is “The Art of Loving” by Erich Fromm. Brene Brown also touches on many of these topics in her books and talks. I think if you try to expand your understanding about this first, you probably will be a little more tolerant of other peoples’ points of view.

  • Guest

    Focus on whats good about you and if others don’t like it, well guess what, that’s just too fucken bad, you don’t need those kind of people in your life.

    While it’s good that your honest —
    Everyone’s unique and everyone is valuable.

    If you don’t like something about yourself, if you think your fat, skinny, whatever, then change it.

    Take it easy on yourself. No one is better than you. And if it makes you feel any better, no one feels great all the time, in fact most of us don’t, we all have some type of issue.

  • Rick Hawk

    I feel really identified with this. I´ve realized that I need the acceptance of people most of the times. Although my real problem is that I will never have true acceptance from the entire people that surround me, so I try yo look for a specific person that would help and I call it love. Now I know, I can barely say I am aware of it. But there is this big struggle because I can’t find a way of letting go this need of feeling accepted. I dont know where to start when it come to accept myself. Its just not that easy to me.

  • Jhai

    Excellent article ?..Man u r intelligent in ur thinking… But I have a quest for myself.. if I am complete by the way I am…Wat if I am so low on life and the love which must flow out of me does not establish at “the moment” and how do u personally handle it wen u feel like u need tat push wen u r low

  • Guest

    Yes, but to some extent I think we all want that. Nothing wrong with needing others in a good way as long as you realize you are worth it.

    As far as self care not sure when the author mentioned that… but as far it being selfish why would it be selfish to take care of yourself?

    It’s only selfish when all you care about is yourself, and not others, and most importantly others who care about you.

    As far as this “cup analogy” I know some people who don’t think much of themselves or even think like that at all who are some of the most caring, loving, people you could ever meet.

  • Ana

    Brilliant article! After a recent breakup I spent a few days away on my own and during that time I came across a book ‘ you can heal your life’ by Louise Hay. As far as Louise is concerned , ” when we love ourselves , everything in life works”.
    I immediately started to put this into practise, using affirmations many times a day, looking into my eyes in the mirror and telling myself over and over ” I love and accept you exactly as you are”.
    To go back to the relationship that had just ended – I needed constant validation from my partner during our 3 1/2 years together. If he dared to look at or have thoughts about another female , it was disaster for me. All his thoughts had to be about me 100%. I pushed him away time and time again , and when he came crawling back that was my validation that he loved me and as a result I was worth something. It was a toxic relationship in many ways , lots of jealousy and insecurity on my part and low self esteem on his part to be putting up with my moods and constant scrutiny.
    I broke up with him, its only been 5 weeks and I miss him so much and I regret my decision. But it was always destined to end. Before I can love someone I need to learn to love myself. I’m on that journey now and ill update on how its going. I still have hope though that we will get back together eventually.

  • Molly Chen

    This is so beautifully written that it brought tears to my eyes. Thank you Joshua, for sharing your insights, kindness and love. This post as truly elevated my spirit. I’ve had a similar experience two years ago and the devastation made me shift my entire perspective in life. I began to work on myself and being mindful, I began to practice meditation and consciousness. Being a completely different person that I am today, I find myself feeling particularly empowered and touched as I read your post. If only more people can understand this concept, perhaps there will be more love and kindness in this world. However, that is the beauty of life. All we can do is to keep working on ourselves and spread kindness and love to the world.