Updated: Jun 23, 2021
You've likely seen all sorts of people and articles and influencers and self-help gurus say things like "You can't truly love somebody else until you learn to love yourself" or "Self-love is the only way to heal from xyz." But what if you don't really love yourself? What if you've spent a lifetime comparing yourself to everyone else in the world and have whole lists of reasons why you don't love yourself? Are you a failure at one more thing???
I emphatically say, absolutely not! It is 1000% normal to compare yourself to everyone else in the world. It is just what we do in a culture that literally has entire industries devoted to making us feel bad because we don't look like the latest trendy body type or have the best and newest products. If you consume any media, you have been exposed to this. (My recommendation is to stop following these sites and accounts online and start following accounts and sites that show a wide variety of people with different shapes and sizes and colors and abilities - the more variety we see, the more comfortable it becomes for us.)
Back to the point...do you love yourself? Is loving yourself a requirement to loving others? Can you only truly heal if you love yourself?
Again, I'm voting an emphatic no! If you're like me and have participated in decades of self-loathing and negative self talk, do you believe you can just one day decide to love yourself and poof! you love yourself?! Maybe you can* and I wish that for you with my whole heart! But knowing a little bit about neuroscience means I know how new thoughts and behaviors are formed and become habits - repetition, i.e. time, effort and energy.
As I thought about this, it is rare to fall instantly in love with someone, unless of course that someone is a dog, in which case all bets are off. But people-wise, don't you generally like someone first? Don't you generally get an inkling that this might be someone you could be friends with and then decide to get to know them a bit before you notice the 'falling in love with them' feelings? It takes time, effort and energy to get to know a person. And after knowing them for awhile, you may notice that your feelings have deepened - whether it's your BFF or a potential partner*.
So, instead of beating ourselves up over not being able to love ourselves, what if we took some time, effort and energy to get to know ourSelf, who we really are outside of the roles we play in life? You are more than a daughter or mother or employee or chauffer to the neighborhood children. You are more than a spouse or church member or fixer of all.the.things. You are kind and loving and fierce and funny. You have dreams and desires. What if you took a few minutes each day to remember those things about you? To celebrate you because you're the only one who can make your 3 year old's boo boos better or the one everyone comes to for advice...the list goes on. What if you practiced liking yourself a little bit every day instead of worrying that you don't love yourself enough? What if you got to know you again?
*Adding an addendum because there are certain hormonal actions that occur, for example the birth of a baby where mom secretes oxytocin that acts to help her fall in love with her newborn. Additionally, I actually do believe that we can "fall in love" with ourSelf or others in an instant if the necessary motivation and reward are present - change can truly happen in an instant. But for most of us, loving ourSelf is very difficult and very different than loving somebody else and why I recommend starting with liking parts of ourSelf first!