If you can’t love yourself, how are you gonna love anybody else? Words we’ve all heard. Words which make perfect, logical sense. If you aren’t the best possible version of yourself, why would you want to put that onto anyone else? All your problems, insecurities and baggage? I understand the sentiment but I just can’t carry it out with any conviction.
If you’ve grown up in any kind of broken home, or with a particularly narcissistic family, toxic parents or just a generally abusive situation there’s a chance a core, internal part of you will always hate yourself a little bit. It’s programmed so deep, so hard-wired that even if you’re successful in your field, doing well in life and, yes, even if you’ve found the perfect partner it’s still there. That part may be so insistent that all the affirmations, staring at your reflection in a mirror and chanting “I’m worthy of love, I’m worthy of love”, meditation and therapy might never make it go away.
And that’s okay. With enough time, patience and practice you may be able to accept the little demon who lives inside of you and says dark, horrible things once in a while. But you might never be able to fully ‘love’ yourself. This is where an amazing partner can step in to fill the gap. Even just a little.
The Greek philosopher Plato posed the theory humans were cut in half by the Gods who felt threatened by their potential when they were one, whole person. By cutting the original androgynous people in half their power was halted and kept in check. In this way we are all walking wounded, seeking our other half or ‘soulmate’. As Aristophanes puts it:
“Love is born into every human being; it calls back the halves of our original nature together; it tries to make one out of two and heal the wound of human nature. Each of us, then, is a ‘matching half’ of a human whole…and each of us is always seeking the half that matches him (or her).”
I don’t subscribe to the idea of a soulmate, having been lucky enough to have fallen deeply in love more than once and with each partner for different reasons, but I’m starting to think self-love is definitely not a task which has to be undertaken alone.
Recently this was highlighted to me during Valentines Day. I’m not normally one to go for organised celebrations or need an excuse to show my love for another human but this one was a little bit special for me. This one I found some part of my self worth. In an unexpected and trivial way, this Valentine’s was possibly a turning point in some small way to me becoming a complete person who might just have a capacity for self-love.
My partner hid several small cards in various locations for me to find throughout the day. Nothing too expensive, nothing too flashy, but it was such a beautiful sentiment it surprised me even after all the time we’ve been together. Whilst discovering the third or fourth card, an idea flashed through my brain. “Why would she go to the trouble of doing all of this if you’re such a bad person? It’s not like you’re rich (she makes more money than me) overtly successful or excessively talented in any way. What would she have to gain?” This was followed by the thought: “Maybe you’re not as shitty a person as you believe…”
And there it was. A sense of self-love which came from an external source. No affirmations. No internal searching. Just a few simple gestures which hit me with their honesty, love, generosity and authentic sentiment.
I may never believe I’m a good person, a decent human being or worthy of love. But when I look at what my partner’s done for me, what she’s still doing for me and surprising me after nearly a decade together I may come close to thinking “I must be worth something for someone to put all this effort in to making me smile with no obvious repayment in return. Maybe I’m not such a terrible human after all.”
When this thought can finally penetrate deep enough, I might just love myself a little bit more. If only I can see myself through someone else’s eyes I might just find some self-love. And then I might be able to love them just a little bit more, too.
Self-love and acceptance can be difficult so it makes sense to have someone to lighten the load a little. It might not even be a romantic partner. Maybe it’s a family member or close friend. Or perhaps it’s just your pet who’s always glad to see you. Maybe they know something about you that you can’t see.
Don’t wait until you love yourself or feel ‘complete’ before putting yourself out there and making yourself ready to love. Be open to the idea you don’t have to be perfect or love yourself to find love with another. And maybe they’ll help you a little bit along the way while you help them, too. Because even the one who’s perfect in your eyes will struggle with their own sense of self-love sometimes.
It is not what you are that holds you back, it is what you think you are… Denis Waitley