Do You Have to Love Yourself Before You Love Others?

self loveSince I’ve been on a kick of debunking common self-care myths, let me tackle the biggest one of all: that you have to fully love yourself before you can love and be loved by others. Like most of these ideas, this started with the best of intentions, but has mutated into something that often does more harm than good.

Loving yourself is wonderful. I have Leo for daaays, and I want everyone to regard themselves as luminous sparks warming and lighting the world! I even created a reading just for reminding people how wonderful and strong they really are!

Furthermore, loving yourself is protective. When you have proper regard for your own worth, you don’t accept poor treatment. You will not tolerate anyone treating you as less than human, and you will create boundaries to keep out anyone who would try. That is vitally important, and it’s no wonder that people have emphasized it so much over time.

But what if you have different challenges? What if, for instance, you’ve never seen love modeled? What if you’ve been deprived of affection for most of your life and told you were unlovable? Are you telling me that finding someone to love you purely and unconditionally as you already are isn’t a good idea? That it wouldn’t be healing? That experiencing real love from another for the first time wouldn’t be its own teaching experience about self-love?

Or what if you’ve been in relationships that have hurt you? Maybe you’ve been abused or betrayed or abandoned. Maybe love feels like a minefield. Maybe you’re too afraid to trust again, and maybe you have good reason. Well, then, wouldn’t the unconditional love of, say, a pet help soothe your heart? Wouldn’t the pure, innocent trust and unbreakable bond remind your soul of what real love is?

Again, self-love does matter, and it’s an admirable goal. And it’s true that when we don’t love ourselves, we can be prone to making painful mistakes in relationships. But this idea that a bad relationship with yourself means that you are somehow fundamentally unsuitable for relationships, or that you have to earn the ability to be loved is incredibly harmful.

The truth is, we all need love. We are all worthy of it. Difficulty giving and receiving love is a genuine tragedy that we should work to remedy. But I don’t think we can remedy it with lack and exclusion and gatekeeping. We remedy lack of love with love. It’s as simple as that.

What do you think about the idea that self-love has to come first? 

17 thoughts on “Do You Have to Love Yourself Before You Love Others?”

  1. I heard someone say a few years ago, “how can you expect someone to love you if you don’t even love yourself?” I believe that to be true. Because essentially you end up projecting how you feel about yourself onto others. And they can’t make you feel about yourself what you’re incapable of feeling for yourself.

    In one of Abraham Hicks’ videos she said, “you can’t talk about how the drought is unpleasant and attract the rain.”

    Love might come to you, but it won’t last unless you work on yourself. I think it starts by understanding your attachment style and LOTS of self reflection on any unmet needs from childhood.

  2. “ Are you telling me that finding someone to love you purely and unconditionally as you already are isn’t a good idea? That it wouldn’t be healing? That experiencing real love from another for the first time wouldn’t be its own teaching experience about self-love?”

    Yes!!! I think this is the best thing that could ever happen. I think it IS healing, and I have experienced it both as the giver and receiver. However, if the partner who has a hard time with self love is inspired but unable to follow through, the roller coaster of ups and downs that never leads to healing and resolution can be very difficult for the one loving them. While unconditional is without expectation, I think there is a basic human decency that should still occur.

  3. Avatar
    Maria Causseaux

    I think it depends on the 2 people, and many variables. I believe someone can sometimes show another how to love, and also help them see themselves in a new light. If it were not so, we would all be doomed, because who would show us the way forward?

  4. Everyone acts like you have to be 100% Self Actualized and Love Yourself before you can possibly find lasting love. Like you have to be 100% perfect (and not wanting love!) as you are before you can finally have love bestowed upon you like a lollipop. It’s one of those things people say to single people all the time. You can’t have love until you think you are a wonderful person! (Uh, tell this to my supervisors when they hate my guts? How am I supposed to think I’m wonderful when people in charge of me tell me how awful I am?)

    It just feels like another thing to shame single people over, honestly.

    1. Also, plenty of people find true love in their teen years or twenties or early life without being self-actualized. Why am I so awful I have to jump through all those hoops and others do not?

      1. Thank you for this great post! The idea that you have to fully love yourself before anyone can love you sounds like it comes straight from the malignant capitalism handbook: “Unless you’re perfect, you don’t deserve to be cared about. You haven’t EARNED it.” Cruel, and incorrect too. People who don’t love themselves perfectly don’t deserve love any less. And many have overcome trauma that would have knocked those judging them on their asses.

    2. I would argue that it’s the opposite of what you’re suggesting. That you love and accept yourself with full knowledge that you’re not perfect. Perfect doesn’t exist – and it’s the acceptance of that, and absolutely believing that you’re 100% worthy, whole and complete no matter what opinions other people have of you, that *is* self love.

  5. agree with much of this – building a healthy relationship with yourself is super important and having self-love, but if you are super hard on yourself like me – I am vulnerable to making this a standard for myself that is opposite of unconditional – which I believe is along the lines of what you are saying, too, with these concepts becoming harmful rather than helpful. Also, beating myself up when things go wrong with a potential partner… assuming oh, it must be *me* because if I were so full of self-love and self-actualized this wouldn’t have happened… as a friend said, you don’t need to be perfect for the right person, otherwise, no one would be partnered.

  6. also, yes, love comes in many forms… I asked the universe for love & received my dog – one of the greatest, most profound unconditional loves of my life.

    and too, there’s been plenty of times the universe brought me love during some of the lowest points in my life from profound tragedy. I certainly didn’t give two shits about self-love in those dark hours… I could hardly feel at all, but I felt like the universe was throwing me a bone to help keep my heart alive.

  7. I love love your debunking Midara! The truth is always more complicated and informative than the myth.
    Thank you!

  8. This is something that is bandied around rather often. On the flip side, self love too much and you’re declared a narcissist by online/armchair psychologists. Can’t win really!

    Jesting aside, I don’t put too much ‘work’ into self love, as that only sends the message to myself that I don’t have any. If you work too hard at self love, that affirms to yourself that you are not lovable, and can spill over into self criticism, perfectionist tendencies, and navel gazing. And paradoxically, pushing love away, if you deem yourself as not whole or complete yet.

    Nobody is whole and complete, that’s the point of life! Is to grow with, and through others, relationships. If we were all born perfect, then there’s no growth or learning, it would be boring.

    Also, love doesn’t come when you are NOT looking. Or when you ARE looking. It just comes at the most absurdly inconvenient time 😀 that’s why we have Uranus transits!

    Self-acceptance, I prefer that. As long as it’s not used to excuse or justify bad behaviour, rather the opposite. Acceptance that there are consequences to our ‘shadow’ sides, but able to forgive yourself anyway. Harder task than self love to be honest.

  9. I really enjoy this consideration. With Uranus now in Venus-ruled Taurus perhaps there is a zap of evolutionary energy transforming and levelling up our Earthly awareness and capabilities. We can be as individuals reflections of our macro community personalities. Loving someone else is transformative. The ‘process’ of love co-creates and grows us. Loving someone really means loving ourselves because love is celebratory and healing. Again thinking of Taurus I think of trees and the mother trees feeding the community of trees. Such activity helps keep each individual alive as much as the sharing is for the other and the community too.

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