You’ve heard it before.
“Self-love is the most important kind of love.”
Or this little doozy:
“You must love yourself before you can love anyone else.”
You can’t pick up a book in the personal growth section of Barnes and Noble or scroll through Pinterest without some guru pontificating about self-love. And while one member of our community associated the “self-love” phenomenon with Eat, Pray, Love, I can vouch for the phrase having been around much longer. As a lifelong consumer of self-help books (I know, shocking, right?), I’ve been reading about loving thyself for decades. And it’s still a thing.
I’ll be honest with you. I hate any saying about self-love or loving yourself. It’s cheesy as shit, for one thing. But much more importantly, it’s vague. And vague advice gets interpreted in all kinds of troublesome ways, to the point where it becomes meaningless. So, at the request of a community member, I decided to explore the big question:
What the fuck does it mean to love yourself?
Just off the top of one’s head, self-love can mean anything from narcissism to masturbation to self-respect. But in the context of dating, relationship, and personal success advice, it typically means something deeper. For example:
Loving yourself can mean erecting good boundaries and not allowing yourself to tolerate poor treatment from others. In this context, self-love = self-respect.
Loving yourself can mean respecting your body and health by not engaging in self-abuse such as excessive drugs, alcohol, or crappy food, or letting stress ruin your life or your health. Here, self-love = self-care.
Loving yourself can mean valuing your worth as a person regardless of how you compare to others and regardless of how overweight, broke, unsuccessful, different, weird, nerdy, introverted, shy, anxious, awkward, short, or clueless you are. Here, self-love = self-esteem.
Loving yourself can mean believing in your goals and abilities, even if you don’t always know WTF you’re doing. In other words, self-love = self-confidence.
Loving yourself can even mean putting your needs before others, because if you don’t take care of your needs, no one will. Thus, self-love = self-absorption.
I can go on and on. Loving yourself can mean a lot of different things.
Moreover, take the “you must love yourself before you can love anyone else” notion. If that were true, few of us would ever love anyone. Because let’s face it, developing self-respect, self-care, self-esteem, and self-confidence takes time and getting the emotional shit kicked out of you now and again. (So does self-absorption, but that’s something we don’t want to aim for. Self-absorbed people are irritating).
Having said that, the more you develop the self-respect, care, esteem, confidence, and any other good “self” things, the better your relationships will be. Why? Because successful relationships with others start with you. Your relationships reflect what’s going on inside of you, so the healthier you are, the better your relationships. But how do you develop these inner things? Through educating yourself as much as possible, and through the trials and tribulations of life. In fact, terrible relationships rife with mistreatment can teach us more self-respect than anything else there is… IF we choose to see them as a brutal, trial-by-fire lesson rather than just a shitty experience we want to forget.
Plus, the word “love” confuses people. Everyone has a different definition of love, but we know it when we feel it. We feel it for our partners, our kids, for family members and those closest to us. We would do most anything for these people. But feeling that way about ourselves, while interesting conceptually, kind of makes no intuitive sense.
To me, respecting ourselves makes sense. Respect is straightforward. We treat ourselves decently, and we treat others decently. Sure, people disagree on what “decent” means, but there’s more agreement with that than there is with what “love” means. Respect isn’t so much a feeling as it is an action. It’s something you DO. You can do it for others and for yourself. Many would argue that love is the same way, but again, that feels conceptual. Love has a strong “feeling” component to it (thanks to oxytocin and other naturally occurring chemicals that allow us to bond with others) and we don’t feel that for ourselves.
What do you think about “love yourself?” What does it mean to you and how did you learn to do it?