I hear it a lot – if your relationship isn’t working or you have had a painful break-up, or you are unhappily single, it is because of the big love myth
“You have to love yourself first before anyone else will.”
It has almost become a cliche, that self-love is the cure all. What comes to mind is images of patting oneself on the back, a deluge of pamper products, affirmations on the fridge, expensive wellness retreats, designer handbags and mid-life motorbikes.
More seriously, the thinking goes that negative experiences in relationships, or a lack of one, means that you don’t value or love yourself enough. That you need an upgrade. Implying that if you really loved yourself then life would reflect that, your partner will magically change their ways, or the universe will drop the perfect one into your lap.
And this idea is often reinforced by friends and family who want to help you avoid suffering. They can see that you don’t have good boundaries, or choose partners badly, or tolerate bad behaviour. They see you get attached very quickly over and over again without checking if the other person is meeting you there, and then being emotionally devastated. At a loss for what else to say they tell you to learn how to love yourself more. Don’t work on your relationship, work on yourself. Or even, don’t be in relationship until you are happy in yourself. As one woman said to me, “How do I even do that and why do I have to accept being alone when they aren’t?”
This love myth does have some truth in it. The ability to self-regulate big emotions and negative thoughts is helpful. Leaning into one’s strengths and gifts is attractive. And the more we honour our own vulnerability and needs, the more we have the confidence to voice what is not ok for us, leave a toxic relationship or ask for better.
However, to me it is a limiting myth and often used as a protection from hurt or looking at our own behaviour to others. And it is usually covering over another belief “I am not ok, there is something deeply wrong with me.” This type of belief or mental construct is usually formed in early childhood and then you find yourself later in life getting busy ‘fixing’ yourself, trying to love yourself more, in order to have love.
Let’s pop that whole belief and imagine that you don’t have to fix yourself. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with you. You are not a broken kitchen appliance. However, you can work on your behaviours, self-expression, blocks and negative self-talk. You can choose to develop your strengths and gifts; you can choose love over fear. The fact that we can improve does not mean we are broken. A musician improves, a cook improves, a writer improves (hopefully :)).
Look around you at the people who are in loving relationships, warts and all. Do they love themselves more than most people? ‘No’ is generally the answer. They are growing in love because they are in a loving relationship and working on the areas of unlove within their relationship. They didn’t believe they had to be perfect or fix themselves or love themselves more before they entered relationship. In fact, they often see relationship as a way to grow in self-love.
Single people often look at inappropriate people they are attracting and say “I must not be ready; I don’t love myself enough” or “I only meet psychos and narcissists so there is no point in dating. I’m going to work on myself first before I love anyone else.” And the impenetrable “It’s my karma, I am meant to be alone.”
I work with singles and couples to help them see underlying patterns that are playing out painfully in relationships. To loosen the contractions of mind and body is like unkinking a hose so water can flow more freely. So it is in relating, dissolving the blocks allows more energy and love to flow. Psychological wounds and traumas can and do affect our ability to love and working through them with the right support is good work to do.
In a spiritual sense this love myth turns our attention inward and focused on me, myself and I. Not a bad thing for a period when needed, but it’s not an end game. Better to focus on acting towards others with more love, bringing yourself more fully into life. Recognise that you are love itself, an evolving human being, not an imperfect, fixable thing.
Both masculine and feminine can subscribe to this love myth. I find it is still often the feminine essence that tends to believe something is innately ‘wrong’ with her. While traditionally the masculine tends to want to fix and upgrade the externals of his life, career, house, car, to be more worthy to attract a beloved or keep his current one happy.
Truly loving oneself is a life-long up and down process of varied experiences and relationships, of risking self-expression and gaining awareness. It’s a hard-won authenticity and trust in one’s own values, gifts and integrity. Challenges face us at every corner. There are times alone and times in partnership, we can embrace both.
Nothing is gained by deciding to wait to love. But yes do your own work, so you are clearer and more open, while allowing life and the other to enter you.
“Deep, real work. Living Love helped me become a better person. Realising my true nature – Love.” Vin, finance