capturing the beautiful calamity of healing in therapy

Why You Absolutely Must Love Yourself

When you cannot love yourself, not much else in your life will really matter.

The accomplishments won’t matter. The perfect body or the perfect car or perfect house won’t really matter, either. You may be on the proverbial hamster wheel towards success, doing what you are supposed to be doing, going through the motions of an adjusted and functional life, but without the component of self-love, a chronic hollowness and emptiness will prevail.

Most likely, you will attempt to fill this hollowness with whatever substituting forms of validation and security you can find, whether it be in another person, the throes of an encompassing addiction, or the materialistic chase for a bigger and better life. It may even take on the more subtle forms of constantly trying to “make yourself over,” whether it be with a person, job, appearance, location, or life passion. We will do whatever we can to reduce this void, and yet these empty pangs in your heart represent a depletion of the one and only nutrient it craves: love.

Nobody leaves this world unwounded, and for many people with complex and severe traumas, the self-hatred has permeated any resemblance of their identities. I work with these people everyday. They have been conditioned to see the worst in themselves.

It may not be your fault you don’t love yourself, but it is your responsibility to learn how. Your mother may have abused you. You may have been bullied. You may have grown up in a world that tried confining, stereotyping, or pushing you into a person you didn’t want to be. None of this was fair, and you are allowed to be angry, upset, and hurt. Yet, despite the people and the reasons pushing you to hate yourself, only you have the power to turn that around. Internalizing the hatred only adds suffering on top of your already-experienced pain.

Self-love is a foundation. And without a foundation, no matter how carefully you build the infrastructure of your external life, no matter how attentive you are to detail and craft, you will likely live in a fear that it can and will fall apart. You will still feel hollow. And no matter how you seek to fill that void, whether it be through other people, work, substances, money, or whatever other external component you can latch onto, nothing will really work in a sustaining way.

And, even more poignantly, without loving yourself, you remain stunted in the ability to appreciate the virtues of love from the rest of the world.

There is a popular saying that you can’t love another person until you love yourself. I believe in revising it to, you can’t receive love from another person until you love yourself.  The act of giving love is easy. It’s merciless and altruistic. We love because it feels good and because we are innately hardwired to want to connect.  Most people I work with know how to love and caretake. They know how to rely, depend, and ultimately, cling onto other people. In fact, they spend so much time and energy loving other people that they don’t actually have to face the lack of love they have for themselves!

Unfortunately, they don’t know how to receive love. When someone loves them, they fail to believe it. They are suspicious and anxious, frightened and insecure. They become clingy and possessive or distant and withdrawn. They play mind games for control. They push people away and desperately pull them back. They continue falling for the wrong people. They are surrounded by toxicity. They shrug off the compliments and hone in on the perceived flaws. They become chameleons for the other person or people, being who they think they should be, doing what they think they should do, making the decisions they think they should make. They are frequently unstable, and, thus, they are frequently miserable!

To effectively receive love, you need to believe you deserve it. It is nobody else’s responsibility to continuously convince yourself that. Self-love is about consciousness, about forgiving yourself for being a human, about allowing yourself to make mistakes and learning from them, about appreciating the unique and complex attributes that you single-handedly contribute to the universe. When you have the willingness to believe you are worthy and special, you start exploring and processing the layers of the guilt, shame, and fears keeping you so allegedly unloveable.

People get stuck on the road to self-love because it’s an unfamiliar road. It’s one where you have to stand beside yourself, rather than fight, beat, and criticize yourself the whole way. You have to trust that you can take care of yourself on this road, that you have all the resources needed for protection, happiness, and worthiness inside of you. You have to make room for gratitude and acceptance, for letting go of regrets and resentments, for focusing on what’s good and beautiful and exciting in your life, even if it feels impossible and daunting. It may not be an easy road, but that’s only because it’s different from the journey you’re used to taking. After all, when you are used to heavy traffic jams and honking horns and aggression and high volumes of stress, a peaceful and present journey almost seems laughable.

Give yourself the willingness to take that peaceful and present journey. The gift of self-love opens room for growth, healing, and, ultimately, broader forms of love. You create the possibility for something new. You create the ability to nurture the hollowness inside yourself. After all, the filling, escaping, and denying this void only procrastinates happiness. In a life as short as the one you have, you don’t ever need permission to take the path towards feeling good.