When I was growing up, the idea of self-love didn’t exist. In fact, people who “loved themselves” were called selfish, self-centered or stuck-up. I was taught that being selfless and sacrificing yourself for others was a great quality. The general understanding was that relationships thrived when each person was focused on making the other happy.
Both of my parents were selfless, self-sacrificing, and devoted to making each other happy. But no matter how much they gave of themselves, no matter how hard they tried to please each other, neither of them was happy. So, I went looking for answers. Here’s what I found.
No matter how much another person loves you, if you don’t love and care for yourself, you will not be happy. If you ignore your own feelings, or judge yourself harshly, or turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms to avoid experiencing and dealing with pain or discomfort, you are abandoning yourself. The hard truth is that self-abandonment will always make you unhappy, no matter how many people love you.
When you relinquish responsibility for your own sense of self-worth and inner safety, and for your own pain and joy, instead making your partner responsible for your feelings, you will feel constantly unworthy. That’s because when you reject responsibility for your feelings, you are actually rejecting yourself – rejecting your inner child, who is the part of you feeling these feelings.
When you reject yourself by avoiding responsibility for your feelings, even if you don’t realize it, you start expecting your partner to give you what you are not giving to yourself. The more you abandon yourself, the more you try to manipulate your partner into giving you the love that you are not giving to yourself.
The more you try to control your partner – with anger, blame, withdrawal, compliance or resistance – the more your partner also tries to control you. Love vanishes in the face of all this controlling behavior.
This is what I saw happening with my parents and what I continue to see in the relationships of the many couples I work with as a counselor.
The more you abandon yourself, the emptier you feel within. You don’t have love to share with your partner because you feel empty inside. Instead of being able to share your love with your partner, you are trying to get love to fill the vacuum.
If you want to change this pattern, it’s crucial that you internalize and act on the belief that self-love is not selfish. Abandoning yourself and expecting others to sacrifice their needs in order to replenish you, regardless of the consequences, is selfish.
Loving yourself is about learning to value who you really are — your true soul self, your beautiful inner child — and treating these parts of you with the same caring and respect with which you would treat an actual child.
This means acknowledging painful feelings with a desire to understand what they’re telling you. These feelings carry important messages about how you are treating yourself and how others are treating you. Don’t suffocate them with self-judgments and unhealthy coping mechanisms.
It is only when you take responsibility for your own happiness, pain, inner safety and self-worth that you have a well of self-replenishing love that you can share with your partner. When both of you have this source, and share it with each other, you create the most wonderful experience in life — a circle of love.