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Myth: You Can’t Love Someone Until You Love Yourself

Linda: There is a kernel of truth in the notion that to be eligible for a deeply loving relationship, you must love yourself. It is true, that there must be a certain level of self-esteem and self-love to feel worthy of a deeply loving partnership. And also, this idea can be taken to an extreme. Here are a few examples of what taking it to an extreme can look like.

Afraid to get involved: Some people are afraid to involve themselves in a loving partnership and use the excuse that they are working on loving themselves first so that they can participate in a successful relationship later. It is important to be honest with ourselves if we are avoiding getting involved because we are afraid of getting hurt, being left, being exploited, losing our freedom, or whatever fear may be driving us to delay. It’s important, to tell the truth, if we are avoiding commitment. We may be excusing ourselves from the challenge of the committed partnership due to fear.

Being perfectionistic: Some people have extraordinarily high standards that they believe they must achieve before they are eligible for partnership. They put undue pressure on themselves to be advanced in communication skills, empathy, negotiation skills, and all the many ways that they know assist a partnership to thrive. Their self-esteem may be so low that they interpret their lack of skill to be in the severe range when it may be an ordinary learning deficit. Because of a belief in their inadequacy, they put partnership way off in the future. They hope that one day they will be actualized enough to be eligible for partnership.

Justifying their selfishness: Many people keep waiting for their partner to feel satiated, believing that eventually their love will be returned; but they never experience that. Their partner may be using a manipulative tactic to justify their self-indulgence. If you strongly believe in the myth, it may leave you vulnerable to their claim that their work is to learn to love themselves. They may say, “You can support me by giving me more love. It is in your best interests to be doing this because ultimately, I am going to be able to give more love.” But they may want to have their freedom while still enjoying the comfort of abundant love and support without having to reciprocate.

Both partners may be confusing love with indulgence. What is actually happening is that it is NOT the other person’s intention to become a more loving person to another, it is to receive more love for themselves. Ultimately, the partners of these takers can become worn out from too much giving.

It is a self-respecting act when we draw boundaries with those with whom we are in a relationship so that giving and taking becomes balanced. We then say, “No, I will not give to you right now,” we are saying that we think well enough of ourselves that we are insisting on reciprocity. We will not be bluffed by the manipulation that they are doing their work when they are actually indulging their own selfishness. We may have to risk losing the relationship for it to rise to a higher level of success.

If we look at the issue from both/and school of thought, we see that we can participate in a loving partnership while we are learning how to rise in self-esteem. We can become aware of any fears that may be holding us back from entering into a partnership. And if we are already in a partnership, we can identify what fears may be holding us back from deepening our involvement with our partner. Once we bring our fears up to our conscious mind, we have a chance to deal effectively with them so that they no longer hold us back. By making high integrity choices where what we think, feel, say, and do are all lined up, our self-esteem will rise.

We benefit greatly from the orientation that it’s all on the job training. As soon as our positive self-regard deepens, our capacity to receive love enlarges. But that doesn’t mean that we must deprive ourselves of the love of another person until that occurs. We grow most while we are receiving an abundance of love. Receiving high-quality support encourages the process of growing into our essential being. Rather than self-love coming first, the process of learning to love both self and other is circular. We become self-loving quickly and most efficiently while we are both actively giving and receiving love.

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