There’s a cliché saying that you have to love yourself first, before you can deeply love other people, be it your spouse, family or friends – assuming that we know different kinds of love. It’s a lovely saying for sure, but let’s try to analyze and find the answer to why it’s so important to love yourself first, from a very practical point of view.
The easiest first step we can take is with the starting-point that there’s something about you that you don’t love – it can be a part of your body, a part of your character, the situation you’re in or anything else. You see something about yourself in a very negative perspective, whether it’s true or not. If you have a false image of yourself or a situation you face, that’s called cognitive distortion, but it’s also very possible that you really do have a shortcoming you don’t like.
So you don’t like something about yourself. In interaction with other people, the people you love, three main options exist. The first one is that (1) they have the thing you don’t like about yourself (for example someone has a lot of money and you are poor), the second one is that (2) they lack the same thing as you (you are both poor), and the third one is that (3) they’re in the process of acquiring the thing you want, be it more money, a better looking body, a personality trait or whatever.
When they don’t have it
If they lack the same something as you lack and don’t like about yourself, two things can happen. The first one is that (1) you feel a little better about yourself, because you aren’t the only one lacking that thing. There’s someone else in the same position as you. Life becomes a little bit easier. At the same time, you’re reminded of your shortcoming every time you greet that person. Thus, while it does makes you feel a little better, it also makes you feel a little bit worse, because you can see the reflection of your shortcoming in the other person.
The biggest problem on top of that is that two or more people getting together with the same shortcoming usually don’t fight together to overcome it, but instead bitch, whine and complain about life being unfair. They enforce negative thinking in each other and while it may be a good short-term release of emotional tension, it only enforces misery and dissatisfaction about oneself in the long run.
It’s a negative spiral. You don’t love a part of yourself and it bothers you. You meet someone that has the same shortcoming. You both complain and cry about it, without doing anything. You’re even more focused on your shortcoming and the negativity occupies more of your time and cognitive resources. Consequently, you feel even worse and love yourself even less. You simply can’t live a positive life with a negative mind.
The funny thing is that if the other person has the same shortcoming, but that doesn’t really bother them (in other words, they don’t hate that part of their life), chemistry for a deep relationship usually isn’t even there. That’s the second scenario that can happen. (2) You start hating on yourself but it falls on deaf ears. You get confused and either the angle of the other person becomes eye-opening for you and you start loving yourself as well, or you never ever want to meet that person again.
When you hate something about yourself and you encounter a person you love that has that same shortcoming:
- You probably bitch, whine and complain together, which is far from a loving and caring relationship.
- If they don’t hate the same thing about themselves as you do, there is usually a friction of values, and your capacity to love that person decreases. You want to bitch and release some emotional tension, but they don't listen. It hurts even more.
- Their angle can be eye-opening for you and you start loving yourself like they love themselves (some people know how to be happy and live life with little money for example). In that case you increase your capacity for love – capacity to love yourself and other people. But that rarely happens.
When they do have it
A much more difficult situation takes place when someone you love has something that you lack and hate about yourself. Every time you meet them, they remind you of your shortcoming. Every time you meet them, you get envious. Every time you meet them, hate takes over your heart and negative thinking conquers your mind. Instead of focusing on love and having a positive relationship with someone, you let the negative prevail and decrease the potential of the relationship.
The hard thing is that this may happen subconsciously, without you being aware of it. That’s the shittiest thing in the whole picture. You think you’re happy for your lover or friend because they have something you don’t, but subconsciously, you resent them for being “better” than you are. When you repress your feelings and lie to yourself, even with the positive intention of having a good relationship with someone, the monster in the shape of a negative feeling grows inside you and strikes when you least expect it.
Usually something else starts bothering you about that person, or you become grumpy, annoying, judging towards a person you love, you start looking for other weaknesses of that person or how could you appear more superior to them in any other way, and so on. The point is: instead of having a loving relationship, everything turns into “relationshit”, just because you hate something about yourself.
The solution is very simple, and yet so hard. You either start working hard towards acquiring that thing you’re lacking and hate about yourself, or you forgive yourself and accept yourself as you are, really deep down. Otherwise your relationships become extremely intense in a negative kind of way sooner or later – lacking love, understanding and mutual respect; and you may not even know why.
- When you hate something about yourself and the person you love has it, it’ll bother you, consciously or subconsciously. You’ll become unhealthily competitive, you’ll judge, you’ll try to have more control and so on. That’s definitely not love.
- You either start fighting for overcoming the shortcoming that you hate about yourself, and the loved person in your life who doesn’t have the same shortcoming can help you (and if they love you, they will), or forgive yourself and accept yourself as you are. If you are not prepared to work hard for something, work hard to love yourself more. There are some ideas how at the end of the article how you can do it.
When they work hard to get it
The third option is that a person you love works hard for something that you see as your shortcoming. It may motivate you to also start the same process of abolishing that shortcoming, and it should, but that rarely happens; especially if you hate that shortcoming about yourself so much that you don’t have the self-trust and confidence that you can abolish it.
That’s why hate towards oneself really does count as an extreme negative emotion. It takes away your power of rational choice, the power to act and fight in a constructive way while keeping positive relationships with the people you love. It clouds your judgment and misshapes reality, the reality that no one is perfect in this world and everyone has their strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
That’s also what usually happens when someone you love starts working on something that you’re lacking. You try to stop them, hinder them with guilt and negative talk, and try to enforce old habits and behavioral patterns on them. Because you’re not only afraid that someone you love will have something that you’re lacking, you’re also afraid you may lose them because of that; because you don’t trust in yourself, since you can’t trust yourself if you hate something about yourself.
A stereotypical situation is when someone starts working out and eating much healthier, and all their friends start mocking them, inviting them for pizza and beer, and so on. Even a spouse can start behaving the same way. Because it reminds other people that they don’t have the willpower to do it or they’re afraid of losing someone, because their sexual market value will grow as a result of gained muscles.
Forgive yourself and love yourself
The very sad thing is that people who really hate something about themselves usually aren’t even responsible for their hate on some level. Usually they had broken homes, bad relationships with their parents, experienced shocking events in their youth, or their tutors were eternal critics, never satisfied with anything; or maybe they were somehow so different from the society that they felt rejected. That’s how cognitive distortions are born and how people start hating something about themselves.
Nevertheless, you have to take responsibility for your thoughts and feelings at some point. Using past as an excuse or feeling sorry for yourself is completely unproductive and a big waste. You have to fight and constantly improve yourself, but not by feeling hate towards yourself and others, because you don’t like or love something about yourself. You have to fight and keep improving yourself with positive feelings of love, creativity, collaboration, tolerance and courage.
The more issues you have with yourself, the weaker your capacity for love is and the more issues you have with other people, even the closest ones. It’s that simple. The more issues you have, the more things bother you about other people in one way or another.
If you’re on a very strict diet and someone you love has good genes and can eat whatever they want, it’ll bother you every time they’re stuffing their face with chocolate. It’ll bother you and prevent you from really loving them. If you don’t have money and your beloved friend lives a lavish life, buying all the things you can’t afford, and they brag about how much money they’re making, it will bother you sooner or later. God forbid that they inherited money, because it’ll probably bother you even more, reminding you that life isn’t fair.
That’s why you have to forgive yourself and accept yourself as you are. The fewer issues you have about yourself and the better you feel in your skin, perfect or not, the greater your capacity for love is. I know this is easy to say, but here are some ideas how to do it:
- Write down all the things about yourself that you’re proud of and read them every day when you wake up. Just before or after a cold shower that will get your wheels going.
- Write down all the things you’re thankful for in your life and read them every day before sleep.
- Compete only with yourself. Compare yourself to you five or ten years ago, while keeping a very clear picture of what you want in the future.
- List all your strengths. Really excel at something, so it’ll boost your confidence and you’ll feel prouder of yourself.
- If you hate something about someone, analyze which part of yourself you’re really hating. It’s a good way of getting to know yourself
- If you know you hate something about yourself, think which relationships your hate could hinder, just because someone has something you don’t have or is in the process of acquiring it. Remember, maybe you’re doing it subconsciously, sabotaging the relationship to protect yourself.
- When people are in the process of acquiring something you want, make sure that motivates you to start working with them. Be happy that you have a new teammate.
- When people have something you want, learn from them as much as possible. You can have really good insight into how they did it. If they’ve inherited it, make sure you work hard in life so that your kids will inherit the same thing. Brainstorm if there are any other ways for how they can help you. For example, if someone you love inherited money, they’re potential investors for your business idea.
- Learn from people who aren’t bothered by the same shortcomings you have. Learn how they’ve forgiven themselves and accepted reality as it is.
- Know the difference between standards, expectations and assumptions in life.
- Practice patience, tolerance, forgiveness, and use emotional accounting to deal with cognitive distortions. If you can fight to acquire something you’re lacking, then fight, don’t only feel sorry for yourself. If, for some reason, it’s impossible to acquire it, learn to accept it. It may help you to develop your own personal style based on your shortcomings.
- If you can’t do it alone, find some help. Spirituality, religion, psychotherapy and many other tools are out there with the purpose of helping you develop a better capacity to love yourself and others. Life is simply too short to hate – yourself and others.