Love is powerful. It can be reduced to chemical reactions in the brain or elevated to spiritual phenomenon. Love invites us to be brave and expose our deepest selves. Love can also feel like an unwelcome spotlight that reveals our dirtiest secrets.
We all have them—the parts of ourselves that are weak and afraid at best, disgusting and shameful at worst. We work hard to hide them away so no one ever sees them. We believe that these parts—and ultimately ourselves—don’t deserve compassion. Perhaps we don’t even feel worthy of love itself. What does that mean about our ability to be in a loving relationship with another person?
We often hear that you have to love yourself first to able to love or, worse, be loved. This is a toxic way to view yourself and only reinforces the very fears that keep you hidden in the first place. Your struggle to love yourself does not devalue the love you have to share, nor does it render you unlovable. Your ability to love yourself just changes the way you experience a loving relationship.
What Does It Mean to Love Yourself?
Loving yourself refers to accepting all parts of yourself, even the ones that bring you discomfort. It means taking care of yourself when despair instructs you to isolate and withhold. It means learning to believe in two seemingly opposing truths at the same time: you are good enough as you are and you have room to grow. Loving yourself is not an unchanging state that you either exist in or don’t. You will have days when you will revel in the chance to be kind and gentle with yourself, and there will be days it will feel like swimming upstream.
When you look at love as something dynamic, as a behavior, as a conscious effort, it becomes more accessible. Loving yourself is not set in stone, but a choice over which you have control. You have the freedom to offer love to yourself and to open yourself up to a new experience of being in love. Here are five ways loving yourself makes your relationships stronger:
1. When you love yourself, you can share yourself with your partner without fear.
When you love yourself, you can recognize your imperfections and refrain from judging them. You know all humans are in a constant state of flux, and that these imperfections are opportunities to evolve. You have nothing to hide and can be honest with your partner about your flaws and how you attend to them. And since you no longer allow shame to cloud your self-image, you can acknowledge your strengths and talents—the very attributes your partner has appreciated all along.
2. When you love yourself, you can trust your partner’s love for you.
When your partner tells you how kind, generous, and attractive you are, you can believe it. Self-doubt won’t prevent you from accepting your partner’s love. You will know that—while you’re not perfect—you have a lot to offer, and it is absolutely believable that someone would value you. You won’t have to be shocked that this person you hold in high esteem regards you as equally amazing. When you allow someone to love you, you reinforce that you are indeed lovable. Loving yourself becomes more than an option; it becomes your right.
3. When you love yourself, you can express your needs without guilt.
Recognizing your own value means recognizing that your needs are just as important as your partner’s. Rather than feeling like a burden or undeserving of attention, you will find the courage to ask for what feels good to you. The more you realize your own worth, the less you will accept others’ disrespect or lack of kindness. Loving yourself means setting healthy boundaries and requiring that others treat you in a way that makes you feel appreciated.
Without shame, doubt, and fear to blind you, you can work together to find a joint resolution that strengthens your commitment and deepens your bond to each other.
4. When you love yourself, you can fight fair.
That’s right. When you love yourself, you can have conflict in a relationship and it won’t feel like the end of the world. You won’t automatically take everything personally, which means less self-blame and anger. Rather than shaming yourself or lashing out at your partner, you’ll be able to take responsibility for your actions in a clear-headed and thoughtful manner. You’ll be able to express your concerns knowing you have the right to be happy and heard. You’ll encourage your partner to understand you, just as you will try to understand them. Without shame, doubt, and fear to blind you, you can work together to find a joint resolution that strengthens your commitment and deepens your bond to each other.
5. When you love yourself, you can be independent from your partner.
When you love yourself, you don’t have to feel insecure about your partner’s life outside of you. When your partner is away, you can still hold onto your own value. Your partner doesn’t exist for your validation and security; they are their own person. You can support the development of your partner’s personal story, and they can support yours. Your partner’s interests and friends won’t be threatening because you believe your partner has reason to come back to you. You recognize that your sphere of control extends only to your own behavior. You can allow for your partner to make their own choices, trusting they will remain mindful of the love you share. You may even find that when you and your partner explore life outside of each other, you reinvigorate the relationship. You get to be curious about each other’s separate experiences of the world and find new reasons to be excited about one another.
To practice loving yourself is to discover the kind of love you wish to receive. Explore what it means to love and to be loved. Understand your needs, your fears, and your strengths. Learn to develop the kind of relationship that suits you best. With a stronger sense of your value, you can offer yourself and your partner the open-hearted, limitless relationship you both deserve. No more hiding, no more shame. Just your authentic, imperfectly perfect self—to be seen, heard, and cherished, just like you’ve always wanted.
© Copyright 2016 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Shameela Keshavjee, MS, LMFT-S, GoodTherapy.org Topic Expert Contributor
The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.