Posted by: shatteringsamskaras | June 3, 2014

Loving Ourselves and Loving Other People

This is a thought I first encountered in a Heinlein book as a teenager, and though I haven’t been able to find the exact quote I remember it being “if you don’t love yourself, you can’t love other people.” At that time, I thought it could not be true.


Over the years, however, (and no, I do not care to count just how many years – but thanks for asking) I’ve come to believe this sentiment completely. Self-love isn’t narcissism or self-absorption or the illusion that you are the only person in the world that matters…Love is simply the willingness to accept yourself as you are and care for yourself as though you matter.

Accepting yourself as you are right now in this moment doesn’t remove the desire to do things better in the next moment. In fact, the more we accept and love ourselves as we are now, the more easily we can make choices to do things differently moving forward. It allows us to save all that energy that otherwise goes to fighting with reality and telling ourselves and the world around us that we shouldn’t be the way we are right now. We are who we are right now. If we love that person, maybe we’ll be able to make kind choices that can improve that person’s life. If we don’t accept ourselves, why would we bother to do that?

We do ourselves and the world around us a terrible disservice when we choose to believe that we cannot be loved because we are flawed. Everyone we ever have or will love is flawed. That makes them (and us) no less worthy of love right now, in this moment, as they (or we) are right now. We love people despite and perhaps even because of their flaws. Love doesn’t require perfection, it requires compassion and empathy and grace.

More importantly, though, loving ourselves is work that nobody else can do for us. There is no way for someone else to love us enough to fill the hole that is left in us if we do not love ourselves. I’m not saying they can’t try, mind you. It simply won’t work. At the end of the day, only one person can love me fully knowing everything that happens inmy mind and in my body and in my life, and that is me. Someone else can try and fill that hole through romantic or filial or even parental love – but it isn’t the same thing and it never will be. There is a part of our brain that knows that there will never be another person on this planet who knows us completely, and that always leaves open the possibility that we are ultimately unlovable and only our skill at hiding our flaws is providing the appearance of love and acceptance. That possibility eats away at not only our happiness, but our ability to do good things in the world around us.

Believing we are bad / unlovable is the core of shame, and shame brings with it bad behavior. Knowing ourselves as lovable people who sometimes do bad things (guilt) gives us both the ability and the motivation to do fewer of those bad things in the future.

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