by Lily Plass
illustration Laurie Zantinge
Everyone has heard it before: “You have to love yourself, before someone else can love you.” It’s a very nice, sentimental statement, but personally, I’ve always been confused by what it meant. Does it mean I have to love every part of myself, even the bad ones? Or does it mean that I have to egotistically put my needs in front of everyone else’s?
Do I fully agree with that saying?
That question intensified when people would tell me they loved me. Especially when it happened at a time where I knowingly didn’t love myself. How was it possible that they loved me? It made me doubt the love given to me and the motives for it. And that is were all problems start.
To some extent, I believe people make up their own reality. While some things are undeniably real, for example the people around us and the sounds coming from their mouths, the sentiment of their words is still greatly left open for interpretation. The perception of the happenings around you are based on your past, your memories and your experiences. The earlier you construct a truth in your mind the harder it becomes to falsify it. Therefore, if you ever got the feeling early on in your life, that you can’t be loved or that love is a phenomenon that simply doesn’t happen to you, then you take that belief and transfer it into your adult life. It doesn’t matter if someone tells you or earnestly shows you they love you. The idea that you are unlovable is already so deeply ingrained in your mind, that the rest doesn’t matter.
In my case this manifested itself in the fact that I held onto some unhealthy relationships longer than I should have. I kept them because I believed that I should simply be happy with what I was having, and that asking for more would be just me trying my luck, although hypocritically I would push that ‘more’ away as soon as it crossed my path, afraid that in truth I didn’t deserve it.
Of course, as is common in all human interactions, problems will arise sooner or later. However, the more you believe the idea that you are not worthy of true love, the more you tend to keep quiet and store your emotions in a box and try and shove it away in the back corners of your mind – just like all these physics formulas you learned at some point in school.
Yet unlike those – to me – useless physics formulas, over time you gather more and more information on your partners in that box. Information like “that time you forgot to pick me up” or “that time you forgot to pay me back for lunch”. The inability to identify with your feelings combined with the fact that you feel like you are asking for too much if you want to be loved correctly is met head on with the fact that this important person in our lives didn’t behave appropriately towards you.
Frustrations begin to build up. Their origins however remain undeterminable because in your mind, the other can’t be the bad guy. You remain tapping around in the dark in search of a way to commute those emotions – which is going to be very hard, since you probably don’t even want to acknowledge their source.
Meanwhile the box of findings about the wrongs of your loved ones is starting to fill up, until one day it bursts and everything spills out. All that built up anger of the past weeks, months or even years comes out in only a few minutes. And guess who’s the bad guy? That’s right. You are.
Hopefully for you, that isn’t how it ends. Whether that is how the story ends or you change the narrative, is up to you. It begins with you believing that you truly are worth being loved. And not only that: you are worth the time and effort to be loved [correctly]. So next time you are annoyed and feel that something is bothering you: speak up about it. Let your loved ones know in a calm, respectful way how you are feeling and why. Chances are you are able to talk it out and everything was simply one big misunderstanding. Don’t even give that volcano a chance to erupt.
So, do I agree with the statement that you need to love yourself before someone else can love you? I’m going to say no. I don’t because I have met people who cared about me when I couldn’t care less. They showed me what it looks like when someone is truthfully concerned for your well-being. Of course, loving every part of yourself is a fantastic achievement, one which many – myself included – might never achieve, but sometimes simply the belief that you are worth being loved correctly by others is enough to help you lay the foundation for your own self-love journey.