Why loving yourself before you love others is bogus


You’ve probably heard the phrase, “You have to love yourself before you can love someone else.” How many of you are going around thinking, “Well, I just need to love myself more and then someone will love me? Or then, I’ll be able to love others?” What a lonely, potentially hopeless or confusing, question. What if you had horrible models for love relationships? What if the home you grew up in was violent or lacking affection and warmth? What if you’ve experienced intimate partner violence or suffered abuse? In other words, what if there were no models or roadmaps for healthy loving relationships? You’re simply being told that you need to love yourself more, but you have no idea what safe, nurturing love looks like. 

Well, I’m here to tell you that this phrase is FALSE – it’s bogus. Here are 3 reasons why that’s the case. And if I’ve done my job, you’ll flip that script to “You must FIRST experience unconditional, safe, nurturing love from others before you can truly love yourself.”

First, we learn how to love by being loved. Many of your reading this newsletter are in healthcare. What if I told you that before you could be a surgeon you have to have practiced surgery and known how to complete a knee replacement? With no previous instruction? Or, to my educators, what if I said – You have to be able to teach kids how to read, but we’re just going to let you figure that out? That would be absurd! In fact, in medical school, physicians are taught – see one, do one, teach one. Isn’t that how we learn? What would that be like with love? Let me give you three examples. 

We have to witness unconditional love first. It has to be modeled all around us. From our parents or caregivers, from our village and from our friends, mentors and teachers. Then, we get to practice loving others. We do that first at home, then with friends and later with partners. Finally, we can teach or show others what we’ve learned in our relationships. I want all of us to know what unconditional love and acceptance feels like because we’ve experienced it deep in our souls. That way, when we see it in another person or potential partner we say, “OH! That’s love! I know that!” And we don’t mistake it for unhealthy forms of love, addiction or pain. 

Second, while we are hard-wired to love, it has to be taught to us. We learn love through attachment and relationships early on. We know that securely attached kids are emotionally regulated, tolerate distress, have flexibility, control impulses, and build trust and empathy – all within a supportive caregiving environment. But this is not guaranteed! In fact, a large percentage of our population have organized, but insecure attachments – they often feel anxious or avoidant attaching to others. We only learn how to attach securely with safe, stable nurturing adult relationships. Through the process of co-regulation, we learn coping tools and feel safe making mistakes. All within a village of people who love us NO MATTER WHAT! (Psst: If you’re a healthcare provider and want to learn EXACTLY how to teach this in primary care, in little doses at every encounter, join me here!) 

Finally, we have to experience unconditional, delighting love in order to love ourselves or others in a healthy way. We have to know what it feels like for our own safety, experience, modeling, and integration. Through safety, we learn it’s ok to take risks and make mistakes. Through modeling, we see this type of love early and often in many adult caregiving relationships. And finally, we integrate it into our own lives. 

So, my goal was to convince you that loving yourself before you love others is bogus! How’d I do? Reply back and let me know!

I hope to see some of you at my farm in about a month to learn specific ways to enhance relational health. 

With compassion for those of us who have to learn how to love and forgive ourselves for not loving ourselves more before we knew how.