When life seems to be flowing in the wrong direction it is easy to bemoan the lack of good fortune and look for reasons why bad things happen. Easier still is to blame ourselves. Unworthy, odd, a freak, bad, useless, incapable, unlovable, stupid, hopeless, pathetic. The list of defamatory adjectives rolls on like a winding road which ends nowhere we’d ever want to be but appear helplessly drawn towards.
It is easy to overlook and underestimate the number of ways we find to underscore our own worthlessness and in so doing make it more difficult to see both the deep impact they have on our self image and, crucially, the view that other people take of us.
It’s hard to love someone who doesn’t love themselves.
Many of us enter relationships with one need paramount, the need to be loved. The emphasis placed on this demand is the very aspect which will most likely doom it to failure. What logic is it that suggests we can replace an unwillingness to see the lovability in ourselves with the love from someone else?
In a floundering marriage and some years into an affair Robert is as low as I have seem him. Satisfying none of his needs in any one place there is something much more fundamental keeping him stuck in this hellish purgatory between being properly in his marriage and properly out of it. Him.
“Do you deserve to feel happiness?” I ask
Robert thinks for a brief moment.
“No, I don’t think I deserve it. Look at what I am doing”
There it is, right there, the un-virtuous circle which keeps Robert stuck in the same desperate place. He doesn’t believe he deserves any better because he is not being honest, and by remaining dishonest he cannot think himself worthy of better.
In her book on relationship therapy “Landscapes Of The Heart” Juliet Grayson talks about four roles we assume when we are unhealthily “fused” with our partner. Only when we find our way to the fourth position, the one of self determination and self reliance, can we really connect in healthy and sustainable way and, ironically, provide the love for ourselves which is then much more likely duplicated in spades by our partner.
When I talk to people about feeling more love for themselves I get one of two reactions. Either they regard the whole concept of “self love” as a form of indulgent self obsession, or they understand the concept but ask, “How do I do it?”
When we ask the question “how?” we are looking for a set of instructions. We want “10 Steps To Loving Yourself”, except that we don’t. It isn’t that these resources don’t exist because they do (A Google search on the phrase “how to love yourself” will yield 27 million results) but they don’t really give us what we need, because we don’t need tactics, we need self belief.
If you find it hard to love yourself somewhere in your history you have developed the idea that you are unlovable. You might have grown up feeling criticised for how you looked or behaved. You may have felt like a disappointment to a parent. You may have suffered abuse or bullying. You may have felt blamed or responsible for things which went wrong. You might have been told you were “bad”, “worthless”, “stupid”, “ugly”, “useless”. You might have felt unable to live up to comparisons with your siblings. Your parents may have argued constantly or split up, and you blamed yourself. You might have felt that love is only given in exchange for success, achievement or “good behaviour”. The list goes on and on.
An ability to love yourself requires that you observe these principles:
Sometimes prioritising yourself over other people (even your children!).
Recognising and appreciating your qualities rather than all of your perceived faults.
Being strong enough to show and give love even when you don’t receive any in return.
Investing in yourself.
You see? How realistic is it to think that a blog post, however good, can fix all of that and address the foundational reasons which initiated the struggle in the first place? It isn’t. But what is possible is the realisation that you don’t feel the way you do because there really is something innately flawed in you, but rather you have learned to believe that there is.