Loving yourself, loving others, using others for love
“Self love,” much like “love” in general, is a conversation that can go both ways.
On the one hand, we have to love ourselves before we can love someone else. We encourage one another to “love yourself.”
On the other hand, much of the “toxic love” we accept as “real” is really “self-love.” We see something we call “fish-love” as “self-love,” and point that any time you “love” someone for the pleasure they give you, it’s not love but rather self-love.
We know that giving too much of ourselves in love — “loving too hard” — is detrimental. We also understand that loving ourselves too much in a relationship is equally bad.
So it begs the question: how do we self-love, and is self-love good or bad?
The big difference hinges on: how we build self-love
Good, genuine self-love:
- We build and maintain it on our own, before entering and/or independent of the relationship
Bad, false self-love:
- We use others to try to build self-love
- We skip “self-love” and instead just use others to try to get love
- We use others in general, and take before give, or give in order to get (often, love)
Genuinely loving yourself means approaching yourself with the same tenderness you would want from a most cherished partner. You are kind to yourself, understanding, caring, empathic, encouraging, supportive. You take care of your emotions — and emotional needs — and you do so in a way that builds you up, never breaks you down.
Genuine self-love is built by you, not others.
We have a tendency to see self-love as synonymous with being “self centered.” But if you don’t genuinely love yourself, then you cannot genuinely love others.
I will concede that self-love developed in relation to others, including narcissism, is bad. If you get your “love of yourself” from comparing yourself to others, it’s not the sort of “love” we’re talking about here. And if you approach relationships to get “what you need,” that’s not love either.
But genuine self-love is very healthy. The self-love we’re talking about here is compassion. It’s compassion for self, because you are a person, too.
It’s giving yourself more than you ask of others. It’s satisfying your own emotional needs, so that you do not have to cling desperately to others to get them met. It’s treating yourself with kindness and appreciation.
Good vs. bad self-love
Developing it yourself vs. using others for it
Good self love is built ourselves, before entering into a relationship and independent of the relationship, throughout its duration.
Bad self-love uses others. When we only “self love” in the negative way, we enter into relationships based on how they make us feel. We “love” others for the pleasure they give us, such as beauty. We look for people to build us up, make us feel good. Self-love using others centers on our needs. We may “decide” to love them, but that decision is based first on “what’s in it for me?”
How to love others
The big question being: how to love selflessly without giving up too much of the self?
The simplest answer is: if you genuinely love yourself, you won’t give “too much.”
Reason one: there is a bigger bucket of love to dole out. Love is not finite. It’s a naturally renewing resource that builds on itself. The more you (genuinely and healthily) love generate for yourself, the more love you have to share.
But more importantly, reason two: if you genuinely love yourself, you won’t allow yourself to give “too much.” Genuine self-love comes with self-respect, and your self-respect will step in.
Only false self-love results in poor emotional boundaries. Attempting to achieve love by giving love out is still using others. And if you’re building love or self-love — or basing your sense of self — using others in any way, including the act of “giving” or “loving,” then it’s not healthy or genuine love.
It’s like a healthy relationship with food. You understand when to eat, and you understand when to stop eating. You recognize your own needs, when it feels good, and when it no longer does, and you respond accordingly.
Healthy interpersonal relationships are the same way. You don’t starve yourself. You don’t overeat. You don’t expect others to feed you, you don’t try to nourish yourself by feeding others, and you definitely don’t force-feed anyone so as to compensate for starving yourself.
Self-love is the first love
And the prerequisite to all other genuine love.
Self-love means understanding that you are an integral part of the universe. It means understanding that the first most responsible for and best-equipped to meet your emotional wellbeing is the person closest to you, which will always be you.
It means recognizing that we can neither ask of nor give to others what we haven’t given ourselves.