Hey, ya’ll, in this video I want to talk about a specific proverb. I’d be very surprised if you haven’t heard this proverb before and it is, “You can’t love somebody else until you love yourself,” or “If you can’t love yourself how in the hell are you going to love somebody else?”
Let’s talk about this proverb because I see it all the time.
Google it, you’ll find hundreds of Pinterest pins quoting it. There are memes that use it. One of the girls on The Bachelor this season had it tattooed on her. It usually comes up in discussions of self-criticism. People seem to pass it on like it’s just advice to love yourself.
But it isn’t simply telling us the importance of loving ourselves; it’s telling us that in order to love someone else we must love ourselves first. That is what I take issue with. I’m going to tell you why.
First reason is that some of our harshest criticisms are directed at ourselves already. This is a result of a capitalist patriarchal society that convinces us that we’re never good enough.
We’re told we’re not beautiful or thin enough. That’s why we need to buy the newest moisturizers, diet pills, concealers, etc. Our bodies are too hairy, dimpled, stretch-marked, .
The point I’m trying to make isn’t that it’s wrong to buy these things or that it’s wrong to feel the need to use them. The reason that we’re conditioned to want to change our bodies, though, is because we’re constantly and consistently told by advertisement and representations in the media that there is a correct way for bodies to look and exist.
The reason that many of us hate ourselves or at least our physical selves is because it serves capitalism. It serves to keep us buying more things. But finding flaws in ourselves does not always translate to seeing flaws in others.
Think about someone that you care about. Their physical imperfections are simply part of them. It’s actually pretty hard, at least for me, to look at someone I love and critique their body.
I don’t see my mom’s wrinkles as something to be filled in or erased. I just see laugh lines and the evidence of having lived a life. The difference is when I have a bad acne flare-up I focus on it really intensely. I hate looking in the mirror. I don’t want to go outside or anyone to see me. But when my sister or my boyfriend have pimples, it’s not bad. It’s just pimples. It doesn’t gross me out. I have no desire to cover it with makeup.
While it’s true that just as we see representations that convince us of how we are “supposed” to look, we also see what others are “supposed” to look like.
But it seems, at least to me, much easier to direct those unrealistic expectations on oneself. It’s much more difficult to look at someone you care about and want them to go buy the newest products to fix their body. That is the first reason I think you can love someone else even if loving your physical self is still a struggle.
That’s the physical self but what about our mental selves? Can we love someone else even if we don’t love ourselves mentally?
I think yes and I think that’s it’s actually harmful to say that we can’t.
That’s because mental health plays a really huge role in our abilities to love ourselves. I suffer from depression and when I was struggling the hardest with my depression I felt unable to emotionally connect in a lot of ways. All of my emotions sort of felt like despair and guilt.
To be told that my illness meant that I was also somehow not healthy enough to love my partner, it’s actually a very dangerous thing for a depressed person to internalize.
Mental illness can make it hard to connect with other people and it’s often very isolating. But loving someone and being loved in return, for me it felt like a small light in a seemingly never-ending dark tunnel. My partner loved me through my darkest days and those days when I felt unlovable. That helped remind me that I loved him, too, and that there were reasons for loving myself, that not all of my feelings were negative and self-hating.
This positive emotion that I never stopped having for my partner and for other people in my life is valid and it’s real. To tell a depressed person that they are incapable of loving someone because of their illness is harmful. A person who already feels low, guilty, and unlovable doesn’t need to hear that unloving as well because we’re not unloving. We’re struggling.
Maybe we aren’t able to show love in all the ways a person without depression can. I know that there was a long time last year where I was seriously depressed and I didn’t make dinner or clean or do anything for my partner because I could barely get up and shower.
But he didn’t take it as me being unloving. Instead he simply saw it as a time that I needed more care.
My ability to love wasn’t in question. My inability to show my love how I usually would just meant that I was struggling and needed more support. That’s the mental aspect of it.
Now I quickly want to think about this logically. It doesn’t even make sense to suggest that a person who doesn’t love themselves is unable then to love someone else. Maybe it’s harder to love a person who doesn’t love themselves because they might be withdrawn or because people find confidence attractive. Not saying it’s impossible to love them but just logically speaking, it could factor in there.
But not loving oneself in no way would prevent a person from loving. That’s because, the way I see it, loving someone else is not really about me. It’s about them and what I see in them and what they add to my life by virtue of being themselves. If someone loves me, it might help me see what is lovable about me but not being able to see that from the start doesn’t prevent me having the very capacity to love.
Don’t let some catchy quote convince you that you are unable to love because you struggle with self-love.
Self-love is damn hard. It takes a lot of work a lot of the time and I think loving other people comes pretty naturally. We don’t really get to choose who and when we love; it just happens.
Now, before I finish, I don’t want to give ya’ll the impression that I think self-love is not important because it’s incredibly important. But it’s also really hard. For me, it depends a lot on outside factors like my mental health and my imposter syndrome and all these other things. Loving myself feels easy some days and then it feels impossible the next day.
My love for others feels like a lot less work. In fact, it actually feels good for my mental health to focus my love on my cat for instance rather than focusing on self-hatred when I’m having a bad day.
Love is powerful and loving yourself is incredibly powerful but we can’t expect ourselves to get a handle on that before we tackle any other kind of love.
Telling people that they can’t love someone else until they love themselves sends several other hidden messages.
It tells us to just ignore the massive fashion and beauty industries that tell us that we’re not good enough, that our mental illnesses make us unloving, and that we have to learn the difficult task of loving ourselves before we’re even capable of loving anyone else.
That’s not just harmful; it’s untrue.
Lastly, and this is really important, it is unhealthy to think that our relationship can fix or “heal” your problems or your perceived flaws. I think a lot of people say this proverb with good intentions. I think a lot of times people are really trying to say you have to accept yourself so that you can have reasonable expectations about what a relationship or a partner can do for you.
If you have depression or low self-esteem, these things will not magically disappear when you find someone who loves you for who you are. That person can support you when you’re struggling but ultimately it’s your mental health and it’s your relationship with yourself that will make the biggest difference. If that’s what is meant by this proverb at least some of the time that’s being said, then there are better ways to say it.
Because our relationships with ourselves are just as important as our relationships with others are important. They can both be incredibly nurturing even if other people can’t “fix” our inner struggles. Because people probably already know this: people with mental health issues are not naïve of the importance of self-care. Depression, anxiety, and other mental illness can take hold of even the most confident and self-loving person.
While it can be good to remind someone to take care of themselves, especially those with depression, it’s a whole other thing to tell them that loving themselves is necessary for them to love anyone else. If your intention is to help them take care of themselves or learn to accept themselves, you are better off showing them love. Because they are lovable and they can love because we all can.
Thanks, ya’ll. I’ll see you in my next vid.