We have heard this one before: “You can’t expect someone to love you, if you don’t love yourself”. But what does that really mean? Most advice will tout self-affirmation exercises or some such. While there may be some merit to this, loving oneself is about having confidence and sense of self-value and respect.
If you are lacking in ‘self-love’, you are lacking boundary-setting and healthy assertiveness. You give in to emotional impulses, struggle to know when someone treats you badly, are too readily available and you find it difficult to say no to things you don’t want to do. You may find you can’t make decisions, or you don’t like to have strong opinions in case you offend someone. You pride yourself in being kind and good. Your frustrations sound like ‘I am such a nice person, why do I get treated so badly?’, ‘Why doesn’t anyone love me like I love them?’. These are indicators of ‘low self-love’. What tends to happen is that you attract people that disrespect you, treat you badly or take you for granted – not a great position to start a relationship from.
Interestingly, if you appear to have very high self-love, you may be a narcissist, which in fact is not a genuine self-love. Narcissism is an inflated sense of self and is more likely an overcompensation for low self esteem. In which case you are hypersensitive to criticism, require constant admiration and special treatment. You react to humiliation with anger or contempt. Your frustrations sound like ‘Nobody cares about me’, ‘Why do people not think I am great?’. Such hypersensitivity and high demand stifles a budding relationship.
One way to achieve greater self love, is to be committed to something you are passionate about. Whether via work or a hobby, become an expert in a subject matter that gives you great joy. Also, practice saying no to things you are not interested in doing. Challenge yourself to have opinions and voice them. Ask for things you need help with or want. Dare to be vulnerable and check for evidence against your negative emotional reactions, (in case they are overinflated). Curb reactive behaviour (for example, defriending someone on Facebook because they made you angry). Keep a gratitude diary and practice mindfulness.
Embrace your fears
We are complex creatures. Love is really all around us, yet we constantly dismiss it because of our fears. Fear of rejection, fear of being trapped, being taken for granted, losing independence, not being good enough, abandonment, looking stupid, appearing needy, of intimacy or closeness etc.
Some people worry that their love interest will lose interest in them. This causes them to become needy and clingy, pushing love away. Others feel claustrophobic when someone shows a romantic interest in them. This is a fear of intimacy and keeps people away from close relationships (leaving them perpetually single). Others have such low confidence that initiating any form of romantic contact brings up a lot of anguish. So much so, that they would rather be ‘married’ to their work or hobby, than face contact with someone they fancy. The list of fears seem endless. The saddest of all, I think, is the fear of receiving and accepting love, simply because of feelings of unworthiness.
Where do these fears come from? Humans are by nature sensitive to danger, regardless of whether they are real or imagined. The things we fear usually stem from childhood experiences, ranging from experiences of ridicule, bullying, rejection, abandonment, belittling to mollycoddling, lack of trust, too rigid or too fluid rules and inconsistent parenting. In order to survive, emotionally or otherwise, we create survival strategies that later become erroneous and inefficient in adulthood. However, we often don’t realise this until they continuously trip us up in life – such as constantly meeting the wrong type of person, always being single etc. – and end up in therapy to rework the inefficient survival strategies.
You may actually not be aware of what your fear is, because it’s not always intuitive and apparent. For example, if you say things like “I am so busy at work, I don’t have time to meet/be with someone” or “all the good people are taken”, you might have a fear of intimacy. If you say things like, “people are always interested at first and then disappear” you may have a fear of abandonment. (This is the sort of thing we work on in dating coaching).
If there is a lot of fear involved in your relationships, you may find it more difficult to relate to one another as there is likely to be many misunderstandings. There will be a lot of drama and emotion. If you can work through this and understand that the misunderstandings come from ‘outdated childhood strategies’, you stand a better chance of getting a solid relationship. Sadly, this is often not the case that people take themselves off to work on these things.
Nevertheless to the degree you can identify what your fears are, embrace them and work through them, the more likely you will succeed at relationships. This includes ditching behaviours that include ‘ghosting’, playing hard to get, excessive texting, whining, unreasonable demands to demonstrate love/commitment, silence as punishment, emotional reactivity and incongruence between what you say and do. You need a good portion of courage to refrain from giving in to your fears.
Adjust your mindset
A lot of people reject potential relationships on whimsical notions, such a job status, age or looks. We have a tendency to think in terms of finding the perfect partner. If they don’t fit specific criteria or make us feel a specific way, we reject them. The trouble is, perfection is not found, it is nurtured and grown. The most successful relationships start from a friendship base, from a place of compatibility and companionship.
I know, it doesn’t sound very sexy to look at someone and say ‘hey, you will do’ – and not very charming to be viewed in that light either. It is essentially because no human is perfect, so if you are under the illusion of having met someone who is perfect and who will solve all your problems, you will get sorely disappointed. The trick is to find someone you fancy ENOUGH, AND who fancies you back. This means you have to change your mindset from ‘I must find the perfect partner’ to ‘I must find someone who is GOOD ENOUGH’. ‘Good enough’ is someone who embodies values and qualities that are important to you, who engages with you and treats you with respect. It is then your job to create something special with that person. In other words, when you meet ‘good enough’, begin a friendship, spend time together, make an effort to get to know one another, build trust, learn how to make one another happy etc. When you do this, and a genuine friendship begins, you find that magic ensues. You fall in love and you will forget that you ever thought your partner was merely ‘good enough’ – they become the best thing that ever happened to you. You will often hear matchmakers advise not to sleep with one another until you are dating exclusively. Build that friendship first.
A word of caution – do not stubbornly continue in a relationship that is bad for you. Do not accept bad behaviour. Do not accept to see someone who constantly puts you down, who is abusive in any way, is chronically sarcastic, mean, condescending, unreliable, unreasonable or narcissistic. If you have enough self-love, this will not be an issue, but if you don’t, you might struggle to walk away from this (in which case you might want to consider seeing a life coach).