Conventional wisdom – or at least wisdom from most of the Facebook graphics I see – says that you have to love yourself before anyone else can love you. As a proponent of self love, self esteem, self have-faith-in-yourself and all that other selfish stuff¸ I’m inclined to agree with that motto. But in practice, I have to admit that being loved helped me learn how to love myself.
I had a brief twitter chat about this recently with motivational speaker and author Tiphani Montgomery (further proof that Twitter is bizarro amazing).
When I saw Tiphani’s initial tweet, I thought back to a time when I hated myself. Not only did I not like who I was, but I was convinced that no one else would, should, or could love me. I was certain that my actions had made me unlovable.
I’d like to tell you that I clawed my way out of that dark hole of shame by realizing that I had an internal value that couldn’t be tainted by temporary actions. But that’s not at all what happened.
Four women loved me when I couldn’t love myself.
These four women, women who are more like sisters than girlfriends, knew all of my mistakes, and they loved me still. They didn’t love me in spite of myself; they loved all of me. They showed me compassion and empathy, and they wrapped their arms around me when I was convinced that no one should.
I was lucky, because these four women were – are – some of the most honorable, wonderful, admirable people I know. They are people I want to be more like, so it meant a lot to me to have them love me. It suggested to me that I was worth it.
It helped me believe my husband when he also said he still loved me.
And that helped me believe other friends, other noble women and men, when they told me they loved me.
Being Loved Is Just the First Step
I watched Muriel’s Wedding this weekend for the first time. It’s the story of a woman who isn’t loved very much by anyone and who doesn’t love herself much either. And then, of course, she reinvents herself.
At one point, Muriel is sitting in the dark with a new friend, and she’s talking about how hard it is to be nothing. Her new friend says, “You’re not nothing Muriel! You’re amazing!” And she says it with such conviction that you just know this is going to be a turning point in the movie.
I immediately whipped out my iPhone and made a note of this quote, thinking it would be perfect to include in a post about how friends can love us until we love ourselves.
And then, Muriel doesn’t really change on the inside. She gets a haircut, loses some weight, and moves away from her horribly abusive family. But she is still very broken on the inside and very desperate for validation from the outside world.
This is totally ruining my post, I thought.
But the movie, ironically, was more accurate than the post I’d planned or the pithy mantras we hand out to each other on the Internet.
My friends loved me, and that provided me with social proof that I was worthy of love and forgiveness. But I also spent a crap ton of time in therapy, and that was the work only I could do to figure out what I was worth.
The reality is that you can be loved even if you don’t love yourself.
Being loved can be like training wheels for loving yourself.
But what the Facebook graphics should really say is that the love of others isn’t a substitute for loving yourself. Loving yourself is another step forward, one that you have to take alone, when you’re ready.
However, I will always, always be grateful for the people who loved me before I loved myself. They showed me it was possible.