Actually, You Do NOT Have to Love Yourself to Be Loved By Others

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).

love yourself tweet

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.

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  1. Melanie says:

    “The love of others isn’t a substitute for loving yourself”

    Love this.

    I could tell you a million reasons why you can still be loved even if you don’t love yourself. The “if you don’t love yourself, who will” implies if you don’t even like yourself, you must be some horrible monster, when in fact, you could just be someone who sees the bad about yourself, when everyone else sees the good.

    It should be “If you love yourself, but no one else wants to love you…then there is an issue, then there needs to be some change”. :)

    • Megan says:

      I don’t think it implies you are a monster; it may just keep you from pursuing healthy relationships. If you don’t feel worthy, you’ll settle, both in friendships and in love.
      Megan’s most recent post: What I Like About Me

  2. Megan says:

    Proof that you are very worthy: You taught me something today. xo
    Megan’s most recent post: What I Like About Me

  3. this is a marvelous flip of that coin!! I heard it so much that I had to love myself FIRST and that just was too hard… after all, what about all those horrid parts of me?! I love how you share that your friends love ALL OF YOU, NOT in spite of this or that.
    it reminded me what it was like when my grandmother was still here on the planet and how she loved me. all of me. no conditions. just pure love.
    I am glad to remember this today. I have been feel very much “nothing” to people I’d much prefer love me… so it goes.
    again, thoughty and thinks-provoking post!!
    Currie Silver’s most recent post: Currie’s Gratitude 8 May 2013

    • Miss Britt says:

      There are few things better than having someone see all of you and still accept you.

      Of course, the only way that can happen is if we show all of ourselves to someone.

  4. Carly says:

    My husband taught me how to love myself, and honestly, brought me back when I thought I was ready to leave the world over wronging HIM. I would wager that many of us struggle to love ourselves at least some of the time, and it is ever valuable to be reminded how now and again.

    • Miss Britt says:

      I bet you and I could have a long chat about this over Mexican. WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO NOT BE TRAVELING ALL OVER THE DANG PLACE??

      • Carly says:

        Well, I am officially traveled out (didn’t know that was possible) until we head to Florida for our summer trip which might be in June or might be in September. So bring on the margaritas!!!

  5. Marta says:

    Many people, in fact all the people in my life loved me even when I didn’t love myself. My family did. My husband did. My friends did. My children did. But I couldn’t feel their love, I couldn’t understand it until I loved myself too. Because while I needed their validation (and still despite myself somewhat do) I need to believe in myself before I could ever believe that other people could love me.
    Marta’s most recent post: The Housing Industry Doesn’t Care About You.

    • Miss Britt says:

      I think that makes sense, too. I definitely had that middle place where I was like, “WHY do all these amazing people love me??”

  6. Jennifer says:

    Britt, this is not a rare experience. I think most people begin to see their value through others’ eyes. And then we do the work to believe what we see reflected. Love this post!

  7. Brian says:

    WIthout loving yourself first, you can’t truly give love because you are hiding the good parts of yourself from others that you are ashamed of or want to hide from others. Only when you learn to love yourself will you be more accepting to share ALL of yourself with others and be truly authentic to them.

  8. While our childhoods were often filled with platitudes about loving yourself and feeling good in your own skin, adolescence proved to be a startling opposite. You were ugly, and awkward, and none of the people you wanted wanted you. Of course, this experience isn’t universal, but it’s fair to say that most of us grew up with relatively mixed messages about the importance of feeling beautiful and worth loving. While things like masturbation were likely shunned, embracing the things you are competent at and should possibly pursue in life were encouraged. It was always important to pick out certain things to love, but perhaps not love yourself as a whole.
    Mervin Guerrero’s most recent post: No last blog posts to return.

  9. Tony Khuon says:

    I think this is a very smart post. Your internal value can be reflected by others in the way they treat you. It’s hard to imagine someone with zero redeeming qualities having close relationships with other people. That insight can help you “bootstrap” your own sense of self-worth over time.
    Tony Khuon’s most recent post: The Ultimate Guide to Self-Compassion the Agile Way

  10. How can you feel loved when you feel that no one knows the real you? When people tell you they love you, but you aren’t authentic around them then do they really love you or just the idea of you they have? What is authenticity?

    Only the individual person can answer such questions. I realized that people love me for however they see me and I will accept their love. Love is accepting someone for who they are, who they were, and who they are trying to become. It is putting your best foot forward. It is relative.

    I look forward to reading some of your other posts.
    Sebastian Aiden Daniels’s most recent post: Traumatic Childhood! How it affects a person and how to heal from it! Part 2.

  11. el-e-e says:

    Oh, I love Muriel’s Wedding. Can’t believe it’s the first time you saw it. Your post is so wise. My favorite is this line: “Loving yourself is another step forward, one that you have to take alone, when you’re ready.”
    el-e-e’s most recent post: Happy Friday! Some thoughts (7QT)

  12. Abba says:

    How beautiful Wendy. A few years ago, when I was at my limit, reaching crisis point, and not loving myself, or feeling loved, I learned about God. God loves me unconditionally because He just does; that with all my flaws and imperfections He will always love me. But most incredibly, I discovered that He needs to be loved just as I do. When I empathised about His need for love, and meditated on the thought of being loved as if I was perfect in His eyes, the heaviness in my heart began to be released. I feel so grateful.

  13. Daniel says:

    That’s so true. If you are unable to love yourself, it is just an issue with your self esteem. It often takes other people to point out your strengths.

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