Do You Really Have to Love Yourself Before You Can Love Someone Else?

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Do You Really Have to Love Yourself Before You Can Love Someone Else?

By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD

woman hugging man
Photo: aaandrea/needpix

Do you need to love yourself before you can love someone else? Though conventional wisdom says yes, the real answer is much more complicated.

Loving yourself certainly makes it easier to love someone else. When you accept and love yourself, you don’t need someone else’s approval or love, and you are likely to believe that you will find someone who you will love, and who will love you. So, a bad date or a rejection feels more like a detour on your way to a happy relationship than an overwhelming failure. Your self-acceptance and positive outlook allow you to be relatively open in relationships and to be okay with being alone. Overall, this perspective means that when you feel a connection, it is genuine – not blindly driven by an overwhelming need for acceptance or love.

On the other hand, if you don’t love yourself – if you are critical and unaccepting of yourself – you probably find it difficult to believe other people can really accept and love you. Feeling flawed, you may create distance between yourself and others to avoid rejection. Or, you may do whatever you can to earn acceptance and create closeness, even if that means hiding your real self behind a façade. (Of course, doing this prevents you from truly getting close, but that’s not how it feels in the moment.) Also, your anxieties and fears may cloud your thinking about someone, leading you to overlook their flaws and exaggerate their positive traits. As a result of your overall sense of feeling inadequate or unworthy, you will find it harder to make a genuine connection and build a healthy, intimate relationship.

Still, even when you struggle with self-love, you can often give and receive love. Despite doubting yourself, you might believe, or at least consider believing, someone else’s positive perceptions of you – the real you, not just your façade. You might also see the other person clearly enough to make a real connection with them. Over the course of a relationship, your partner’s unconditional love may help you to overcome your insecurities. You may also replace the idealized version of your partner with a real one, seeing them as a flawed person like the rest of us mortals, and still love them, or maybe love them even more.

Returning to the question of whether you need to love yourself before you can love someone else, it is essential that you understand that all people have struggles within themselves. In fact, it is a quite rare person who loves every aspect of themselves all the time. Living life means growing and changing. Hopefully, as you and your relationship mature, you will become a more self-accepting version of yourself, and your relationship will grow deeper in love and happiness.

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