You’ve probably heard someone say, “You need to learn to love yourself before you can love someone else.”
But maybe you found yourself wondering, “What does that even mean?”
Self-love is a total mystery for the uninitiated. I remember when I first heard people talk about self-love and self-esteem, but I felt utterly unable to relate. My mind would go semi-blank and wonder about the how and the what. It seemed like a fairytale or fable.
Luckily the first step toward understanding is easy:
Take a snapshot of your mind.
What does the inner landscape look like?
What are those thoughts you hear within your mind?
What, specifically, do you say to yourself?
What, specifically, do you think about yourself?
What, specifically, do you think about others?
What, specifically, do you think all day long?
If you write them down, you will have a photograph of your mind.
Now you’ve got something you can hold, feel, and see.
If I were to ask you to stand on stage and read your thoughts aloud to an audience, would you? How much? And I wonder how you would feel if someone borrowed your words, speaking them back to you, as though they were their own, with total sincerity?
If you feel good, valued, appreciated, respected, accepted, or understood – then chances are you’ve got some skill with loving yourself and loving others.
But let’s say that a mental photograph brings up feelings of discomfort or pain. It’s easy to fool ourselves into thinking there’s no harm done if we keep it to ourselves or a few trusted friends.
But what happens when someone, perhaps feeling emotionally wounded, verbally goes on the offense?
If we lose our temper –
If we feel attacked –
If we feel insecure –
If we think ourselves vulnerable –
If we get overwhelmed –
If we are ripe with stress –
Suddenly, all those inner thoughts are put on display for the world to see as they come flying out of our mouths.
Many of us try to control when, where, and how we let the inner parts come out, but the truth is, sometimes they get away from us. And for those who are consistently at the tipping point – overflowing with hate or self-deprecation, those inner voices often escape.
But if you cultivate an inner attitude of love towards yourself, eventually you will begin to realize that speaking with cruelty towards others impacts you just the same. Then you can practice speaking lovingly to yourself and others and watch the inner landscape change.
So if you feel hurt, attacked, insecure, vulnerable, or overwhelmed the words that accidentally spill out soften and lose their edge.
Of course, that doesn’t stop us from loving people in the way we know how. In some ways, we might be better at loving others than we are at loving ourselves. You can love someone, regardless of how much you love yourself. But the point is that the love we give is always influenced by the way we love ourselves. That’s why learning to love yourself more deeply and honestly, also helps you love others better than you did before.