I really dislike the phrase “you can’t love someone else if you don’t love yourself.” Since when are loving one person and disliking another mutually exclusive from one another? That second person being oneself certainly complicates things a bit, but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s entirely possible to love someone while disliking your own person. Whether it’s healthy is another matter entirely, but the fact of the matter is that the possibility exists and spreading the myth to the contrary is problematic and quite frankly damaging.
This line of thinking — that those who don’t love themselves cannot be in love — signals to someone who already thinks themself unloveable that they are also incapable of love, and thus even if they find someone who claims to love them they are incapable of returning that love and thus even more unworthy.
Furthermore, the message that one has to unapologetically love themself in order to be loved, that confidence is mandatory, is toxic. Don’t misunderstand me, I am all for self-confidence, all about self-love, living your truth, and being the best you that you can be. But no one is going to feel that all the time, and to demand it as a bar to entry before being allowed into the “real love” club is ridiculous, unfair, and cruel. I know that people mean well. I know that for many people when they say “you can’t love someone else if you don’t love yourself” the message they are sending is “it’s hard to feel loved when you don’t love yourself, so you’ll accidentally sabotage your relationship out of self-hatred” or even “once you love yourself people will be falling over themselves to love you.” But the message I’ve received for nearly 23 years now has been “if you don’t love yourself than no one will ever love you.” And that? That is devastating, and was particularly so as a teenager, watching the world gearing up toward Valentine’s Day each year, wondering if I’d ever love myself enough for anyone to love me.
And the thing is that conveying the true sentiment that I think people are trying to get across is not that hard when we spell things out and explain what we mean deliberately, but there is so much pressure to be quippy and memorable that sometimes I think we don’t always think about what the deeper message is. Language is complex and dynamic, and has consequences and ramifications that we might not always expect and that will certainly ripple out in ways that we cannot predict.
So let’s pay attention to how we say things, yeah?
Note: If you’d like another take on this subject I recommend this brief article from the online Psychology Today, published back in 2015, which discusses the matter of happiness and self-love.