'You Have to Love Yourself'
We tell teens they must do this before they even think about loving someone else. Yet, in doing this, we ostracize the ones who really need it.
“You have to love yourself before you can love someone else.”
Well, no. In my 18 years on this planet I have not learned as much as I would’ve hoped to, but I do know love. I know what it feels like, as well as how to give it. I know how to love the right people, and I know how to love the wrong ones. I know how it makes your heart feel whole even on the roughest days, and how it has that insane ability to make it seem as though everything will work out—even when it won’t. I know the feeling you get in your entire body when you look at someone you love laughing. I know how it feels when love leaves. And I know that even though I do not yet have unconditional love for myself, I have loved and I have loved fully.
We all have rough days, and for some those rough days stretch into rough weeks which stretch into rough years. For whatever reason, some of us get into a place we feel like we can’t get out of, that this “sad” feeling is our new normal. Our friends and family haven’t caused this. It’s not their fault. There’s a chemical imbalance in your brain that’s causing this sadness and pain, and you know this. You know that it technically is “all in your head” and so you turn the blame to yourself. During these times, it is hard to look at the person in the mirror, the person you know is causing this pain, and say you love them.
Yet, some days we look in that mirror and do love the person looking back. We notice how their hair mimics ocean waves and how their eyes have a fiery passion in them that can’t be put out. Sometimes, however, we notice the way their nose isn’t quite proportional to their other features or how a recent breakout has left their face red and splotchy. On these days, we still can love. We will still check in on our friends and we will still make time to play with our siblings. We’ll tell our parents that we love them and reminisce on favorite memories with our cousins. And they’ll love us back. The right people will give us so much love in return that it fills the empty spaces in our hearts until we can fill them with our own self-love. We are not less capable of love just because we are not happy with ourselves. Self-love and self-acceptance is an ideal that takes years and years to master; to say we are incapable of loving someone until we love ourselves is to say we’re incapable of loving until we are in our 30s or older. This simply isn’t true.
Love isn’t a one-way street. It is not “I love you so that means you love me as well,” or “I can love you unconditionally because I love myself unconditionally.” We love our parents and other family members from birth, a time where we don’t even know ourselves personally yet. We don’t know the person we are going to be when we grow up, but we still love with everything we’ve got.
Concerning our mental health, should we wait until we are completely in love with ourselves before opening our hearts to someone else? Should we wait until we wake up every day and are happy with the person looking in the mirror back at us? Would it really be better for us to try to figure out how to not only accept but to fully love ourselves, by ourselves?
To be able to love ourselves, we must take what we know from loving others. We can’t do that if we live with the idea that we are not capable of that until we reach the highest level of self-worth. When we look at how our mother is always there for us in rough times, we notice how we do the same for our loved ones. When we see how one of our best friend’s eyes closed more than the other when they are truly laughing, we see that we do the same. Our favorite teacher refuses to let anything get in the way of their goals, just as we do. When we love others, we open the door to loving ourselves. It is not fair to say that we are not fully loving those around us because of our aversions to ourselves; the combination of their love for us and the love we give them can only ever lead to love for us, for the person we see in the mirror every day. We are trying. Do not tell us we are incapable of true love.
The most common time we are told that we “must love ourselves before we can love someone else” is in the context of dating. However, when we are told this, our goal shifts from wanting to love ourselves for the sheer joy of it into loving ourselves so we can have a significant other. This only pushes us further back, telling us that our end goal should always be to have someone in our lives romantically. This then turns into us feeling unworthy when we don’t have someone like that, leading to more self-hatred; it’s a cycle and we must break that cycle. We have to stop ingraining it into teenager’s minds that they are only lovable when someone loves them, that they are only worthy once someone says so. We are all miracles. We all have a fire inside of us that gives our lives meaning, No two people see us the exact same way. We have the power to teach others how to treat and love us, and we have the power to love those in our lives fully and unconditionally, no matter our pasts. We should love ourselves for these reasons, not so someone else can validate our existence. We validate ourselves with every breath we take, every time we laugh with our family, when we hold our friends as they cry. We are valid, and we are capable of a love so powerful, no one will be able to second-guess it. And when that love is finally reflected upon ourselves, we will be unstoppable.