The answer according to most psychologists is: “It depends!” I know, that is a very unsatisfying response, so let’s dig a little deeper.
If you loathe yourself, it will be very difficult to really love another. It is hard to mask self-hatred. It gets in the way of expressing loving feelings and in the way of acting loving. Think about this: when you feel angry or hateful, how likely are you to be kind to others?
With self-hatred, the situation gets even worse. People who hate or dislike themselves often end up attacking others in place of themselves. In psychology, we call this behavior projection, and it certainly indicates a lack of self-love.
As an example, lets imagine that “Anthony” beats himself up inside all the time. His own inner critic or inner judge (which began developing in childhood and still sounds like a negative inner parent) is never happy with Anthony. Listening to his negative inner voice leads him to bad feelings – which turn into inner self-attacks, or self-hatred, that is very painful. Anthony does not feel loved or deserving of love himself.
So, Anthony releases his emotional pain by attacking his spouse. He finds something wrong with her, every day – even the way she loads the dishwasher, and he exaggerates how big a deal it is. That allows him to justify attacking her.
Anthony’s inner judge or critic is then satisfied because that part of him enjoys the attack. Attacking is all it knows. Attacking his wife is as good as attacking Anthony. The result is that Anthony ends up happier for the moment, and his wife, Clare, ends up hating herself, too, because she begins to believe that she can’t do anything right. Some say, misery loves company.
Under the above circumstances, you might think that Anthony could love himself since he has substituted other attacks for self-attacks. But that type of self-love (momentarily releasing his own anger) is not deep or satisfying for him. At a deeper level, part of him knows he is using a defense mechanism to hide from the truth of his own inner judge or critic. That self-knowledge remains painful.
Is there a solution?
You might now say: But what if I don’t self-attack? Can I love someone even if I don’t really love myself? The answer here depends on what you mean by loving yourself.
While feelings are involved, love is just as much a concept or idea as it is a feeling.
Here is what I mean: As the Buddha pointed out, one true thing about life is that change is a constant. Maybe one day you feel really good about yourself, and another day not so good. Can you still love your husband or child both days? Of course you can. You might be distracted and not have a strong feeling of love toward them, but the concept will still be there – the idea or belief that you love those two.
And what about yourself? What if you have a bad day, fail, get rejected or get criticized? Can you still love yourself? Again the answer is yes – the feelings of self-love may not be strong, but the concept or idea that you love yourself can still be there.
Since the intensity of feelings fluctuate, more important than the constancy of strong self-loving feelings or loving other feelings is the idea of how you are treating yourself and others.
Loving yourself and loving others is a lifelong process; if you want to increase both self-love and love of others, focus on how you are treating yourself and how you are treating others.
The more you take care of you (but not solely), and the more you take care of others (but not solely at your own expense) the more love there will be to feel and to share. And the more you will believe in love.
How can you grow love?
It’s Valentine’s Week, so take a moment now to reflect on the loving things you did for yourself and for others this week. How did these loving acts affect your feelings of love?
Next, try an experiment: Increase your loving acts toward yourself and toward others and discover how your feelings of love increase – or don’t. If those feelings have not increased – for yourself or others – spend time reflecting and self-exploring. Are you letting the love in and letting it flow, or are you blocking? (We will explore this topic in another blog.)
By the way, this week I treated myself to the best chocolate cheesecake I have ever tasted, without feeling guilty. It was a real self-loving day for me. It was also a loving others day since I taught a group of neighbors how to play a card game that they wanted to learn.
How about you? I would love to hear how you showed yourself self-love in Valentine’s Week (or any time) and how you showed love to others. Send your love emails to me at email@example.com.
Best to you on this Valentine’s Week – from Dr. Diane and Donna Anselmo, co-founders of Extraordinary Self® Transformational Programs, www.extraordinaryself.com. We hope you indulge in one of our Programs as a self-loving way to treat yourself this week – or whenever.