Trigger warning: brief reference to self-harm
Dear people who say ‘no one will love you until you love yourself’, ‘you need to love yourself before anyone else can’, or any sub-variation of that sentiment,
Please stop. Just, just stop.
Every time you say this to anyone, it gets ingrained in their mind that they are only loveable if they love themselves. Maybe that is what you are trying to convey to people, but if that is true, then you are so very wrong. Many things about people as individuals is affected – maybe entirely so – by our own personal thoughts/feeling/opinions/decisions. But this is not one of those things. Whether someone is loveable or not, is not defined by their self-worth or by their opinion of themselves. Whether someone is loveable or not, is not determined by their mental health. Stop telling people that they are unworthy of love because of their own struggles.
If you still do not understand my point of view, or agree with it, then let me ask you this – all the people in the world who are struggling with their sexuality, with mental illness, with not getting the best grades at school, with a disease that makes them look different, with parents who have emotionally abused them – I could go on forever – many of these millions of people will not love themselves. Hell, they will loathe themselves. It will take up 98% of their thoughts for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, possibly forever. Living with that kind of self-loathing inside you is like being infected with something that slowly consumes every tiny part of you until you’re just empty inside except for this furious hatred that’s all directed inwards. Often, the only way to get that kind of hatred out is to hurt yourself, whether it’s trying to cut the hate out or drink it away. How much you hate yourself will make you shake with anger and will at times completely incapacitate you so you’re just a catatonic wreck on the floor. So are you really telling me that these people, who more than anything need someone’s empathy and someone’s kindness, do not deserve to be loved? That they are unworthy of love? That they are incapable of being loved? Are you seriously telling me that?
It’s normal for a child to grow up hearing ‘no one will love you until you love yourself first’. When they’re pointing out their ‘flaws’ in the mirror or getting down on themselves for that D in class or crying about how ‘fat’ they look, it’s often a parent’s response to tell them they need to love themselves. It’s a nice sentiment. We are all worthy of self-love, and should love ourselves. But it is something that pretty much everyone in the world struggles with, or has struggled with, or will struggle with. It shows that we are human, it shows that we are aware that everyone has flaws, and it shows a strange kind of humility which is sort of okay. But do not misunderstand me, if everyone could love themselves that would be fantastic. But that’s not the way our brains work. So every time you say that sentence, it chips away at that person’s self-confidence. It has the opposite effect to what you intended. It plants the tiny idea in their brains that unless they can do what feels completely impossible to them, they won’t be loved.
It almost goes without saying that society’s beauty, body and generally everything standards don’t help with the loving yourself thing. We’re conditioned, we’re brainwashed, from the moment we can comprehend simple images or words, that we need to think, look, feel, behave, believe, dream and live a certain way. We are bombarded every day with messages and ad campaigns and media that is designed to make us hate ourselves. Adverts lie about things and deliberately manipulate our minds, just to get us to buy things. How ridiculous is that? They put concepts, which form into sometimes life-threatening ideas, into young people’s heads. They make money off people’s self-hatred and inability to accept themselves and natural flaws that everyone has. Whether it’s that special skin treatment that makes you look young again, or that makeup that hides your freckles or that magic diet pill or plastic surgery… we’re all conditioned to strive for an ideal which is impossible, because the idea has been so manipulated (to attract us) that it’s not even real. It’s a never-ending cycle. Not to mention all the attacks on our thoughts about self-worth, the world, other cultures, other types of people… It’s horrific, and I can’t cover it all in one paragraph. So just remember this – we don’t need any help thinking we’re unloveable. Society already tells us that every single day.
The statement is usually intended in that ‘oh before you get a boyfriend you need to love yourself’ way, but it’s not just about romantic love. Trust me, most adolescents (and adults, for that matter) believe they’re pretty unattractive romantic-wise, they don’t need a reminder. It also puts a ridiculous amount of emphasis on the so-called important of romantic relationships. And it doesn’t just say that, it says that people aren’t deserving of love (unless they love themselves) at all. Full stop. From anyone. So if you as a parent are telling your child that, you’re saying to them ‘until you love yourself I don’t love you either!’ and it’s supposed to be encouragement?
I have never loved myself. Recently, after years in therapy and on medication, I have been able to see I have good qualities. But I do not love myself. This isn’t a remark looking for pity, I don’t really care about loving myself. I don’t think I deserve my own love, let alone anyone else’s. And I can see that that mindset is truly fucked up. But only now, after the psychologists and psychiatrists and years of feeling self-hate in every fibre of my being and my life, do I realise that how I think about myself is messed up. Maybe I’m an extreme case, maybe because of the mental health issues it’s worse, but the fact is everyone hates themselves a little bit, and if say they don’t they’re either very lucky, very much lying or have worked very hard to reach that point. If my mum had said to me ‘oh Lorelei, stop all that self-loathing and self-harming nonsense – you know no one will love you until you love yourself’ do you think that would have helped? No. It would have sent me right off the edge all over again. So she didn’t, she supported me and told me I was loved and encouraged me to try and love myself. Let me remind you: people with mental health problems do not need your help in feeling bad about themselves. They already do. 24/7, 365 days a year. So just stop. Okay? Please, just stop.
Lastly, if nothing else I’ve said has convinced you to stop saying this, realise that it is simply incorrect. From what I’ve heard, parents’ love for their kids is pretty much unconditional, right? Sure, there are cases where they may not like their kids, or in some extreme cases they parents may have so many issues themselves that they do not love their children, but it’s safe to say that at least 99% of parents love their children. And it’s safe to say that if I did a poll, at least 80% of those children probably do not really, truly, love themselves. So do those parents not really love their kids? Are they confused, are they lying?
What about all the people who love someone with a mental illness who’s self-loathing? What about the people who’re married to someone who develops a mental illness? Do they just suddenly stop loving that person? No. Because the idea that you cannot love someone because they do not love themselves is incorrect, is ridiculous and is incredibly harmful to everyone.
We are all capable of being loved. We are all* deserving of love. Self-hatred or the inability to love yourself does not make you unloveable.
So. Stop. Saying. It.
* all, except for people like rapists, paedophiles, people who take rights away from others, murders etc. etc. You get the gist. And even those people are loved by someone. Whether they’re deserving of that love or not is a much deeper, more existential discussion that it is too late for atm.