One of the messages that’s been drilled into us by popular culture is that “you have to love yourself before you can love someone else.”
This is something people tell you when you get your heart broken and you feel like you must be… no good! And for a lot of years, every time I heard this I felt like a different species than everyone else. Because there were times when I didn’t particularly love myself – and here and there when I was younger, times when I hated myself. But there was a never a time when I didn’t love other people very deeply.
(Keep reading, or watch the video here).
So why do people say this?
I don’t know, because actually, I think the opposite may be true: You can’t really love YOURSELF until you love other people. And here’s why I say that.
When my life was going badly and I was isolated and struggling, it was somewhat driven by Childhood PTSD and what had happened to me as a kid. But mostly it was because of problems I was having with other people in the present. And not a small part of that was being (sometimes) overly focused on myself and not very good at caring for other people. It’s possible to really love a person but not care for them very well.
It’s hard to say where one ends and one begins, because that self-centeredness, which comes from hurt and fear and anger — it’s all PART of Childhood PTSD. It’s not our fault we got that way, but each day that we’re locked out of mutually caring relationships with people, we love ourselves a little less. Or maybe you do OK for a spell and then your PTSD drives you to lash out at someone. And You’re like, damn, I did it again – I overreacted, I was harsh, I pushed someone away… AGAIN.
And when you feel that way, some people will tell you just to love yourself — and in those moments, if I could love myself I totally would. But if you’re like me, that self love is not the fix that’s needed, it’s the byproduct of the fix that’s needed. You feel bad about yourself and toward yourself because you keep making certain mistakes. And therefore the way you’re going to feel better about yourself is to change.
Change can be really hard. You’re not going to do it from just reading a book or taking a class or making a promise when you’re trying to stop someone from leaving you. Changes that stick — especially changing hurts that are installed in you at a deep level — these changes are rare because they take a lot of focus and consistency.
But you can change and there are three conditions. First, if you’re like me, you don’t undertake big changes unless you’re in pain. The old way isn’t working anymore and that’s been made horribly clear, and you’re exhausted with the consequences of that… Sick of your life feeling empty. Sick of feeling scared all the time that you’re going to lose even more.
And, change is going to require humility. Not humiliation (although humiliation is no stanger to those of us with Childhood PTSD). Humility is an acceptance, an ability to face a problem without defensiveness and blame. Sometimes it requires coming down from a position, like getting off our high horse of “Well you did this to me” or “What do you expect after what happened to me as a kid,“ and with a soft heart, being aware that we have made mistakes. Maybe there’s a harsh thing in our behavior that hurts people. For you it might be anger, or trying to control people, or criticizing them or ghosting them when you feel uncomfortable.
Humility can also involve a step UP, where you stop seeing yourself as the pitiful loser who is hopelessly damaged and can’t possibly be expected to recover. Because that’s not true either. So humility is a gentle acceptance of reality. It’s a beautiful state, where you drop all the B.S. and blame and self-attack, and just be with truth of your situation. We hurt people. We make mistakes. And we are strong, resilient, kind-hearted people who can heal that and instead bring more of our gifts to bear in contributing positively to the world around us. That part feels good right?
But here comes the third and hardest condition (and it’s pretty vanilla) but it’s effort. If we’re going to change we’re going to have to work at it. A desire to change, the courage to face honestly where we are now, and the willingness to work consistently, daily, sometimes deeply and beyond our comfort zone — these are the three things that work.
And they are three things that don’t happen automatically when you snap your fingers.
It’s not rocket science, but change is hard! So these criteria, these conditions for change will set you up for radical transformation. I know this because I’ve both changed and failed to change many times. And when I’ve successfully changed this is how I did it.
I’m miles and miles beyond where I was in the beginning of my healing. I’m past the highest point I thought was even possible! And each time I was able to make a breakthrough and change, and grow in my capacity to love people and listen to them and be caring toward them, I’d think “hey, I’m pretty good at this!”
I came to love myself. And when I love myself, I’m a lot more at ease about other people. So it’s a positively reinforcing cycle. I couldn’t love myself when I was focused only on my feelings and MY hurts. I had to step up. This is when my spirituality went from a vague idea into the very source of strength I needed to hang in there with the changes I was making. I’d have trudging periods where I was trying and trying, and not seeming to get anywhere. And then I’d have periodic bursts of healing. And it continues to this day, more love for others, more love for myself, more love for the fact that I’m alive, and for that Power that created me and that animates me and all living things around me — and the rocks and clouds too! We’re all in this together. I’m part of it, and you are too.
It doesn’t matter what you’ve done. You have precious intrinsic worth and you are worthy to be loved. And, if you’re like every person alive, especially those of us with Childhood PTSD, you may sometimes be a little hard to love. That’s what we do in our tough moments — we push people away. But we also heal and love and flourish. So don’t get too wrapped up in the struggle, don’t go hating yourself over mistakes and things you can’t help. Keep your eyes on who you aim to be, and keep working on it. Be honest with yourself, and be persistent.
Maybe some people can love themselves at will, but I can’t. I had to clean up my life so that I could be loving to other people. And I have to keep that up every day because on most days I have tiny slips — I’m cold to someone or harsh with them or talk about myself too much, or I just get lazy and crave to get out of responsibilities. And so I keep working on that, just to be more considerate and loving wherever I am, when I’m working, when I’m making a video, when I’m sitting in traffic, in my mind when I’m watching the news.
We’re all in this together. And just in case you fear what I used to fear: No, being loving will not make you into a doormat, and it doesn’t at all mean you must condone abuse. Exactly the opposite. When you’ve grown genuine love and respect for yourself and others through your own positive actions, you’ll find it’s like a force field around you. People don’t mistreat you so much anymore. You will have a natural radar for hurtful people.
We’re all sensitive and as we recover we can better SENSE of who is trustworthy. And now people will feel more of that solid vibe from you, which by the way makes you more lovable. Your positive actions will make you feel better, will make you feel more REAL, more a part of the world, a part of the forces of good. And that’s who you want to be. That’s what’ll make you feel good about yourself and give you confidence. Trust the good in you, don’t put up with abuse, but start taking positive actions. You’ll know what to do. You KNOW. This is the part of you you couldn’t feel before. but it’s the very thing you love.
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