Five Lessons on the Journey to Love and Self-Love
Oh, Valentine’s Day. Did you know that Webster’s Dictionary has nine definitions for the noun “love?” There are only three definitions for self-love, however. This feels appropriate in an odd way. It seems like we often learn many ways to love and admire others, and only later really understand what real love and self-love are. At least, in my case that was true.
As a self-proclaimed hopeless romantic, I spent a lot of time focusing on my unrequited loves. I ruminated on clichés like “always the bridesmaid, never the bride” and “if it’s meant to be, it will be.” I wrote poetry and curated playlists as odes to my lost romances, all the while telling myself this was love. Does this sound familiar at all? Do you end up losing yourself in loving or longing for another person? Are you sensitive to rejection, finding yourself feeling worthless after someone does not reciprocate your feelings? You may be struggling with accepting healthy love, just as I have struggled. It isn’t a linear path, but it’s one we all must travel.
Growing up with childhood trauma in a military household, I often relegated my self-worth to being praised and that was what showed my value. As I got older and the objects of my validation shifted from parents and teachers to peers and love interests, I found myself increasingly disappointed and feeling worthless if I wasn’t valued in the way I wanted to be. This was profoundly painful when relationships or friendships were lost for one reason or another. At a certain point I was in so much mental and emotional pain that I had no choice but to seek therapy. I want to help others avoid some of that pain, if possible, and so I will share some lessons I’ve learned on my personal journey toward love and self-love that may help you on your own journey.
Here are five lessons, or insights, that I have gained from my personal therapy and journey toward love and, even more so, self-love.
1. Losing Yourself in Love Is Not Love
It is detrimental to one’s self-worth to give the power of ultimate validation to others. Your worthiness is intrinsic. It is natural. It is born into you. Your perspective and life are unique, and as such have inherent value. You value does not decrease when someone overlooks or does not choose you. Ellen Biros, MS, LCSW states that a “solid sense of self-identity” is the first characteristic of a healthy relationship.1
2. Love and Self-Love Are Intertwined
On the topic of joy and sorrow, Kahlil Gibran’s Prophet said that “the deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.”2 While we won’t discuss or analyze that statement, I do want to use the metaphor to expound on love and self-love. The more you can love yourself, in an egoless way, and hold space for yourself, the better you can love and hold space for another. The ability to love the parts of yourself that may be difficult to love is directly connected to your ability to love another imperfect person.
3. Self-Love Evolves From Being Mindful
Being mindful of your boundaries and practicing good self-care, forgiving yourself and holding space for yourself are quintessential to deep self-love. I’ve found the main reason I am critical of others is because I am deeply critical of myself. When I learned to be more gracious to myself and be understanding of my own flawed humanity, I was able to live more authentically and be more accepting of others on their own personal journeys. Being mindful of my intentions, needs, and triggers allowed me to better understand and care for myself, and to better understand and love others.
4. Comparison Is the Thief of Joy
This statement is true. My journey is not your journey. Your relationships may not look like my relationships. Comparison to others often leads to a diminished view of oneself. That diminished view is simply false. Again, you are not less valuable for the unique challenges in your life. The people you are comparing yourself may be comparing themselves unfavorably to you. Remember that our struggles are personal, as are our gifts. The timeline for things we “should have gotten done” doesn’t really exist, and I think that’s great.
5. Love Is a Journey
Love is not infatuation or obsession. When you choose to love someone, you truly are choosing to love them on their best and worst days. This does not mean one should stay in an unhealthy relationship; it means that the people you love may at some point disappoint you or fall short of your expectations. Love means open communication and a constant learning of one another. It is consistent effort and the ability to show up in someone else’s life with the grace to allow them to experience their own growth. What love looks like may change as you age, and what you value may change along with it. Don’t be hard on yourself or others as we all evolve and grow.
This Valentine’s Day I want you to remember that love isn’t about chocolates or Hallmark cards but rather is the continued grace of self and others as we traverse this journey called life. Have grace for yourself as you meet challenges and conquer them. Have grace for others as they face their own challenges. And don’t lean too heavily on easily repeated clichés during this season of love.
- Biros, MS, LCSW, E., 2018. Healthy Self, Healthy Love: Characteristics of a Strong Relationship - GoodTherapy.org Therapy Blog. [online] GoodTherapy.org Therapy Blog. Available at: <https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/healthy-self-healthy-love-characteristics-of-strong-relationship-030220185> [Accessed 20 December 2021].
- Gibran, K., 1923. On Joy and Sorrow by Kahlil Gibran - Poems | Academy of American Poets. [online] Poets.org. Available at: <https://poets.org/poem/joy-and-sorrow> [Accessed 20 December 2021].
- Gibran, K., 1923. On Love by Kahlil Gibran - Poems | Academy of American Poets. [online] Poets.org. Available at: <https://poets.org/poem/love-8> [Accessed 20 December 2021].
- Khoshaba Psy.D, D., 2012. A Seven-Step Prescription for Self-Love. [online] Psychology Today. Available at: <https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/get-hardy/201203/seven-step-prescription-self-love> [Accessed 20 December 2021].