We all start out being dependent on someone for love, needing to get love to survive. Then, in the process of growing up, new needs emerge—-the foremost of which is to feel lovable, independent of other people’s judgments.
We feel a need to rediscover our separate self, our likeable, huggable, lovable self. But how does someone who has only received conditional love begin to feel lovable? It seems impossible for someone who never got unconditional love to be able to give unconditional love, to one’s self or to others.
From birth, we are all needing love and giving love1. We are not just empty shells waiting to be filled. There is love within us from the moment we enter the world. We do need love from others, but not to fill us. Rather, we need a special kind of love to uncover the love within that was always there.2
Love Yourself Unconditionally
You can’t fully love another person until you fully love yourself.3 So how do you do this? You have to stop judging yourself. And stop seeking other’s approval of you. Instead of judging parts of yourself as good or bad, you can see yourself as just a unique human with weaknesses and strengths. You are loveable because you are this unique person, this whole and real person. What is it that you, specifically, don’t accept about yourself? Try this short assessment by filling in the rest of each sentence.
- I regret …
- I failed to…
- I shouldn’t have…
- I wish I were….
- I need….
- People would say I am….
- I am…
- I am proud of…
- If only….
Do some of your responses indicate you regard yourself as only conditionally acceptable? Are you starting to realize how harshly you judge yourself and how much you rely on the approval of others? Can you change your negatively biased self-referencing beliefs to more helpful ones?
For example, can you tell yourself you did the best you could do at the time and forgive your mistakes? Instead of dwelling on the past, can you pull your mind back into the present? When you let your mind go back into the past you see yourself as you were in the past and discount who you are now, in the present.
Can you accept that you do have some weaknesses but those are what make you a unique person so you don’t have to hide nor become defensive about them? Each of us is a unique individual, with our own set of strengths and weaknesses. That does not make us better than nor less than another person—just different—and we are usually loved for that difference.
Can you accept yourself just as you are now, unconditionally, free of any qualifications, and show that vulnerable self to your loved one? Being vulnerable means willing to be open to yourself and to your partner. If you look back at your responses to the above questions you might see what you are defending against when you respond to your partner. You may assume that you should not let your partner see those weaknesses because then you wouldn’t be loved. Yet, to have a lasting love, you must trust that your partner’s love for you will not be affected negatively when you reveal your vulnerabilities.4 The irony is that, if you tell your partner about your weaknesses directly, you will find that your partner will usually feel much closer to you.
Can you see yourself as having a lot of love inside to give your partner because you no longer judge yourself so harshly? Then you have developed compassion towards yourself that spills out as compassion towards your partner (and, quite possibility, towards everyone).
See Yourself as Separate from Your Partner
Can you see yourself as separate from your partner with your own strengths and weaknesses? This view of yourself is crucial because you may not always have your partner to supply what you don’t supply for yourself. So many of us separate or are forcefully separated from our partner before we have had a chance to develop a separate sense of self. Then the struggle is all the harder, but we can still find the love that helps us grow. This love is within ourselves.
When you see yourself as a lovable and loving person separate from your partner, you have the basis for developing a relationship that is no longer based on dependency nor isolated independency. You are more interested in giving love than in getting love. Each of you give love and receive love but you are not desperately needing to get love from each other. You now have a relationship based on interdependency—two people who see themselves as existing separately and together.
- Cozolino, L. (2014). The neuroscience of human relationships: Attachment and the developing social brain (Norton Series on Interpersonal Neurobiology). WW Norton & Company. pp. 97-98.
- Rogers, C. R. (1951). Client-Centered therapy. Houghton Mifflin. pp. 137-142.
- Fromm, E. (1956. The art of loving. New York, NY: Harper Colophon.
- Kernberg, O. F. (1984). Object relations theory and clinical psychoanalysis. New York: Jason Aronson. pp. 185-240.