What Is the Relationship between Loving Yourself and Loving Others?

Sylvie GreenDecember 6, 2021LoveThe Big Question
What Is the Relationship between Loving Yourself and Loving Others?

Artwork by Yongwei Yuan

Love holds so much power. It inspires us, motivates us, frightens us, enlightens us, brings us together, and sets us apart.

Healthy love does not always come easily, but it begins with being aware of how we impact others, how we impact ourselves, and how others impact us. When we can identify when loving others is getting in the way of loving ourselves, or vice versa, we can repair and improve ourselves and our relationships; we can feel more genuine love.

Each individual gives and receives love in different ways and, therefore, defines love differently. To me, loving myself means prioritizing myself, forgiving myself, and being content with who I am. Loving others is a complex feeling of affection and care for a person. I show my love directly: through physical closeness, offering my support, and reminding people that I love them. But many people don’t show their love in these same ways. In order to love someone healthily, it is important to understand that we each do so in our own unique ways. Nevertheless, being able to successfully love both yourself and others requires a balance between being both selfish and selfless.

We have probably all heard the expression, “you must love yourself before you can love others.” This claim diverges from the significance of our individuality and distinct ways of loving. However, there is some truth in it. It is certainly easier to love others when you love yourself because you are more likely to believe that people love you. When I don’t love myself, I tend to lose trust in the people who claim to love me, which can make it difficult to love those people.

With a sense of confidence that you are loved comes less need for others’ approval. The desperate desire for validation can alter one’s judgment of who they love and who they should love. Validation can happen in different ways. If someone is insecure and lonely, they may think that they love someone just because they are receiving the type of attention they crave. Loving oneself can decrease the potential for this type of false love.

When I want validation, I sometimes think I need to change myself to receive it. I put on a mask in order to impress those around me and, by acting unlike my true self, I eliminate an opportunity for genuine love. For example, I’ll choose an outfit I am less comfortable in or refrain from making jokes I think are funny. When someone loves me while I’m not being myself, they are not truly loving me. Once I recognize this, the relationship’s value is lost.

Another way a lack of self-love can undermine healthy relationships happens when insecurity and self-hatred promote a need to distance oneself from others in fear of judgment or critique. Or, in my case, sometimes I forget to be there for others because I am so caught up in trying to remember how to love myself. This can be just as harmful as the opposite, which is why we must consider both our own needs and the needs of others.

While loving ourselves makes it easier to love others, loving others can enable us to love ourselves. Connecting with people is an amazing feeling. In my experience, finding someone whom I genuinely care about and who makes me happy has reminded me of my own great qualities that allow me to build those relationships. For example, when I listen and give advice to someone I love, I am reminded of my empathy and kindness. When I laugh and spend time with someone I love, I am reminded of my sense of humor and love for fun. Receiving love reminds us that we are lovable.

However, as connected as receiving love and self-love are, it is important to retain some separation as well. It is dangerous when you depend on love from others to feel loved. Once, I loved someone so much that their love helped me to love myself. But when I lost that person, I lost my self-love. I blamed myself for the loss and assumed that I had done something wrong. I decided that I had never been good enough for the person. No matter the relationship, we should strive to love ourselves in isolation from those we love; people will always come and go, and if we can’t grow without them, we will never grow.

Just as we must love ourselves regardless of who loves us, we must love ourselves independently of whom we love. Loving others does not always help us to love ourselves. Sometimes we sacrifice our self-love because we are blinded by our love for toxic people. When we love someone, we sometimes justify their dishonesty, disrespect, or even violence, and therefore believe that we are the problem. Love can blur our perception of our relationships, ultimately blurring our perception of ourselves. When I am struggling with self-love, my flaws are all I can see. But I have found that the flaws of others are too often concealed by my love for them. Although it is important to forgive those we love, it is critical that we prioritize ourselves in relationships. If attempting to stop loving someone is what it takes to continue to love ourselves, it is what we must do.

The relationship between loving others and loving ourselves is complicated and inextricably intertwined. Building our own inner strength is key to success in all aspects of life but especially in creating and maintaining healthy relationships. Self-love must come first because it enables us to see clearly how our relationships affect us. But too much self-love can destroy. As with so many things, we must strike a balance.

Sylvie Green is a 17 year-old on the New York Editorial Board. She lives in Brooklyn and enjoys playing sports, listening to music, and seeing her friends.