Every day we are bombarded with messages about finding love. Love will cure all your problems. Get in a relationship, and you will find happiness. What’s missing from your life? Love! We get these messages directly and indirectly all day long. And then, when we listen to them and get in a relationship, studies show that we aren’t necessarily as happy as we thought we’d be. What gives?

The answer, of course, is that you can’t find that relationship you want, that love you long for until you find it within yourself. When you seek and find a relationship without self-love, you almost always lack a sense of fulfillment. 

Think of it this way. Have you ever had a relationship start off magically but wind up bringing out the worst in you? Or just slowly diminishing your joy and energy and enthusiasm for life? If so, you’re not alone. So why do we keep telling ourselves that a romantic relationship is the key to fulfillment? Because it’s much easier to look outside ourselves when it comes to fixing our lives than it is to look inside.   

SELF-LOVE: THE JOURNEY

I well remember when I struggled with self-love, because I struggled with it for most of my younger life. I grew up with a lot of insecurity, self-loathing, anxiety, and self-sabotaging behaviors. At the time, I didn’t know why I acted the way I did or why I was the way I was. Now I know I was in a lot of pain and just couldn’t face the reality of my situation, of my life. As I began to work on myself and take a proactive role, I realized that I didn’t have to be the victim nor did I have to be the person I was then. I could change who I was at any moment. And boy did I change! I changed the very day I decided I could change. 

The magic, of course, doesn’t live in change for change’s sake but rather in the way changing requires you to really know who you are and who you want to be. In deciding to change, I was forced to get to know myself… and I learned that I really did not like much about who I was. I mean, I had values that were very important to me, but I wasn’t living those values. When I started making changes, I started to fall in love with myself.  

TRY, TRY AND…TRY SOME MORE

The process was slow and steady. It took years to undo all the damage, and there were definitely days when I felt like I wasn’t moving at all, or I felt like I was even moving backwards. But all of it was key to getting me to where I am today. 

This journey looks different for everyone. In my case, I had to begin to prioritize myself as opposed to putting everyone else’s needs first. (I used to be the ultimate people-pleaser.) I stopped listening to what other people said I needed or should do and started tuning in to myself. I started acknowledging my triggers and, more specifically, what within me was being triggered and why, which helped with the self-sabotaging behavior. Each day, I was able to love myself a little more than the day before. Even on the tough days when I felt like I wasn’t progressing or maybe even regressing, I was still able to acknowledge that I was trying. Loving myself meant accepting who I was in each moment rather than focusing on who I wasn’t or who I wanted to be.  

I see this happen with other people, too. Clients, friends, relatives—when they begin the process of developing self-love, they discover it’s often messy and painful. Sometimes when people come face-to-face with that, they turn the other way. Or they scratch the surface, throw a proverbial Band-Aid on it and keep going. Except they don’t really go anywhere. You have to do the inner work, really focus on correcting the negatives that you find within yourself, before you achieve self-love and find yourself ready to move forward in a meaningful, loving relationship.

SELF-LOVE = MORE LOVE

For me, self-love required a lot of healing. It was a conscious decision I made and then committed to. Was it easy? No way! Was it worth it? Absolutely. Though it has been a rollercoaster ride, it has changed my life in ways that I didn’t know were possible. My happiness is no longer a passing feeling based on external circumstances. (Now, even on my bad days, I’m still happy.) And I am more compassionate. I understand people better than I used to. I see where they are on their journey, and I don’t take anyone else’s issues personally. 

All of this is liberating, for sure. But it also explains why, once we truly find self-love, many of us stop longing for that external partnership in the same way. Not that people don’t want relationships or enjoy them, because they do. But when you love yourself, the desperation gets removed from the drive to find “the one”. At that point, rather than looking for someone to fulfill and complete us, we look for someone to help us grow and to bring out the best in us while we do the same for them.  

Maybe self-love is an entirely new concept for you. Maybe you’ve almost found it. Or maybe you’re finally ready to take the next step in a relationship with someone else. Wherever you may be on your journey, it’s important to keep three things in mind. One, you are stronger than you think. Two, the journey to self-love is hard but worth it. And three, we all deserve love. And yes, that includes you!