Every time I hear that sentence, I can feel my blood start to boil. You want to know why? Because I disagree entirely.
If you know me, you’ll know I’ve struggled with my mental health and image of self-worth for a while. I’ve been diagnosed with chronic anxiety and clinical depression, and like the majority of women my age, I suffer from the scars of a brutal and nasty society obsessed with looks. Thanks to medication, journaling, and following an enormous amount of body positive icons on social media, I am infinitely better than I was a few years ago, but that doesn’t mean I don’t still struggle. My main issue has always been loving myself, whatever that means; appreciating my worth, knowing my beauty, believing my talents, things like that. Growing up, my family always told me how intelligent and beautiful I am, so I know my issues of self-love doesn’t stem from there. In fact, I know exactly where it stems from; those scars I mentioned above.
These issues I have with loving myself, they manifest themselves in so many ways; too many to get into right now. And that’s okay, I’m dealing with them in ways only I know how. But, because of that, because I may struggle, does that mean I am not allowed to love anyone else? Because I can’t love myself, I shouldn’t love anyone else? Sounds a lot like bullshit to me. To me, ‘if you can’t love yourself, how are you going to love anyone else?’ is exactly the same, just wrapped up in glossy paper, with a ribbon on top. When I was at my most vulnerable, that quote used to upset me, big time. I thought “if so many people agree, then maybe I can’t love anyone else, maybe I am not meant to”. It used to infiltrate my anxious mind and dig deeper and deeper until it became a permanent worry. Do you know how I shifted those thoughts? By loving anyway. With every call to my family, essay session with friends, with every smile from my partner, I kept loving, and kept being loved in return.
If there is one thing I am certain of, is that I am capable of love; in fact, I am supreme at loving people. I love my family, friends, and partner with a love that could burn down bridges and start fires. Well, maybe not, but it certainly feels like that. The love I give has always been the same. It was the same when I was curled up in bed, crippled with depression, and it’s the same now, when I am happy and healthy and joyous. No matter what happens, I give my love tenderly, ferociously, and generously.
I know what that quote is trying to say; you need to work on yourself before anything or anyone else. But loving other people has helped me start to love myself. By loving others, and hearing their words, I have started to learn what it means to love yourself. In seeing the love I give them, and the love they give me back, I am noticing how I should treat myself. When I tell my friends it’s okay to take a break, I am learning to listen to my own advice. When my partner tells me he loves me and I am beautiful, I believe him. When my family embrace me and squeeze me, and I hold them back, I feel their love and know I deserve it. Loving people has helped me untie years of societal knots, and has helped me learn to love myself.
I understand that this quote means a lot to some people, and it’s helped them out of some tough times. But to me, it just neglects those who are struggling and loving and trying. My self-love journey is a process, and will be so for a long time to come. It’s okay to disagree with some of the self-love mantras, if it doesn’t fit you just yet. As long as you are on a journey, and trying your best, don’t let anything stop you; including other people, the sometimes nasty world, and, of course, over-popularised quotes.
“If you can’t love yourself, how are you going to love anyone else?” Well, I am going to love them regardless, as I learn to love myself, thank you very much.