Recently a friend shared this on her social media site. At first, I was like, “yeah, okay, I can see this. We have to teach people how to treat us.” But the more it simmered in the back of my mind, the more I became bothered by the implications of this saying.
First, it implies that someone who has never been taught how to love himself/herself should be able to independently learn that behavior before being able to teach someone else how to love him/her. Except, how can it work that way? If you have to be taught how to love me, then shouldn’t reason dictate that I also need to be taught how to love myself?
People say, “just love yourself.” But, for some of us, that’s not so easy. Feeling unworthy of love is something that was taught. Feeling worthy of love is something that has to be taught as well.
Think of it this way: if you were only ever given conditional love in your childhood, wouldn’t it make sense that you believe love is conditional? That in order to receive love you have to do and say the right things? Eventually the pressure to do and say the right things but never being able to earn that love will make the person believe that they aren’t good enough. Hence the belief that they don’t deserve love; they’re unworthy.
On the flipside: if you were the child who took risks, made mistakes, and was still met with love. Wouldn’t you learn that love was something freely given, regardless? Wouldn’t that make it easier to love yourself? Knowing that it’s okay to make mistakes and take risks because you’re still worthy of love?
I’m not saying that only people with this idealistic childhood can learn self-compassion. I’m just saying that maybe for those of us who didn’t have that, it first takes compassionate people to show us how to love the parts that we’ve come to feel are unloveable. It is one thing to know that love isn’t something we have to earn. It’s another to actually live it and believe it. That takes time, takes proof.
So, I propose an alternative. Instead of another saying that says what should be done for love, we flip the saying on its head. “Love others so fiercely that they learn how to love their most unlovable parts.” Because at the end of the day, what has anyone lost by loving people even when they’re difficult, even when they’re frustrating, even when they don’t do exactly what we want them to do, even when they don’t know how to love themselves? Nothing is lost. But, if we operate under the assumption that it’s okay for us to love someone else the way that person loves him or herself, then we may very well be playing into that person’s worst fears. They’re unloveable. Unworthy. Not good enough.
So use your love as a tool, teach the unloveable person that they are loveable. That they can learn to be kind to themselves and others. Teach them that they’re not a burden. Teach them that they don’t have to do it all alone. Because you’ve got nothing to lose. Love isn’t something that’s given and never seen again. Love is something that multiplies and grows, the more we give.
Love someone so much that they feel free to risk loving themselves in your presence. Love someone so much that they never worry that your love will be taken away. Love someone the way you want to be loved.