Let’s define self-love. Loving oneself is different from being in love with oneself. Love is acceptance, the opposite of judgment. To love oneself is to accept oneself completely – our strengths and weaknesses, our qualities and flaws… Loving oneself is not putting oneself first, but loving oneself while loving others. Our needs are not more important than others; our needs and others’ needs co-exist – we find a balance so the relationships can be sustainable.

If we haven’t experienced love for ourselves, it’s difficult to offer it to another person. We may think we love our partner, but this kind of passion often comes in the form of attachment. Let’s look at different levels and kinds of love.

Unconditional love

Love in its purest form is acceptance. That is unconditional love. We love ourselves despite our flaws. We accept our virtue and vices. Our love for ourselves is not conditional upon our qualities. Because unconditional love is non-discriminative, it is easy to extend it beyond ourselves to others. People who love themselves unconditionally are capable of loving others unconditionally. This kind of love is healing. 

Conditional love

Conditional love is where a person loves themselves because of their good sides. But if we don’t embrace our shadow, we cannot love ourselves unconditionally. Lots of people experience conditional love. When we love ourselves conditionally, we tend to love our partners conditionally too. 

In love with oneself

People who are in love with themselves experience an extreme form of conditional love. We love ourselves because we see ourselves as perfect. Even if we know we are imperfect, we see that self-awareness as an extra quality that makes us so great. If we are in love with ourselves, we often put our needs before others’. 

Lack of love

People who fail to love themselves are often in love with the idea of love. We want love to complete us. We want the love from our partner so we can feel loved. “If we are in love with the idea of love, we are likely to get into a co-dependent relationship. That is when we don’t take charge of our own life and expect a relationship to solve everything. Relationships like that are toxic and not fulfilling (even though it may feel like curbing an addiction).” (From 8 Recipes for Life)

Below are two major signs that our inability to love ourselves is destructive to a relationship. 

  • When we are needy:
    This is when we want constant attention from our partner. We may suffocate them and thereby push them away.
  • When we are always compromising:
    When we don’t love ourselves, we are likely to put our partner’s needs first. That is when they always have the say and whenever there is disagreement, we give way. This is destructive to the relationship because when we disrespect ourselves and our own needs, we are non-verbally telling our partner that our needs are unimportant. We may think we are keeping them happy by always compromising but actually passion leaks when we keep retreating. “Relationships are like tango – it doesn’t work if one side keeps retreating.” (From 8 Recipes for Life)

When we are too needy, we push them away; when we are always compromising, we recede too much too often that our partner loses interest and walk away.

If we don’t love ourselves, we can start with conditional love by focusing on our virtues instead of our vices, and then move onto unconditional love where we embrace ourselves fully knowing that no one is supposed to be perfect.

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