Last week, my boyfriend shared someone’s tweet on his Instagram story that asked people to stop telling others that they have to love themselves in order to be worthy of love in return. We all know the saying that if you do not love yourself, how can you love someone else? It has gained increasing criticism as people realize there is a negative element that can be tied to this saying. It can suggest that you have to unpack all of your baggage and trauma before anyone can love you. But it’s scenarios like this that always remind me that studying communication will always be relevant and interesting. Intent, interpretation, and impact can completely obscure a message. In my experience, this saying has impacted me the opposite way and I will explain why.
Recently, I did a video as part of my Lex Behind the Lens series on my YouTube channel about knowing your worth. It surprisingly gained a lot of traction compared to the performance of my previous videos, but it was the first thing I thought of when I was reading this on his story. Another recent occurrence was that I ended a friendship after discovering this person was inherently not someone I wanted to continue befriending. To protect this post from derailing from the point, I will not express further why that friendship ended (if you know, you know), but I would not have been able to do that or feel confident enough to create a video about knowing my worth had I not been on a self-love journey for the last three years.
Let me go back in time to 2016. Nearly five years ago, I was nowhere near the mindset that I have today. I was a doormat for a lot of people. I excused a lot of behavior and disrespectful treatment because I let myself believe that’s just how things are and I need to “stop being so sensitive.” If I had a dollar for every time someone called me sensitive when I recognized I was being disrespected….Anyway, I continued to attract people like this into my life and I could not understand why. To make matters worse, other friendships I thought were solid were becoming more distant, and instead of having a certain level of maturity to see that people can just naturally grow apart as different things happen throughout our lives, I assumed it was because I did something wrong. I would indulge in self-loating and basically buy real estate in the Woe Is Me neighborhood. I mean, ask yourself: do you like hanging around those people who are always like “woe is me?” The saying misery loves company is a real thing and I was one of these people. I really wouldn’t learn how to stand up for myself and alter my mindset for another three years.
Over the next couple of years, I had some negative professional experiences and learned some quick lessons that I thought I’d learned in college about how being nice is just basic human decency. I had to learn them again and really absorb it. A nice person does not mean they are your friend, that they are someone you can trust, that they even really like and/or support you. Instead of allowing myself to become cynical–which was a more familiar mindset to fall into–I just learned the value of my own voice. On a particularly bad night in December of 2018, I made a promise to myself on my bathroom floor that I needed to set higher standards for myself. I had just become fed up of crying, feeling miserable, and seeing happiness as this unattainable goal instead of an emotion. And I truly believe that this declaration to myself has contributed to every blessing I have received since then.
I have been with my boyfriend for a year and a half now, but had he met me at the same time in 2018 v. 2019, we likely would not still be together today because I did not learn my agency yet. My boyfriend is and has always been the most amazing and respectful person to me, but relationships are relationships. We all have to learn to communicate concerns, observations, negative emotions, and so on with a lot of people in our lives. We’re human, so some days we suck at saying why we’re in a bad mood, or why a seemingly very little thing to one person can be a huge deal to another. One time, when we were only a couple of dates in and something upset me, I stewed in my apartment with fear on how to confront him because I still didn’t know him–I didn’t know if he would react angrily or if he would decide he no longer wanted to see me because my only experience with men at this point was genuinely by proxy. I’d seen my friends get trampled and emotionally manipulated by men for years and as much as I didn’t want to be jaded, I was expecting the worst. However, I stopped myself from obsessing over his reaction and reminded myself, “If anger or rejection is the immediate reaction that a person has to me expressing my feelings and setting my boundaries, this is not the person for me.” I had to know that deep down and I also had to know myself well enough to know what kind of person I am.
Of course, emotions are valid, but that does not mean they are always the appropriate response. I know myself well enough to know that if I am planning to confront someone about an issue, I’m sitting on it like it’s an essay due. I’m getting my ducks in a row and focusing on making sure my message is heard–with evidence–rather than acting out with a temper tantrum or anything like that. I would not come out of left field and just assault someone with words, so I knew that if this man was not receptive to my consideration of his feelings in how I delivered my message, we were not a match. Clearly, this has worked out and I have continued to use that approach in all of my relationships: romantic, platonic, familial, and professional. Every person that I have poured more honestly into has poured back tenfold. This is where I stand by learning to love and, maybe more importantly, respect myself has allowed me to be the best version of myself in this relationship as well as others.
Two years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to cut off that friendship. I wasn’t open to dating. I wasn’t ready to confront the reality that some people I thought would be lifelong friends would fade away. I was scared to unfriend and block people on social media. I did not understand that no message is also a message and that’s all the closure you need from people. Even on my roughest days now where I don’t love anything about myself, I still know what I deserve because I know what I can and am capable of bringing to the table. I’m not that girl that showers herself in compliments like I wish I could be, but I am that girl that is in charge of how her life turns out and who I bring into it plays a very big role in that. I’m no longer blocking my blessings–I’m blocking whatever (and whomever) isn’t good for me.
So yes, while there is a toxic element of the saying that you cannot love another person until you love yourself, there is also an opportunity to improve that relationship with oneself. Every day, we see the best people with the biggest hearts get bulldozed and abused, and does that mean they deserve it or that it’s an effect of them not loving themselves? Absolutely not. All that is is someone who is trying to learn their boundaries and experiencing a time of trial and error. These people exemplify faith as they continue to trust and open their heart when the world has given them every reason not to. Everyone is deserving of experiencing love and they will get the kind of love they put out. If you are currently a resident of Woe Is Me, you cannot expect that someone is going to be responsible for singlehandedly pulling you out of the darkness. But you are also not responsible for solving years of trauma/baggage within a specific time frame just because someone else isn’t interested in or patient enough with your story. You’ll find the right people who are.