It is possible to experience the caring, affection and self-sacrificing feelings that characterize loving another person before learning to love yourself. However, feelings of self-loathing can make successful relationships challenging, as healthy love requires both give and take. While you may be able to experience the emotion of love, acting on your feelings and showing love behaviorally might be a challenge if you carry excessive feelings of self-doubt.
Boundaries or limits we set with others are an important key to loving relationships, explains Carl Benedict, Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor, on his website, Serenity Online Therapy. These boundaries can be difficult to maintain if you do not take care of yourself or think you deserve respect, however. For example, if you do not love yourself, you might think it is okay if your partner calls you rude names. Likewise, a poor self-image may lead you to over-extend your time, money and other resources because you do not feel you are entitled to say no. Such behavior can ultimately undermine love by leading to resentment and unhealthy relationship dynamics.
Meeting Others’ Needs
In a healthy, loving relationship, each partner provides “companionship, affection and emotional support,” according to psychologist Will Meek in his “Psychology Today” article, “8 Keys to Healthy Relationships.” When one partner comes to a relationship with self-deprecating feelings, it can be difficult to meet both your own needs and the complex emotional needs of your partner. For example, if you are in a constant state of distress over your physical appearance, it will be hard to step away from that anxiety if your partner is having anxiety about his own problems.
Communication is one of the most important tools in a healthy, loving relationship. If you do not love yourself, you may be reluctant to share your opinions and needs or speak up if something in your relationship is not working. Likewise, if your negative feelings toward yourself make you feel depressed, you may feel irritable, per MayoClinic.com, and this irritability can make it difficult to respond constructively to conflicts, which can lead to unnecessary tension or arguments in a relationship.
The Flip Side of Self-Love
Positive self-image may not be a necessary prerequisite for love, according to a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, "Does Self-Love Lead to Love for Others? A Story of Narcissistic Game Playing." Researchers found that while positive self-esteem can be healthy, self-love can materialize as narcissism, an excessive self-love and need for constant praise and attention. In other words, the study found that if persons do not regulate their love of self, they may ultimately harm their relationships by focusing on their own needs rather than their partners' needs. Likewise, the study found that persons with unchecked self-love sometimes were not as straightforward and loving as those persons who focused less on their own needs.
- Journal of Personality and Social Psychology: Does Self-Love Lead to Love for Others? A Story of Narcissistic Game Playing
- Serenity Online Therapy: Setting Healthy Boundaries: Allowing the True Self to Emerge
- California State University Long Beach Health Resource Center: Love & Communication in Relationships
- Psychology Today: 8 Keys to Healthy Relationships
- Mayo Clinic.com: Depression (major depressive disorder)
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