If you’ve embarked on the journey of self-discovery to better your life, you might’ve noticed that there’s a bit of a conflict. You’re always being told to love yourself first, to prioritize your own wellness and to set boundaries and yet community, connections, and serving others always comes up as one of the main sources of fulfillment in life1. To understand this better, we’ll have to dig in and break down this love paradox.
Because as it stands, this sounds a lot like the old chicken and egg situation. Which comes first? They always say to love yourself first, but people usually start by being loved by others to develop a sense of worth and gain self-love.
Breaking down the paradox
A paradox is an idea that seems contradictory, but that ends up being true when you bust out the magnifying glass. One example of a confusing, yet totally legit paradox appears in Animal Farm.
“All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.”George Orwell
The sentence doesn’t seem to make sense, but in this crazy animal tale it works. In Orwell’s story, it’s clear that the animals aren’t all treated equally. Some seem more deserving of respect than others. Equality is discussed amongst the farm animals in the book, but this sentence shows how unjust their equality really is.
So now that we’ve all strolled down memory lane of 6th grade English class, it’s time to shift the focus back towards this love paradox.
Now, onto the love paradox
If you’ve started venturing towards finding your own true authentic life trail, you’ve probably heard about how important it is to love yourself and be true to you. In fact, if you’re reading this, it might mean that you regularly read my articles, which means that you know that I write about this stuff pretty reguarly.
I write about it because there’s no way to be authentically yourself unless you completely embrace who you are. I’m not saying you need to be perfect, on the contrary, self-love is about realistically recognizing who you are, faults and all, and being happy with what you have.
The contradiction arises when we bring others into the mix. I mean, ideally, we don’t live isolated from other humans to love ourselves exclusively, right?
But when should we focus on self-love and when should we shift into connecting with others or even building a community?
Why you start by loving yourself first
Here’s the deal, realistically what makes us happy and makes our lives feel full and fulfilled has a lot to do with how well-surrounded we are. Scientists have even studied this concept and confirmed that having a good quality social network improves our health and happiness2.
So, why don’t we just ditch the whole self-love shenanigans then? I mean, if the happiness and wellness come from having a ton of friends, and a mega stud of a man by your side, why go through the hassle of loving yourself first?
Well, unfortunately it’s not just any ol’ handsome stud and room full of acquaintances and drinking pals that’ll do the trick. It’s specifically about having good quality relationships.
To create strong and united ties with others, we need to be bringing our truest and strongest selves to the table. Co-dependent, abusive, destructive or needy ways just won’t cut it here.
If getting rid of those pesky behaviors is on your to-do list, then connecting within and getting serious about loving yourself first have to become a priority.
Although the ultimate goal is strong and healthy relationships with others, to get there we’ve gotta start with the most valuable relationship of all, the one with ourselves.
How to develop self-love
To help you build a life that’s authentically right for you, you need to be willing to step back from the people who surround you and find out who you are, independently from what they think.
Forget about the status quo; forget about norms or expectations. You’re not looking to become some other “normal” person amongst the group. You’re looking to find your truest you.
Loving yourself needs to happen first so that you feel strong and empowered enough by your own self to step back from the herd. Only at a distance can you find out what most makes your heart sing, independently from what the group sings about.
Take a step back from all your external relationships and have an honest look at yourself and what you are all about.
- What defines you? What are your values? Which words describe you best?
- What does your inner voice sound like? How does it speak? What does your truth sound like?
- What thoughts, feelings, and emotions live inside you?
- If you spent time consciously watching yourself, how would you feel about how you live your life? How you treat people, how you treat yourself, how you speak, how you react?
Once you know all that kind of stuff about yourself, then that authentic version of you is who should be connecting with others.
No apologies, explanations, or excuses required. No more saying yes to please, or agreeing with ideas you think are stupid. Now that you know yourself, and think you are pretty cool, you bring that badass to social situations.
Love mayo in your curry, totally dig mimes or listening to heavy metal first thing in the morning? Cool, great! We all have odd, quirky ways, and it’s ridiculous how much effort we all put into hiding those parts of ourselves. It’s time to embrace who you are and to bring your whole self out into the world. It’s from this honest place that we move onto step 2.
Externalizing the love
Now that we’ve connected within, falling in love with the person we are, only then are we ready to start bringing that authentic version of ourselves out into the world.
Ultimately, we are doing all that internal work so that we are better prepared to find amazing people with whom to share the beauty of who we are.
As they say:
We accept the love we think we deserve.
If we know just how amazing we are, we surround ourselves with relationships that reflect that. If we think we suck, the love we get is just as shitty.
I hope that now you are starting to see why you need to love yourself first, before finding the partner of your dreams. He/She will only arise and find you totally irresistible once you see how irresistible you are.
Compassion, kindness, care, consideration, support, and a helping hand
We want to be giving of ourselves to other people, and to relationships from a place of genuine interest to share and love. Not because we need them to feel good about ourselves.
Otherwise, our entire self worth is left on their shoulders. That’s a lot of underserved responsibility your putting into someone’s hands. And realistically, it’s not the way to building a healthy connection.
The last quarter of the paradox of love circle
Step 1 is loving yourself first.
Then, step 2 is about loving others and building healthy relationships.
And we finish off with step 3: creating communities and giving back.
This part of the cycle of love is all about giving of our time, passion, effort and love to be of service to others in our community, be it local, online, national or global.
This can be done however you decide. As you’ve done the hard work of connecting and loving yourself first, you’ve already discovered what makes you come alive.
It’s now time to share that gift with the world.
By helping others, be it other people, animals or our planet’s
As you share your passions, your interests and your efforts with others, there’s no doubt that you’ll feel more empowered and more authentically yourself than ever.
And the cycle loops back around.
Again, science backs us up here3. People that give back or are of service to others are happier, healthy and feel more fulfilled by their lives. As they say:
“It’s better to give than to receive.”
Helping others makes us feel empowered, needed, connected, and valuable, which all have the beautiful side effect of making us feel better about ourselves.
Again, the cycle continues. Only now, we aren’t loving ourselves first, but loving ourselves still.
Once you’ve looped around the entire cycle of love, you start being able to share the best version of yourself with the world. Healthy love flows all around you, both internal and external.
This healthy love is so pure that it’s all you need to keep yourself flowing around the love cycle, always making sure that you’re loved, first from within.
Because it’s only from this place that we can give the world and our relationships the most amazing version of ourselves. And as our greatnesses as all unique, it’s only by collaborating and working together that we can build something truly breathtaking.
Interested in reading about
1 Inc., By Melanie Curtain
2 NCBI, By Robert J. Waldinger and Marc S. Schulz