Popular psychology has taught us that one has to love oneself before one can love another.
This concept has always made me uncomfortable. How can a person love into themselves what they may not have received from others?
Author, Sam Keen, in the title of his recent book, To Love and be Loved, says it well. Self worth can be strengthened in two ways: by loving others and by allowing others to love us.
A healthy definition of self worth would include something about the value of self-awareness; insight about weaknesses and strengths. Awareness and acceptance of strengths and weaknesses (or bad habits) can help one to be more self-confident. Working on a weakness or negative characteristic can also be a positive experience. The definition would also include the ability to love and be loved. We are told that it is impossible to “give away” something we do not have. In other words, unless you love yourself you have nothing to give to another.
This attempt to justify self-love ignores two or more realities. The first is that we have been created and the Creator has been defined as love. We are “love creations” and as such have been loved. Also, there is a good chance that a parent or other caregiver loved us even if we were unhappy with the relationship at times.
The second point is that love is not simply a sentiment. Authentic love is more of an attitude and an act of the will. It is not necessary to feel valued to willfully act lovingly. It helps, but it is not a prerequisite.
As long a person can think, he can act willfully. He has the ability to choose from any number of options. When down or tired he can act kindly or miserably. Loving another person in this fashion is beneficial because it allows a person to forget herself for a time.
Allowing oneself to be loved by another person can be complicated. Someone who has been wounded in the past may hunger for love but fear it at the same time. The fear has to do with believing that one is loved and then losing that love, yet again.
The term commitment phobia has been coined to describe persons fearful of intimacy because of the vulnerability they risk and/or the fear of being controlled or dominated and hurt accordingly.
Inner healing (i.e., the growth of self worth) results from risking being loved.
Inner healing also happens when one person loves another person. There is a catch, however. One has to love with “disinterest or detachment” when there is no positive response.
To love with disinterest is to love unconditionally and there is peace of heart, regardless of the outcome.