is "loving yourself" really necessary?

warning -- there's a little rant up ahead here:

Advice like this is pretty common:
You have to love yourself before you can love anyone else.

But because I like to question everything, I started looking really closely at that recently, and I decided it's a bunch of crap.

well, okay, to be fair, it might only be a bunch of crap for some people.  maybe it works just great for others.

but the people I want to let off the hook are the ones who are beating themselves up or feeling inferior/concerned because they don't love themselves, whatever the heck that means, and it keeps them from accepting who and where they are and getting on with their lives.

so to those folks, I want to offer a couple alternatives for your consideration:

How about if instead of trying to love yourself, you just settle for talking nicely to yourself internally? Maybe even talk to yourself like you would talk to a young child who is trying to do her best but does not always succeed. Or heck, even like you might talk to a stranger or a neighbor -- just be polite and neutral.

So if you make a mistake, you brush it off with a quick, "That's okay," and just move on with your day. You don't have to feel great love or affection for yourself, just be civil. Feelings are a lot harder to summon or control than behaviors, anyway, so it's kind of a setup for failure if you expect yourself to feel anything in particular.

Or how about if you forget about loving yourself at all, and just love whoever or whatever feels easy to love for now? Maybe you love your children, your parents, your friends, your mate, your pet, or even your car or your garden or your music. Everybody loves something. So shift your focus onto loving whatever you love and don't worry if it's not yourself. 

And whenever you find yourself noticing that you don't love yourself, take that as a cue to amp up loving whatever you do love a few more notches so that your loving takes up more of your time and attention than your monitoring of self-love.

just a thought ...


Elma Mayer said...

Yes! Thank you! Whole-hearted and Whole-minded agreement! I never understood the platitude "love yourself" - it always felt incomprehensible and foreign. "Accept yourself" or "Take good care of yourself" or "Be at peace with yourself" or "Resonate with Love" are all fine with me.

But "Love yourself" is a misnomer and a misdirection, except maybe in rare specific cases. Because when you "Love," the "Self" disappears!

karen alonge said...

oh my goodness, elma, you are so right - when you love, the self DOES disappear. I'd never thought of it that way before. brilliant!

Jeff Patterson said...

I really, really appreciate this post, Karen. And you know it's something I needed to hear. For me, tending to one's self as you would a child with encouragement and a respect for their doing the best of their ability in the moment really resonates with me. Focusing on the love that's already present and channeling it where you feel and where you're able - so good!

karen alonge said...

so glad it resonated, Jeff. to you personally, I'd offer the guidance to "be as kind, gentle and accepting of yourself as you would be to karen" because I know exactly how wonderful that would feel! :)

Nicole said...

Great post Karen - you're so right - I think often when there are hard and fast little rules like this (you MUST love yourself!), despite their good intentions they can just be more chances to beat yourself up for failing. Another related one I can think of is "Think happy thoughts." The truth is that the mind is a wild thinking machine and nearly impossible to control. I like your idea of shifting focus. I think also just having awareness about the fact that your mind is just indiscriminately throwing out thoughts can give a world of perspective. Have you ever heard of Michael Neill? He's one of my favorite life coaches (although I hate to even call him that because he's not your typical life coach). He just wrote a new book that talks a lot about thought (

karen alonge said...

thanks, Nicole. the image of a 'wild thinking machine' is such a satisfying one - I picture some kind of crazy gadget with tubes and gears and steam billowing that churns out ideas at an insane rate.

And I respect Michael's work very much -- I've been a subscriber to his MNCT newsletter for many years and have so enjoyed seeing his career skyrocket through the roof. He's got such a great message to share ...