Relationships are a common focus in therapy. We all just want to be loved, right? The striking thing is, many eminently lovable individuals and couples who end up in my office share an affliction: they need to be loved in order to love themselves. This error in thinking is an epidemic–a tragic delusion. The truth is, you are lovable. You deserve your love. And chances are, you’re better off without the middle man.
Relying on someone else to accept yourself fully is a dangerous game. Even if you win, the victory is temporary. This can apply not only to romantic love, but to familial love, friendship and even relations with colleagues or acquaintances. Someone is put on a pedestal and you think, “If I win his approval, I’m worthy.” Or, “If I can have her, I’ll be okay.” Procuring that cool person’s love is the ultimate thumbs up. Their acceptance will officially elevate you to the status of “enough.” But you already are.
Don’t believe me? So you go looking for proof– at home, at work, on Facebook. It’s habitual, it’s insidious, it’s unconscious. The common target of the insatiable quest is, “Show me I’m lovable.” For a while, love from another does the trick. What you want to see in yourself is reflected back somewhat accurately. You think, “I AM awesome. She says so. Ha!” It’s affirming. And then what happens? Wait long enough and OMG- she turns out to be a fallible human being, if not a full-on horror show. Then what does her love prove? Nothing! Time to move on to a new source of proof– no matter how distorted. And the cycle continues…
Once and for all, let’s realize that self-worth comes from one place and one place only. Within. It’s delicious to be loved by others, sure. But it can’t be counted upon. It’s not what you need, yummy as it may be. Love from another is gravy. Salty, sweet, smooth, rich, silky, decadent, satisfying– even fulfilling. But it’s still just gravy. You’re the juicy, organic, grass-fed beef fillet.
Here are some tips on how to shake the need for someone else to prove how lovable you are:
1. Realize you are just as cool as the object of your affection. If they have traits you covet, consider whether those characteristics are latent in yourself. Be what you admire. Don’t seek it outside yourself. What is it that so attracts you? Confidence? Candor? Humor? Productivity? Let them be an inspiration to you in a new way. Take a look at those facets of yourself. Do you need a little more confidence? Could you stand to be more productive? Hone those aspects in yourself, rather than hunting them down in someone else.
2. Do not strive for perfection. No need to flaunt your faults, but it’s a good idea to see and accept them. Striving to portray perfection is not only exhausting, it’s off-putting and inaccurate. We are only human. The word is out. So we can be okay with our short-comings and play up our strengths without denying our weaknesses. One of my favorite TED Talks covers this brilliantly. Brene Brown convincingly shows that vulnerability makes us not only lovable, but happy. So be yourself. Be brave enough to be truly you. We all like to be with people who keep it real.
3. Walk away. Realize that if someone doesn’t reflect back the adoration you deserve, they just might have cataracts. Truly, other people cannot be trusted with your precious worth. They are more concerned with their own. You should be too. If someone doesn’t take a shine to you, consider it a cosmic favor. For some reason, you weren’t meant to get tangled up in that mess. Trust the divine intelligence of the universe. Remember, “You were spared,” and move on. Maybe you’ll meet someone with 20/20 vision who really gets you. But don’t be too excited about that. It’s not guaranteed for life.
4. Be the source of your own self-worth. Something as important as your essential value cannot be trusted to anyone else. Socrates said, “Know thyself.” Let’s take that a step further. “Love thyself.” In doing so, you take the pressure off of your lovers, co-workers and friends to affirm you. And you take the pressure off yourself to find a partner who will do the impossible. You can still enjoy the company of another. But it’s a whole different deal. You’ll be so full of self-love that you’re overflowing with love to give. Meet another person who is similarly overflowing with true self-love and BAM. You can have a good time. The real sustenance comes from within. What you get from each other is based on giving, not getting. Enjoy the gravy, baby.