Someone in my Codependency Today group on Facebook recently posted about struggling with the idea that loving yourself first is the only way to have a healthy relationship. Considering that it’s very hard for most codependents to learn to like or love themselves, it feels like this condition makes our dream of being in a loving relationship impossible. And that is just depressing.
I think that the main issue with putting it like that is that it looks like there is a cut-off point at which self-love is achieved. To me, this feels like chasing the illusion of the perfect partner or the perfect state of mind: you believe it exists when it really is just a thought-created fantasy that sets you up to judge yourself and others as not good enough. It’s chasing perfection, which only ever results in feeling disappointed and frustrated.
So I guess, the first point to make is that self-love is a life-long process and commitment. It is a practice and a healthy habit to develop. But don’t despair! Once you know how it works best for you and you experience the benefits, you’ll gladly engage with it. It won’t feel like a nasty chore you have to do so you have a chance of getting what you want.
You will soon realise that the results of self-love are what you really want — you just don’t know it yet.
What a healthy relationship needs is two people committed to learning to like and love themselves and each other. It is not about having to wait for ‘the perfect self-love’ so you can have ‘a perfect relationship’.
It’s about learning about yourself and from each other and being in a relationship will give you plenty of opportunities to learn and grow.
It is important that we begin to see the relationship we have with ourselves as our starting point. It gives rise to everything else in life. It fuels our life.
And even though we need to learn to like and love ourselves if we want to have healthy relationships with others, we do not have to do so in isolation. We can be supported through it and we can learn to focus on ourselves even when others are part of our lives.
Sometimes logic helps to motivate us to do what is healthy and good for us and so I have put together some explanations for why you have to be as committed to having a healthy and loving relationship with yourself as you are to having with your partner.
Your Sense of Self-Worth Determines Your Relationship Standards
If you don’t like and love yourself, you don’t value yourself and so you’ll have low standards for how you let people treat you. We simply don’t protect and take care of what we don’t hold in high regard.
The way you treat yourself and how you let others treat you shows you how much or little you really value yourself. So notice the standards you set. Notice what you tolerate. This will tell you whether or not you value yourself if you are unsure.
Noticing this is something you can practice in your relationship. It’s an ongoing exploration that a partner can also help you with by providing feedback on how they see you treat yourself.
If you want to learn how to treat yourself better, think about how you treat something or someone you value and truly appreciate. Then begin to set healthy standards for how you treat yourself and what behaviors you accept from others.
For example, notice when you choose to go without something you want or need and make a different choice. Find a solution for how you can give it to yourself. Be proactive when it comes to pleasing yourself or supporting yourself.
Or if someone is talking to you in demeaning and disrespectful ways, remind yourself that this is no longer acceptable because you now protect what you value: you.
Your Level of Self-Care Impacts Your Wellbeing
So far we have established that we take care of what we value. Your self-care is therefore an expression of what you believe about yourself.
I am quite blunt about the absence of self-care and call it self-neglect.
If you fail to take care of yourself, you give your partner a neglected version of yourself, which certainly impacts your relationship negatively.
It may put pressure on your partner to take on your responsibilities. Their rescuing tendencies may be activated and you co-create an unhealthy victim-rescuer or parent-child dynamic. You may feel too depleted to go out, take part in activities or have fun.
It is absolutely vital for you to take care of yourself. It is not only for your benefit so you’re in a position to actually enjoy your life and being in a relationship, but also benefits everyone around you.
Remember this the next time you have the ‘self-care is selfish’ thought swirl around your head. It’s completely untrue.
Others Cannot Fill the Void You Create
When we neglect ourselves, we deprive ourselves of what we need: attention, consideration, care, support, reassurance, connection, encouragement, and love.
We then tend to look towards others to provide it for us. We mistakenly believe that the pain we experience is something only they can soothe or heal.
I guess that is true if we don’t do it for ourselves. The problem is that others cannot do it for us. They cannot fill the void we create by depriving ourselves of self-care.
Other people can support us and boost us from time to time but they simply cannot do it for us because their efforts meet a void and simply disappear into insignificance.
When we don’t like ourselves, we don’t understand why others like us. When we don’t like how we look and someone compliments us, we don’t believe them. We think they’re lying to us or they are just being nice.
When we don’t love ourselves, we cannot receive anyone else’s love because we don’t trust it. We don’t believe it. It doesn’t match with what we believe about ourselves and so our brains reject it. It doesn’t feel safe and all of a sudden our relationship becomes fear-based.
Neglecting ourselves and expecting our partner to do our job for us is the biggest relationship I believe to exist. It sets us up for endless disappointment and feeling unloved because another person does not have access to what you have access to — your inner self — and therefore cannot meet your specific needs in the way you need them to be met.
You Are Not Emotionally Safe for Yourself
All relationships require emotional safety. It allows us to express ourselves honestly, openly and authentically. We know that our partner gives us space to simply be and express who we are in that moment and to respond lovingly.
When we don’t value ourselves, we don’t respond to ourselves. We deny what we feel, want and need. We make ourselves not matter in our own lives. We may put others’ needs above our own and often, we may not even know what we want or need.
This is a sign that we lack emotional safety within our relationship with ourselves.
It is not safe for me to tell myself that I want something when I am being ignored, judged or shamed for it. It is not safe for me to be vulnerable and open up to myself when I am being told to go away, avoid my feelings and desires or that someone else is more important than me.
The problem is that by not being emotionally safe to myself I cannot be emotionally available to others because I simply cannot go there. I cannot be honest and vulnerable. I cannot open up to another person if I don’t open up to myself. I cannot share what I am too afraid to see.
And so, not being emotionally safe and available to myself means that I put a limit on how deeply I can connect with my partner, which will negatively affect the level of intimacy we can develop and experience. Intimacy needs openness and emotional connection and cannot exist without emotional safety.
I Am Co-Creator of My Relationships
Relationships don’t just randomly happen to us. We co-create them. We are always in a relationship — even if it’s the one we have with ourselves.
And it’s the one we have with ourselves that informs all others. I get that we are all conditioned to look for ‘The One’ and to believe that there is a person out there that will heal us and make everything better for us.
So it can feel like a huge loss to be told that you need to learn to look after yourself to have the relationship you want. It can feel like an impossible task especially when you believe that you must learn it all before you’re in a relationship.
I believe that we learn as we go along. We learn through and from our experiences and adapt our behaviors and decisions accordingly.
I don’t advocate relational deprivation to end codependency or to improve the relationship you have with yourself. I support every individual’s choice and understand why recovery requires many to be and stay single. It is quite possibly the least complicated way to start over.
It is also possible to learn to like and love yourself within a relationship and have that relationship change and improve as a result of your transformation because after all, you co-create it.
The relationship you have with yourself sets the tone for all the other relationships you have in your life.
The good thing is that you are in charge of that now. You have the power and you get to choose.