Shulamis Cheryl Mayerfeld
Do You Need to Love Yourself First?
Updated: Nov 17, 2020
Must you have a good relationship with yourself before getting into a healthy committed relationship with another? Is the old adage that you need to love yourself before you can love another accurate?
In short: yes, and no. To understand this better, let's dig a little deeper into how the psychological mind operates.
We all have an inner dialogue that is constantly going on in our minds. Some of us are more aware of it and some of us less so. It is comprised of our ideas, perspectives, experiences, and beliefs about ourselves, others, the world and our place within it. In physiological terms we call this our "schema". It is constant background noise and whether we choose to engage with it or not, it is there and will color the ways in which we view potential romantic partners.
So, here's the thing, if a potential romantic partner echos that narrative we are more likely to engage with them and find them appealing. If the romantic partner does not echo it, we are less likely to feel pulled to them since that would create dissonance and inner conflict within our schemas. Our minds are typically not interested in dealing with this hard psychic battle between our inner dialogue and an external piece that doesn't fit (particularity if that battle is all happening on a subconscious level). So we will usually just disregard it. Meaning that we will turn down the potential partner if they don't match our inner dialogue.
What does this mean? Basically, if you have a negative internal dialogue about yourself or your expectations of the world around you, you may be more likely to be drawn to someone who reflects that. This can lead to an unsatisfying dynamic.
But wait... there's good news! It may inspire you to know that your inner thought process is something that you can modify. You are not doomed because of your subconsious, you actually have some control in this area, even with something that you may feel powerless against...like LOVE.
Taking all of this in consideration, please know that you certainly do not need to be the epitome of perfect mental health to develop a healthy relationship ( who is anyway?!?). You merely need to be aware enough to overcome these subconscious happenings, and therapy can be a way to do that.
Here are 3 ways therapy can benefit you in your quest for a romantic partner:
1. Therapy can help bring the background "noise" to the foreground and teach you how to become more aware of it. It would be great to change the narrative to a healthier and more beneficial one completely, and give your inner self an overhaul. However, please remember that you do not need to be a "finished product" before entering a romantic relationship. Just by increasing your awareness of the dialogue and your desire of how you want you inner narrative to be, you will be better able to notice potential partners who fit that healthier perspective you are seeking! You will then feel more drawn to these healthier partners.
2. Therapy can help you recognize behaviors displayed by potential romantic partners and determine whether that makes them a healthy match or not.
3. Therapy can help you figure out how to find satisfaction and fulfillment as you are waiting and searching for the right partner. Let's be totally honest, someone can do all the right work on themselves and work on their mental health and well-being, and still find themselves struggling to find the right romantic match. If only we could snap our fingers and make that person appear when we are ready! Therapists are not magicians and cannot bring about a good romantic partner as a prize for your hard mental work ( And I would be very skeptical of anyone who does promise these instant results). Therapists help you lay the ground work and find opportunities to recognize potential partners when they do come around. A good therapist can help you weather these times and find satisfaction in life while you are searching for a romatic partner.
So, do you need to love yourself before finding love with another? You need to love yourself enough to be aware of your tendencies and be open to a potential partner ... sometimes even if they are not in the external trappings you expected . When you are aware enough, you will more naturally be pulled toward the partner that is a complement to your healthy inner dialogue and will help you strengthen it.
On a side (but important!) note, I am by no means implying that single individuals have negative internal dialogues and that coupled individuals have healthy ones. Of course not! Rather, quality of interactions and relationships, psychological fulfillment, satisfaction, and security are gained when healthier internal dialogues are present. This will impact how you navigate relationships BOTH as a single person and as a person in a committed relationship!
A single person has the opportunity to be more aware of these internal workings and start a healthy relationship on more solid psychological ground. Being aware of these internal dialogues is very valuable to a coupled person as well, it just may require deeper and more complex work.