There is a popular saying that I cannot stand, and that is this:
If you don’t love yourself, how are you going to love someone else?
This saying has good intentions. The people saying it want you to realize that you need to love yourself. That’s all well and good, except for what else it implies. To someone who is depressed, this statement can have other implications. To someone who is dealing with self-loathing, it nearly always has other, darker implications.
What other implications are there? Well, it implies that if you don’t love yourself, you’re incapable of loving other people. It implies that you’re lying about your love for other people. When I was depressed, seeing this message was devastating, because I knew I loved people. I knew I was in love with someone. I knew in my heart that I truly loved these people, but this message was telling me that I did not.
If you are depressed and you deal with self-loathing thoughts, know that anyone who tells you that you do not actually love other people because of your self-hatred is wrong. It would be to your own benefit to start loving yourself, because self-hatred is like a heavy weight that you carry around in your heart. It brings your mood down, it ruins days. When you love yourself after dealing with self-hatred, the world seems easier to deal with. Days are better.
But you do not owe self-love to anyone to prove that you love other people. As long as you feel it, that should be enough proof in itself. Loving yourself should be something that you do for yourself. If someone is pressuring you to show self-love because they are tired of you being depressed, for example, then that person is being incredibly selfish and both parties should examine whether they want each other in their lives anymore.
Self-love is a tricky topic. For some people, it is essential to getting past depression. It can be the one thing that someone needs to accomplish before their depression starts relenting. But for other people, just being neutral towards themselves is fine. Everyone is different, and that should be honored in these discussions.
I truly do not believe that the people saying the above statement are trying to make anyone feel even worse about themselves, but I also believe that they do that anyway, even if it is an accident. The people who say this generally have genuinely good intentions, but just because someone has good intentions, doesn’t mean that that cancels out any negative consequences their words or actions may have.
So it is a nuanced discussion. I ask that if you are going to say this to someone, make sure it is someone who will appreciate it. Everyone deals with problems differently. Everyone’s minds work in different ways, so if you are unsure, perhaps don’t say it. It is better to be safe than sorry, after all.
(Written by Megan Flint.)