Controversial Question: Do you need to love yourself to be able to love another?

Do you need to love yourself to be able to love another?

This is a question that’s come up a few times in the last month in my readings, audiobooks, discussions with colleagues, and now in my thoughts.

I can cite a bunch of blahblahblah this theorist says this, that theorist says that – but really what is your immediate visceral reaction?

Where do you think your belief came from? Your parents? The media? Has it ever caused any problems for you or your intimate relationships?

I won’t lie. I was a fierce proponent of “You have to love yourself before you can love anyone else!” I think it is 200% true that you should focus on self-compassion (which is different to self-esteem; post on that to come) and prioritize self-care in this fast-paced chew you up and spit you out society.

However, does that mean you should avoid being vulnerable and dating until you’re 100% settled in your own skin?

Maybe. Maybe not. Context, as always, matters.

One of my core principles as a therapist is working transparently (translation: no bullshit). I’m going to throw out another controversial idea! Haha! I think dating is one of those things that may not be for everyone.  I think it’s fair enough for people to make a conscious decision to stay single.  Some people who do not have the emotional energy to give to a romantic partner with existing needs (e.g. mental health; children) and it’s best for their stress and wellbeing to focus on themselves. 

But!

If you’re using something like that as an excuse and not a genuine reason that it’s time to challenge yourself on what you really want, what you’re scared of, and what you want that you don’t even know you want.

If you are interested in the theoretical side of it look into Stan Tatkin (PACT), Sue Johnson (Emotionally Focused Therapy), Dick Schwartz (Internal Family Systems), Gottman, Brene Brown for modern theorists’ view on it.

The (historical) pioneers of attachment theory were Mary Ainsworth and John Bowlby.

My reflections on Emotionally Focused Therapy

I’ve been brushing up on my Emotionally Focused Therapy with Sue Johnson’s online course and her book/s. I’m far from an expert but so far it’s a model that really aligns with my main homeboys Attachment Theory and Family Systems Theory.

If I had to take only one thing from my study into Emotionally Focused Therapy, it would be to not get distracted by the content couples come in with (we never have sex anymore! the house is a mess! you’re rude to my mum! you had an affair! I don’t like the way you speak to me!). Under all this content is the root of the problem – disconnection.

Of course, the other things problems – but the root of ALL problems is the lack of emotional safety and security in your connection to each other to openly and unabashedly talk about it without anger, hurt, sadness or defensiveness.

The root of all discontent is disconnection.

The solution is safety and security in connection with another (your lover, your child, your mother, your Self).