You cannot love others more than you love yourself

Let me repeat this. You cannot love others more than you love yourself. They say that when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. There was no better moment for me to read this. The phrase was in Brene Brown’s book ‘The Gifts of Imperfection.’

It is not an opinion. It came out of Brene’s 10-year research on shame and wholeheartedness. She interviewed thousands of participants. You probably do not want to hear it. You want to love your kids, your partner, your friends. But, you find hard to love yourself.

The concept that I cannot love others more than I love myself was mind-blowing for me. It was not something I had thought much until I read it. It immediately rang true.

When I grew up, I was taught that self-sacrifice was a proof of love, especially towards our children. I would have to set myself free from that belief. Yes, parental instinct trumps self-preservation. That is why parents would take a bullet to save their kids. Yet, they will often hurt their children’s feelings over spilled milk.

Unloving behavior towards your loved ones mostly stems from the problems you have with yourself. Tiredness, anger, perfectionism, shame and anxiety get in the way of love.

Not loving yourself can prevent you from forming healthy relationships. Insecure people often use manipulation, oppression and guilt-tripping with their close ones.

The consequences of lack of self-love are worse when a person has children. We all know those parents who look like they sacrifice for their kids, but only on the surface.

The one who tries to keep you small to feel needed. The one who pushes you academically, to impress their friends through your achievements. The other who burdens you with their unmet emotional needs. These behaviors are not acts of love. They are ways to ease the parent’s pain of not feeling worthy as they are.

Sometimes we think self-destructive behavior does not affect our loved ones. But it does. Smoking is one example. Second-hand smoke can be deadly.

In our household it is nutrition. My husband and I keep trying to hide sweets from our toddler so that we eat them ourselves. It never works. She keeps finding them and of course she wants to eat them. If we want our daughter to have a healthy diet, we should offer the same to ourselves.

I decided to increase my self-love immediately. I started with self-care.

Self-care

When you start to self-care, you can find resistance from your loved ones. My toddler cried ‘mom, please do not go to sleep,’ when I decided to go for a nap. When I told my husband that I was having a massage, he said ‘Oh, I thought we were going to do some housework.’

I felt guilty towards both of them. Would my husband struggle to be on his own with the two kids? Would my daughter miss precious time with me? What makes it even more challenging is that we do not want to be perceived as self-indulgent or selfish.

If I had not read Brene’s book, I would have probably neglected my needs. I would push through. I would wear my sleep-deprivation and back pain as a badge of honor of a mother of a toddler and a newborn.

I stuck with my self-care regime. The results were amazing. My mood improved, and my patience multiplied. I became a lot more affectionate with my family. Happier and more fun. A friend said I was glowing.

My toddler now lovingly sends me to sleep when I tell her I am going. She even started wanting to go for a nap herself (a miracle if you know her resistance to sleep). Not only our time together has more quality, but I am setting a good example for her.

I am a better mother, wife, colleague, daughter and friend when I take care of myself. The ability to love more has been the biggest motivation for me to do so.

It does not always come easy. But I suggest you take self-care as a medicine. Every single day.

Self-Acceptance and Self-Compassion

One of the most important elements of love is accepting your loved ones as they are. With their imperfections. But, when you are haunted by shame about yourself, you are often judgmental of others as well.

Let’s take a universal example. Body-shame. It affects almost all of us. Several billion-dollar industries depend on you feeling body-shame and spending money to relieve it.

If you do not accept your body, you will also judge the imperfections of your loved ones. I cannot love my parents’ wrinkles, my newborn’s baby acne, and my daughter’s moles while I hate my own. It just does not work.

Perfectionism and self-flagellation also get in the way of loving yourself and others. My husband was always self-critical when he would do something clumsy in the kitchen. When our daughter started age-appropriately dropping stuff he had to learn to forgive himself. He could not be upset at himself and empathetic with our daughter for the same thing.

Research has shown only one difference between those who have love and belonging in their lives and those who don’t. This difference is the belief of being worthy of love and belonging.

Accept your imperfections. Forgive your mistakes. Believe in your worthiness. Then you will be able to do the same for others.

Do not fake it

We all need connection in our lives. But, we cannot have it if we do not allow ourselves to be seen as we are.

A mask or armor to protect you will stand in the way of real relationships. As much as I believe in the ‘fake it until you make it’ mantra at work, it does not work in love.

Fitting in can stand in the way of real belonging. Love needs you to be your true self and offer your vulnerability as a gift to your loved ones. Believing that you are enough and worthy will help you do that.

If loving yourself does not come naturally to you, you need to work on it for your loved ones’ sake. Care for yourself, embrace your shortcomings and be authentic. Self-love will bring more connection, and more connection will bring more self-love. You cannot grow the one without the other. It is a virtuous circle of joy.


Caterina Kostoula is an Executive Coach and a Global Business Leader at Google. Follow Caterina Kostoula on Medium, Twitter or LinkedIn.