One cliche I’ve heard my entire life was “You can’t love someone until you love yourself.” My mother said it periodically when I was growing up, & somehow it never felt right to me even when I was just a little kid.
As an adult, I have come to realize how wrong this is, & how shaming as well.
Wrong because just because a person has low or no self esteem, doesn’t mean they are incapable of love. It only means they don’t love themselves. People who feel this way are very capable of loving others, & it shows when they love their spouse, children, family, friends, pets. I was this same way for many years. I absolutely hated myself, yet absolutely adored certain people in my life as well as my pets. They all meant the world to me & I would have done anything for any of them.
This phrase is shaming because it makes people feel that they lack this one basic skill any human being has, to love. Victims of narcissistic abuse already have enough shame to deal with thanks to the narcissists in their lives. They don’t need any more false, toxic shame heaped onto them.
What can be true, although certainly is not true in all cases, is if you don’t love yourself, you can’t love others in a Godly & healthy way. In cases where someone has been abused in childhood, that person may not yet know how to love someone in a healthy way. They may think if they love someone enough, they can fix their abusive ways. In fact, this may seem good or even Godly to the dysfunctional person. Sadly, many people support such dysfunctional thinking, encouraging the unhealthy behaviors. Some folks even will quote Scriptures that are taken totally out of context to validate their beliefs.
A dysfunctional person also may think boundaries are selfish & unloving, so they think telling someone no is a bad thing. Out of good intentions, they allow other people to come first in their lives, even if it costs them their health, finances, or peace. They mistakenly hurt themselves under the delusion they’re being loving.
Similarly, a dysfunctional person may think that giving a person whatever they want is the most loving thing they can do for someone. They fail to realize that sometimes, people need to struggle for what they want in order to learn to appreciate things.
Many dysfunctional people also think that if they are just nice enough or good enough, they can make an abusive person love them. They don’t realize that is impossible, because abusers are incapable of true, Godly love. They also fail to realize that the harder they try, the more abusive an abuser will become, because they see this person as weak & willing to please them at any personal cost. I experienced this first hand. My late mother in-law hated me. Being young & naive, I wanted her to like me, so I tried hard to make that happen. Nothing I did was good enough, & our relationship only got worse.
The fact is, to love others, we must learn what true love really is. It is wanting what is best for another person rather than what we want from that person. It is wanting them to succeed in life, & enjoy their life. It is wanting them to live whatever their best life is, even if it goes against something we would like for them. Mostly, it is wanting others to have a close personal relationship with their Heavenly Father. Any person can want these things for other people, even when they don’t love themselves.