Self-love can be a bit of a buzz word, can’t it? Something the marketing people use to guilt us into spending time and money on treatments and luxurious beauty products. There is something in it though. It is very difficult to love someone else unless you can find a way to love yourself first.
So while bubble baths and hot stone massages may not be the (whole) answer, it is important to find a way to get along with ourselves, to value ourselves as people and to be proud of how we show up in the world.
On the surface, it’s easy to miss the connection between how we feel about ourself and how we act, or interact, during our relationships with others. But perhaps it’s less surprising when we have a think about how low self-esteem makes us feel.
If we have low self-esteem, it may mean we’re not feeling confident in ourselves. We’re likely to exhibit shyness, or come across as anxious and fearful. In social groups we might appear withdrawn, we might avoid certain situations or respond to others in an overly negative way.
When your ability to communicate positively with others is affected in this way it can become a vicious cycle, reducing your self-esteem still further. And this tendency for those with low self-esteem to react negatively in difficult moments in relationships has been seen in scientific studies too. One 2003 study (1) found that “low self-esteem individuals tend to react to relationship threats with self-protective and relationship-destructive behaviors that decrease their partners’ satisfaction with the relationship over time.”
Psychologists also believe that when you lack confidence and self-esteem, you can turn to people pleasing to try to avoid problems and conflict. If your partner criticizes or speaks negatively to you, without the confidence and strength in who you are, you may be unable to respond in a non-defensive way. It’s common for people who struggle with low self-esteem to blame other people for their own shortcomings.
Low-esteem or lack of self love can manifest as insecure attachment in your relationships and sex life. We've talked about attachment styles in the past but, in short, an insecure attachment style might mean you're fearful of intimacy and tend to shy away from uncomfortable emotions. It may be that you engage in sex more to please your partner rather than to gain any pleasure yourself or express your own sexuality.
It goes without saying that none of these are helpful behaviors when you’re in a committed relationship.
Of course, we know this stuff doesn’t always come easy. That's why sometimes it’s worth taking some time to explore your feelings a little. Dig deeper into why you feel the way you do. Did you make a mistake in the past that you regret? Is there something – even if it happened years ago – that you feel ashamed about?
Sometimes the things that happen to us and the way people spoke to us in our childhood can give us mental narratives. And this can result in critical thoughts or negative self-talk that pops up, often subconsciously.
Society often tells us that we shouldn’t be big-headed or brag, so exploring all this with a therapist might help you to understand where it comes from, which is often the first step to letting it go.
Truly loving yourself, if you’re not there at the moment, needs a huge mindset shift. The negative thought patterns and self-limiting beliefs that fill your brain will continue to do so until you do some work to change their story.
If it all feels too hard, start smaller. Let’s start with moving towards self-acceptance and self-liking, then take small steps along the path to self-love. Honestly, the first step you can take will really make a difference, so just be kinder to yourself on a daily basis.
Don’t cast judgement. Be curious about how and why you’re acting in a certain way when you’re in various situations. But try not to criticize yourself. Tell yourself regularly that you are doing your best and generally give yourself a break.
One way to get better with this is through affirmations. We know some people are dubious about whether affirmations will work for them, but like we say in our Blueheart plan, love and sex should not be about the outcome. And this is the same for self-love. It’s not about trying to reach an end goal, it’s something that needs to become a habit.
So it makes sense that practicing by forcing yourself to look at yourself eye to eye in the mirror and say positive things to yourself can actually make a difference. It really does have mental health benefits. Try saying to yourself, “I am good. I am enough.” Or, “Today is a new day, I can do anything I choose to do.” Try searching the internet for some other affirmation ideas that might speak to you more. Or choose something directly related to the issues you were exploring earlier.
In order to thrive in a healthy relationship and be able to give your partner what they need, it’s important to grow in confidence in who you are and how you feel about yourself first. If you struggle with poor emotional health, it really can have an impact on how you respond to others and how well you are able to build meaningful relationships throughout your life.