One of the issues that becomes very evident when talking to people who are struggling in a relationship or who have been through a series of painful relationships, is that loving themselves and being in a relationship are seen as mutually exclusive. Now sometimes that’s due to the nature of the relationship and so it has issues that are having a knock-on effect on their self-esteem but equally, it can be down to the fact that they tend to give themselves up no matter who they’re with.
Whether we’ve lost ourselves as a direct result of engaging in a relationship or we’re lost because we give ourselves up in the pursuit of love in general, it results in confusion about whether to stay or go because we’re unable to distinguish the relationship from our self-worth and so the relationship is at once a source of external esteem, while at the same time, intertwined with feelings, thoughts and actions that mean that the relationship is closely associated with pain.
The person/relationship that’s seen as the sole source of our happiness paradoxically becomes the sole source of our pain.
It is possible for us to be in a relationship and love ourselves at the same time.
It’s in this kind of relationship where we can have love for another without diminishing ourselves in the process, where we experience love that flows and grows between two people rather than it being about one party having something we want to ‘get’ or ‘earn’ from them or it being called love because it’s what we associate anxiety, angst, precariousness, worthlessness, uncertainty, turmoil and other such feelings that become the norm in a relationship where we don’t feel good about ourselves.
When we don’t love ourselves in relationships, we either don’t know whether to stay or fold or we do know what we need to do but don’t have the personal security to back ourselves to show up.
We remove our options because our possibilities appear to rest upon someone else or at the very least, the social and personal currency that we derive from being in a relationship.
A great litmus test for understanding whether something is our responsibility is to look at whether the efforts we throw at it make a positive difference over time.
If nothing happens or we experience temporary change and then it reverts to the typical pattern, it’s because whatever we’re trying to influence or control, is not our responsibility or within our control, hence why twisting ourselves into a pretzel in order to ‘make’ someone become available, is a waste of time.
What you can also do to get grounded in any relationship where you feel lost and in a level of pain, is evaluate whether loving yourself is possible, because this tells you what your options are and how much you can influence your happiness and quality of life.
Ask yourself: Is there a way that I could love myself and be in the relationship too?
If your relationship is reliant on you having little to no boundaries, minimal self-esteem, and it lacking equanimity and equality, loving yourself isn’t going to be possible in the relationship, and that means it’s time to opt out.
If on examination, it becomes clear to you that while there might be some issues present in the relationship, that it would be possible for you grow in the relationship so that it could accomdate a healthier sense of self, then you know that you can continue, because then you know that aside from you taking responsibility for yourself and so investing in being a loving partner, that your partner is not threatened by your growth nor reliant on you staying in an uncomfortable comfort zone where they can profit from it.
If it’s a choice between loving you or loving them, always choose you because the truth is, the person who genuinely loves you does not need you to sacrifice yourself for them nor would they comfortably sit by and watch you lose emotional, mental, physical, spiritual or even financial ground ‘for them’. There won’t be a need for you to become isolated from your family, friends etc, and you won’t need to walk around with a cloud of shame hanging over your head.
If there’s a way that you can love yourself in the relationship you’re in, there’s nothing stopping you.
Start somewhere, start anywhere but start, and then keep trying.
That same time, energy, effort and emotion that you want to throw their way in the hopes of it filling you up, save some of it for you.
What you do for them, do for you. At least then you will know that you’re really loving them, not trying to catch self-worth or even ‘earn’ it through torment.
Yes, it will feel difficult initially because it’s a switch from using the relationship as your reference point, but it’s a very worthy investment because you will live and love better because you know where you end and they begin, halting codependency.
There is always a way that you can love yourself more but if someone is blocking your efforts, it’s the message you need that it’s time to choose you.