When a child is born, it comes into this world with limited, simplistic emotion: I am tired, I am wet, I am hungry. Emotions are eventually defined and taught to us by our caretakers and the environment surrounding us. Through the love around us, we are taught how to love.
Unfortunately, often as a result of toxic relationships, we learn to feel as though we are unlovable. Almost automatically, we place the blame of our failed relationships on ourselves, focusing heavily on everything we were not for that person, rather than appreciating everything we are.
During an interview with couples therapist Dr. Stan Tatkin, the author of Wired for Love, he explained to me, “We are hurt by people, we are healed by people. We learn to love ourselves through a relationship. Developmentally, what is true, everything happens from the outside first. It is all interpersonal.”
Therefore, contrary to popular belief, it is possible to be loved without necessarily loving yourself.
We easily interpret rejection as unworthiness. We then shield ourselves, keeping our distance from any and everyone who tries to come close to love us and, according to Dr. Tatkin, this is a mistake.
After my previous relationship ended, I fell into a rut. I found comfort in all the wrong places. I was partying four times a week. I avoided the gym and mirrors. I slept well into the afternoon, and stayed awake into the early hours of the morning. I kept myself busy to avoid the obvious truth: Once I lost my first love, I lost the love I had for myself.
Leading up to the breakup, our relationship had already become toxic. We were constantly fighting. The stress built from screaming at one another, to hysterically crying. Sleepless nights brought my weight down 20 pounds over the course of eight months. My doctors warned me that if I lost any more weight, I could develop a range of serious health issues.
After the split, I found my appetite — whether it had come about due to relief or happiness I’m not positive, but once I gained the weight back (and then some) from heavy alcohol consumption and late night binges, I hated myself even more.
I struggled with body image issues for quite some time before the relationship, but once I saw my body change and realized the unhealthy habits I had picked up over time, I began to punish myself even more, emotionally and physically. I started restricting myself. I was only eating 600-900 calories a day, exhausting myself at the gym and obsessing over every bite that entered my mouth. I was miserable in my skin, afraid of food and exhausted by my judgmental stream of thoughts that criticized my every move like a broken record. I was at an all-time low.
It was not until I developed such a strong bond with one special man that I was able to realize I was worth the love and affection he gave me. But I still had I had a lot of baggage and nowhere to put it. I would bring up my ex and the things he did, and there were times my boyfriend felt as if he was being unfairly compared to the boy from my past. But he loved me stronger than I had ever been loved, and he reminded me daily that I was worth it. It helped me realize that my imperfections were beautiful.
Retrospect is always 20/20, and now, looking back on those highs and lows, I knew my first love was over before it officially ended. I hadn’t felt loved for a long time, and those emotions of loss, for him and for myself, were holding me back.
Thankfully, just as one person can bring you down, it only takes one person to build you back up. And there’s no shame in letting someone else make you happy again.