Whitney Houston, in her song The Greatest Love of All, sings “I found the greatest love of all inside of me… Learning to love yourself, it is the greatest love of all.” Sometimes we think that the key to a successful marriage or relationship with our family is to have things in common, have patience, and accept others’ challenges. Undoubtedly these are important factors in having a successful relationship. But regardless of how much we give to others and make adjustments to accept the difficulties of others, if we don’t have a healthy relationship with ourselves, we will always struggle in relationships with others. That’s not to say that having a healthy relationship with ourselves is easy to come by. In fact, in some cases it can be a lot harder than maintaining a healthy relationship with others.
This is where the importance of mental health, depression and mood disorder treatment comes in. If we are not able to successfully negotiate a healthy relationship with ourselves, perhaps because of a harsh inner-critic or past trauma, then it takes an often uncomfortable commitment to receive counseling. But once again, if ultimately it’s a desire for a healthy desire with others, we need to be able to have a healthy relationship with ourselves first. Counseling is not meant to be comfortable or easy and becoming a friend of yourself is quite difficult.
I once worked with someone who came to see me because of trouble in several different relationships but primarily in her relationship with her husband. We did an exercise where she was asked to list the qualities she felt were important in her relationship with her husband. Of course she came up with love, understanding, attraction, and connection among other things. When I asked her to list what qualities she thought were important in her relationship with her she stared blankly at me and struggled tremendously to come up with anything. In fact I had to send her home to consider her relationship with herself.
Part of the problem is that we are so strongly brought up to please others and to make sure that in a relationship we are giving the other person what they want that we neglect to develop the relationship with ourselves. We forget, or maybe never learned, that we must love ourselves before we can love someone else. Help is available, but learning to love yourself is not easy. As long as you’re willing to do the work, however, you will find that once you love yourself, your other relationships will become infinitely easier to healthily manage.