I grew up with a model of love called “sacrifice yourself for somebody else.”
Love meant abandoning one’s own needs in order to meet the perceived needs of others.
But what this creates is the inability to love your own self deeply.
And it’s actually not love.
Love does not require abandoning what is true in order to make somebody feel better.
The truth is love. Love is the truth.
When I started dating Jordan I didn’t know what to do with myself, in receiving how fully he loved me.
It disgusted me to let it in, sometimes. It would bring up this strange rage inside my body, where I just wanted him to get away from me at all costs.
I grew up in a family that showed love by teasing, by making fun of one another.
It was really new to open to love that looked like somebody just being nice to me all the time.
I actually don’t think most people know what this is like. To be loved by someone who never criticizes you, who is always kind to you, who doesn’t see the pieces you’re still working through as “flaws,” but loves you even more because of them.
I always thought my flaws were that I was messy, forgetful, selfish, dramatic, too emotional, and too sensitive. That dating me was “a lot.”
When I broke up with my ex I realized that none of these things were negative qualities.
That *I* did not actually mind these qualities.
That they were qualities that instead had always been labeled wrong by people around me.
I don’t use any of those words to describe myself anymore.
Instead I think that I feel a lot and that is such a gift. I think I know how to meet my own needs really well, which allows me to show up fully for others. I think a really lovable quality about me is how I sometimes need to spread myself out all over the place, letting stacks of paper land here, clothes land here, food on the floor land there, until I decide to clean it up.
I often forget to change the laundry or to turn off the burner on the stove and Jordan will gently say, “My love, this is still on.”
None of me is made wrong.
And in dating Jordan I also found someone who would not sacrifice themselves for me.
When I was younger I thought love meant having as little needs as possible.
That I was a good sister and a good daughter by not reacting so much.
“Boundaries” were not a concept.
I would never have set a boundary, because doing so would fill me with extreme guilt, because it meant that I was not being loving.
In reality the most loving thing you can do in any relationship is to take care of yourself.
Relationships that are based on people hiding their needs from one another are not real relationships.
There is no intimacy. There cannot be true intimacy without vulnerability within connection.
Sometimes clients share with me that they are afraid to share what they really think, who they really are, with the people around them. Because they are afraid that they will lose these relationships.
And the question for me is always: Is it a real relationship, if you do not exist within it?
Is it love, if you are not being seen?
Quite rarely, Jordan and I will say something unkind to one another.
It is always followed up by the other person expressing their hurt feelings. And then the other fully listening, and fully apologizing. If we do not agree, we take some space or take the time to work through it until both of our needs are being met.
Love is being willing to name what is true.
Love is honoring the boundaries of the other person.
Love is making sure your needs are met.
Trying to love somebody else without loving yourself first often results in self-sacrifice.
Self-sacrifice is not love.
When you set boundaries and make a point of meeting your own needs fully in your life, something amazing happens.
You suddenly have a lot of energy to give to other people – and this energy comes from a loving and true place.
There are times where I choose somebody’s needs over my own. But in order for this to be a true and conscious choice it needs to be rooted in the fact that I always am filling up my own cup.
For example, Jordan went to stay at a hotel the other day and forgot something important at home that he needed. He texted me to ask if I could bring it to him, because he’d be on calls and couldn’t drive back (the hotel was in town, covid vacations).
I did not want to bring it to him. My preference was definitely to stay home.
But I knew that the night would be full of my own alone time, and that driving to him was actually something I could do from a clear place. I didn’t drive to him and then feel all resentful and annoyed about it. I thought about if I could do it, and I decided to. That was a loving act, it wasn’t what I preferred, and it didn’t require me sacrificing myself.
Another example happened recently when I was feeling sad and wanted to be alone all day. But Jordan and I hadn’t had a lot of touch in a few days, and touch is his number one love language. He communicated that he was really needing touch.
I felt into it and noticed what I needed – alone time – and realized that I could cuddle with him for a half hour or so and then go back to my time by myself. So I did – I held him and touched him a lot, and he felt nourished again. And then I went back to what I was doing.
In that moment I was putting his needs in front of mine. But it was only possible because I was consciously choosing to do it from a clear place – meaning, there were no secret resentments, no covert contracts. No assuming he was going to be a certain way or that he would do something for me because of it.
I wasn’t crossing my own boundaries to get there. I was sitting with my needs and noticing what was possible.
If in that moment it would have been abandoning my own needs and I would have ended up resentful, I wouldn’t have done it – no matter what he needed. Because my ultimate desire is to have a relationship based in so much love.
And love is not possible if I am not being loving to myself.
Some people think that they are sacrificing themselves for their children. But having children should be a conscious choice. You are not a martyr because you have a child. You are an adult who is choosing to take care of a child.
Sacrificing yourself for your children will teach your children that they need to sacrifice themselves for others.
Children deserve to grow up in homes where their parents are fully expressed in their own lives and have boundaries with their children. This is what teaches boundaries and true self-love.
Most people do not show their full selves in most (if not all) of their relationships.
If you can’t show your full self then you are not really being seen.
If you can’t have needs then you are not really being loved.
Love means honoring your own needs, the other person’s needs, and the needs of the relationship.
It is only in the thriving of all three of those things that there can be actual love.