THE BLOG
02/14/2013 12:13 am ET | Updated Apr 15, 2013

Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places

Without love, what are we worth? Eighty-nine cents! Eighty-nine cents worth of chemicals walking around lonely. -- M*A*S*H, "Love Story," original air date Jan. 7 1973, spoken by the character Hawkeye

Everywhere you look in February, you see and hear messages telling you to think about love. We are culturally and emotionally conditioned to search for love. But where? Many of us believe that love is something that we find in another person. But do we love ourselves, or are we berating and negating ourselves in various ways?

Do we proudly say that we are our own worst critics? Certainly to a degree, being able to learn from a realistic review of ourselves and our accomplishments can help us improve and grow. But to regard yourself as something that needs constant fixing, that you are inherently not enough? Bad idea. Do you allow yourself to celebrate and rejoice in who you are and what you do? Sure, we can oftentimes do better, but do we acknowledge ourselves for daring to try?

Truthfully, we can only find love when we love ourselves first. The love of my life likes to tell the story of how we met. Some years ago, he was hurting from the dissolution of his marriage. He was feeling miserable about himself and his life. He found his work and daily life blah and meaningless and himself as less than adequate. He judged himself as a bad person for failing in his primary relationship. Instead of learning and growing, he was reprimanding himself and dwelling in the "should haves." Only when he was out on the ocean kite boarding did he find any inner peace or joy. Being a reflective, he analyzed why that was so. The answer helped him shift his attitude and created the mindset that allowed for us to connect and develop the loving and nurturing relationship that we have now shared for years.

What was his realization? When he was kite boarding on the ocean, he was completely focused. It was, after all, a potentially-dangerous activity; he was centered and conscious of each move and decision he was making. He took what he learned from mistakes he's made before to guide him on what to do next. He got up again whenever he fell in the water. It was a learning process, and he was enjoying it without thinking that he was incompetent or bad for not being able to do it right each moment.

Looking over his life, he realized that he had been putting himself down without thinking that he can learn and do better, as he does in his kite boarding. You cannot redo the past, but you can certainly learn from the experience. If you are not loving yourself and changing from your mistakes, it is hard for others to love you. How you feel about yourself exudes in your attitude, speech, behavior and very presence, and influences how people regard you. Missing the mark is not permanent, and we can try again with the insights and wisdom gained from previous heartbreak.

With that understanding, he changed the way he looked at his life and himself. He apologized for his part in the breakup and committed to living in a more conscious way and to loving himself. Soon, he felt more inner peace, and the critical voices in his head quieted down. He was happier, and people around him seemed to like being around him and invited him to more social gatherings. He was having fun and laughing more. And not long after that, we met at a dinner party and started connecting with each other almost immediately.

"It's all about falling in love with yourself and sharing that love with someone who appreciates you, rather than looking for love to compensate for a self love deficit." -- Eartha Kitt

We would not have found each other interesting or fun unless we both loved ourselves first. We were attracted to each other because we were happy with ourselves; in being joyful, we were appealing to others. Now, many years later, we still like to share the story of how loving ourselves first brought us together. We are human and do make mistakes, and the good news is that we can learn and grow from them.

What about you? Are you living your life waiting for someone else to validate you? We can approve of ourselves, and with that mindset we will attract and generate the positive regard that we wish to have in our lives from others. You are worthy of love; give it to yourself now.

"Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it." -- Rumi

For more by Marilyn Tam, click here.

For more on emotional wellness, click here.