Most of us have a basic understanding of what love is. I want to address love of self and love of others as one in the same because I believe that how we treat others is a direct reflection of how we’re treating ourselves and vice-versa. Our relationships are a good indication about our true feelings about ourselves. I learned recently that my definition and understanding of love was a little skewed because of some childhood experiences. I had a mixture of things—an emotionally absent father, a mother who didn’t understand how to nurture, some sexual and emotional abuse, and a confusing and chaotic string of step-fathers and step-siblings. All of these experiences were a recipe for an adult who really wasn’t sure about the true definition of love. But now I know what it isn’t!
Satan has a counterfeit for every good thing. I think he works hard at helping us misunderstand what love really is. Following are some of the lies he taught me.
Counterfeit beliefs about love:
- “Codependency often involves placing a lower priority on one’s own needs, while being excessively preoccupied with the needs of others. These helper types are often dependent on the other person’s poor functioning to satisfy their own emotional needs.” (Wikipedia) This doesn’t work. No one else can meet your needs except you. No one can fill your emptiness except God.
- Addictions/obession. “I can’t live without this person or this thing.” Addiction is a state that is characterized by compulsive use of substances or compulsive engagement in short-term rewarding behavior, despite adverse consequences. Examples include substance abuse (drugs, alcohol, food), sexual addictions, and behavioral addictions like exercise, electronics and gambling. Addictions are a powerful counterfeit, and difficult to shake. Often we come to believe that the addiction is the only way to feel. It’s the only thing that feels good. But I’m here to tell you that the atonement of Jesus Christ makes it possible to heal. Any addiction can be overcome.
- Manipulation/coercion. “If you really loved me, you would do [whatever I want you to do.]” This, I believe is how Satan convinced his followers in the beginning, preying upon our hearts. But this is not how God operates. “Leaders invite, persuade, encourage, and recommend in a spirit of gentleness and meekness. [People] respond freely as the Spirit guides. Only this kind of response has moral value. An act is moral only if it expresses the character and disposition of the person, that is, if it arises out of knowledge, faith, love, or religious intent. Fear and force have no place in the kingdom because they do not produce moral actions and are contrary to God’s gift of … agency.” (Boyd K. Packer, quoting General Handbook of Instructions (1963), in “That All May Be Edified”: Talks, Sermons, and Commentary by Boyd K. Packer (1982), 253.) We cannot interfere with a person’s ability to choose.
- Conditions. Setting conditions on love is dangerous practice. It’s selfish because it’s based on conditions the individual sets upon the relationship. “I will love my body as long as it’s thin and attractive. Otherwise, I can’t.” Or, “I will love you as long as you meet my standards for a friend or companion.” It doesn’t work. It isn’t real. If the condition is not met, it falls apart.
- Attention-seeking. Children learn to seek attention from parents and people they love, and sometimes they don’t grow out of it. The reason it doesn’t work as love is because often people seek any kind of attention—positive or negative—simply to get recognition from people. Again, others are not capable of filling your emptiness. Attention and recognition are not love.
- Abuse. All of the many forms of abuse—verbal, sexual, emotional, physical—can cause us to believe that it’s the only way we can receive love. People may not even realize they’re being abused because it’s a way of life they have become used to. For me, self-abuse was a form of counterfeit love and I didn’t even realize that I was doing it.
- Sex. Some people believe that love is all about sex. This isn’t true at all, although the arguments (especially for young people who don’t quite know the difference) can be pretty persuasive.
So what is real love? Here are some signs that you may really know how to love yourself (borrowed from Louise Hay):
- You attract loving relationships and are accepted just the way you are, because others are a mirror of what you are.
- You love and accept your body just the way it is. You take care of it, feed it healthy foods, dress and groom it and keep it clean.
- You attract loving environments where you feel good and are treated with respect.
- Whatever you’re doing in your life, you enjoy it and are learning from it.
- You behave and think in loving ways towards others.
- You forgive and totally release the trauma of past experiences. You live in the now and are grateful for your experiences because of what they have taught you.
We need to learn to love as God loves us. “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.” (John 13:34) “This love brings about real change of character. It can penetrate hatred and dissolve envy. It can heal resentment and quench the fires of bitterness. It can work miracles.” (Dieter Uchtdorf, “Your Wonderful Journey Home”)
“The feeling of love from our Heavenly Father is like a gravitational pull from heaven. As we remove the distractions that pull us toward the world and exercise our agency to seek Him, we open our hearts to a celestial force which draws us toward Him.” (Paul Koelliker, “He Truly Loves Us”)
I am grateful to know who Jesus Christ is and of his love for me. His love is teaching me how to love myself, and therefore, how to love others. I am so grateful for this journey.
“Love is the greatest of all the commandments—all others hang upon it. It is our focus as followers of the living Christ. It is the one trait that, if developed, will most improve our lives. I bear testimony that God lives. His love is infinite and eternal. It extends to all of His children. Because He loves us, He has provided prophets and apostles to guide us in our time. He has given us the Holy Ghost, who teaches, comforts, and inspires. He has given us His scriptures. And I am grateful beyond description that He has given to each of us a heart capable of experiencing the pure love of Christ. I pray that our hearts may be filled with that love and that we may reach out to our Heavenly Father and to others with new vision and new faith. I testify that as we do so, we will discover a greater richness in life.” (Joseph Wirthlin, “The Great Commandment”)