Buddha once said “You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection”. But is it people’s self-love, or lack of, the reason behind their failings in love and relationships?
On Valentine’s Day, many couples will celebrate their love for one another by thoughtful gifts and passionate words. However on this same day many, people may ask themselves “I once thought my last relationship was my most successful, what went so wrong?”
The concept of self love is one of the main reasons why a relationship may not survive. The way people view themselves, whether it be love or hate, and their self-confidence significantly affects their relationships.
Self-confidence is belief in one’s abilities, whereas self-esteem is an appraisal of one’s self-worth. As much as someone with low self-esteem may struggle to believe that they deserve to be loved for who they are, similarly, someone with high self esteem person may struggle to find a partner who will accept their destructive egomania. Both ends of the spectrum can lead to self-sabotaging behaviours.
“I once believed I had the best relationship in the entire world,” said L.A, 24.“It was like I finally found what I spent my whole life looking for. He was the man written about in every love poem and romantic novel I ever read.”
She never gave much thought to when he would look at her and say, “you’re too good to be true and I don’t deserve someone like you”. As it turns out, this was his reason for leaving her right before their engagement.
“One day, he called me to say that he just can’t do it anymore and that I don’t deserve to spend my life with someone as awful as he is,” she said. “He wasn’t lying and it wasn’t a cliché. I knew he had his fair share of questionable viour in the past but I accepted his faults. However he hated himself so much that he would let me go because he believed I could meet someone better than him one day.”
As L.A. recalls their memories together, she states that his low self-esteem was due to the way he was raised and his strict parents. She however never believed that it would influence him to the point of breaking up with her. “No matter how hard I tried convincing him that I loved him the way he was, he never believed anything but what he was raised hearing from his parents: that he was never good enough,” she said.
“He believed that he’s damaged and incapable of taking care of anyone; that’s what he learned from his dad,” she said.
Despite many attempts, she never managed to make him understand that he was exactly what she had been looking for: “He had zero self-esteem; something that even my love couldn’t fix”.
On the other end of the spectrum, R.A, also 24, admits that her ex-boyfriend’s extremely high self-esteem was why she could not continue the relationship.
“Even though he was caring, supportive, and loving, he was also self-centred and believed that his achievements were higher than anything anyone else did and that ruined the good opinion I had of him,” she said.
It became a regular fight between them: arguing about how great he perceives himself and demanding that she feel the same way.
“‘How can you not see the huge achievements I’ve accomplished in my life; I’m better than anyone else you could find!’ is something he would say regularly. I always found it astonishing when he said that,” she said.
He was also raised by strict parents; he thought that parents who offered their children help were just spoiling them and that it would be harmful in the long-term. According to him, the hardships he went through made him the great person he is today. “With love expressed in such a way, I found myself emotionally drained and exhausted,” she said. “He never believed that he had an over-inflated ego, he just saw himself as a self-confident person.”
“The difference between self-esteem and self confidence is often misunderstood,” said therapist Salwa Bernaba. “Without self–confidence the relationship cannot survive; higher self-confidence is an indicator of a healthy relationship. Whereas self-esteem benefits from more of a balance; overly low or overly high self-esteem is a risky factor for relationships.”
In Erich Fromm’s book, “The Art of Love”, he explains how low self-esteem can ruin a relationship: “To be loved because of one’s merit, because one deserves it, always leaves doubt; maybe I did not please the person whom I want to love me, maybe this, or that – there is always a fear that love could disappear.”
Bernaba believed that an egoistic person is trying to conceal his feelings of inferiority by presenting himself as very impressive, “he might see himself as so insignificant on the inside, so he makes sure he presents himself as remarkable on the outside”.
He believed parenting technique is the main reason behind self-esteem issues, “the first self-image anyone receives in the first 5 years of life comes from parents or carers; what is taught at that tender age can stay with someone for a very long time,” she said. “From what I’ve seen, 60% of relationships problems are related to self-image.”
“Relationships are like chemical equations,” psychology expert Kerolos Bahgat said. “There’s no general answer for all cases; however, you can detect the results from the workings of the relationship.”
From Bahgat’s point of view, chemistry needs intensive study to be understood; there’s a science to relationships that people need to learn about.
“When people read about love and relationships, they can understand how their minds and emotions work and therefore, they understand themselves and potential partners better. However, such science is not culturally prevalent in Egypt. Egyptians need to learn more about the art of love. Learning about your emotions, desires, and needs helps you deal with them in a way that won’t negatively affect your partner. It’s pure science, just like any other.”