Ask Beatty: The Importance of Learning to Love Ourselves

closeup of a man holding a black heart-shaped sign with the text I love me written in it, on a pink background -love yourself
Getty Images

Every week on my “Ask Beatty Show” on the Progressive Radio Network, I ask listeners to take the time to seriously think about whether they are living their lives in ways that are in their best interest — emotionally, psychologically, physically, financially and sexually.

Are their relationships with family, friends, colleagues and intimate partners satisfying and healthy? Or are they caught up in a conscious or unconscious downward cycle of destructive, self-destructive and self-sabotaging behavior? It takes a lot of courage, self-reflection and honesty to ask ourselves these questions.

Many people who I have treated over the years lived their lives in quiet desperation until they were finally ready and willing to address these issues head-on.

My late father, Maurice Sair, used to tell me as a child that it was the luck of the draw who brings us into the world. We have zero choice who our parents will be. The lucky child experiences love in very concrete ways. She learns that love is caring, patience, sharing, respect, honesty, appreciation, goodness, warmth, empathy and affection. She learns that love is not abuse — verbally, physically, emotionally or sexually.

Her parents teach her about the importance of setting boundaries. They lovingly explain to her in consistent ways why she can and cannot engage in certain activities or behaviors and why certain people will hurt her. If she is really fortunate, she sees her parents respecting and loving each other. It is these early unconscious lessons that set the stage for her future adult relationships.

The truly loved child learns early on what healthy love is and is not. However, those who were not that lucky should not lose heart. They too can learn to have happy lives filled with love.

Their challenge, however, will be to make sure that they don’t inadvertently repeat their early childhood lessons of abuse or neglect. This is precisely why good professional help can provide you with invaluable insight and support that can enable you to live the life that you deserve — a life of peace, love and happiness.

I recently received an email from Ramona, a 55-year-old never-married writer, who was severely abused as a child and who, unfortunately, never learned to love herself.

Dear Beatty,

I listen to your “Ask Beatty Show” every week and read your columns and decided to see if you can help me. I mostly feel despondent and depressed, since I feel that my life has no real purpose. I have been in therapy since I was a child. Both of my parents physically, verbally and emotionally abused me for most of my childhood.

My mother often hit me. I remember her throwing me down the stairs for no apparent reason, while my father — looking on — did nothing to help me.

I left home at 18 and was able to obtain a four-year scholarship to Columbia University and became a writer. Writing was the one safe activity where I could express my feelings and financially support myself. My relationships with men have all been abusive in one way or another.

I felt that if I showed someone — anyone — love, that I would finally get the love that I craved and be loved in return. I gave and gave love, money and sex to all of my boyfriends, who all took advantage of my generosity and goodness and who all left me in the end.

I’ve been in a relationship with John for the past five years. He has stage 4 lung cancer. I have been his sole source of support, since he has no family. Our relationship has never been stable. I do everything for him and receive little attention and appreciation in return. He owns his own home and is self-employed.

We have never discussed finances. I am thinking of selling my house and quitting my job in order to take care of him full-time and really want to know what you think.

Ramona R., Westhampton

Dear Ramona,

I’m so sorry that your life up to this point has been so disappointing and difficult. You do, however, seem to have a very clear understanding of why you have allowed the men in your life to hurt you. My question to you is this: Since we can’t change our history, are you willing to take whatever steps are necessary now and move out of your self-destructive comfort zone? If you do decide to become John’s primary caregiver, you realize, of course, that taking on this role is going to be extremely difficult.

You will need some back-up. You cannot do this on your own. You will get sick if you don’t take care of yourself in very concrete ways. This means getting sufficient sleep, eating well and giving yourself permission to take a break from this painful situation.

As for selling your house and quitting your job to take care of your boyfriend, I would not suggest that you do this unless he is willing to provide for you financially after his death. Does he have a will? Is he willing to make you his sole beneficiary, appoint you as his power of attorney and healthcare surrogate and ensure that you have legal access to his bank accounts, real estate as well as his business? You deserve this.

It’s always difficult to have these kinds of conversations, especially when someone is terminally ill. Yet if you don’t, you could potentially end up in a disastrous situation both emotionally and financially. You are at a crossroads. You need to decide whether you are on-board to finally learn to take better care of Ramona. The choice is yours! Let me know if you think I can be helpful.

Beatty Cohan, MSW, LCSW, AASECT is a nationally recognized psychotherapist, sex therapist, author of For Better for Worse Forever: Discover the Path to Lasting Love, national speaker, national radio and television expert guest and host of the weekly “Ask Beatty Show” on the Progressive Radio Network. She has a private practice in NYC and East Hampton.

Beatty would love to hear from you. You can send your questions and comments to [email protected]. For more information, go to beattycohan.com.

Beatty Cohan, MSW, LCSW, AASECT

More from Our Sister Sites