"If you don't love yourself, you can't love anyone else" is another piece of would-be wisdom that one frequently encounters in self-help articles.
I do understand the intended philosophy behind that line. The idea is that in order to engage in an emotionally healthy relationship, one must be receptive to love and feel worthy of love in order to fully engage with your partner. I've attempted to date people who were black holes for affection -- all the love I directed at these people disappeared without a trace, and none was reflected back to me. It was frustrating, to say the least, and these relationships (if they can be called that) did not last long.
And most all of us have seen a person who was desperately in love, the person who constantly sacrificed him or herself emotionally for the sake of his or her beloved. Giving all and not having enough of a sense of self-worth to expect affection in return is not healthy, and not sustainable.
But. Love is a strong emotion. And, frankly, saying "I love myself" feels like the height of narcissism.
I can accept myself. I can be comfortable with myself. I can respect myself and take care of myself. But I'm not inherently lovable. I'm only lovable (and capable of love) in relation to others, and in how I treat others. My love must be expressed in the quality and quantity of the caring acts I offer to others. After all, not many people would find me very loveable if I chose to demonstrate my affection by shrieking like a monkey and throwing poo at them. Even if my heart was swelling with love and I totally accepted myself as a worthy human being, I'm pretty sure that almost none of the people I care about and who care about me would be eager to continue our relationships after an enthusiastic round of shrieking and poo hurling. Love is love, but there are social mores to consider.
Further, love is an experience I share with others. It's not something that happens to me just sitting by myself in a dark room doing nothing. I think many other people feel the same way; after all, Sit Alone In The Dark And Love Yourself hasn't cracked the nonfiction bestseller list yet.
Deciding that I love myself is like deciding that my writing is art. Nope. It just isn't. I can write the best thing I've ever written, but it's only art if that's what the reader experiences. Craft is doing your best, but art is something the person observing the craft may or may not experience. I can value myself, and accept myself, but those two things don't automatically make me loveable, and considering that we humans are built to be social animals, I'm not convinced that it's my job to love myself.
Saying that I can't love anyone else if I can't love myself is as silly as saying that because I can't lick my own elbow I'm not capable of licking anyone else's.
Furthermore, the line "if you don't love yourself, you can't love anyone else" has always felt to me like a slap in the face to anyone who suffers from depression. That line was most certainly not uttered by someone who suffered from that disease.
It's on par with telling a person in a wheelchair "If you can't walk up a flight of stairs, you can't possibly be a good parent, because stairs exist and babies need to be taken up them." You work around the goddamn stairs.
If you're depressed, it's sometimes very, very hard to think of yourself as being anything other than a mess of unworthy flaws. But that disease doesn't stop you from being good to the people around you. It doesn't stop you from caring about them. It doesn't stop you from showing them affection. It makes it harder, yes, but it doesn't stop it.
Meanwhile, lines like "You can't love anyone else" trivialize and negate all that hard work. It makes everything else seem that much more futile to the people who every day have been trying to crawl out of their pits of despair and function like the human beings that they suspect they really aren't: "The self-help lady says I'm not capable of love. Fuck it, let's not even try."
And that, my friends, isn't helpful.