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“God comes first – if I don’t love him, I can’t love anybody,

and if I can’t love me I can’t love nobody.”

– Mary J. Blige

When you learn to love yourself, you teach others how to love you back.

That is the same sentiment that the legendary actress Pam Grier expressed when I interviewed her. When describing her past relationships with one of the greatest comedians of all time, Richard Pryor, and Hall of Fame NBA player, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, she finally came to this conclusion; “You have to love yourself more, and then others will love you for it. I loved Richard dearly, but I had to let him go. I knew that I had to take care of me and my family. Had I stayed (with Richard or Kareem), I think I would have lost my identity. I would not be the Pam Grier that people know today.”

Too often women don’t choose themselves. Because of our desire to be loved, we feel obligated to take care of everyone else’s needs first in hopes that it will make them love us back. And when we do take the time that we want or need for ourselves, we still feel guilty about it. Further, when it comes to relationships, even if we articulate what it is that we want, too often we’ll settle for good enough. But guess what? Good enough is not good enough. And if you don’t feel that you’re good enough to fully have your heart’s desires fulfilled, no one else will either.

Are you attracted to someone who treats you like the queen that you are? If not, then acceptance for that lies within you. The more you treat yourself well, the more you will be drawn to those who do the same.

So regardless of how you grew up, or who wasn’t there for you, the question today is how do you get to this place called “self-love”? You begin by being honest. Force yourself to identify the things that you love about yourself. It doesn’t have to be dramatic. Simply write yourself a love letter listing all the wonderful ways in which you are loveable.

As an example, here are some things that I love about myself: I love my fashion sense. I have style and I know my body-type, so I create outfits that best compliment my body. I also like my personality. I’m fun, silly, smart, sarcastic, quick on my feet, loving, passionate and more.

Secondly, by identifying the positive characteristics that you love about yourself, you will exude that “oomph” and others will be drawn to it. Likewise, if you feel bad about yourself, others will too. And they will feel justified in treating you badly – taking advantage of you, disrespecting you and more.

While it may be easier to look outside of yourself for affirmation, that approach will ultimately backfire on you because it does not provide a solid foundation. Your footing will be based on the ups, downs, whims, and the emotional availability of someone else when in fact, you have the power to set the tone for how people interact with you. It all begins with how you interact with yourself. As church folk say, sometimes you’ve got to encourage yourself.

Deya “Direct” Smith, is a producer on the Tom Joyner Morning Show and host of Girlfriend FM & Beyond the Studio celebrity interviews.  She is also the author of Touch Yourself, 30 Ways to Live, Love and Let Go (!  Deya is a life-style and inspirational speaker.