How To Experience Love When You Don’t Think You Deserve It


“We accept the love we think we deserve.”

That’s a line from my favorite book, Perks Of Being A Wallflower. The novel follows Charlie, a classically awkward teen in high school who experiences everything from the sidelines. Then he meets two step-siblings, Sam and Patrick. They show Charlie the world from a different perspective: from the view of a life-loving wallflower.

Charlie watches as Sam dates men that cheat and belittle her. But Charlie thinks the world of Sam; he doesn’t understand why she doesn’t date someone who feels the same, someone like him.

Charlie’s English teacher later explains perfectly why that is: We accept the love we think we deserve.

For a long time, I dated men that were essentially the same person with different faces. Men that gaslighted me, criticized me, chose their ego over a connection and left me shattered time and time again.

But what’s most important is that I let them do this.

I never stood up for myself because that love was what I thought I deserved. Even when I saw the red flags, I stayed. I didn’t consciously choose these relationships, I subconsciously wanted them. And that phenomenon is important.

The love we think we deserve is determined by several things.

We gravitate to what feels familiar. If your father abused you, you’re more likely to end up with someone who will. Or even if your dad constantly criticized you, you’re more prone to be with someone similar.

There’s a lack of self-love. If we don’t love ourselves, how are we supposed to believe that another person does? How can we healthily protect ourselves against people with ill intentions?

Being loved arouses childhood fears. If a parent abandoned you, a sibling died, you spent your nights alone while your parents worked late, or love was withheld from you, you internalize that. And when you receive love as an adult, those painful feelings resurface. It’s not uncommon to push love away as a result.

The good news is, you’re reading this article. There’s hope for changing your beliefs about love because you’ve already taken the first step: awareness.

I’m in a new relationship, one that is healthy and therefore unlike any of my past relationships. And though it was hard at first, I’m finally able to accept the love my boyfriend shows for me.

It didn’t change overnight or come naturally. There were a few things I had to do to finally be able to accept the love I know I deserve.

1. Cultivate Self-Love

You’ll never be able to accept love if you don’t love yourself first. You need to create a practice that helps you heal from your past traumas, instills a sense of confidence in yourself, and makes you feel like you’re your own number one priority.

2. Set Firm Boundaries

When you know you’re worthy of love, you’ll set boundaries that block out anything less. If you notice a red flag from someone, move on. You’re not going to be able to accept love, nor should you, from someone that isn’t able to give it to you in the way you need.

3. Maintain A Life Outside Of The Relationship

Being wholly absorbed by the relationship never ended well for anyone. Maintaining a sense of identity outside of the relationship is a form of setting boundaries and continuing to practice self-love. Keep doing the hobbies you love and seeing your friends.

4. Talk About Your Fears

Express your concerns with your partner. When the time’s right, let them know about your poor dating choices in the past; explain how you’re working through them. Explain how it’s hard for you to accept love from someone without pushing them away. But make sure not to exhaust this conversation. Bringing your fears up all the time is a form of succumbing to your insecurities.

5. Focus On The Present Moment

We usually don’t accept love because we’re afraid of what will happen if we do. Cue thoughts of abandonment, cheating, lying, and betrayal.

But all of those are fears about the future. None of those are what’s happening in the present. Instead, try to enjoy the moment you’re in now. Hear their words, experience their actions, and accept that, at this moment, they’re showing you love.

6. Work Through Thought Spirals

Obsessing over a situation will never give you the answers you’re looking for. It will create anxiety and oftentimes unnecessary problems and distress.

If you find yourself unable to stop thinking about something your partner said, you’re in a thought spiral. You need to refocus your mind on something else. Go for a walk, call a friend, draw a picture.

7. Remember That Everyone Deserves Love

When you’re sitting there, wrapped up in the arms of your lover, questioning why this is happening to you, remember this: you deserve love. Everyone deserves love. You are not some horrible being that only a liar or cheater could love.

You’re worthy of love, no matter your past. The kind of love that is supportive and healthy. The type of love that could be forever love.

Don’t shut yourself off from something amazing because of faulty beliefs your past instilled in you. Your history only controls you as much as you allow it.