Love Has No Substitute

How self-love can bring lasting comfort, inner peace, and wholeness.

Posted Aug 29, 2020

 Photo by Ylanite Koppens from Pexels
Source: Photo by Ylanite Koppens from Pexels

Some time ago, I wrote about an interview I did with a friend who was recovering from a rock climbing accident that left her with a broken leg. We talked about dealing with pain, taking “baby steps” forward, and how shocking, unpleasant experiences can often be a catalyst for personal growth.

Listening to my friend’s story triggered memories for me… memories of when I was a ballerina. Every day. At the studio. Training, practicing, rehearsing. So incredibly active. Peak physical condition. Back then, as a very young person, dancing was my world.

It wouldn’t surprise me if some people who saw me back then, twirling on my pointe shoes, dazzling audiences with my long hair flying behind me and a big “performance smile” plastered on my face, might have thought, “Wow. Incredible. Such discipline and poise. She must really love dancing!”

But they would have been wrong.

Back then, I did not dance because I “loved” it.

I danced because there was an emptiness inside of me that I did not know how to fill.

I danced to get praise, attention, validation — all of which would temporarily soothe feelings of anxiety, loneliness and worthlessness.

Every drop of praise — “You’re so good!” “So beautiful!” “What a perfect dancer!” — was like a dose of soothing, emotional nourishment.

But it was never powerful enough. The good feelings never lasted for long. I needed stronger and stronger doses of my “emotional fix.” More frequent doses, too.

Like an addict, I needed my praise-fix again… and again… and again.

That empty space inside of me rarely felt full (just a “full” moment here or there, or fleeting “high”).

So I would practice harder, spending more and more hours at the ballet barre and twirling on my toes in the studio, faster and faster, often blistering and bleeding inside my elegant, satin pointe shoes from hours and hours of tough practice. Striving to do better and better. Striving to be better than my best.

My grim determination brought “rewards” — like winning a major dance competition and getting featured on the cover of the local newspaper. Still: not enough. More. Harder. Faster. I pushed my body to the edge. Needing to “top” myself again and again.

The pace was unsustainable and eventually… I toppled.

I entered another competition and my legs buckled beneath me during my performance. A crushing disappointment.

Later that same year, I failed a ballet exam. Total defeat.

Even though I was in the best shape of my life, my body would not perform.

My desperate need for validation, my “emotional injuries,” had finally caught up with me.

I learned the hard way that “praise” is not a substitute for “love.”

Not even close.

In fact, there is absolutely no substitute for love.

Books have been written, media interviews have been given, and songs have been sung by people who experienced a space inside of themselves that felt wounded or empty, and who tried to “bandage it up” or “pack it full” with all kinds of experiences and/or substances. Examples: Food. Alcohol. Busyness. Work. Praise. Money. New gadgets, clothes, and toys.

These can be powerful "emotional pain" soothers, but — as many have pointed out, and learned the hard way — their effects are temporary, often with considerable downsides.

But there is something that can be powerful enough to bring lasting comfort, peace, and wholeness: love.

Specifically, the kind of love that one can give to oneself.

Kind words. Kind thoughts. Kind actions that leave one feeling stronger, not weaker.


Love can be the answer to just about any question. The balm for just about any wound.

Consider this: Love has no substitute.

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional or psychological advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Contact your qualified provider before implementing or modifying any personal growth or wellness program or technique, and with questions about your well-being.

Copyright ©2020 Dr. Suzanne Gelb, PhD, JD. All rights reserved.