I think current self-development literature is often counterproductive towards those with low self-esteem and feelings of unlovability. Namely you can read from everywhere how you need to love yourself first, how other people cannot be solutions to your self-esteem issues and how in general you should just work harder on yourself if you feel that way. Let me tell how these sentiments have impacted me.
First, they have made me feel ashamed for wanting to be loved. You feel as if there is something so deeply wrong with you for not feeling it inside you and for seeking other people to love you. Second, they have me be stuck with guys that were either totally unavailable or ultimately did not love me. I just assumed that me feeling unloved in these relationships was my deep personal problem and maybe, actually these guys did love me, I was just too needy. Furthermore, since I was notoriously broken and had this deep ingrained issue of not being able to provide for myself, what other people did, maybe I did not even deserve a loving man?
It is easy to stress on self-sufficiency and the need to love oneself and not be dependent on someone else’s love if you have had a good loving family. It is clear that if you felt support throughout your childhood, you also developed self-compassion, empathy and healthy self-esteem, so you probably do not need to seek for these feelings in other people. However, coming from that position and telling to people that spent their childhood feeling unloved, that they should not look for other people to feel loved is pretty short sighted. It is almost like telling to a five year old kid that they should just love and provide for themselves and be more independent and not rely on their parents. Usually that was how these kids that felt unloved got treated. They got told that their dependency needs as well as ingrained wish for love from their parents was inappropriate or downright bad.
So here is my suggestion as to what people that have felt unloved their whole life need. Instead of telling them to learn to love themselves, I think we should tell them that they in fact did miss out on something big. It is OK for them to feel unloved and look for love, because they in fact were never coddled and loved. There is nothing and absolutely nothing wrong with how they are feeling, because it is rather an accurate representation of reality. Hence, there should be no shame around feeling unloved. It should be acknowledged that there is a strong reason why someone does feel unloved and there is a strong reason for them to look for love outside. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be loved by other people, because most people that judge you for being needy or feeling unloved had the very same desires, the difference is just that those desires were met.