Self-love is the foundation of a healthy and happy life, but it’s something that so many of us struggle to cultivate. We find it easy to show love and compassion to others, but we’re usually our own worst critics when it comes to ourselves.
We berate ourselves for mistakes, focus heavily on our flaws, and push ourselves beyond our limits just to feel good.
If you’re struggling to show yourself the love you deserve, this article is for you. We’ll explore how to love yourself, what it really means, and the cascade of benefits you reap from doing so. After, we’ll outline some expert tips and advice to increase your self-love, and as a result, live a much happier and more peaceful life.
What is self-love?
Self-love is appreciating yourself. It’s about viewing yourself with positive regard despite your shortcomings and mistakes. It’s about accepting yourself as you are and acting and behaving in ways that nurture your personal development and self-growth.
When you love yourself:
- You look after yourself
- You prioritize your wants and needs so that you can be the best version of yourself
- You set boundaries with yourself and other people so that you grow, flourish, and protect yourself against destructive and toxic behavior and people
Why is it important to love yourself?
Under the umbrella of self-love, you cultivate a space inside yourself to speak, act, and behave in ways that serve your highest well-being. You encourage yourself to prioritize your wants and needs above others.
You refuse to tolerate actions and behavior in both yourself and others that negatively impact your health and well-being. Of course, you care about the wants and needs of others, but you don’t go so out of your way to make sure others can meet their needs you neglect your own needs in the process.
It is only when we love ourselves unconditionally that we can fully be there for ourselves and others. There’s a reason why pilots advise passengers to put on their own oxygen mask first and attend to others after in the case of an emergency.
Putting your mask on first means that you can give your full attention and care to others and makes you capable of succeeding on that front. If you try to help others first, then you risk losing oxygen and energy, which ultimately makes you less effective.
What happens when you don’t love yourself?
When we don’t show ourselves the unconditional love we deserve, we usually fill that space with something negative such as criticism and comparison – a lack of self-love breeds self-contempt.
Though there are many reasons why a person might struggle to love themselves, which are not the person’s fault but the result of unfortunate or adverse life circumstances, there are still consequences. These consequences can have a detrimental effect on one’s mental health, including but not limited to low self-esteem and a low sense of self-worth.
Tips for self-love
Below you’ll find some expert and evidence-based tips and advice that help you practice self-love through radical self-care and unconditional self-acceptance.
Before you can achieve any positive change in your life, you need to accept yourself for how you are now. Denying or suppressing parts of ourselves may temporarily relieve discomfort, but suppression and denial only lead to a later resurfacing of whatever we push down.
Real and lasting change can occur when we sit with ourselves and accept all of our feelings and emotions, even the most difficult ones, and stop trying to run away from them. Instead, we sit with them. Listen to the message they have for us, and compassionately let them go.
Self-love begins with radical self-compassion. The term ‘self-compassion’ is an increasingly popular term these days, and for good reason. It seems that we’re waking up to the importance of loving ourselves with the same level of empathy and compassion as we would show to another.
One of the people highly responsible for this awakening is an American author and researcher Dr. Kristin Neff. Neff has been researching the benefits and importance of self-compassion for years and has published several books on the subject, such as Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself and The Yin and Yang of Self-Compassion: Cultivating Kindness and Strength in the Face of Difficulty.
We often resort to self-criticism and pushing ourselves to our limits when things aren’t going well in our lives. We believe that if only we work harder or toughen up, we will somehow avoid or prevent the pain and discomfort that is a natural part of life.
“With self-compassion, we give ourselves the same kindness and care we’d give to a good friend,” explains Neff. On why self-compassion is a wiser method of freedom of suffering than self-criticism, Neff explains: “It’s driving force is love, not fear.”
So, how do we practice self-compassion? How do we put the concept into action and see real results instead of thinking and about and idealizing it? How do we move away from thinking ‘If only I could be kinder to myself..’ and towards real and practical change?
Compassion literally means ‘to suffer with.’ When you feel compassion for another being, you feel empathy for their suffering. You allow what’s happening with them to be felt in your heart.
Neff advises that we become mindful of how we talk to ourselves when nobody else is around. If we’re experiencing a lack of self-love and, in its place, experience feelings of low self-esteem and low self-worth, then your self-talk is probably overly critical and harsh.
Paying attention to how we speak to ourselves, in both the good times and the bad, is a step on the path to self-compassion. When you notice that your talk is negative and critical but not constructive, challenge those thoughts and replace them with kinder, positive, growth-oriented thoughts.
Granted, there is such a thing as toxic positivity, whereby one doesn’t accept negative feelings and uses positive thinking as a distraction or means of escape.
When you find yourself faced with difficult, challenging feelings and emotions, such as doubt about your abilities, shame, anxiety about the future, or memories of past pain, Neff advises us to tell ourselves: “This is a moment of suffering. Suffering is part of life. May I be kind to myself in this moment. May I give myself the compassion I need.”
Re-parent your inner child
Even if you grew up in a relatively healthy family dynamic, there still might have been challenging times that felt confusing or overwhelming and influenced how we react and respond to life.
As young children, we’re keen observers, but we’re also susceptible to negative influences. For example, an emotionally unstable parent might indirectly but harmfully teach their child to take on more responsibility than is appropriate for someone of that age. The adult child feels compelled to take on others’ problems even when they don’t need to and suffers as a result.
“The inner child tends to be pushed aside when we grow up and develop our identity as an adult,” explains Yong Kang Chan, author of Parent Yourself Again: Love Yourself the Way You Have Always Wanted to Be Loved. “However,” writes Chan, the unresolved hurtful feelings that we have carried since childhood still resides in our memories and body, whether we are aware of them or not.”
Reparenting your inner child and attending to its wounds is a courageous and radical act of self-love. You may be carrying wounds today that were created in your childhood, and which may not be obvious, do nonetheless influence your thoughts and behavior today. When you address those earlier wounds, you give yourself a chance to live more fully in the present because your time and energy aren’t spent protecting the wound from re-opening.
Rest and recharge
We live in a society where hard work and productivity are rewarded. That encourages us to give our best in everything we do, but it also makes us forget about the importance of rest. Our minds and bodies are not designed to be productive all the time. We need time to rest and recharge if we want to function at full capacity.
A simple but highly effective act of self-love is to get enough sleep. It sounds almost too simple, but sleep has a profound positive effect on every aspect of our life.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that adults get between 7 to 9 hours of high-quality sleep every night. Because that’s how we allow our brain, our nervous system, our organs, and our muscles to recover and improve from all that hard work or daily stress.
Resting is not only about sleep. We can also rest and recharge in mind, body, and spirit by taking some time out of our busy schedule to simply rest and enjoy our own company. To sit with ourselves and allow our mind to process thoughts from the day before or about the day ahead.
“Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.” – John Lubbock, author of The Use Of Life
Self-love is not just about repeating positive affirmations and giving yourself a bubble bath (although don’t let that stop you from doing those things!). It’s about treating yourself in a way that serves your highest growth.
Love itself can be seen as the wish for the object of love to grow and flourish as much as possible. When you direct that loving feeling towards yourself, it’s hard to ignore the importance of eating nutrient-rich foods and exercising.
“Conscious eating is a big step toward conscious living,” writes Natasa Pantovic Nuit, co-author of Mindful Eating: Mindful Eating Exercises with Delicious Raw Vegan Recipes.
Self-love is self-care. By adhering to a self-care routine, you do things that may not always be the quickest or easiest choice but make you feel better in the long term, such as regular exercise and mindful eating.
When you love someone, you want them to grow. The same should apply to self-love. It’s important to protect yourself and manage the energies in your life. But it’s equally important to get out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself to grow.
Invest in relationships
Relationships are a significant source of meaning and belonging in our lives. They can also be a source of stress and self-doubt, so choosing your relationships wisely is important.
The people with whom you spend time influence how you see yourself and the world around you. If you spend time with people who are confident in themselves, love themselves, and show you respect, care, and compassion, then you’ll generally feel good about yourself and do things that serve your highest well-being.
On the other hand, if you spend time with people who speak negatively of others, treat themselves and others with disrespect, and don’t care much for your well-being, then you might start to lose interest in self-love. You might come to see yourself and others in a negative light.
Invest your time and energy in relationships that make you feel good. Spend time with people who uplift and inspire you. If you don’t have many people like that in your life, and all you can see around you are negative or toxic people, don’t be afraid to go it alone.
Understand that anyone who makes you feel bad about yourself or fills you with negative energy is not someone you need in your life. It doesn’t matter if they’re a romantic partner, a long-term friend, or even a family member. You’re under no obligation to tolerate behavior and energy that brings you down, despite what you or others might believe is ‘owed.’
Protect your energy
Even when you accept yourself, offer your self-compassion, do some conscious inner work, and nourish yourself, there may still be times when something doesn’t quite feel right.
Sometimes, other people’s energy and behavior can throw us off balance. That’s not to blame others – we can’t expect people to always be how we want them – but others’ energy can still influence us.
Sometimes others simply don’t have our best interests at heart, and that’s for people close to us. Some people struggle with issues such as narcissism or engage in self-destructive ways of speaking and acting. If you’re a naturally sensitive or empathic person, then it can be hard to filter which energy you allow into your life and which comes in uninvited.
As such, it’s essential to learn how to set boundaries. This courageous and responsible act of self-love can help you organize your life and the people and behavior you allow in it in such a way that creates space each day for even more self-love, rather than fear, defensiveness, and emotional fatigue.
We hope you found this article helpful. The tips and advice outlined above should help you get started or keep going on your self-love journey, but remember that it can take some patience and conscious effort to practice self-love daily.
You might meet many challenges along the way, such as self-doubt and failure, but don’t let those deter you. It’s human to make mistakes and doubt oneself, but once you include these things within your self-acceptance, they no longer become obstacles. Instead, they become challenges and opportunities to grow and develop even further.
To finish up, let’s consider the following advice from life coach and motivational speaker Steve Maraboli, author of The Power of One:
“How would your life be different if you were conscious of the food you ate, the people you surround yourself with, and the media you watch, listen to, or read? Let today be the day you pay attention to what you feed your mind, body, and life. Create a nourishing environment conducive to your growth and well-being today.”