Learning how to love yourself can be pretty f*cking hard.
I’m going to be realistic here.
While many articles, books, speakers, and teachers paint an ethereal glow around self-love … that only occurs AFTER you have gone through the down-and-dirty inner work and soul-searching.
- How can you learn how to love yourself more when your mind is literally at war with itself?
- How can you learn to love yourself when you hate what you see in the mirror?
- How can you learn how to love yourself when your environment is positively toxic and depressing?
- How can you learn how to love yourself when you have no positive role models?
- How can you learn how to love yourself more when people label you as being selfish and neglectful?
How, how, how?
While I don’t profess to know all the answers, I have been on this bandwagon for years. I’ve experimented a-hell-of-a-lot with myself, worked through a lot of my own trauma, and helped others do the same – with some delightful and surprising results.
Although this article won’t directly answer all the questions above, I have provided the tools, techniques, teachings, and resources you will need to make the big changes – all tried and tested by yours truly.
So from my heart to yours, I sincerely hope this article helps to catalyze deep and nourishing changes in your life.
Table of Contents
- What is Self-Love?
- 18 Profound Benefits of Self-Love
- Why is it So Damn Hard For Us to Love Ourselves?
- Is Self-Love Selfish?
- What Science Says About Self-Love
- The Dark Side of Self-Love
- How to Prevent Others From Dragging You Down
- Is it Possible to “Love Yourself Unconditionally”?
- How to Love Yourself More
- Learn to be discerning and say “NO, that’s not true”
- Be your own best friend
- Change the way you perceive your flaws
- Practice loving all that arises
- Learn the art of self-care
- Be your own advocate and stand up for yourself
- Explore the core beliefs that keep you small
In short, self-love is the forgiveness, acceptance, and respect for who you are deep down – all your beautiful and hideous parts included. When you love yourself, you take care of yourself, you honor your limitations, you listen to your needs and you respect your dreams enough to act on them. When you love yourself, your happiness, health, and fulfillment are all of supreme importance because you realize that without loving yourself, you will never be able to genuinely love others.
Self-love illuminates, improves, and deepens every aspect of life. Here are some of the MANY benefits of learning how to love yourself more:
- More tolerance of your flaws and weaknesses
- More self-confidence
- More self-forgiveness
- Healthier mindset (and less self-sabotaging thoughts)
- Improved ability to discover and fulfill your personal destiny
- Increased love, acceptance, and compassion for yourself
- Increased love, acceptance, and compassion for others
- Improved relationships
- Improved friendships
- Improved work life
- More authentic connections with people
- Enhanced joy and gratitude for life
- Increased playfulness, creativity, and spontaneity
- More self-trust
- Healthier and wiser choices
- Increased access to new opportunities
- Improved mental health (and less anxiety + depression)
- Deeper access to one’s soul and spiritual path
I could probably go on for another few pages. But these are the most immediate benefits that come to mind.
The short answer is that we were raised in a society (and likely a family) that didn’t teach us about self-love.
All throughout our early lives, we were taught how to read, write, calculate, build, theorize, study and analyze life. We were taught how to say “please” and “thank you,” as well as what was acceptable and unacceptable to others and society at large … but most of us failed to be educated in one essential dimension of life: self-love.
Something that continues to shock me about my own upbringing was the distinct lack of emphasis on respect for oneself and acceptance of one’s flaws and virtues alike. As a child I can’t ever recall being taught the value of loving oneself; of setting healthy boundaries, knowing how to say “no” and “yes” when you mean it, and learning how to take care of yourself, even at the expense of others.
If you were raised in a culture and society similar to my own, you were probably taught to “put others before yourself” and not give much consideration to your own needs. Self-denial and self-sacrifice were two of the main values taught in our childhoods, and continue to be emphasized as the markers of a “kind, caring and worthy human being” to this very day.
Unfortunately, as I learned later in life, these two values taught me nothing more than the profound emotional and psychological pain of being a self-imposed martyr with no real understanding of how to take care of myself – or others for that matter.
The result of not being taught the value of self-love in childhood and adopting the socially acceptable guise of being a martyr is depression, bitterness, anxiety, resentment, and profoundly flimsy self-esteem.
However, even though you may not have been taught how to love yourself growing up, the door of opportunity is still open to you.
But before we walk through that door, let’s explore one massive myth associated with self-love (and perpetuated by the same society that taught you to be an externally-focused martyr) …
Every now and then you may hear explicitly stated or implied that self-love is selfish. Perhaps you live in a family that condemns any form of self-care and celebrates toxic self-sacrifice and martyrdom. Or maybe you work in an environment where self-love is scoffed at or seen cynically.
Whatever the case, it’s important to nip this massive misconception in the bud.
Self-love isn’t selfish. Why? Because without taking care of yourself, you are incapable of truly taking care of others. Self-love actually benefits other people, not just yourself. When you are able to genuinely love and accept yourself, you are able to love and accept others much more fully.
To use an analogy, how can an empty cup be used to quench the thirst of another? It is impossible. Likewise, it is impossible for us to give love if we haven’t first filled ourselves. Simple.
It is a well-known psychological fact that mistreatment of yourself results in the mistreatment of others. As professor of educational psychology Kristin Neff writes:
Self-compassion involves treating yourself with the same kindness, concern, and support you’d show to a good friend. When faced with difficult life struggles, or confronting personal mistakes, failures, and inadequacies, self-compassion responds with kindness rather than harsh self-judgment, recognizing that imperfection is part of the shared human experience.
Neff talks more about self-compassion (or self-love) in this video.
So the next time you start feeling guilty for dedicating time to yourself or caring for your own needs, remind yourself that by practicing self-love you are actually strengthening your ability to love others.
Numerous studies have shown that learning how to love ourselves is beneficial.
Here are some examples of findings that have been discovered:
- Self-acceptance is the key to living a happier life (source)
- Self-compassion results in making better health decisions (source)
- Being kind to yourself results in less anxiety and depression (source)
- Self-compassion reduces the stress that leads to procrastination (source)
- Self-care can help you reach your goals (source)
- Self-love can support you through adversity (source)
Contrary to popular belief, learning how to love yourself isn’t new age woo woo – it is actually one of the smartest decisions you can make in your life.
Yes, learning how to love yourself more might feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
But it’s not always sunshine and roses.
The truth is that most people will not want to support you. Not only that, but society at large will continue to bombard you with toxic subliminal messages, such as:
- You have to make people like and accept you.
- You have to put others’ needs above your own all the time with no exception.
- You have to conform to the status quo and fit in.
And when it comes to those around you:
4. You have to be unhappy and discontent – just like us.
The reality is that most people don’t like being truly happy: instead, they prefer comfort, stability, security, and control. Why? Because safety and predictability is the most comfortable way to live according to sociocultural standards.
Unfortunately, the childlike mindset of needing to seek safety is precisely what makes (most) people so hesitant to support your self-love journey. When you walk the path less traveled, you directly contradict what others have invested so much of their effort into – comfort and mediocrity. Inevitably, you become a threat. By challenging people to reconsider their choices, actions, and mindsets through your behavior, you unintentionally trigger self-doubt in others. And very few people are brave enough to honestly look at themselves and change.
The truth is that when you start practicing self-love, you become a social heretic. You stick out. You stop fitting in. You cease being one of those misery-loves-company sheeple who thrive on self-pity and cynicism. And suddenly this puts you in a very uncomfortable position, a position where you have to choose between taking the narrow path, or the wide, easy path.
Some of us give up. Others of us persist, but end up withering under the weight of social pressure. But then, some of us continue on that lonely path, being comforted by a few on the way, but otherwise battling against the constant onslaught of “you’re not good enough,” “you should be like us,” “you aren’t worth it,” “you’re so selfish.”
Loving yourself, TRULY and UNCONDITIONALLY loving yourself in this era, is a breathtaking accomplishment. It is an exceptionally rare practice that many people talk about, but few genuinely know how to walk the talk.
As we’ve just explored, you will inevitably be faced with people who disagree, disapprove or outright challenge your desire to make self-love a way of life. Here is how to see the bigger picture and prevent them from bringing you down:
1. Realize that other people are scared and in pain
One big part of learning how to love yourself more is learning not to take so personally other people’s treatment of you.
Ask yourself, how can a person who only knows conditional love give you unconditional love? That’s like expecting a baby to climb a mountain. It doesn’t happen, and it can’t happen. Therefore, what is the point of mourning the impossible? What is the point of getting wound up and unhappy over the people in your life who not only don’t support you but also speak against you? Their very actions speak of the abject lack of true love they have experienced. Isn’t that so very sad?
Most people not only don’t possess unconditional love, but they’re also caught up in an Underworld of fear and pain. This fear and pain are both sourced from the illusion that they are separate from life – that they are humans having a life experience, rather than Life having a human experience.
Once you realize that people are scared and in pain, it takes out the sting from their disapproving stares and mistreatment of you – and it frees up the energy to provide yourself with more self-love. Once this realization hits you, you stop reacting to their negativity and start feeling compassion for them – and it is this precise compassion that befuddles them and sometimes is enough to motivate them to try the same path.
2. Realize that how other people treat you is a reflection of how they treat themselves
It hurts to be the only one in your social circle trying to take responsibility for your life. It hurts to be rejected by your friends, family, or both because you are taking a different path. Learning how to love yourself more undeniably HURTS BADLY sometimes, and other times it feels blissful and wondrous. But if there is any lesson you can take away from the way people treat you, it is this: their actions often mirrors how they treat themselves.
Do you think that a person who mistreats you thinks they are superior to you? More often than not the answer is a big fat “NO.” They mistreat you because they are threatened by you in some way, shape, or form. Unless they are clinical narcissists or psychopaths, most people are deeply insecure and fearful. The more you go against the grain, the more threatening you become to them. Understand this, and your ability to practice self-love will become much easier and clearer.
Unless you have reached a high level of spiritual maturity and Oneness, unconditional self-love is not something that comes naturally. Instead, you must work for it.
As spiritual beings having a human experience, our lives are characterized by highs, lows, and plateaus. In some periods of our lives, we’ll celebrate who we are and feel confident in our abilities. In other periods, we will feel insecure, ugly, fat, messy, unlovable, and altogether shitty. This is all NORMAL. In fact, you might go through this cycle within one week or even a day!
The important thing here is to embed self-love deeply into your spiritual practice. Then, when the time comes and you’re challenged, you’ll be able to practice mindfulness and awareness. Instead of getting swept up in self-loathing, you’ll be capable of practicing self-compassion. Instead of neglecting your body, you’ll know when to practice self-care. Do you get the picture?
Yes, you might experience mystical moments of complete self-love and acceptance – but these are fleeting moments that don’t last. To make self-love and acceptance more of a consistent experience, you have to practice it consciously every.single.day. No excuses!
So the message here is this:
Don’t be upset if you alternate between self-love and self-hatred. It’s normal to go through ups and downs. But the more you practice embracing yourself each and every day, the more you’ll be able to deal with what life throws at you.
Give yourself a break.
Remember that “attaining” self-love can be just another thing you use to beat yourself up and feel like a failure.
So slow down. Go easy on yourself. And as author Matt Kahn writes, “Whatever arises, love that.” This means you can practice accepting and forgiving all things that arise in you, including insecurity, shame, guilt, and self-judgment.
We’ll explore more how to do this later.
Here are a few tips you can take away from this article that I have personally learned on the-path-less-taken:
You will hear a lot of things on your path; some consciously and some unconsciously. You will be told that your body isn’t slim enough, your face isn’t pretty enough, your personality isn’t charming enough, making mistakes is unacceptable, taking care of your needs is selfish … yadda, yadda, yadda. Not all of these untrue and unhealthy perceptions will be immediately obvious. Some of them will creep into your mind and belief system, polluting your self-perception. In fact, many of these toxic perceptions probably have already.
Not many people talk about discernment when it comes to learning how to love yourself more. “Discernment” is largely a dull-sounding word, but it is SO important. For instance, how can you tell truth from lies without learning how to be discerning?
To learn how to be discerning you need to question everything. Yes, this can be tiring, but it is worth every ounce of your effort. Why? Because being discerning will help you to sort through a lot of mental rubbish, antiquated beliefs, and harmful ideals. Learning to say “NO, that’s not true” helps you to discover what the truth actually is. And the truth is always grounded in love (but again, you will have to discover this for yourself).
The more clarity you have, the more you will be able to support and stick up for yourself.
Are you your own mortal enemy? If most of us spoke to others the way we spoke to ourselves, we would have no friends! You are with yourself 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. You are with yourself through all the glory and all the pain. Doesn’t it make sense to be best friends with yourself? Wouldn’t that make your life so much easier?
To practice self-love, it is important for us to consciously change our relationships with ourselves, and treat ourselves with compassion and consideration just as we would with a best friend.
So my question for you is this: how close are you with yourself? Do you give yourself pep talks as a best friend would? Do you treat yourself to fun and exciting activities you love? Are you there to hold your own hand when things get messy? If your answer is “no” or “rarely” or even “sometimes” it’s time to do things differently. Explore what it feels like being your own best friend. What one activity can you do this week that honors this philosophy?
As spiritual teacher Jeff Foster puts it:
Don’t judge your sadness, your depression, your feelings of unworthiness so quickly, and don’t judge the sorrows of another, for you really don’t know what’s best for anyone, for you really don’t know more than life itself. That which you reject (in another or in yourself) may actually be much-needed medicine, a misunderstood teacher, inviting you to a self-love deeper than you ever thought possible. It may be a threshold guardian, a gatekeeper of a forgotten kingdom!
Instead of seeing our guilt, jealousy, anger, fear, and sadness as a terrible curse, see them as opportunities to grow. Realize that everyone struggles with these universal human emotions. We ALL feel insecure at times, and that’s perfectly OK.
I remember how difficult it was for me to change the way I perceived my imperfection. Every time someone pointed out a flaw of mine or criticized me in any way, I would feel depressed, angry, and defensive. One day, my partner said, “Instead of getting all sad and mopey, why not see this as an opportunity to grow?” To be honest, I wanted to punch him in the face right there and then. But after a few months, I thought “what the hell!” and gave it a try. And what a humungous difference it made to my life. Instead of getting defensive, I would feel the sting to my ego but another part of me would feel gratitude, gratitude for the chance to grow.
So give this mindset trick a spin. See what happens when you start perceiving your imperfection as an opportunity to grow. See what happens when you meet inner challenges with gratitude.
Critical and condemnatory self-judgment is the antithesis of self-love. The core reason why we struggle so much with self-love in the first place is that we JUDGE and REJECT ourselves.
Don’t get me wrong. Self-judgment is not always a bad thing. We need to be able to measure up our ability to achieve certain tasks at work, as well as understand our strengths and weakness to make smart choices. Not only that, but self-judgment can actually save our lives (e.g. “hmm, I’m too distracted after drinking alcohol so I probably shouldn’t drive on that busy ass highway.)
But, here’s the thing. Self-judgment becomes toxic when it is used to negatively scrutinize, minimize, bad-mouth, shame or otherwise harm ourselves. Unfortunately, most of us are in the habit of doing this. Thanks to our conditioning as children, it is actually socially acceptable to give ourselves shit because that’s what everyone else has been doing for a long time.
One powerful – but not necessarily easy – practice, is learning to love all that arises. And when I write “all” I mean everything! When I write “love” what I mean is embracing and accepting the nice and nasty, comfortable and uncomfortable things within you. I also refer to this as radical self-acceptance.
As writer and teacher Matt Kahn explains:
Instead of trying to shift your feelings, just love the one who can’t stop feeling. Instead of trying to resolve each fear, simply love the one who’s always afraid.
Instead of trying to not take things personally, just love the one who came here to make like personal. Instead of trying to prove your worth, simply love the one who feels worthless, lost, ashamed, and alone.
Instead of trying to leap forward in evolution, just love the one who feels left behind. Instead of having something to prove, simply love the one who came here to play.
Instead of bossing yourself around and measuring your progress through spiritual obedience, just love the one who refuses to listen. Instead of trying to believe, simply love the one in doubt. Instead of trying whatever you attempt, just love the one who needs permission to be.
Whatever arises – love that.
This seemingly ‘simple’ radical acceptance practice actually takes a lot of effort and can be strengthened through daily practices such as mindfulness and meditation. You can apply this philosophy to anything in life – even the inability to love all that arises is an opportunity to forgive and accept yourself!
Most of us are terribly disconnected from our bodies, minds, hearts, and souls. We live in a world that encourages us to be externally-focused and outwardly driven. But learning how to love yourself is about going in the opposite direction and taking some of your energy and directing it inwards.
There are endless ways to practice self-care. I explore 39 different ideas in my self-care article, but to get you started, I recommend starting with your body. Spend time each day connecting with your physicality and explore what you need. Perhaps you are tired and need more sleep, maybe your muscles ache and you need to do some stretches, or you might even need a good nutritious meal. These practices may seem simple, but they send a very direct and powerful message to your conscious and unconscious mind that you are worthy of being cared for!
Being your own advocate means exploring what your needs are and respecting them, which is a form of self-love. What is non-negotiable or a deal-breaker in your life? What are your deeply cherished values? What are your boundaries? We all have them. Standing up for what you believe in is a form of self-respect.
In order to be your own advocate, you need to explore what is making you feel unhappy, depressed or overwhelmed in your life. What lines are being crossed? In which areas do you feel used or taken for granted? What makes you feel unsafe? You might like to explore these questions in your journal (and if you don’t journal already, check out my journalling article to get started).
Remember that being assertive about your needs and values isn’t a synonym for being an obnoxious asshole. You don’t need to be loud, angry or emotionally reactive to be an advocate for yourself – that approach will backfire very quickly. Instead, healthy assertiveness is about honoring yourself while at the same time being respectful towards others. Some mantras or affirmations that you might like to repeat to yourself to practice healthy assertiveness include:
- “I calmly and firmly honor my needs”
- “I respect my needs in a gentle and assertive way”
- “I allow myself to say no clearly and respectfully”
- “I honor my needs, values, and feelings always”
- “I create clear and consistent boundaries that protect my energy”
- “I have the right to defend my needs and desires”
You can also take these mantras/affirmations and create some of your own!
First, I want to start by saying that this is DEEP work. Although it may not seem like it at first, diving into the dark nether regions of your mind is an act of self-love.
Excavating your core beliefs (the main ideas you have about yourself) can and will transform your life if you know how to do it properly. For a more in-depth overview, check out my core beliefs article. However, for the sake of clarity, I’ll give you a few helpful examples of core beliefs. Common ones include “I am bad,” “There’s something innately wrong with me,” “I’m not worth it,” “I’m unlovable,” “I’m irrevocably broken.”
There are many ways to uncover and change your core beliefs (which I explore here). One practice I have recently discovered is how powerful the use of a mirror can be. Stand in front of a mirror in your house and designate at least ten minutes to stand alone and undisturbed with yourself. Then, simply look at yourself. Gaze into your eyes. What emotions and thoughts emerge? Mirror work is one of the most direct and dynamic ways of uncovering your self-talk and core beliefs. Pay attention to inner dialogue that sounds like the following: “I look so ugly,” “This is stupid,” “There’s something wrong with me,” and notice what type of thoughts and feelings you keep having. Then, enfold your body in a hug, look at yourself and say, “It’s okay, I am here for you, I accept you” (or whatever feels the most loving and authentic to you). Write about your experience in your journal.
To end this article, I’ll leave you with a few other perspectives on learning how to love yourself from a variety of writers, thinkers, poets, psychologists, and mystics.
Do you want to meet the love of your life? Look in the mirror. – Byron Katie
Compassionate toward yourself, you reconcile all beings in the world. — Lao Tzu
To love oneself is the beginning of a life-long romance. – Oscar Wilde
You have been criticizing yourself for years, and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens. – Louise L. Hay
The more self-love we have, the less we will experience self-abuse. Self-abuse comes from self-rejection, and self-rejection comes from having an image of what it means to be perfect and never measuring up to that ideal. Our image of perfection is the reason we reject ourselves; it is why we don’t accept ourselves the way we are, and why we don’t accept others the way they are. – Don Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements
Your problem is you’re too busy holding onto your unworthiness. – Ram Dass
When I loved myself enough, I began leaving whatever wasn’t healthy. This meant people, jobs, my own beliefs and habits – anything that kept me small. My judgement called it disloyal. Now I see it as self-loving. – Kim McMillen
If you can discover your essential beauty, in spite of all your problems and imperfections, you are on the way toward well-being. A preliminary step is simply to accept yourself with all your failures and imperfections. You must get the ego out of the way—the thought that you are so exalted that in your refined state you would be perfect. Acceptance is the beginning of genuine and honest self-love, a requirement for perceiving your own beauty. – Thomas Moore, Dark Nights of the Soul
You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe deserve your love and affection. – Anonymous
You alone are enough. You have nothing to prove to anyone. – Maya Angelou
Loving yourself isn’t vanity. It is sanity. – Katrina Mayer
Being true to who we are means carrying our spirit like a candle in the center of our darkness. If we are to live without silencing or numbing essential parts of who we are, a vow must be invoked and upheld within oneself. The same commitments we pronounce when embarking on a marriage can be understood internally as a devotion to the care of one’s soul: to have and to hold … for better or for worse … in sickness and in health … to love and to cherish, till death do us part. This means staying committed to your inner path. This means not separating from yourself when things get tough or confusing. This means accepting and embracing your faults and limitations. It means loving yourself no matter how others see you. It means cherishing the unchangeable radiance that lives within you, no matter the cuts and bruises along the way. – Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening
Self-love isn’t always so poetic; sometimes it’s a nice big triple backflip kick in the ass. You’ve got to call yourself on your own nonsense; on the incredibly efficient way you can be self-destructive. – Steve Maraboli
And I said to my body, softly, “I want to be your friend.” It took a long breath and replied, “I have been waiting my whole life for this.” – Nayyirah Waheed
The relationship with yourself sets the tone for every other relationship you have. – Jane Travis
I now see how owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do. – Brene Brown
Self-love, self-respect, self-worth. There is a reason they all start with “self.” You can not find them in anyone else. – Unknown
If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete. – Jack Kornfield
Self-love is the foundation of our loving practice. Without it our other efforts to love fail. Giving ourselves love we provide our inner being with the opportunity to have the unconditional love we may have always longed to received from someone else. – Bell Hooks
The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are. – Carl Jung
To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself. – Thich Nhat Hanh
What is your experience with self-love?
What has been the hardest part of learning how to love yourself?
I don’t know about you, but I’m inspired each time you drop by and leave a comment, so I’d love to hear your story below.