Throughout our early lives, we were taught how to read, write, manipulate, calculate, build, destroy, 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 had one crucial part of our education neglected: 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 never 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.
What about you?
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, what I learned later in life is that these two values taught me nothing more than being a self-imposed martyr with no real understanding of ‘love.’
When we don’t learn how to love ourselves depression, bitterness, anxiety, resentment, isolation, and great unhappiness are the result.
To live a life of joy, to walk a path with heart, we need to learn self-love. We need to heal our own wounds and become doctors of the Soul.
Table of contents
What is Self-Love?
Put simply, self-love is the practice of understanding, embracing, and showing compassion for yourself. Self-love involves nurturing your entire being – that means taking care of yourself on the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual levels. When engaging in self-love, we also work to forgive ourselves, accept our flaws, and embrace our inner demons. Contrary to popular belief, self-love isn’t just a blind adoration of our strengths, it’s also an embrace of our weaknesses and shadows.
Why Loving Others Requires Self-Seeking
It sounds like a paradox, but you cannot be altruistic, caring, or compassionate unless you’re selfish.
Unless you’re capable of truly loving yourself first (even the darkest side of your being) you can never fully love somebody else.
Self-seeking is preached in all societies as sinful behavior. We’re encouraged to be self-sacrificers and martyrs for ” the greater good.” History is plagued with stories of the individual hero’s willingness to sacrifice his/her life for the survival of a group or collective of people.
But the truth is that the purpose of our society’s social conditioning is to preserve and develop society as a whole, not to allow individuals to reach their full potential.
This is why taking care of yourself first is met with so much resistance from others: it’s against our collective brainwashing.
But here’s the thing: to be a positive presence in this world, to care for others in an authentically loving way, we must first focus on ourselves. We must first dedicate a large amount of time to our own healing, happiness, and self-fulfillment. In other words, we must be self-seeking.
If you can’t love yourself at a deep level – the place where your love originates from in the first place – how will you ever be capable of true altruism or of truly loving anybody else?
You can’t give away that which you don’t actually have.
Think about it for a few moments.
What Self-Love ISN’T
On the surface, it’s understandable how the word ‘self-love’ could be confused with the words ‘egotism,’ ‘self-indulgence’ or ‘narcissism.‘ But this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Self-love isn’t about self-indulgence; it’s about taking care of yourself.
A person who loves themselves wants to become the best they can be, they want to explore themselves, practice inner work, do some soul-searching, work on their flaws, heal their traumas, and find inner peace.
How is this a bad thing?
We are taught to believe that being self-seeking will jeopardize society as a whole – regardless of what you actually do – so it is condemned indiscriminately.
This attitude is evident when we describe the behavior of a person who succeeds at the expense of other’s well-being with words like ‘selfish.’ But this isn’t selfish, it’s foolish and idiotic!
A person with mindful self-love is aware that they’re actually harming themselves when they harm others. Why? Because they understand that if they hurt others, they will suffer the negative consequences in the long term, which will make life much more difficult for them. They realize that causing suffering to others is actually self-destructive, which is the complete opposite of self-love.
(On a side note, is there any such thing as Altruism, really? The actual act of helping other people does benefit us: it makes us feel good. Therefore, Altruism itself can also be thought of as a “selfish” act.)
If you truly love yourself, you want to take care of yourself. It’s only self-hating egotistical people that harm themselves physically or mentally.
Self-love has nothing to do with egotism or narcissistic self-indulgence. On the contrary, the desire for honest self-exploration requires immense respect and love for yourself. Egotism revolves around the ego, and the ego depends upon the respect of others, not yourself.
Self-Love and Spiritual Awakening
Self-love and spiritual awakening go hand-in-hand. In other words, if you commit to self-love, you also commit to deeper spiritual transformation. Love is a quality of the Heart and Soul – and when you actively seek to expand that sense of self-compassion, you are also awakening new parts of your being.
Perhaps this is the most enchanting thing about self-love: it’s not just a surface practice, it is actually a spiritual path. Hindu mystics call this path that of Bhakti Yoga, and indeed, when we are devoted to loving the Divine essence within us, our practice takes on a more meaningful and alchemical quality.
Read: Spiritual Awakening: 23 Major Signs and Symptoms »
23 Ways to Practice Authentic Self-Love
Coming to terms with the fact that almost everything which defines a “good and respectable person” is actually false can be hard to accept at first. But as thinker Jiddu Krishnamurti noted:
It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.
The good news, I discovered, is that with time and persistence, we can learn how to heal ourselves. In essence, we can teach ourselves to become doctors of the Soul, healing our wounds, curing our own sicknesses, and maintaining optimum health through the development of gentle self-love.
If you have just started the path of healing and recovery, or need some inspiration, you might benefit from the following guidance. If you prefer a more guided approach, check out our self-love journal.
Here are 23 ways to begin practicing self-love:
1. Change your diet
Tell me what you eat, and I’ll tell you who you are.– Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin
Swap processed, fatty, and sugary foods, with whole and unprocessed foods. So much research has shown the link between food and the mind. Eating the wrong food can contribute to physical, emotional, and even mental illnesses. Try slowly cutting out junk food, and experience the immense benefits! This is a basic form of self-care.
Read more: 39 Self-Care Ideas For Those Who Struggle With Self-Love »
2. Identify your subpersonalities
Within all of us, there are subtle and incessant voices that sabotage and paralyze us – these are the voices of our subpersonalities. I wrote about these a while ago in my subpersonalities article. Awareness is the key to overcoming the negative self-talk of The Worrier, The Critic, The Victim, and The Perfectionist. Practicing self-compassionate mindfulness as an exercise is a good place to start.
I also recommend working with these inner parts through a profoundly transformational method known as internal family systems.
3. Start reading
Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.– Charles W. Eliot
No, I don’t mean the news, or the latest gossip on Facebook or Instagram, I mean reading books! Focus on mostly non-fiction books in the spiritual/self-help category. Reading this type of material helps to expand your mind and equips you with inspiring and life-applicable knowledge. Some self-love-oriented books you might like to start with include “Nonviolent Communication” by Marshall Rosenberg and “Emotional Intelligence” by Daniel Goleman.
4. Practice inner work
Inner work is a path we advocate a lot on this website. When we practice inner work, we are shining the light of consciousness into our hidden, unconscious realms. It is within the deeper layers of our minds where unresolved fears, blockages, wounds, and traumas lurk. Working through these issues is paramount to your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. Learning how to love yourself, healing your inner child, and delving into shadow work are all the cornerstones of inner work.
5. Experiment with self-hypnosis
Self-hypnosis is a practice anyone can easily incorporate into daily life – it’s simple and straightforward. By re-wiring your brain on a subconscious level, you can dissolve deep-seated inner obstacles such as self-doubt and addictive patterns of behavior. You can apply self-hypnosis to yourself (which is usually the best approach) or find a plethora of hypnosis recordings already available online.
6. Get 7-8 hours of sleep every night
Also, ensure you set a stable bedtime! Once upon a time, my bedtime was 1 am, and I rose at 6 am (that’s a measly average of 5 hours sleep). Getting less than the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep every night, as numerous scientific studies have found, lowers your immunity, contributes to chronic fatigue, moodiness, depression, anxiety issues, and chronic pain (or fibromyalgia). Aim to go to bed around 10 pm and rise at 6 am. You’ll feel the difference immediately!
7. Learn quiet assertiveness
When we fail to set boundaries and hold people accountable, we feel used and mistreated.– Brené Brown
Permitting others to overstep our boundaries, use, and walk all over us isn’t aligned with self-love. Self-love means self-respect, and therefore, learning how to stand up for yourself and setting strong boundaries is imperative. Read more about how to set healthy personal boundaries.
8. Explore your mental traps
Low self-esteem is often the result of false and unrealistic thought patterns that are deeply ingrained within us. These are composed of mental traps such as assumptions, beliefs, comparisons, desires, expectations, and ideals about ourselves and others. Read more about how to explore your mental traps.
9. Treat yourself like you would your best friend
Often, we are our own mortal enemies. To heal ourselves, it’s vital for us to consciously change our relationships with ourselves, and treat ourselves with compassion and consideration just as we would with a best friend. You are with yourself 24/7, 365 days a year. Doesn’t it make sense to enjoy your own company? A good place to start with befriending yourself is by practicing morning affirmations.
10. Welcome solitude into your life
Loneliness is the poverty of self; solitude is the richness of self.– May Sarton
When we don’t make space in our lives to be alone, it’s easy for us to burn out, become disorientated, and even ill. Each day, make time for yourself to rewind, relax and reflect, alone. Solitude gives you insight, perspective and reinstates harmony in your life.
Read more: The Power of Solitude (ebook) »
11. Meditate for self-awareness
Becoming self-aware is a key skill in life, a gift that allows you to identify your self-destructive patterns of thought and behavior, and find more peace and balance in life. Meditation, although frustrating and seemingly meaningless at first, is a silently powerful practice with endless benefits. One simple meditative practice you might like to try is breathwork. Aim for 10-15 minutes each morning first thing (or whenever you have time!). It’s worth it!
12. Identify toxic people in your life
Toxic people cause us to feel wretched and significantly lower the quality of our daily lives. What defines a toxic person? A toxic person (who’s an individual that’s usually just acting out their pain), is often judgmental, manipulative, clingy, backstabbing, ruthless, aggressive, controlling, deceptive, self-pitying, and/or self-destructive. Learning to distance yourself (or flat out remove from your life) those who hinder your self-growth is a difficult, but absolutely necessary step on your journey of healing.
Note: there’s a difference between a toxic and a wounded person. Toxic people consistently create and spread misery whereas wounded people will only act out from time-to-time. Most people are wounded and learning to love them despite their shortcomings is a transformative path of healing itself. However, toxic people often carry an unconscious mission to undermine and demoralize others. These people are best left to their own devices.
13. Seek supportive companions
Supportive people encourage, uplift, and inspire us. These people have often obtained a certain level of self-love. Because of their ability to respect themselves, they can easily respect and love others. Often it’s not necessary to seek these people out as we naturally gravitate towards them on our paths anyway! If you come across someone, perhaps a soul friend, on your path, stay in touch with them if you can! We all need the help of others.
14. Learn to trust your intuition
Our unconscious minds are oceans of wisdom, understanding, and insight. Intuition, that mysterious inner guide we all have, is a manifestation of this vast untapped world within us. Learning to trust your intuition will help you to live a life true to yourself and your deepest needs.
Read more: How to Trust Your Intuition to Make Big Decisions »
15. Support the well-being of nature
All of life on earth and the universe is profoundly interconnected – the harm we do to others always comes back to harm us in one form or another. By supporting the well-being of nature, we are promoting the well-being of us as individuals.
A few ways of honoring our connection with the earth include choosing local organic produce, eating a plant-based diet, reducing our carbon footprint, buying “non-animal tested” items, and adopting a low waste lifestyle.
By honoring nature, we honor ourselves, and by honoring ourselves, we honor nature. Everything is connected.
16. Take a walk or jog each day
An early-morning walk is a blessing for the whole day.– Henry David Thoreau
Writers, creators, thinkers, and health enthusiasts alike have all commented on the simple power and beauty of exercise. Not only does walking (or jogging if you’re up to it) clear the mind, but it also refreshes the Soul – and that’s not mentioning the numerous health benefits! Commit to going for a walk outside for even just 10 minutes a day. You’ll soon notice the difference on nearly every level of your being! Walking is a wonderfully straight-forward self-love practice.
17. Do a digital detox (aka. stop spending so much time on social media!)
Did you know that on average the American adult spends 2+hours per day on social networks (and that number is increasing)? Whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, or any of the numerous other social networks out there, we waste so much of our time on social media … and what for?
Often times we are motivated by the ability to obtain “likes,” “shares,” “followers,” and “friends” constructing a fragile cyber alter-ego that craves acceptance and validation from others.
It’s common knowledge that spending too much time on social media is associated with a decrease in mental wellness. Toxic comparison, insecurity, low self-worth, jealousy, anxiety, harassment, and other issues have a profoundly detrimental impact on our emotional and mental health.
To practice self-love, we need to regularly practice digital detoxes. A digital detox involves voluntarily refusing to use any form of social media for a period of a few days to a month or more. Uninstall the apps on your phone. Go outside. Plan to do something more nourishing with your time. Journal about your progress. The benefits can often be felt within a day!
Learn more about how to journal.
18. Use color psychology
Colors greatly impact our internal well-being (hence the field of “color psychology”). For instance, I have recently replaced a lot of my black, grey, and dull-colored clothing with bright shades of various colors. The experience has been surprising: the colors of the clothes I wear directly impact how much energy I have and how happy I am.
Wearing light blue, for instance, stimulates feelings of openness and yellow stimulates optimism. Dull colors like khaki, granite, and charcoal, on the other hand, are all associated with feelings of apathy, aloofness, pessimism, and despondency.
So think about the kind of colors you surround yourself with. How do they impact your thoughts, feelings, and health overall? This is a simple way of practicing self-love and care.
19. Make time to explore your passions
It’s your road and yours alone. Others may walk it with you, but no one can walk it for you.– Rumi
What drives you? Fires you up? Fills you with joy and a sense of accomplishment? In society, we are conditioned to forget our needs and smother them with other’s desires. As a result, we often lose sight of what truly makes us happy in life.
Many of us abandon our dreams at an early age, and so live meaningless lives of drudgery and socially approved pursuits (such as having a “good” career, big house, nice car, perfect family, etc.). It’s important, therefore, to ask yourself “What is my passion?” You need to really sit down with this question and ponder it deeply.
Remember, passions are not static – they evolve with us. Whether painting, writing, dancing, designing, building or whatever excites you – pursue it – even if on the sidelines!
20. Focus on reducing sources of stress in your life
Prolonged stress contributes to endless illnesses in our lives, so it’s crucial to learn how to reduce and deal with it when it comes. Often, stress can be reduced by simply dropping our desires and expectations for ourselves, other people, and situations in life. (Read about the art of letting go.)
Stress can also be reduced by practicing many of the things I have mentioned in this article, e.g., having a good diet, getting 7-8 hours sleep per night, deprogramming negative thought-patterns, and so forth.
21. Accept your flaws, celebrate your strengths
It’s vital to come to terms with the fact that you are imperfect – there’s no denying it! As part of my journey, I have dedicated a lot of time to exploring my Shadow Self and accepting the embarrassing and even shameful aspects of my nature.
By accepting your flaws, the doorway to self-growth is opened. Accept them, don’t run away from them. Likewise, learn how to celebrate your strengths! Keep a journal of gratitude and honestly list every little thing you appreciate about yourself each day. Balance is essential.
22. Nourish your inner child
Every single person on the face of this planet possesses an inner child, or original self. Your inner child is the most innocent and vulnerable part of you, it is quite literally the child that still lives within you. While this sensitive part is the source of a lot of joy, creativity, and wonder, it also contains tremendous unresolved pain from childhood.
We were all wounded, to some extent, in childhood. We all experienced traumas that we struggled to process. Beginning to work with your inner child is the start of deep emotional healing and freedom. Inner child work is one of the most self-loving paths that you can ever commit to and I highly recommend it.
Read: Inner Child Work: 5 Healing Techniques to Overcome Trauma »
23. Begin a spiritual practice that feels authentic to you
Nowhere can man find a quieter or more untroubled retreat than in his own soul.– Marcus Aurelius
Self-love is a path that caters to every part of our being, including the spiritual. When we live a life that is in service to the ego, something feels lacking. Sadly, when there is nothing greater than the material self, we struggle with feelings of chronic emptiness, loneliness, and depression.
Since the dawn of humanity, we have been a species drawn to the sacred and numinous. You don’t need to be religious to be spiritual (and there’s nothing wrong with being religious either). However, if you’ve been harmed or disenchanted by religion, be assured that you can still have a spiritual practice that is aligned with your authentic needs, perspectives, and desires without religious dogma.
We have a number of guides and resources that can help you nurture this fundamental part of your nature. Explore any that resonate with you:
- What is Spirituality? (EVERYTHING You Need to Know)
- What is a Soul? (and Can it Die, Escape, or Break?)
- 5 Types of Spiritual Healing (& What to Be Careful Of)
Download FREE Self-Love Worksheets!
Go deeper into integrating self-love with a journaling prompt + printable meditation mandala!
Why Practicing Self-Love Can Sometimes Feel Stressful
Like me, you might have read a lot of material all over the place on self-love.
You might have watched videos of gurus explaining the importance of self-respect, you might have read books on people’s journeys of self-love and you might have a spiritual circle of friends that are always emphasizing the importance of taking care of yourself.
You might be bombarded with the overwhelming desire to love yourself – just like all these other awakened people do – but something isn’t quite right. You find that the more you try to love yourself, the more unhappy you are with your efforts.
You might find yourself berating yourself about an old misfortune or a new resentment, and then later repent, telling yourself “I should let this go and move on, I should be more forgiving.” Or you might try to be more confident in yourself, fall into insecurity and anxiety, and later think “If I am to love myself I have to be more confident in the person I am – I’m not doing well enough!”
You might even compare some of your habits with others on the same path and feel miserable as a result, realizing that you are not as “self-loving” as they are.
When it comes to the word “should,” there is a very fine line between motivating oneself and sabotaging one’s happiness. On one hand, we motivate ourselves by setting goals and fulfilling them, (e.g., “I should keep up this exercise routine for the next week to see how I feel”), and on the other hand, we can undermine our happiness by imposing unnecessary ideals, expectations, and comparisons onto what we do.
Have you ever thought something along the lines of, “I SHOULD have more self-love! I SHOULDN’T feel so guilty!”? This is a perfect example of falling into the trap of making self-love a duty, a burden, and a jail cell that restricts our ability to truly grow.
That is the threat of making self-love into a “should”: it actually turns us against ourselves. Ironic don’t you think?
So what do we do if self-love is becoming a burden to us? The answer is to take a step back and be gentle even with our inability to practice self-love.
Self-Love = Gentleness and Forgiveness
At the start of our spiritual journey of self-love, it’s all too easy to be ensnared by the external comparisons we make between ourselves and others who have perhaps advanced more on the spiritual path.
I used to do this a lot until I realized one day that the very essence of self-love is about being gentle and forgiving with yourself.
Thanks to some much-needed guidance, I learned that it was (and still is) completely fine to take my time, to go slowly, and to learn little by little.
I learned that it was OK to be flawed and to continue making mistakes … just as long as I tried, persisted, and pushed through little by little.
So if you haven’t yet reached the pinnacle of what you consider to be self-love yet, don’t worry. It’s not necessary that you push yourself, and it’s not necessary to be hard on yourself – the precise opposite of what self-love is.
Rather, know that self-love, at its core, is the ability to embrace your wrongdoings and imperfections, knowing that you are innately worthy of all the love life has to offer.
Toxic Forms of Self-Love
We’ll now move onto the ‘dark side’ of self-love.
This is a strange topic that not many people shine the light on when discussing self-love. But YES it is possible to use so-called self-loving practices as a way to band-aid our deeper wounds. YES it is possible to unintentionally deceive ourselves as a self-protection mechanism.
Here’s what you need to be mindful of:
1. Cultivating extreme “positive thinking” habits
Replacing the negative cycles of inner talk within us is very helpful. However, not only is optimism often a polarized reaction to pessimism, but it can also be used as a form of avoidance by dismissing the reality of our own pain and other’s pain.
It’s common to use positive thinking as a way to spiritually bypass our own deeper issues.
Bottom line: be careful when approaching positive thinking communities and teachings. Positive thinking becomes toxic when it is used to hide the pain, shame, and fear we carry inside. Often, what we most need isn’t to mask our problems with positivity, but to hold space for our most vulnerable and tender selves.
It’s okay to feel your feelings. It’s okay to be messy and hurt. These are profound opportunities to practice self-love – to love even your most flawed, unsightly self.
2. Thinking that you are perfect the way you are
Yes, it’s beneficial for us to fully embrace the people we are and to love our strengths and weaknesses. However the affirmation “I am perfect the way I am” can lead to problems.
The truth is that there’s no such thing as perfection. Thinking that “I’m perfect the way I am,” can be used as an excuse to avoid growing and changing. I’ve observed some individuals using this philosophy as a way of denying self-responsibility or feeling vulnerable around other’s critiques.
Self-love isn’t about bypassing uncomfortable experiences that catalyze growth under the guise that “we’re already perfect as we are.” Life is about change. And there can never be a state of perfection because perfection is stagnant, unchanging, and dead. Save perfection for when you’re buried six feet under!
3. Excessive indulgence
Rewarding ourselves every now and then simply for the sake of it is a healthy, self-nurturing habit. It’s nice to relax with that mini-series, spend an hour in a bubble bath and lavish ourselves with nice food, clothing, and other gifts whenever we feel the need.
However, this habit can be taken to the extreme and used to justify unnecessary greed and indulgence that covers up and overcompensates for deeper issues such as the fear of aloneness, worthlessness, and social insignificance. There is a time to reward ourselves and a time not to.
Cultivating self-love is essential if you desire to live a life of joy, love, peace, and fulfillment.
Although it’s usually missed in our early life education, self-love is as vital to daily life as any other fundamental human need.
Without learning how to love ourselves, our lives are filled with self-sabotage, self-loathing, toxic and heartbreaking relationships, emptiness, and a profound lack of connection with life.
I hope that this article has inspired you to re-educate yourself. And please, if you feel that someone else in your life could benefit from self-love, please share this resource with them!
What has been the hardest part of your self-love path? Please share below. I’d love to read your story!
Jump inside of my mind and see how hard it is for me to concentrate on all of this. I get what you have shared (although I haven’t read the full blog yet) but my head is all over the place with no signs of slowing down anytime soon. Kinda sucks.
What a beautiful & integrative article ❤️ Thank you so much for guiding us with this insightful Self-love pathway, Mateo.
The hardest part of my Self-love path is continuing on this path consistently. I usually start with self-love practices with lot of motivation and yet give up on them very easily and go back to my anxiety & depression mode. Trying to work on this now by meditation and staying in the present.
Also your article is a great reminder of how not forcing these practices on oneself is also important so trying to forgive myself for the times when I tend to go back to my old ways, trying to accept that it can happen and that’s okay.