“Self love” seems to be having an almost cultural moment right now. Not that it’s a new concept – far from it. Depending on how deep you dig, it seems to have been around for decades, if not centuries!
In the last few years, it’s become so ubiquitous that the concept of self love has ended up being reduced to a buzzword or marketing hook at best or woo-woo shit at worst. The negative reactions typically stem from people who view practicing self love as being selfish or just another word for self-indulgence. And then there are those who believe that self love is something that you earn only if you’re a certain way.
But the truth is, neither of those extreme beliefs is true. Practicing self love does not mean being selfish or self-centered. And practicing self love should not be tied to whether or not you feel “worthy” of it.
You deserve to love yourself deeply just because you are.
What is Self Love?
I’ll be the first to admit that it took me a long time to truly understand the concept of self love as something beyond using it as an excuse to treat yo’ self.
Younger me used to think of impulsive shopping, eating excessive junk food, and drinking way too much soda as all valid ways of practicing self love – well, I loved shopping and eating junk food, and drinking soda used to make me feel good, so it had to mean that I was actually loving myself by doing more of these things that I loved, right? Current me knows that all of those behaviors were just me running away from facing my real issues, and they ended up doing me more harm than good.
So yes, I had to do a lot of mental rewiring and a lot of inner work to understand self love as something beyond the ‘indulging myself’ mentality.
The way I see it today, self love is the act of accepting and caring for yourself. It’s about recognizing your own worth and treating yourself with kindness, respect, and compassion. The act of loving yourself as you are is one of the most empowering things you can do for yourself. It’s not a destination, but an ongoing journey through life.
Treating yourself occasionally is definitely one way to practice self love, but it runs so much more deeper than that. It’s a continuous choice that you make for your honoring and nourishing your mind, body, and soul.
Ultimately, self love is about learning to accept yourself completely, taking loving action to be the best version of yourself, and finding your own path to happiness and peace with self-compassion.
Why is Self Love Important?
Self love is important because it’s the foundation of a healthy relationship with yourself. Just like you need to take care of your body and mind, you also need to nurture your self-esteem and emotional well-being.
When you love and accept yourself, it’s easier to overcome challenges and setbacks, because you have faith in yourself and you’re not bogged down by unnecessary negativity about yourself.
When you’re able to see your own worth and value, it’s much easier to see the same in others. And from there, it becomes easier to build healthier relationships with the people around you.
Also, the more you learn to love and accept yourself, the easier it is to show others that same compassion and kindness.
What Self Love is Not
Okay, so this part is straight up from my Self Love Journal & Workbook, which I put together almost a year ago.
Thesaurus.com lists the following words as synonyms of self-love: conceit, narcissism, vainglory, and vanity. I’d like to put my hand up (okay, both hands up!) and scream out loud that self-love is anything but these synonyms that are so casually assigned to it.
When you’re practicing self-love, you’re on your path to becoming more loved and also being more loving in return. Conceit, vanity, narcissism, ego – none of them are really traits of being a loving person.
Yes, learning to love yourself is an inward-looking exercise, and while it is absolutely valid to seek out alone time, it is not a free pass for acting up. To clear things up, self-love is not:
- Believing that you will never face any struggles in life
- Being an egotistical idiot
- Thinking that you are always right
- Thinking that you can never make mistakes
- A convenient excuse for mean behavior
- A sense of entitlement
- Blaming others when things go wrong
- Shirking away from your responsibilities
- Being unkind to others
- Believing that you are better than everyone else
- Believing you have a free pass to any sort of bad behavior
Why is it Often Hard to Love Ourselves?
I am not talking about the ‘treat yo self’ version of self love here. That’s easy enough to do.
But think about this:
- Are you able to love yourself despite seeing your double chin in the mirror every morning or the rolls around your belly every time to sit down?
- Are you able to love yourself when your mental health issues make it difficult for you to do “normal” activities like walking through a shopping mall without triggering a panic attack?
- Are you able to love yourself even when you never seem to be able to achieve any of your goals in life?
- Are you able to love yourself despite people in your life throwing toxic words and attitudes toward you?
- Are you able to love yourself when you’ve had 20 first dates in the last few months and you’re still struggling to make a real connection with someone?
It’s likely that you would have struggled with at least some of these scenarios I’ve painted above. And that’s alright – you’re human. You’re not a robot going through life with only pre-programmed emotions or behaviors.
But there’s a larger reason why it’s often hard to love yourself through these kinds of situations or other similar examples – we live in a society that tells us we need to look and be a certain way in order to be accepted and valued. We’re bombarded with messages telling us that we need to be thinner, have perfect skin, wear the latest fashion trends, or be living in Instagram-friendly houses, and whatnot.
There is a socially acceptable definition of success (at work, or relationships, or in life in general), and if that’s not your path, you’re easily categorized as a failure or a weirdo. It’s no wonder that so many of us struggle with self-love and acceptance!
Of course, in recent years, I have seen a lot of things changing – more diverse voices are coming up, and there is increasing awareness about mental health – but it’s still not nearly enough to take away from the years of conditioning/messaging that most of us have gone through.
And yet another reason why it’s hard to love ourselves is that we simply don’t know how. We don’t know where to start, or what self love even looks like. So often, we only know how to love and care for others, but not ourselves.
So, How Do You Start with Self Love?
I’m going to share with you some of the things that have helped me on my journey of self love. Hopefully, they will be helpful for you too!
1| Make a list of things you like and/or love about yourself
This is a great exercise for getting in touch with the things you already love about yourself. It can be easy to focus on our flaws and shortcomings, but when was the last time you sat down and thought about all the things you love about yourself – your personality traits, your accomplishments, your skills?
Think about what makes you unique and special. Write them down, and refer to this list whenever you need a reminder of why you’re amazing!
As you move further along your self love journey, you will be able to come back to this list and add more things to it.
2| Start a gratitude practice
Gratitude is a powerful emotion that can help shift your focus from negative to positive. It has been proven in more than enough studies to have numerous benefits, including reducing anxiety and depression, improving sleep quality, and increasing overall satisfaction with life.
One of the best ways to incorporate gratitude into your life is to start a daily gratitude practice. This can be as simple as taking a few minutes every day to write down 3-5 things you’re grateful for.
If doing a daily practice seems like too much for you, just make one list of all of the things you are thankful for today, in this present moment. When you’re feeling down in the dumps, or less than, or like you just need a little positive mental boost, come back to this list and you’ll be able to see that you are already blessed in so many ways.
Consciously practicing gratitude makes you appreciative of all the things – big and small – that you already have in your life and fosters a sense of acceptance and abundance, which in turn feeds into feeling better about yourself and your life.
3| Nourish your body
As I grow older, I have started realizing the importance of treating your body right. The basics of nourishing your body – eating healthy, doing some movement/exercise daily, and getting enough sleep – are critical to maintaining good health, which significantly contributes to how we feel about ourselves.
When we take care of our physical needs and nourish our bodies with loving care, it’s easier to also take care of our emotional and mental needs. And taking care of your body makes you feel good about making the effort in the first place.
If you’re just starting out, instead of trying to overhaul your entire lifestyle overnight, begin with making small changes. Drinking more water. Sleeping for 7-8 hours. Moving daily. Stretching your body. As these habits become more ingrained, you can focus on adding more positive and healthy habits. And if you’re more competitively oriented, check out a few health & fitness-related challenges from this overall list of 30-day challenges!
4| Become self-aware
Becoming self-aware is one of the most important steps in learning how to love yourself. It’s only when you become aware of your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that you can start to change them.
Start paying attention to your inner dialogue – what are you telling yourself on a daily basis? Is it kind, loving, and compassionate? Or is it critical, judgmental, and negative?
Journal your thoughts. Use prompts, or just spill out whatever is on your mind every morning or every night. As you get more regular with journaling, you will see patterns emerge, which will only help you learn more about yourself. And the more aware you are of your thoughts, emotions, and triggers, the better equipped you are to deal with them in a constructive way.
5| Accept and forgive
There is no way to change your past. You can’t undo your actions or the actions of others. Others may have caused you a lot of hurt and suffering in the past, but find your inner strength to forgive them, both in your mind and in your heart. The more you are able to do this, the more you will release yourself from living in the past.
And while you’re at it, take the time to forgive yourself not just for the hurt you may have caused to someone else but also for the hurt you may have caused to yourself. As I’ve gone through my therapy sessions in the last few months, I’ve realized that it was easier for me to forgive someone else for their hurtful actions, but I had a much harder time forgiving myself for not being able to prevent myself from getting hurt in the first place!
Learning to accept and forgive yourself and others is an important part of self love. It’s only when you can do this that you can truly start to accept your past, accept yourself, and move forward with love.
6| Dream big
What do you see when you think about your future life? Does it fill you with excitement, or does it feel like one big dull grey blob?
Loving yourself is also about granting permission to let your imagination run wild, to paint a picture in your mind of a future that feels good and not just looks good. That grand vision for your life that you have for yourself demands that you bring your best self to the table. And bringing your best self means learning to love yourself.
You see, when you start loving yourself, it sets off a chain reaction of more goodness. Practicing active self love helps you build better habits – you’re eating better, sleeping better. Your health is on an upward trajectory. Your energy levels improve. Your concentration improves. You make better choices at work. You’re more mindful of your spending habits. Negative and toxic chatter goes away from your life. And so on and so forth. With all of these positive changes, how can your future not be better than where you are right now?
7| Read uplifting books and follow inspiring creators
I am a huge fan of Brianna Weist and own almost all of her books (this one is my current favorite). Her words encourage self acceptance, self love, and letting go, all of which are messages we can hear more of. I keep her books on my bedside table and flip a few pages every night.
Another favorite is Mary Oliver’s poetry. Every time I read her works, I am just filled with this sense of awe and also feel encouraged to accept the present and appreciate the beauty around us.
Lastly, this book has also been surprisingly very uplifting and positivity-affirming.
You don’t have to read these books specifically, but find a writer / content creator whose work resonates with you. If Instagram is more your jam, check out @upasanagautam – she doesn’t really talk about self love on her account, but I find her tips and messages geared towards boosting yourself up by using your voice and skills. Oh, and how can I forget @jamievaron. Love, love, love her messaging on enough-ness in a world which is constantly pushing you to do more, be more.
Of course, self love is not some magic wand. Things will not change overnight just because you decide to begin your self love journey. It will require you to dig deep, unlearn old habits & biases, and do a lot of inner work. There will be challenges along the way but the rewards are so worth it.
Even in my own self love journey – I am nowhere near perfect. I still battle with insecurities, and I am still working on creating better routines and habits for myself. But yes, I do find myself treating myself with a little more love, kindness, and acceptance every passing day. And slowly but surely, I am making my way forward.
If you’re feeling stuck and wondering how to love yourself, I hope this post has given you some ideas on where to start. Please remember that self love is a journey, not a destination. Take your time, be patient with yourself and enjoy the process!