Loving Yourself: Why and How to Love Yourself
What does it mean to love yourself? Many of us are not quite sure and we struggle to love ourselves. So, here we’ll talk about ways to love yourself more.
What Does It Mean to Love Yourself? (A Definition)
When we love ourselves, we have an appreciation for our own worth or value. We don’t need affirmation from others and we don’t need them to tell us that we are good enough, smart enough, attractive enough—we simply know. As a result, we have positive views about ourselves and feel good about who we are most of the time. We also tend to have higher levels of self-worth, self-esteem, and self-confidence.
Loving yourself is super important for well-being. In fact, according to the people who have taken our well-being survey, a positive view of the self was the thing most related to happiness. That means, the more positive self-views you have—or the more you love yourself—the higher your happiness is likely to be. Other studies have supported this idea by suggesting that having positive feelings about yourself may be a "key to happiness, success, and popularity" (Crocker, & Knight, 2005).
What does it look like when you don’t love yourself?
When we don’t love ourselves we have more negative feelings and self-focused emotions. For example, we may feel:
We might also feel addicted to things that make us feel better in the short term but hurt us in the longer term (Wegscheider-Cruse, 2012). For example, we might use alcohol, drugs, sex, food, shopping, or workaholism to reduce our negative emotions and boost positive emotions.
Video: Learning to Love Yourself
In this video, Amanda Jette Knox shares her inspiring journey of self-love and acceptance through personal stories.
Why Loving Yourself Is Important
If you don’t love yourself, you might be more critical of yourself. You might engage in behaviors like negative self-talk—for example, “I’m worthless”, “I could never succeed at this”, or “I’m not smart enough”. These thought patterns can generate feelings of anxiety, sadness, or hopelessness.
There may be many other experiences that go along with low levels of self-love. For example, in one study, school counselors were asked to describe students with low self-esteem (Guindon, 2002). Here are some of the words they used:
As you can see, when we have a difficult time loving ourselves, this spills into other areas of our lives and can make it difficult to achieve our goals and build healthy relationships.
Learning to Love Yourself
Although increasing our self-esteem and learning to love ourselves is not the easiest thing to do—for example, building skills like gratitude and mindfulness may be easier—we do have the power to increase the number of positive feelings we have about ourselves. Often this starts with action—for example, removing unloving people and behaviours from our lives (Wegscheider-Cruse, 2012). By acting in ways that are self-loving, we slowly teach ourselves that we are worthy and lovable. We show ourselves that we love ourselves.
So for example, we may be tolerating unhealthy relationships--What does it matter if they treat us like dirt? We probably deserve it. To practice more self-love, we might shift to being someone who stands up for ourselves--Hey, don’t talk to me like that! Or, maybe we’ve been working a dead end job. But now that we are loving ourselves more, we decide to go back to school to pursue the career we really want.
So often learning to love ourselves takes action. These actions can help shift our thoughts about ourselves. And these positive thoughts about ourselves further promote more self-loving actions. It’s an upward spiral that can help us grow our self-esteem and feel better about who we are.
On Loving Yourself First
People often say to “love yourself first”. Indeed, we benefit from being loving towards ourselves. But true happiness often comes from loving others too. Plus, when we give our love to others, we learn about what love is and how to give it. This may help us better understand how to love ourselves. We just have to be careful not to love others at the expense of ourselves.
So focusing on loving yourself first is good advice. But don’t use this advice to be stingy with your love. Sharing your love is important too.
How to Love Yourself
There are many science-backed strategies that you can use to start loving yourself more. Keep in mind that these may be hard at first. You may not feel comfortable treating yourself with the level of kindness and respect you deserve. So take your time and ease into self-love strategies slowly if you feel like that is helpful to you. Here are some tips to get started:
1. Be Self-Compassionate
Self-compassion involves being compassionate (showing sympathy and concern) towards yourself. According to self-compassion expert, Dr. Kristin Neff, self-compassion includes several components (Neff, 2003). These are:
Self kindness involves being patient with the aspects of your personality that you don’t like, being caring towards yourself when you’re going through a hard time, and being tolerant of your flaws.
Common humanity involves understanding that all people feel inadequate sometimes, that self-doubts are part of the human condition, and that you’ll likely go through similar difficulties as others.
Mindfulness (as it relates to self-compassion) involves exploring your feelings with openness and curiosity, attempting to take a balanced view of your situation, and keeping things in perspective (Neff, 2003).
Building each of these skills can help boost self-compassion and help you to love yourself more.
2. Practice Loving Kindness Towards Yourself and Others
Loving-kindness meditation is a type of Buddhist meditation that is often used to help people cultivate unconditional kind attitudes toward themselves and others. It involves repeating phrases, such as “may you be happy” or “may you be free from suffering” toward specific others and yourself (Zeng et al., 2015).
Loving kindness meditation is a good way to get more comfortable with feeling love for yourself and others. To start loving yourself more, focus especially on the part of the meditation that has you imagine love coming in towards you. Check out our article with loving kindness meditations to learn more.
3. Forgive Yourself
One study showed that adults who completed a six-week forgiveness training reported lower stress, anger, and hurt than people who didn’t undergo the training (Harris, et al., 2006). They also felt more capable of forgiving and greater optimism immediately after the training and four months later.
According to some research, forgiveness involves 5 stages (Pollard, Anderson, Anderson, & Jennings, 1998). These are:
When we talk about forgiving ourselves, it may involve a similar process and result in similar outcomes. Follow the process outlined above to become aware of, accept, and let go of past pain you might have caused yourself or others. The mistakes you made, the actions you took (or didn’t take), the times when you hurt others—these are all in the past. There is nothing you can do now to change them. All you can do is forgive yourself and do your best not to do the same things again.
4. Practice Self-Gratitude
Although gratitude for others and for the things in our lives is a great practice for boosting well-being, we can also have gratitude for ourselves and the things we’ve done. For example, we might tell ourselves "thanks" for eating healthy meals and taking care of our health. Or, we might give ourselves a pat on the back for "speaking our mind in a work meeting". Or, we might be grateful for our pretty eyes, our quick wit, our ability to cook the best bread we’ve ever had. There are a lot of good things about ourselves to be grateful for. Trying taking a moment each day to notice these. Or, start a gratitude journal to keep track of them.
5. Focus on Your Strengths
You probably already know that it’s easier to focus on your flaws or weaknesses—Why does my nose have to be so big?! In fact, the ways we talk to ourselves are often way more harsh and critical than how we would talk to anyone else. But if we want to start treating ourselves with love, we need to knock it off. Instead of criticizing yourself or focusing on your flaws, try to find your strengths and focus on your positive qualities. Believe me, you have them. It’s just a matter of shifting your attention to the good things about yourself instead of the bad.
6. Show Yourself That You Love Yourself
As I mentioned earlier, the actions we take to show ourselves that we love ourselves are key. It’s just like if we were in a relationship. Our partner might say they love us, but if they don’t show us, then we might not believe them. So show yourself that “you love you”.
You might send yourself away for a relaxing vacation if you’re overworked. You might stand up for yourself when others put you down. You might help yourself get your dream job by learning how to manifest your dreams. Any kind action you take towards yourself can help you start to see that you love yourself. It may only be then that you’ll start to believe it.
Video: How to Love Yourself to the Core
Love Yourself Quotes
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Books Related to Loving Yourself
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Final Thoughts on Loving Yourself
Many of us struggle to overlook our flaws to difficulties and just love ourselves for who really are. Luckily, we can do things to build up this love and create a life where we’re truly happy.