If you search the term “self-love,” you might find a series of “how to practice self-care” tips, such as taking a luxurious bubble bath or listening to your favorite music as you relax. While this might be a good place to start, true self-love that has the potential to meaningfully improve your life generally requires more than a few moments of face masks and good music.
True self-love is typically the result of introspection, self-compassion, and self-awareness, all of which require time, effort, energy, and attention to cultivate.
What Is Self Love?
Self-love is the practice of treating yourself with kindness, compassion, and love. Just as you’d give a loved one your time, understanding, and respect, truly engaging in self-love usually requires the same. Loving oneself is a powerful thing to do, but it can often prove difficult. Many people are their own worst critic. Because you’re privy to your deepest thoughts and feelings, it can be easy to judge yourself more harshly than you would another person whose inner life you can’t see.
Part of self-love is recognizing this—that you see aspects of yourself that no one else ever can, and also that others likely have similar thoughts, feelings, and challenges going on inside, too. You’re not the only one who sometimes thinks judgmental thoughts about others, or who feels annoyed by that one coworker’s behavior. While we can always work on self-improvement, self-love entails accepting the parts of yourself you think need to be changed right alongside the things you like about yourself. It’s about acknowledging your faults with an “...and that’s okay!” attitude, instead of looking at yourself with judgment and condemnation. It boils down to loving yourself (mind, body, personality, and all) the way you would want others to love you.
Why Is Self-Love Important?
Self-love and self-esteem are topics that have been studied quite extensively. A review of studies in this field sums up findings by saying that higher self-esteem “helps individuals adapt to and succeed in a variety of life domains, including having more satisfying relationships, performing better at school and work, enjoying improved mental and physical health, and refraining from antisocial behavior.” A strong sense of self-love can also help you protect yourself by prioritizing situations that will be positive for your well-being and avoiding those that you know will not. This can take the form of setting healthy boundaries in relationships, for instance, or pursuing positive work, living, and/or romantic situations that will allow you to thrive.
How Self Love Impacts Relationships
Even though self-love is about how you relate to yourself, it can also impact the way you relate to others. Research suggests that low self-esteem in one person can affect the satisfaction levels of both parties in a relationship. There can be a variety of factors that may contribute to this. In romantic relationships, the partner with low self-esteem may feel higher anxiety about the relationship, for instance, constantly worried that their partner is unhappy or is thinking about leaving them. It can also manifest as jealousy and a need for constant validation, which can wear on the other partner.
It may also be difficult for a person with low self-love to fully accept themselves enough to be truly vulnerable and authentic in their relationships. Since research suggests that the reported benefits of close relationships (which include better overall health and well-being) stem from the experience of intimacy within those relationships, a lack of vulnerability can be detrimental to the dynamic overall.
Finally, the way we view ourselves can sometimes be reflected in the way we view others. If we’re judgmental, perfectionistic, and hold ourselves to an impossibly high standard where we’re harsh about mistakes, we might tend to take this same approach with other people. Humans are imperfect, and everyone has faults and failings. Love is the ability to still hold ourselves and others in regard despite these. In other words, increasing your own self-love can help you extend more love and compassion to others, too.
How To Increase Self-Love
Feeling more love for yourself is a journey that requires commitment. Trying some of the strategies below may help you in this over time.
1. Cultivate Mindfulness
Research has found links between mindfulness and a range of positive outcomes including healthy self-esteem, which is linked to overall life satisfaction. Cultivating mindfulness is most often pursued through a regular meditation practice. Even ten or fifteen minutes per day of focusing on your breath in a quiet space and developing an awareness of your thoughts can put you on the right track. After some practice, you may find that you’re able to keep a more balanced perspective on things, including your view of yourself.
2. Speak Positively To Yourself
Self-talk, or the way you speak to yourself privately and internally, can be powerful. Studies have found that negative self-talk can be linked to depression and anxiety. Most people wouldn’t criticize and tear down someone they love so harshly—so why do we sometimes do it to ourselves? It’s easy to slip into these negative thought patterns, but with practice, it is possible to alter them. It’s likely worth the effort, too, since positive self-talk is linked to higher self-esteem, calm, and motivation.
First, the sense of mindfulness that you can cultivate through a regular meditation practice can help you become more aware of how you talk to yourself. This awareness is often the first step toward being able to make changes. Next, you can try being more intentional about recognizing the positives in a situation: acknowledging your strengths and achievements rather than fixating only on your mistakes. Finally, you might challenge yourself to look at a situation from the perspective of someone else, and see if what you’re thinking or feeling is really objectively true or likely. Negative thoughts can sometimes be exaggerated or based on flawed logic, so changing perspectives may help that become clear.
3. Take Time For Introspection
Do you take issue with two characters falling in love and getting married after one day in children’s movies? Remember to apply this same logic to your relationship with yourself. Loving yourself is more difficult if you don’t take the time to truly get to know yourself. Checking in regularly is one way to do this. Take a few minutes to evaluate why you reacted the way you did to a difficult or uncomfortable situation, or why you’re feeling bad about something. Writing in a journal can be a useful tool to this end. The idea is to get to know how you work so you can identify both what your strengths are and what your areas for improvement might be. Using emotions as signposts and looking out for patterns can both be helpful in this process—which is generally a continual, ongoing one.
4. Discover Self-Care That Works For You
This can look like taking bubble baths if that’s what works best for you, but in general, true self-care often goes deeper than that. It’s about advocating for yourself and giving yourself what you need. This could look like:
- Turning down a social invitation to spend some time alone when you need to rest and recharge
- Making plans with a friend when you feel you need support or to have a little fun
- Saying “no” to a work project that would put you at risk for burnout
- Setting a boundary with a friend, family member, or partner, even if it upsets them
- Prioritizing sleep over chores when you’re exhausted
- Speaking up to ask for what you need from others to feel more comfortable, safe, or secure
Practicing self-care in ways like these is a method of putting yourself first. It’s not a frivolous undertaking, like some might think when they hear about self-care advice and associate it with bubble baths. When done in a way that’s right for you, taking good care of yourself can be a legitimate, powerful form of self-love.
Seeking Guidance On Your Self-Love Journey
Studies show that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most effective tools for improving low self-esteem. A licensed counselor can help you in learning to love yourself and discover more strategies to increase your self-love.. You can work together on improving your self-talk and finding the right self-care methods for you, and they can help you adopt a more balanced, compassionate perspective on yourself.
Some people who decide to pursue the guidance of a counselor choose virtual therapy. Research suggests that it’s a viable alternative to in-person sessions as it offers similar benefits, but has the potential to be delivered at a lower cost and in a more convenient format. An online therapy platform like BetterHelp makes it easy to connect with a licensed professional you can trust via phone, video, or chat—all from the comfort of your own home. Regardless of whether you choose online or in-person therapy, remember that therapists are specially trained to help people explore their feelings without judgment.
Take a look at the patient testimonials below from people who have found support through BetterHelp.
“Zach is great. He has a more relaxed approach than a clinical one, which I personally find to be helpful when talking about certain issues. He has never been a judge or a jury, just a helpful voice to talk to, to vent to, and who, by the end of every session, leaves me with something to look forward to in the way of my own self-care.”
“I’m very pleased with my accomplishments while working with Lisa. She listens and offers tools that have led to great improvement in my mental health as I have put them into practice. She has helped remind me of the importance of engaging in self-care, healthy habits, and being self-aware.”
Self-esteem is generally considered to be an important component of mental health; plenty of research supports this. Consider trying some of the strategies we’ve outlined here to increase it through self-love. Whether you undertake this journey on your own or with the help of a mental health professional, a consistent commitment to it has the potential to positively impact your life.
Below are some commonly asked questions on this topic:
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