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Self-love - learning how to love yourself

Love - we base so many aspects of our lives on this four-letter word. Whether it is finding our one true love, having loving relationships with our family and friends, or finding a job and building a life that we love. And so often we hear that it all comes back to our lack of self-love when something in our life goes off the rails. But it's not as easy as it sounds. Self-love is not easy. 

What is meant by self-love?

Self-love is the profound appreciation of yourself that encourages you to take care of your own emotional, physical, and mental health to flourish. Essentially, it's a lifelong commitment and journey you're on to understand and accept yourself without any judgment and recognize your inherent worthiness as a human being (Mutiwasekwa, 2019).

Why do you need self-love?

Self-love is an essential part of your mental health and daily life. Without self-love, you are left vulnerable to the external influences that dictate your self-worth. This might include falling into negative behaviors such as seeking external validation, perfectionism, or people-pleasing. You might neglect your own feelings and needs because you don't value yourself as much as you should. Or you might start to self-sabotage yourself, making decisions that are not always best for you. Self-love helps you create the life you want and set boundaries to establish healthy relationships with others, but most importantly, with yourself. It allows you to become your authentic and “best” self (Martin, 2019).

What influences our self-love?

One thing that people don‘t tell you about love is that it's a learned emotion. Our first experience with "love" starts as a child, with the way love was shown and expressed to us. If we grew up in an environment where we didn't feel loved or where love wasn't visibly expressed in any form, we might have to learn how to give and receive love as we grow up, especially when it comes to loving ourselves and feeling worthy of being loved (Tower, 2019). 

An important thing to remember is that self-love doesn't mean that you love yourself all the time, because realistically, your relationship with yourself is similar to other relationships you have in your life. There are days when you get upset about your sibling, significant other, or friend, but that doesn't mean you don't love them. Because your love for them is greater than all of their quirks and flaws. You accept them for who they are, and your relationship with them deepens through all the ups and downs of life. And the same goes for your relationship with yourself. There are days when you cannot stand yourself, but you will still choose yourself because the longest relationship in your life will always be with yourself. And knowing that, shouldn't you put the most effort into nourishing that relationship?

How to build self-love

Building self-love starts with you. The most important question you need to ask yourself is, “Who are you?” outside of everyone else's expectations. It’s easy to get caught up in what your parents, friends, society, or even social media think is the "right way to live”, but who are you without all these influences and eyes on you? What kind of life do you envision for yourself if you just listen to yourself? Who is the “real” you?  

Try to stop comparing yourself to others. The key is to focus on yourself and find happiness within yourself. You can consciously choose to focus on the good and to be grateful for your life. The truth is there is always going to be someone who is more successful, has nicer hair, or seems to be so much more than you are. But someone else out there wishes part of your life would be theirs, and that they’d have what you have. And instead of comparing yourself with others, you should compare yourself with your past self and appreciate who you have become and your growth as a person. So, start celebrating all your accomplishments, especially the small ones, and try to compliment yourself more often. 

You don’t have to suddenly change your whole life, but think about small, consistent changes you could adapt in your daily life to treat yourself better. Take one step at a time. It might help to think about how you treat the person you love or how you want to be treated by someone that loves you. How do you show them that you care about them? How do you talk to them? And vice versa. One way to reflect on this is by thinking about your boundaries. Boundaries are your own personal guidelines on how you want to be treated and limits you set for yourself to protect your time, energy, and emotional well-being. They help you understand your own value and what is important to you, and they can give you a sense of yourself. 

Another important aspect of self-love is self-compassion. People tend to be their worst critics and engage in negative self-talk if life comes crumbling down, when in fact they should be self-compassionate. Self-compassion means giving yourself the same kindness and care you would give to someone you hold close to your heart. It is compassion directed inward, which essentially means to direct feelings of kindness and care towards yourself. Remind yourself that you’re just like any other human being, which means you may go through difficult times and you don’t have to be perfect.

In order to understand yourself better, you have to accept all your flaws and shortcomings. You don’t have to like them, but acknowledge that they are part of you. So, allow yourself to make mistakes and fail, because ultimately, they lead to growth as a person. Try to forgive yourself for all these moments in which you disappointed yourself. The truth is, no one is perfect, and no one ever will be. Try to let go of the idea that you’re not enough. Because what is this based on - how do you measure “worthiness”?

Self-love also means realizing there are parts of yourself you need to work on. Yes, you should accept all parts of yourself, but not all of them are beneficial for you, such as unhealthy habits like bad sleeping patterns or constantly eating unhealthy food. The most important aspect, however, that you should focus on is your mental health. Listen to yourself and the signs your body sends you to unpack and work on your issues and traumas. They might affect your self-love and hold you back from embracing all that is you. 

Self-love vs. Narcissism

Self-love is often misunderstood as narcissism or selfishness, when in fact it‘s a transformative practice that nurtures your mental, emotional, and physical well-being. The crucial difference between self-love and narcissism is that self-love comes from a healthy appreciation of yourself, while narcissism places yourself above anyone else. Narcissistic individuals usually think they are better than everyone else, rarely accepting any criticism or acknowledging their mistakes. Oftentimes, they are actually insecure and seek external validation and recognition. Self-love, however, is a positive and caring attitude towards oneself. It is the willingness to treat oneself with compassion, respect, and kindness, and to understand and forgive one's own mistakes or shortcomings (Hochenberger, 2020).

This will be an ongoing journey of growth and discovery. It requires patience, dedication, and a commitment to nurturing yourself, but it is worth it. Remember, you are deserving of love, and growing your self-love will empower you to flourish and embrace all that is you.


Hochenberger, K. L. (2020, May 20). Self-Love and Narcissists: A Correlation of Control | Psychology Today. Psychology Today.

Martin, S. (2019, May 31). What is Self-Love and Why Is It So Important? Psych Central.

Mutiwasekwa, S.-L. (2019, November 12). Self-Love | Psychology Today. Psychology Today.

Tower, R. B. (2019, February 22). Learning to Love and Be Loved | Psychology Today. Psychology Today.

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