So often in my life I have heard people say, “We all need to love ourselves,” or “You don’t love yourself enough.”
My first reaction to this used to be, “What the bleep are they talking about?”
A couple of times I even sat down and tried it. I sat in a quiet place and thought, “Okay, love yourself.” Nothing happened. I concluded that loving yourself was some kind of woo-woo nonsense.
However, years down the road, I found out that it was the most important thing I could do for myself, for my health, for my relationships, for my success, for my life. I wish that someone had taken the time to explain to me what loving yourself is, what it looks like, and how one goes about doing it.
So, for those of you who are like me and think the entire idea is nonsense, or if you just cannot seem to figure out how you are supposed to do it, I am writing this article. It took me decades to figure it out, so the least I can do is save you some wasted time or confusion.
What is self-love?
First, what does loving yourself even mean? It means to have compassion for ourselves. To love ourselves resembles the way we would love someone very dear to us, say a child or parent. With one difference: we are capable of loving ourselves completely and unconditionally.
Some will argue that a parent can love a child unconditionally. While the love a parent has for their child is often one of the deepest imaginable, I would argue that the love you have for yourself is different. You are the only one who can love you completely and unconditionally because you cannot leave yourself, you cannot abandon yourself, and you will always be there for yourself. You will always be there. Even the best, most loving parent cannot always be there.
You are the best friend and most faithful love you will ever have. You can be the love of your life.
Self-love is when you feel about yourself and treat yourself the way you would feel about and treat someone you love. This seems obvious. However, in practice, it can be difficult to do.
True self-love means being just as kind and attentive to ourselves as we would be to a lover or family member. It means being gentle with ourselves, having fun with ourselves, joking with ourselves, and taking care of ourselves. Practicing daily and hourly self-care is the cornerstone of self-love.
Why should we love ourselves?
1. It is physically unhealthy not to love ourselves. When we do not love ourselves, we damage our body. When we treat ourselves badly, it increases stress, which can cause physical disease. When we are unkind to ourselves, it reduces the functioning of our immune system, lymphatic system, and endocrine system, which often leads to illness.
2. It is emotionally unhealthy not to love ourselves. If we do not love ourselves, we will have poorer emotional health. Not loving ourselves affects our relationships, our decision-making ability, and our overall contentment.
3. It costs time and money not to love ourselves. Since not loving ourselves can cause poor health, it can increase our health care costs. When we do not love ourselves, we also have less energy and often need much more recovery time from any activity.
4. It costs friendships not to love ourselves. Humans love other people who love themselves. When we love ourselves, people want to be around us, they want to be our friend. When we do not love ourselves, we find it much more difficult to build and maintain friendships.
5. It costs our romantic life not to love ourselves. Just as in friendship, people are looking for partners who are secure and who love themselves. If we do not love ourselves, fewer people will be romantically attracted to us, and, even when they are, the relationship may lack depth and commitment.
6. It costs our sex life not to love ourselves. When we love ourselves, we are capable of having deep, intimate relationships that, among other things, make for an amazing sex life. This kind of connection is simply not available to us when we do not love ourselves.
How do we love ourselves?
When we love ourselves, we treat ourselves kindly and gently in every way we can. We get enough healthy food and exercise and we get enough sleep. We practice daily self-care. We treat ourselves gently, both emotionally and physically.
We do not push our bodies too far to the point that we become injured. We do not put ourselves in situations where our physical body is at risk without taking precautions.
Most of us tend to rush through our day. Hurrying is unloving to self. Racing through traffic or paperwork or any task causes our nervous system to become activated, releases adrenaline, and causes unhealthy stress. The truth is that most tasks do not take that much longer when you do them at a normal, relaxed pace.
One of the most common ways that many of us treat ourselves in an unloving way is by not getting enough sleep. Most of us would be well-served by getting more sleep.
Tools to help us love ourselves
1. Treat yourself like a baby
I tell all my clients that we should treat ourselves the way we would treat a newborn baby.
Picture that someone has just handed you a baby. How do you treat it? You know the negative self-talk that is in your head all the time that says things like, “You are such an idiot! You should have turned left!” Would you call the baby an idiot? Of course not. If we would not speak to a baby that way, then we should not speak to ourselves that way.
We all were once a baby, and our growing does not diminish the amount of love we deserve. Of all the people that say mean things to us, in most cases, we are number one on the list. Would we give a baby terrible, unhealthy food? Would we not let a baby get proper sleep? Would we tell a baby it cannot be held? We would not. If we can treat ourselves as we would treat a baby, we have come a long way toward self-love.
2. Mirror eye-gazing
At least once a day, maybe more, look at yourself in the mirror and, looking into your left eye, say to yourself, “I love you unconditionally.” The trick is to not just say it woodenly, but to really mean it, to really feel the love. It may seem strange and be difficult at first, but you get used to it pretty fast.
3. Open yourself
Another way to love yourself is to either sit down or stand in a quiet place and relax your chest. Take a slow, deep breath, then put your hand on your chest and let it relax. Let it open. It can help to then open your arms to the sides.
Once it feels open, pay attention to any love you feel. If you do not feel any, think of someone or something you love greatly.
Now that you can feel love, simply make the intention for the love flowing from your chest to turn around and flow into yourself. There is no wrong way to do this, so don’t worry if you don’t feel anything. Even if you do not feeling anything, it is still working. Just set the intention for your love to flow into yourself, and whatever happens is the right thing. Then have the intention to be loving to yourself throughout the day. You can say out loud if you wish, “I love myself unconditionally.”
4. Emotional release
Another tool we can use for self-care is emotional release. Since we are all experts at suppression and repression of our emotions, our bodies get filled with an enormous cache of emotions that need to be cleared for proper health. One simple, effective way to clear these emotions is an emotional release technique.
5. Monitor your negative self-talk
Monitor your negative self-talk throughout the day. Pay attention when you criticize yourself in your head. You know, when you spill something and think, “What an idiot!” Pay attention to that talk for one day and see how much you do it. Now, whenever you catch yourself being unkind to yourself, immediately say two positive things about yourself to balance it out (e.g., “I am a great cook and I am a loving parent.”).
Most of us can learn to love ourselves better by focusing more on self-care. Our self is what makes our life possible. It seems obvious that our first priority should be to take care of ourselves, yet few of us do this in every area of life.
Self-care means taking care of our physical health, emotional health, social health, financial health, energetic health, relationships, sex life, environment, and many other aspects of our life. If we are not caring for all of these areas, then we are not really practicing adequate self-care. Also, to be of benefit to the world, we need to put our own oxygen mask on first.
This may seem like a lot to do, but, as we love ourselves more, everything gets easier. We start small with an exercise or two and grow from there. We have ups and downs and rough patches, but, in general, things get easier and easier for us as we become more healthy, content, successful, and loved.