By Audrey Howitt, LMFT on November 9th, 2021
Some people may hear the term “self-love” and think it means putting oneself above all others, being selfish and caring only for one’s own wants and needs. However, self-love is not that at all — instead, it can be thought of as self-care or self-compassion. Self-care and self-compassion are integral parts of maintaining mental and emotional health, and they provide a framework that helps us feel compassion and love toward others.
Self-love is different from self-esteem. Self-esteem doesn’t lead to improved job or academic performance; instead, it’s strongly correlated with narcissism and a sense of superiority over others. In contrast, self-love is about acceptance and forgiveness of ourselves and, by extension, others as well.
At a Glance
- Self-love is about being kinder and less judgmental toward ourselves.
- Learning to love and accept ourselves can help us do the same with others.
- Practicing self-love can be especially beneficial for people with mental health struggles.
- There are many simple but effective ways to practice self-love.
What Self-Love Is and Isn’t
There are many common misunderstandings about the concept of self-love. It doesn’t mean feeling like we’re better than others and acting in ways that reflect that. Rather, self-love is a way of treating ourselves with compassion and forgiveness. It is a way of taking care of ourselves, and it helps us move away from our inner critics and stop berating ourselves for every failure.
People grounded in self-love will understand that they can and will make mistakes, but they can also change unproductive behaviors and take on new challenges. Through self-love, we can develop genuine concern for our well-being. We can learn to be sensitive, sympathetic and tolerant of ourselves in the face of stressful situations. Finally, we can develop empathy toward ourselves and others.
- What Is self-love?
Self-love can be thought of as an orientation toward oneself. It involves being kind to yourself in a mindful way, especially when life presents challenges or failures. It is valuing and caring for yourself in positive ways rather than engaging in self-judgment and self-criticism. It is kindly accepting yourself more fully while still being able to make positive changes that can make your life happier and more fulfilling.
- Why is self-love important?
Self-love helps us to be both accepting and vulnerable when things go wrong. It allows us to reach out for help rather than try to tough things out, which can make us feel more connected to ourselves and others. Self-love can also lead to happier, more fulfilling lives and less depression, anxiety and isolation.
Challenges in Self-Love
Old patterns can be difficult to change. Our lifestyles and experiences can reinforce concepts such as perfectionism, beliefs that we are not worthy of love and other negative thoughts about ourselves. When these patterns are established, it can be hard to develop a set of practices aimed at valuing our experiences, forgiving ourselves and others, staying mindful and accepting ourselves and others in compassionate, nonjudgmental ways. Yet, these are exactly what self-love seeks to create and reinforce in our lives.
Mental health concerns like depression, anxiety and substance use can also make it difficult to create positive changes. If we view mental health concerns negatively, however, it can make the process more difficult. Self-love can be challenging, but it’s especially beneficial to those with mental and emotional issues.
Daily stresses can make it seem as though we don’t have the time or energy to engage in daily self-care. It may seem like a chore to carve out 15 minutes to meditate, journal or engage in other self-care activities, but doing so regularly can help ease stress.
How To Practice Self-Love
Self-love practices can be as unique as you are. There are many different ways to develop self-love, but finding ones that you enjoy and that resonate with you is key. These suggestions can help you develop the key components of self-love, such as awareness, growth, self-worth and kindness.
Begin at the Beginning
When starting, it’s helpful to assess your current outlook and how it relates to the key components of self-love. Your answers to these questions can tell you quite a bit about the core beliefs you hold about yourself and others:
- Self-kindness: “When I am in a bad place and life is hard, do I give myself the care and tenderness I need?”
- Self-judgment: “Can I tolerate my mistakes, or am I unable to tolerate the aspects of my personality I don’t like?”
- Common humanity: “When I feel inadequate or like a failure, can I understand that others share these same feelings?”
- Isolation: “Do my weaker points make me feel more separate and cut off from the rest of the world?”
- Mindfulness: “When I am feeling blue, can I look at my feelings with curiosity and openness?”
- Overidentification: “Do my failures make me feel overwhelmingly inadequate?”
The answers to questions like these can give you a good idea of how you talk to yourself about your life. Once you understand where you are, it is easier to take the next step toward self-love.
Evaluate How You Treat Your Friends
It can be helpful to note how you treat your friends when they are struggling with issues and feelings. Most of the time, we treat our friends in supportive ways as they are moving through difficult times. Now, evaluate how you treat yourself when you are facing difficulties. Are you supportive, or is there a difference? Wouldn’t you like to treat yourself in the same ways that you treat your friends?
Guided Mindfulness Meditation
Mindfulness meditation through guided practices can be helpful in several ways. Mindfulness teaches us to stay in the present moment rather than dwell or ruminate on the past or future. Therapists are now working with guided meditations to help clients include self-compassion as a part of their daily lives. For example, the RAIN model teaches clients to:
- Recognize what is happening
- Allow the experience to be there, just as it is
- Investigate with interest and care
- Nurture with self-compassion
Journaling about our difficult experiences through the lens of self-love can help us understand how we treat ourselves during those times and how we might treat ourselves differently. This approach can help us learn to accept the difficulties we face, knowing that they will pass. Journaling and other practices help us treat ourselves with the loving kindness needed to accept and move through difficult times.
Focus on the Present Moment
Any practice that brings a person into the present moment can be helpful. This may be focusing on your breath, a mantra, the weight of your body in a chair or how your feet feel on the floor. Moving mindfully from the present moment into a behavior that provides comfort, such as making a cup of tea or physically stretching, can also be helpful.
Profound quotes, passages from your favorite poems or even a simple phrase can center you and remind you to care for yourself. Here are a few quotes that might help you when times are difficult:
- “Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.” — Dalai Lama
- “How you love yourself is how you teach others to love you.” — Rupi Kaur
- “You are allowed to be both a masterpiece and a work in progress.” — Sophia Bush
- “Talk to yourself like someone you love.” — Brene Brown
- “Loving yourself has very little to do with how you feel about your outer self. It’s about accepting all of yourself.” — Tyra Banks
Starting Your Self-Love Journey
The Nobu app is a free mental health and wellness app that provides access to licensed therapists via messaging and live video plans. It can help you gain insight and reinforce evidence-based skills through curated journeys and journaling exercises. The app also provides access to a library of wellness content, including loving-kindness and self-compassion meditation tools.
Written by – Audrey Howitt, LMFT
Audrey Howitt is a Marriage and Family Therapist licensed through the California Board of Behavioral Sciences. She has eight years of experience working with clients in a variety of fields including addiction, dual diagnoses, depression, anxiety… Read more.
Medically Reviewed by – Dr. Angela Phillips
Angela is a licensed therapist and clinical researcher, and has worked in public, private, government, and not-for-profit organizations, across clinical and research-oriented roles. Angela’s clinical and research experience has included suicide prevention, cognitive behavioral… Read more.
- Neff, Kristin. “The Role of Self-Compassion in Development: A Healthier Way to Relate to Oneself.” Human Development, June 2009. Accessed October 4, 2021
- Neff, Kristin. “Development and validation of a scale to measure self-compassion.” Self and Identity, 2003. Accessed October 6, 2021.
- Neff, Kristin. “Self-compassion Scale.” 2003. Accessed October 6, 2021.
- Tara Brach. “Resources ~ RAIN: Recognize, Allow, Investigate, Nurture.” (n.d.). Accessed October 6, 2021.