“You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection”. — Buddha, self-love quote
We often hear self-help gurus like Deepak Chopra telling us you cannot truly love someone else until you love yourself.
What if you could work to grow this seemingly intangible, ethereal “self-love”, and that doing so could totally upgrade your life fulfilment, prosperity, the quality of your relationships — and more?
Up until a few years ago, I was unknowingly running on self-love fumes — thinking my internal love and acceptance tank had to be filled by validation from other people. I was what you might call an over-giver, or the “Rescuer” archetype in Karpman’s Drama Triangle: loving being all up in other people’s business; taking responsibility for “fixing” their problems; super-affectionate to the point of clinginess; and subconsciously hoping to feel loved in return.
Then one day — after talking to a wise friend — it hit me:
My heart’s “cup” needed to be full of my self-love, then my love “overflow” could go to others. Otherwise I would be loving from a place of wanting to be loved, in order to fill the empty space I felt inside.
Since this realization, I can love those around me from a more solid emotional ground: it starts with loving yourself.
Self-love can be defined as: “an appreciation of one’s own worth or virtue”; “proper regard for and attention to one’s own happiness or well-being”; or “inflated love of or pride in oneself”. Here I’m talking about the first two definitions, rather than the egotistic (but often assumed) latter one.
When our self-worth is high and we give regard to our own happiness and well-being, we can show up in relationships from a full-hearted place; instead of loving others from a place of emptiness, hurt or an insatiable need for love (or closing off our hearts all together). We don’t take things as personally; we judge others less; and our “ok-ness” doesn’t depend (or co-depend) on other people. We actually love more selflessly because we know someone (ourselves) already has our back and our hearts feel full. We don’t need to grasp for love, so we can focus on how we give it to others from a clear place.
When we don’t really love ourselves, it doesn’t matter how much admiration we receive from those around us — we still feel a deep sense of lack inside.
The only opinion of you that your self-worth really depends on, is in fact your own.
As I’ve worked on loving myself more, the relationships I attract are totally different to the ones I used to. I have friendships and a romantic relationship where we both love pretty equally, from a non-co-dependent place.
To start off with, many of us naturally find it easier to love or give to someone we care about than to ourselves. With this in mind, here are some techniques I’ve practiced that can work to get going on your self-loving journey:
Turn down that negative self talk: we are often far harder on ourselves than we would be on anyone else. If your friend made an honest mistake, would you say “Ugh, you are such an idiot!”, or smile compassionately and give them comforting words or a hug?
One of the best ways to grow your self-love is to start noticing and then reducing your negative self-talk. For example, the silent berating you give yourself when you accidentally drop a glass; say the “wrong” thing; or even simply notice a wrinkle in the mirror. Sometimes it’s impossible to live up to the standards of perfection we unfairly place on ourselves (which we would never require from those around us) — we’re all human after all. As a young woman, I would habitually compare myself to the most beautiful, kind, successful, intelligent people around — even though they were usually each traits of different people — and feel bad for not being 10/10 for all of those things (thanks marketing and social media!).
A great way to observe the kinds of thoughts you have with less judgement is to develop a regular meditation practice (with an app like Insight Timer). Taking quiet time and space to yourself to meditate can help you calmly notice general thoughts instead of subconsciously buying into or feeling a need to react to them. Notice if you’re being too hard on yourself, but don’t judge yourself for it. Michael A. Singer’s modern classic book “The Untethered Soul” is full of beautifully-written insights on being a mind-observer.
If you recognize any negative self-talk patterns — which is totally normal, our minds have a negativity bias after all —to help turn things around:
Gradually your thoughts may become more present and less negative as you meditate, notice and transform them. Negative thoughts will still come up, but hopefully less often, and their ridiculously over-critical nature may even become amusing to observe!
Not only can this help build your self love, but it can directly improve the kind of partners you attract and date, as you learn to love yourself how you like to be loved (and not to accept less from a partner). You can tailor this to whichever of the “Five Love Languages” you respond to most. The best selling book by Gary Chapman suggests we all like giving and receiving love in five different ways: spending quality time; words of affirmations; physical touch; acts of service; and giving gifts. It can be useful to learn to give ourselves love in the way(s) we respond to best, so if:
If you believe in God, the universe or some other awesome higher power, just the fact that you are here, in your body (reading this article), might help you realize how loved and worthy you are. Noticing how people around you show up for you every day — how a barista makes you a tasty coffee; your delivery man gives you your mail; or how an architect built your house to stand safely — shows you how loved and supported we all are, even when it doesn’t feel like it.
Spending time in nature and realizing you are a living part of that beautiful, powerful force can also help you love and accept yourself more. Just as we might see a tree, a puppy or a river without thinking they need to be (respectively) greener, fluffier or faster flowing, to be acceptable, start to see yourself as a fellow beautiful facet of nature — astounding, mystical and deserving of love.
So, this Valentine’s Day (and beyond), make sure you give yourself some love and enjoy really feeling it. It can be a source of true happiness in itself; and can make you a better lover, friend and relative for those around you too.
Thanks for reading. If you have any comments or questions please comment below, or contact me here.