If you ask five different people what self-love means to them, you may get five different answers. Self-love is an abstract term that varies from person to person. We all possess varying meanings of “self,” so, naturally, “self-love” may look different from person to person.
In general, self-love involves accepting, honoring, and respecting yourself, or holding yourself in high regard. How you view yourself directly impacts your choices, aspirations, and personal goals.
With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, we want to deviate a bit from the messages saturating social media and focus on finding ways to develop and deepen the most important relationship each of us will ever have: the one with ourselves.
What Does Self-Love Look Like?
It’s not always easy to define self-love because we can express it in many ways. Self-love can show up in how you treat yourself and others, in your daily choices, and your attitude and outlook on life, even when things appear to be going wrong.
Self-love is a feeling of appreciation for yourself. Self-love looks like treating yourself with kindness and respect and taking active measures to protect and nurture yourself. For example: seeking treatment is an act of self-love. Someone who enters treatment is making their health a priority. They are committing to doing the work to make a healthy change.
Similarly, if someone is in an unhealthy relationship, practicing self-love may look like taking active steps to disentangle themselves from their partner, choosing peace and well-being over toxicity. Sometimes self-love means walking away or saying no to others. Self-love (or lack thereof) affects our decision-making skills and ability to trust ourselves.
Self-love is often associated with self-esteem, our overall sense of personal value and worth. Research shows that self-esteem directly impacts how we practice self-love¹.
Benefits of Self-Love
Positive self-esteem is a foundation for mental health and a protective factor that contributes to better health. The positive social behaviors associated with positive self-esteem can help buffer the impact of negative influences. Someone with good self-esteem is likely to cope with diseases better.
Poor self-esteem and lack of self-love can manifest in a variety of ways. Someone with poor self-esteem may struggle with depression or anxiety. They may experience violence or codependency because they do not think they are worthy of healthy, loving relationships. To cope with poor self-esteem and the associated impacts, they may develop an eating disorder or struggle with substance use disorder¹.
For the most part, self-love helps us stay committed to our own well-being and protect our physical, emotional, and spiritual health. We can actively cultivate self-love, even if we were unable to access it in the past.
How to Cultivate Self-Love
How you view yourself impacts your life, which is why it’s so important to have an appreciation for yourself. Learning how to love ourselves can pose a significant challenge. This is especially true for those of us who grew up in a toxic home environment with caregivers who didn’t meet our needs. Our formative relationships with our caregivers can significantly influence our relationship with ourselves.
We are programmed from an early age by our environment and social setting, and this is how we form our attachment styles. Later in life, we often have to reframe how we see ourselves and unlearn the narratives and coping mechanisms that no longer serve us. It takes dedication and commitment to develop a sense of self-love.
We develop self-esteem by doing “esteem-able acts.” Similarly, we cultivate self-love by loving ourselves through various actions, affirmations, and tools that contribute to self-love.
Below are nine steps you can take to develop and deepen self-love².
1: Repeat daily positive affirmations
Affirmations are positive statements that can help you to challenge negative thoughts. You can rewire your thinking about yourself by repeating a self-love affirmation aloud.
Set a few reminders on your phone with positive affirmations throughout the day. Try looking at yourself in the mirror as you repeat your mantra. It might seem awkward at first, but with practice, you’ll find yourself changing your subconscious thoughts and treating yourself with more compassion.
Here are some especially loving messages that may be helpful – find the one that resonates with you the most or make up your own:
- I love and believe in myself
- I am here, and I am enough
- I deserve happiness, growth, and good things.
- I am capable of loving myself
- I accept myself exactly as I am in this moment.
2: Forgive yourself for mistakes
We are all human, and we all make mistakes. Part of growth is acknowledging those mistakes and growing from them.
Forgiving yourself can take a lot of practice, so if you need support, check out this blog post: How to Forgive Yourself.
3: Accept your imperfections
We all have things we’d like to change about ourselves, and sometimes, we can be our own worst critics. If you’re having a hard time accepting your imperfections, it can be helpful to think of how you would speak to a friend struggling to accept the same perceived flaws. A good friend would encourage you to make changes only if they’re in your best interest and remind you that they love you just how you are.
Think of the people you love most and how they view themselves. Our loved ones are still worthy of love, flaws and all. Sometimes, the things people want to change about themselves are the same reasons we love them so much. If you can accept the imperfections in others, you can try to shift that practice toward yourself.
4: Be proactive and set goals
It can be affirming to set a goal, work toward it regularly, and finally accomplish your goal. When you challenge yourself to grow, you subconsciously tell yourself that you are worthy of more.
Setting reasonable, healthy goals shows that you believe in yourself and your ability to grow. If there’s something you want to work on, talk it out with a trusted friend or family member and see if you can create realistic, actionable steps to achieve your goal.
Start with something small: maybe you want to drink more water. The first week, try to drink one additional glass of water per day. The following week, add another glass of water to your goal. The next week, another. See how you feel each week, notice the small changes, and celebrate your victories along the way.
As you accomplish smaller goals and gain confidence and trust in yourself, you can move on to bigger goals. Know that you can return to smaller goals any time you feel like you need a boost of self-love, and use that as a way to recalibrate as necessary.
5: Create a vision board for yourself
Dreams allow us to explore possibilities without limit – even if your dreams may seem out of reach, there is value in envisioning our potential. If you’ve struggled with self-esteem in the past, it might be hard to believe in yourself and dream big. You might have to fight off a harsh internal voice that latches onto your insecurities.
That’s where a vision board can come in handy. Using a few magazines, a pair of scissors, some glue, and a poster board, you can craft a collage of dreams and draw inspiration from images. Not sure where to start? Begin by browsing a few magazines and seeing what images stick out for you. Try to create stories from the images, focusing on what makes you feel invigorated or intrigued. If you can’t connect the images to a specific dream, that’s okay! Sometimes, vision boards can help evoke a feeling that later leads you to a dream.
When we visualize our dreams, we’re more likely to achieve them – and there’s research to prove this! According to Scientific American³, “Imagining allows us to remember and mentally rehearse our intended movements. In fact, visualizing movement changes how our brain networks are organized, creating more connections among different regions.”
6: Prioritize your health and well-being
It can be challenging to take care of yourself if you don’t believe you’re worthy. Making an effort to keep up with appointments, nourish your body and mind, and get quality sleep sends the subconscious message that you are worthy of care. When you feel healthy, you’ll be more likely to protect that wellness and reinforce the belief that you deserve to thrive.
7: Protect yourself and your time
Boundaries teach other people how we want to be treated. They can be difficult to manage because they vary from person to person, and different relationships require different boundaries. You can adjust boundaries at any time; they are nuanced and flexible.
Knowing that boundaries are the foundation of healthy relationships, how would you feel if a loved one set a boundary with you? Would you accommodate their reasonable requests if it made them feel loved and secure as a result? Hopefully, the answer is a resounding yes.
If you have trouble communicating your needs, first start with getting to know what you want and need to feel safe and respected. A therapist can help you clearly define your needs and develop the language and tools to make you feel confident as you set boundaries with yourself and your loved ones.
Perhaps you struggle with staying up too late on your phone or need support with time management at work. Maybe you have trouble saying no or standing up for yourself in disagreements.
Most people struggle with setting boundaries, but they are essential to maintaining healthy relationships with others and with yourself. Boundaries can help prevent a lot of miscommunication and conflict.
8: Be true to yourself
With pressure from social media and increasing access to photoshop, it can be tempting to adjust your personality, physical appearance, and lifestyle to fit what’s trending. Research has proven that social media increases body image issues, depression, and anxiety⁴, but we still hold ourselves to unrealistic standards, despite the damning evidence.
It sounds cliché, but it’s true: there is no one like you in the world. With this in mind, it can be helpful to remember that social media and reality shows aren’t real. What is real is the relationship that you have with yourself. One way to support that relationship is by practicing what researchers call a “multicomponent conceptualization of authenticity,” which includes awareness, unbiased processing, behavior, and relational orientation⁵.
This approach to authenticity involves accepting ourselves, our strengths, and our weaknesses in an unbiased manner. We can accomplish this by living in line with our values, preferences, and needs, knowing that we will inevitably contradict ourselves at some point because we’re all human. With this in mind, we can strive for openness, sincerity, and truthfulness in all of our relationships, including the one we have with ourselves.
In short: we can be true to ourselves by remembering that we’re human and still trying to show up anyway. By acknowledging our strengths and weaknesses, celebrating our personal victories, and asking for help when we need it, we can embody a growth mindset and work towards showing up authentically.
9: Take responsibility and hold yourself accountable
To further build off the previous point, self-love involves a lot of reflection, awareness, and humility. When you see yourself for who you truly are in the present moment, you can take accountability for your thoughts and actions. From there, you can work towards changing your behaviors to become the best version of yourself.
The Secret to Self-Love
Having self-love doesn’t mean you are selfish or self-obsessed, it just means that you believe you are worthy of love, even as a constant work in progress.
We can define self-love in simple terms: the practice of being good to yourself. It’s a lifelong process with many pathways, twists, turns, hills, and valleys; self-love takes consistent effort and practice and may look different at different stages of life. Your relationship with yourself is the most important relationship you will ever have.
The fact is that some people are unable to practice self-love because they don’t believe they are worthy of love. If you unconsciously hold this thought about yourself, you will likely attract situations that mirror that belief; we show others how we want to be treated by letting them observe how we treat ourselves.
To develop self-love, you must change your beliefs about yourself. Self-love involves prioritizing the self, not from an egotistical place, but rather from a place of deep regard for your well-being.
Therapy can be an excellent tool for self-discovery as you move towards practicing self-love. If you need help assessing your needs, developing a greater sense of awareness, building self-esteem, and practicing self-love, we can help. Contact All Points North today at 855-510-4585 or start a to get started on your journey towards self-love.
- Michal (Michelle) Mann, Clemens M. H. Hosman, Herman P. Schaalma, Nanne K. de Vries, Self-esteem in a broad-spectrum approach for mental health promotion, Health Education Research, Volume 19, Issue 4, August 2004, Pages 357–372, https://doi.org/10.1093/her/cyg041
- Martin, Sharon (2019). What is self-love and why is it so important. Retrieved on January 25, 2022 at https://psychcentral.com/blog/imperfect/2019/05/what-is-self-love-and-why-is-it-so-important#What-is-self-love?
- Lohr, Jim. “Can Visualizing Your Body Doing Something Help You Learn to Do It Better?” Scientific American, Scientific American, 1 May 2015, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/can-visualizing-your-body-doing-something-help-you-learn-to-do-it-better/.
- “Just How Harmful Is Social Media? Our Experts Weigh-In.” Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia, 27 Sept. 2021, https://www.publichealth.columbia.edu/public-health-now/news/just-how-harmful-social-media-our-experts-weigh.
- Kernis, Michael H., and Brian M. Goldman. “A Multicomponent Conceptualization of Authenticity: Theory and Research.” Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, Academic Press, 7 May 2006, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0065260106380069?via%3Dihub.
Reviewed by Emmeline Massey MSW, LSW