How to love yourself

Learning how to love yourself can be pretty f*cking hard.

I’m going to be realistic here.

While many articles, books, speakers, and teachers paint an ethereal glow around self-love … that only occurs AFTER you have gone through the down-and-dirty inner work and soul-searching.

For example:

  • How can you learn how to love yourself more when your mind is literally at war with itself?
  • How can you learn to love yourself when you hate what you see in the mirror?
  • How can you learn how to love yourself when your environment is positively toxic and depressing?
  • How can you learn how to love yourself when you have no positive role models?
  • How can you learn how to love yourself more when people label you as being selfish and neglectful?

How, how, how?

While I don’t profess to know all the answers, I have been on this bandwagon for years. I’ve experimented a-hell-of-a-lot with myself, worked through a lot of my own trauma, and helped others do the same – with some delightful and surprising results.

Although this article won’t directly answer all the questions above, I have provided the tools, techniques, teachings, and resources you will need to make the big changes – all tried and tested by yours truly.

So from my heart to yours, I sincerely hope this article helps to catalyze deep and nourishing changes in your life.

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Table of Contents
  • 21 Empowering Self-Love Quotes

18 Profound Benefits of Self-Love

Self-love illuminates, improves, and deepens every aspect of life. Here are some of the MANY benefits of learning how to love yourself more:

  • More tolerance of your flaws and weaknesses
  • More self-confidence
  • More self-forgiveness
  • Healthier mindset (and less self-sabotaging thoughts)
  • Improved ability to discover and fulfill your personal destiny
  • Increased love, acceptance, and compassion for yourself
  • Increased love, acceptance, and compassion for others
  • Improved relationships
  • Improved friendships
  • Improved work life
  • More authentic connections with people
  • Enhanced joy and gratitude for life
  • Increased playfulness, creativity, and spontaneity
  • More self-trust
  • Healthier and wiser choices
  • Increased access to new opportunities
  • Improved mental health (and less anxiety + depression)
  • Deeper access to one’s soul and spiritual path

I could probably go on for another few pages. But these are the most immediate benefits that come to mind.

Why is it So Damn Hard For Us to Love Ourselves?

Image of a sad disturbed man who wants to learn how to love yourself

The short answer is that we were raised in a society (and likely a family) that didn’t teach us about self-love.

All throughout our early lives, we were taught how to read, write, calculate, build, theorize, study and analyze life. We were taught how to say “please” and “thank you,” as well as what was acceptable and unacceptable to others and society at large … but most of us failed to be educated in one essential dimension of life: self-love.

Something that continues to shock me about my own upbringing was the distinct lack of emphasis on respect for oneself and acceptance of one’s flaws and virtues alike. As a child I can’t ever recall being taught the value of loving oneself; of setting healthy boundaries, knowing how to say “no” and “yes” when you mean it, and learning how to take care of yourself, even at the expense of others.

If you were raised in a culture and society similar to my own, you were probably taught to “put others before yourself” and not give much consideration to your own needs. Self-denial and self-sacrifice were two of the main values taught in our childhoods, and continue to be emphasized as the markers of a “kind, caring and worthy human being” to this very day.

Unfortunately, as I learned later in life, these two values taught me nothing more than the profound emotional and psychological pain of being a self-imposed martyr with no real understanding of how to take care of myself – or others for that matter.

The result of not being taught the value of self-love in childhood and adopting the socially acceptable guise of being a martyr is depression, bitterness, anxiety, resentment, and profoundly flimsy self-esteem.

However, even though you may not have been taught how to love yourself growing up, the door of opportunity is still open to you.

But before we walk through that door, let’s explore one massive myth associated with self-love (and perpetuated by the same society that taught you to be an externally-focused martyr) …

Is Self-Love Selfish?

Image of a selfish self-obsessed woman staring at herself in the mirror

Every now and then you may hear explicitly stated or implied that self-love is selfish. Perhaps you live in a family that condemns any form of self-care and celebrates toxic self-sacrifice and martyrdom. Or maybe you work in an environment where self-love is scoffed at or seen cynically.

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Whatever the case, it’s important to nip this massive misconception in the bud.

Self-love isn’t selfish. Why? Because without taking care of yourself, you are incapable of truly taking care of others. Self-love actually benefits other people, not just yourself. When you are able to genuinely love and accept yourself, you are able to love and accept others much more fully.

To use an analogy, how can an empty cup be used to quench the thirst of another? It is impossible. Likewise, it is impossible for us to give love if we haven’t first filled ourselves. Simple.

It is a well-known psychological fact that mistreatment of yourself results in the mistreatment of others. As professor of educational psychology Kristin Neff writes:

Self-compassion involves treating yourself with the same kindness, concern, and support you’d show to a good friend. When faced with difficult life struggles, or confronting personal mistakes, failures, and inadequacies, self-compassion responds with kindness rather than harsh self-judgment, recognizing that imperfection is part of the shared human experience.

Neff talks more about self-compassion (or self-love) in this video.

So the next time you start feeling guilty for dedicating time to yourself or caring for your own needs, remind yourself that by practicing self-love you are actually strengthening your ability to love others.

What Science Says About Self-Love

Numerous studies have shown that learning how to love ourselves is beneficial.

Here are some examples of findings that have been discovered:

  • Self-acceptance is the key to living a happier life (source)
  • Self-compassion results in making better health decisions (source)
  • Being kind to yourself results in less anxiety and depression (source)
  • Self-compassion reduces the stress that leads to procrastination (source)
  • Self-care can help you reach your goals (source)
  • Self-love can support you through adversity (source)

Contrary to popular belief, learning how to love yourself isn’t new age woo woo – it is actually one of the smartest decisions you can make in your life.

The Dark Side of Self-Love

Image of a depressed woman struggling to experience self-love

Yes, learning how to love yourself more might feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

But it’s not always sunshine and roses.

The truth is that most people will not want to support you. Not only that, but society at large will continue to bombard you with toxic subliminal messages, such as:

  1. You have to make people like and accept you.
  2. You have to put others’ needs above your own all the time with no exception.
  3. You have to conform to the status quo and fit in.

And when it comes to those around you:

4. You have to be unhappy and discontent – just like us. 

The reality is that most people don’t like being truly happy: instead, they prefer comfort, stability, security, and control. Why? Because safety and predictability is the most comfortable way to live according to sociocultural standards.

Unfortunately, the childlike mindset of needing to seek safety is precisely what makes (most) people so hesitant to support your self-love journey. When you walk the path less traveled, you directly contradict what others have invested so much of their effort into – comfort and mediocrity. Inevitably, you become a threat. By challenging people to reconsider their choices, actions, and mindsets through your behavior, you unintentionally trigger self-doubt in others. And very few people are brave enough to honestly look at themselves and change.

The truth is that when you start practicing self-love, you become a social heretic. You stick out. You stop fitting in. You cease being one of those misery-loves-company sheeple who thrive on self-pity and cynicism. And suddenly this puts you in a very uncomfortable position, a position where you have to choose between taking the narrow path, or the wide, easy path.

Some of us give up. Others of us persist, but end up withering under the weight of social pressure. But then, some of us continue on that lonely path, being comforted by a few on the way, but otherwise battling against the constant onslaught of “you’re not good enough,” “you should be like us,” “you aren’t worth it,” “you’re so selfish.”

Loving yourself, TRULY and UNCONDITIONALLY loving yourself in this era, is a breathtaking accomplishment. It is an exceptionally rare practice that many people talk about, but few genuinely know how to walk the talk.

How to Prevent Others From Dragging You Down

Image of an optimistic woman who is learning how to love herself

As we’ve just explored, you will inevitably be faced with people who disagree, disapprove or outright challenge your desire to make self-love a way of life. Here is how to see the bigger picture and prevent them from bringing you down:

1. Realize that other people are scared and in pain

One big part of learning how to love yourself more is learning not to take so personally other people’s treatment of you.

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Ask yourself, how can a person who only knows conditional love give you unconditional love? That’s like expecting a baby to climb a mountain. It doesn’t happen, and it can’t happen. Therefore, what is the point of mourning the impossible? What is the point of getting wound up and unhappy over the people in your life who not only don’t support you but also speak against you? Their very actions speak of the abject lack of true love they have experienced. Isn’t that so very sad?

Most people not only don’t possess unconditional love, but they’re also caught up in an Underworld of fear and pain. This fear and pain are both sourced from the illusion that they are separate from life – that they are humans having a life experience, rather than Life having a human experience.

Once you realize that people are scared and in pain, it takes out the sting from their disapproving stares and mistreatment of you – and it frees up the energy to provide yourself with more self-love. Once this realization hits you, you stop reacting to their negativity and start feeling compassion for them – and it is this precise compassion that befuddles them and sometimes is enough to motivate them to try the same path.

[Read: Why are People Abusive, Unkind and Malicious?]

2. Realize that how other people treat you is a reflection of how they treat themselves

It hurts to be the only one in your social circle trying to take responsibility for your life. It hurts to be rejected by your friends, family, or both because you are taking a different path. Learning how to love yourself more undeniably HURTS BADLY sometimes, and other times it feels blissful and wondrous. But if there is any lesson you can take away from the way people treat you, it is this: their actions often mirrors how they treat themselves.

Do you think that a person who mistreats you thinks they are superior to you? More often than not the answer is a big fat “NO.” They mistreat you because they are threatened by you in some way, shape, or form. Unless they are clinical narcissists or psychopaths, most people are deeply insecure and fearful. The more you go against the grain, the more threatening you become to them. Understand this, and your ability to practice self-love will become much easier and clearer.

Is it Possible to “Love Yourself Unconditionally”?

Image of a happy man staring at the sun symbolic of learning how to love yourself

Unless you have reached a high level of spiritual maturity and Oneness, unconditional self-love is not something that comes naturally. Instead, you must work for it.

As spiritual beings having a human experience, our lives are characterized by highs, lows, and plateaus. In some periods of our lives, we’ll celebrate who we are and feel confident in our abilities. In other periods, we will feel insecure, ugly, fat, messy, unlovable, and altogether shitty. This is all NORMAL. In fact, you might go through this cycle within one week or even a day!

The important thing here is to embed self-love deeply into your spiritual practice. Then, when the time comes and you’re challenged, you’ll be able to practice mindfulness and awareness. Instead of getting swept up in self-loathing, you’ll be capable of practicing self-compassion. Instead of neglecting your body, you’ll know when to practice self-care. Do you get the picture?

Yes, you might experience mystical moments of complete self-love and acceptance – but these are fleeting moments that don’t last. To make self-love and acceptance more of a consistent experience, you have to practice it consciously every.single.day. No excuses!

So the message here is this:

Don’t be upset if you alternate between self-love and self-hatred. It’s normal to go through ups and downs. But the more you practice embracing yourself each and every day, the more you’ll be able to deal with what life throws at you.

Relax.

Give yourself a break.

Remember that “attaining” self-love can be just another thing you use to beat yourself up and feel like a failure. 

So slow down. Go easy on yourself. And as author Matt Kahn writes, “Whatever arises, love that.” This means you can practice accepting and forgiving all things that arise in you, including insecurity, shame, guilt, and self-judgment.

We’ll explore more how to do this later.

21 Empowering Self-Love Quotes

Image of a happy woman at the beach playing symbolic of learning how to love yourself more

To end this article, I’ll leave you with a few other perspectives on learning how to love yourself from a variety of writers, thinkers, poets, psychologists, and mystics.

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Do you want to meet the love of your life? Look in the mirror. – Byron Katie

Compassionate toward yourself, you reconcile all beings in the world. — Lao Tzu

To love oneself is the beginning of a life-long romance. – Oscar Wilde

You have been criticizing yourself for years, and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens. – Louise L. Hay

The more self-love we have, the less we will experience self-abuse. Self-abuse comes from self-rejection, and self-rejection comes from having an image of what it means to be perfect and never measuring up to that ideal. Our image of perfection is the reason we reject ourselves; it is why we don’t accept ourselves the way we are, and why we don’t accept others the way they are. – Don Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements

Your problem is you’re too busy holding onto your unworthiness. – Ram Dass

When I loved myself enough, I began leaving whatever wasn’t healthy. This meant people, jobs, my own beliefs and habits – anything that kept me small. My judgement called it disloyal. Now I see it as self-loving. – Kim McMillen

If you can discover your essential beauty, in spite of all your problems and imperfections, you are on the way toward well-being. A preliminary step is simply to accept yourself with all your failures and imperfections. You must get the ego out of the way—the thought that you are so exalted that in your refined state you would be perfect. Acceptance is the beginning of genuine and honest self-love, a requirement for perceiving your own beauty. – Thomas Moore, Dark Nights of the Soul

You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe deserve your love and affection. – Anonymous

You alone are enough. You have nothing to prove to anyone. – Maya Angelou

Loving yourself isn’t vanity. It is sanity. – Katrina Mayer

Being true to who we are means carrying our spirit like a candle in the center of our darkness. If we are to live without silencing or numbing essential parts of who we are, a vow must be invoked and upheld within oneself. The same commitments we pronounce when embarking on a marriage can be understood internally as a devotion to the care of one’s soul: to have and to hold … for better or for worse … in sickness and in health … to love and to cherish, till death do us part. This means staying committed to your inner path. This means not separating from yourself when things get tough or confusing. This means accepting and embracing your faults and limitations. It means loving yourself no matter how others see you. It means cherishing the unchangeable radiance that lives within you, no matter the cuts and bruises along the way. – Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening

Self-love isn’t always so poetic; sometimes it’s a nice big triple backflip kick in the ass. You’ve got to call yourself on your own nonsense; on the incredibly efficient way you can be self-destructive. – Steve Maraboli

And I said to my body, softly, “I want to be your friend.” It took a long breath and replied, “I have been waiting my whole life for this.” – Nayyirah Waheed

The relationship with yourself sets the tone for every other relationship you have. – Jane Travis

I now see how owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do. – Brene Brown

Self-love, self-respect, self-worth. There is a reason they all start with “self.” You can not find them in anyone else. – Unknown

If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete. – Jack Kornfield

Self-love is the foundation of our loving practice. Without it our other efforts to love fail. Giving ourselves love we provide our inner being with the opportunity to have the unconditional love we may have always longed to received from someone else. – Bell Hooks

The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are. – Carl Jung

To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself. – Thich Nhat Hanh

So …

What is your experience with self-love?

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What has been the hardest part of learning how to love yourself?

I don’t know about you, but I’m inspired each time you drop by and leave a comment, so I’d love to hear your story below.

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