Learning to love yourself - a practical guide to self-love
As Valentine's Day approached this year, I started thinking about love, and more specifically, about how society’s idea of love is so heavily based on loving another person, or another person loving us.
Multi-million-dollar companies are cashing in on our desire for love, from the rom-com movie industry to the Valentine's Day machine. But do we even truly know what love means to us, what it feels like to us? Do we know what will really make us feel loved?
How can we show others how to love us if we do not know how to love ourselves?
Self-love is currently a trendy topic in personal development and coaching circles, but figuring out how to cultivate it is still as esoteric as Theoretical Physics.
It wasn’t until I started understanding how the wounds inflicted in my childhood caused me to adopt survival strategies by internalizing my circumstances that the concept of self-love started making sense to me. It finally became clear when I framed it within the context of self-hate.
Let me explain: These survival strategies motivated my thoughts, beliefs and behaviors well into adulthood. However, once I realized that the things I hated about myself did not stem from me being a bad or deficient person, but that they were there to help me survive, I started giving myself a break. I started to understand that these hurtful strategies had once helped me cope with the circumstances I had experienced, but now that I was conscious of them, it was up to me to heal and shift them.
That discovery was crucial; it not only helped me feel empowered, but it also gave me a sense of relief, the space to forgive myself and gratitude for my survival instincts. That is how my journey to self-love began.
I define self-love as a state of acceptance, compassion, appreciation, and respect for oneself. I don’t believe it is about always putting yourself first, but rather always considering and tending to your needs and emotions, even when you consciously choose not to put yourself first.
It's taken me a while to get to where I am today. The road was treacherous, but I can genuinely say that I love myself.
To help you, here are some of the practical steps on how to start your self-love journey.
Step 1: Self-Awareness
Learn about yourself – about your reactions, wounds, and emotions. Learn about what makes you feel loved and what does not.
In reality, this is a lifelong process, but you have to start somewhere. Identifying what triggers you is a great jumping off point for achieving self-awareness, and there are several videos on my YouTube channel that can help you with this.
I also suggest reading the book The Five Languages of Love, which will help you identify how you experience love from others. It is also a great tool for learning how to show yourself love.
Step 2: Acceptance
We are all doing the best we can at any given point in time. We are not taught how to live healthy, fulfilling lives, so we have to go through a lot of trial and error to figure this out ourselves. And that’s perfectly okay. You are constantly growing, and all of those past experiences are helping you along the way. Remember to show yourself at least a fraction of the compassion you would show a friend.
Self-acceptance is not limited to accepting the mistakes we made in the past. It is also important to accept our emotions and needs. Give yourself permission to need what you need and want what you desire.
All of your emotions and desires are a valid part of you. You don't have to love them all, or even like them. For now, just focus on accepting that they are all a part of you.
Step 3: Embracing the Ego
This is almost a sub-category of Step 2, but it deserves its own place because, especially in the spiritual community, it is very common to want to detach from the ego. The ego is perceived to be the cause of our problems, and by detaching from it, we can supposedly ascend and leave behind our earthly shortcomings.
But the ego is what makes us human. Attempting to detach from or transcend it suggests that we are rejecting it, which is the opposite of self-love.
Step 4: Understand It is a Process
I have learned to love myself, but there are still plenty of days when I don't like myself very much. Maybe I am feeling down about my appearance, or maybe I am hung up on a past failure. Whatever it may be, it is all part of the process. Allowing yourself to experience all of your emotions is part of achieving acceptance.
Let go of the idea that loving yourself resembles those old-fashioned tampon commercials, where women run around in fields of flowers. While that may be the case some days, on others, you will feel like you are swimming through sewage.
The book Radical Acceptance is a great tool during this step.
Step 5: Mirror, Mirror on the Wall...
There is a simple exercise that can help you start reconnecting with yourself, although most of us struggle with it at first. Look at yourself in the mirror, gazing only into your eyes – deeply. As if you were staring at the love of your life.
You don't have to say I love you. You don't even have to smile. Just start by deeply looking for a couple of minutes every day. After a while, you will notice how your eyes and face start softening. This is a sign that your heart is also softening.
While the steps above will help you get started, you will need support and guidance from an experienced resource throughout this journey and from those closest to you. My multi-dimensional framework to understanding and healing emotional wounds is a unique approach to address these issues.
There are many methods and tools you can use to find self-love. Most people will probably choose the express highway, if such a thing even exists. My wish is that you take the scenic route so you can savor all of the beauty and surprises that show up along the way.
The Five Languages of Love by Gary Chapman
Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach