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What is Self-Love, and How Do I Know if I’m Doing It?

Loving yourself comes easy to some people. (Maybe too easy, in fact.) But for many of us, it can be difficult to know what “self-love” even looks like. 

We think a lot about how we can show love to other people, but loving ourselves often gets pushed to the back burner. And if you’re not one of those lucky ones who feels self-love naturally, it’s likely that you’ll wake up one day and realize you either (a) don’t really love yourself, (b) haven’t been acting like you love yourself, or (c) don’t even know what it would feel like to love yourself.

Why self-love is important

It’s easy to write ourselves off and not give ourselves the love we deserve. Some of us even relish in our lack of self-love, claiming that it makes us selfless. But think about it: would you want someone else to feel that way? Do you want your children, your best friend, your siblings, your spouse, to not love themselves because it’s “selfish?” 

As we talk about in this post, self-love actually has a number of benefits to your mind and body, including less anxiety and depression, greater productivity, and improved physical health. (By the way, that post also includes some great tips for showing yourself a little love!)

But even if you recognize that self-love is important, if you’re totally unfamiliar with the concept of self-love, how do you know how to practice it, and how do you know if you’re doing it?

What is self-love?

The Oxford dictionary defines “self-love” as: “Regard for one’s own well-being and happiness.” Sounds pretty straightforward, right?

But what does it look like when translated to real life?

Actually, it looks a lot like loving someone else.

Self-love is:

Knowing yourself.

How can you love what you don’t know? Just like learning more about another person will likely deepen your love for them, knowing yourself better will allow you to feel real love for the real you.

Many adults (parents, and moms especially) often talk about having “lost” themselves. Whether years of working a job you hate has dragged you down, or having kids has sucked up all your free time, or you simply don’t have the energy to do anything other than…well, sleep…it’s not uncommon to suddenly realize that you don’t really feel like yourself, or have a firm grasp on who you are anymore. 

Get to know yourself again. Step back and evaluate what about your life makes you happy, and what you could potentially change. Check out this post for more questions to ask yourself as you try to become reacquainted with who you really are. 

Forgiving yourself

If you’re unable to forgive someone else for a wrong they’ve done, it’s going to put a serious damper on your relationship. The same is true for your relationship with yourself.

We all make mistakes. It’s easy to admit that as a general truth, but sometimes, it’s hard to accept it as reality. The fact that we all make mistakes means that you, yourself, are going to do things you’re not proud of. Whether it’s how you treated someone, a bad choice you made, or a project you messed up on, it’s important to learn how to forgive yourself and move on. You deserve your own forgiveness. 

“The truth is, unless you let go, unless you forgive yourself, unless you forgive the situation, unless you realize that the situation is over, you cannot move forward.”

Steve Maraboli

Accepting yourself

If you’re entering into a relationship with another person, but you have a whole laundry list of things you want to change about them, you’re likely setting yourself up for disappointment. Accepting the person you commit to being in a relationship with is important, and accepting yourself is important, too.

While it is a good thing to want to work on improving yourself (we’ll get to that in a minute), you also need to learn to accept and love who you are—warts and all. Flaws, imperfections, and weaknesses are what make us human. And while you can improve the things that really matter to you, you should also give yourself credit and grace.

Accepting yourself doesn’t even necessarily have to do with weaknesses; it also means accepting things about yourself that other people might not agree with or appreciate. It means that you stop trying to fight who you are and embrace it instead, no matter what anyone else thinks. 

Wanting more for yourself

Think about someone you love—a spouse, partner, parent, child, sibling, etc. Do you want that person to remain stagnant for the rest of their lives? Do you want them to never grow, learn, achieve, or develop? Of course not. You always want the best for them.

When you love yourself, you want what’s best for you, too. You recognize that you can be more, that you can reach your goals, that you are capable of living the life you want to live. You want those things for yourself, and you feel motivated to go after them. 

In practice, self-love is a lot like loving others. But when you’re in a relationship with someone else, you often have their feedback (expressed or otherwise) to know if you’re doing it right. With yourself, you don’t really have that luxury.

So how do you know?

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How do you know if you’re practicing self-love?

There are some indicators that can help you determine whether or not you’re letting self-love have a positive impact on your life. 

When I’m practicing self-love, I…

-Speak kindly to myself
-Hold myself accountable
-Show up as my best
-Feel secure in my relationships
-Make more time for myself
-Indulge in negative self-talk
-Make excuses/let myself off the hook
-Expect the worst
-Compare myself to others
-Overthink what I want/ignore my needs

When you’re practicing self-love:

You DO speak kindly to yourself; you DON’T indulge in negative self talk.

Negative self-talk is when you have negative thoughts about your performance, abilities, or character. Examples of negative self-talk include:

“I’m not good at this.”
“I’ll never get this right.”
“My life is a waste.”
“I’m probably going to mess this up.”

Negative self-talk can range from mild to extreme, but it always has bad consequences. It’s linked to higher stress levels, lower self-esteem, feelings of depression, perfectionism, and relationship challenges, among other things.

People who are practicing self-love might still engage in negative self-talk every now and then, but they are able to recognize it and stop it before it goes too far or becomes too discouraging. 

Self-love includes more positive self talk, recognizing the things you do right, or at least the effort you put into something. Positive self-talk sounds more like:

“I put my best work into this.”
“I actually did a great job!”
“I’m proud of myself.”

Using positive instead of negative self-talk takes practice. But the more love you have for yourself, the easier it will become to speak kindly to yourself. 

You DO hold yourself accountable; you DON’T make excuses or let yourself off the hook

If you struggle to love yourself, you’re more likely to make excuses when you make a mistake, and you’re more likely to let yourself off the hook for whatever weaknesses you have. Why? Because admitting your mistakes or weaknesses would be too much to handle. If you already don’t love yourself, admitting you did something wrong is going to take you to a place of shame. And that hurts.. 

Loving yourself sometimes means practicing a little “tough love.” It means being vulnerable and acknowledging your weaknesses—without letting the shame in. It means you can look yourself in the mirror and say “We’ll try again next time.” 

Remember: loving yourself means wanting more for yourself. And in order to do that, you have to be honest about your weaknesses and hold yourself accountable for them.

You DO show up as your best; you DON’T expect the worst

The Broadway musical Dear Evan Hansen deals heavily in the theme of self-love. At one point, Evan sings:

I’ve learned to slam on the brake, before I even turn the key.
Before I make the mistakebefore I lead with the worst of me.

These lines express Evan’s hesitancy to show up for his life. As he says later, he’s too concerned about “slipping up,” so instead, he “slips away,”

When you love yourself, you’re willing to put yourself on display. You aren’t afraid to show up as you are, give it your best effort, and bring what is uniquely “you” to the table.

If you don’t love yourself, you’re more likely to expect the worst of yourself. You’re more likely to hide or stay in the background.

Loving yourself means being willing to take on the starring role in your life, even if it means risking showing the good and the bad to everyone. 

You DO feel secure in your relationships; you DON’T compare yourself to others

A person who loves himself is more likely to feel secure in his relationships with others. He recognizes what he brings to the table and appreciates the other person’s contributions as well. 

He doesn’t feel the need to compare himself to other people. Feeling secure in who you are—loving who you are—means that it doesn’t matter what other people have or what they can do. It means that you understand that everyone has a role to play in the world, and you are happy to play your role and let others do the same.

Loving yourself means being grateful for what you have, who you are, and the contributions you make; not wishing you were living a different life or that you had what someone else has.

You DO make more time for yourself; you DON’T overthink what you want or ignore your needs

When you love yourself, you care for yourself. You recognize that you are allowed to have your own needs, and that you deserve to have those needs met. You actively pursue things that make you happy and leave you feeling fulfilled.

If you’re lacking in self-love, you’re more likely to either (a) overthink what you want, often complicating things to the point where you aren’t even sure what you want anymore, or (b) ignore your needs, write them off as unimportant, or consistently put someone else’s needs above your own. 

If you love yourself, you’ll be aware of your needs and you’ll take steps to make sure they’re met. 

This guide can help you as you try to determine whether or not self-love is playing an active role in your life. As you start to see the areas where your self-love could be stronger, give yourself permission to focus on those things. Grow your self-love. Make it a strength of yours. It will do nothing but help you as you work to create a life full of meaning and purpose. 

Love is always worth the effort.

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