I think you and I can both agree that learning how to love yourself is HARD:
It seems like everyone ELSE has it figured out. Everyone ELSE is smiling, laughing, and building amazing lives.
And it makes you feel like you’re falling behind. How do you learn how to love yourself when you don’t know how?
Maybe you’re like me, growing up with negative messages implanted in your head, being told that you aren’t good enough, you’ll never measure up, and that you need to always fill a hole inside with whatever you can get your hands on (achievements, partners, external items,…) to feel better.
Well, it turns out that by following some good guidelines that you can be on the road to learning how to love yourself now. It doesn’t matter how bad you’ve been at this before. It’s possible to learn how to unconditionally accept yourself and how to love yourself for who you are…flaws and all.
You just need a path, awareness, and some good tools to set you in the right direction.
In this article, I’ll talk about how HORRIBLE I was at self-love and how I got to that point. I’ll show you how to discover where your own tendencies came from in your past. Then, I’ll give you some step-by-step guidelines of what to do every day to build self-love into your life.
Finally, I’ll talk about how all this will affect you and help you to build your future.
I. Healing the Past
If you’ve been around this site for a while, you’ll know that I’ve discussed my past issues with bullying. It’s also discovered that it’s affected my psychology quite a bit.
For many years of elementary school and into high school, I was told I was not good enough, unloveable, and that something was wrong with me.
While I keep thinking I’m passed this trauma, it keeps resurfacing, and I realize how much 10+ years of hearing the same message, day-by-day affects you.
This led to me trying to find as much love as I could with different partners, making more money, travelling to more places…to finally feel like I am enough.
The truth that I’ve realized through mediation and Vipassana benefits, is that you can keep looking to the outside and external things to try to fix your internal feelings of not feeling worthy, but that’s only going to help temporarily at best.
You need to look at what’s happening inside.
It’s only in the past as I’ve felt the feelings and the sensations associated with these horrible beliefs that I’ve begun to heal them. By questioning my negative thoughts and beliefs, I’ve been able to separate my thoughts from what is actually reality.
It’s been difficult, and I catch myself continuously falling back into old habits…but I know that as I keep working on it, I get better and better.
How Did You Get Here? Why You Don’t Feel Like You Love Yourself
The one fundamental fact of being born is that every single person is good and deserves to be loved.
And that includes you.
The issue is when messages from the past and other people conflict with this fundamental belief. As we grow up and we’re extremely impressionable, if our parents are always criticizing us for not doing good in school, bullies are making fun of us, and the media says we need to buy the next thing to finally be better…
It’s almost impossible to win and learn how to love yourself.
If you have problems being kind to, and loving yourself, somewhere along your timeline this primary belief has been altered and bastardized.
Recognizing this is the first step to repairing the damage done, and changing your future.
“Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.”
Here’s The Truth: Nobody Will Ever Truly Love You Until You Love Yourself
Before you get all worried that you’ll never have good relationships if you don’t love yourself 100%, it’s important to know that EVERYONE is struggling with this. Everybody has demons and poor beliefs telling them that they should be better.
That’s there’s something wrong with them.
There wouldn’t be pages of books and thousands of results for “self-love meditation” if that wasn’t the case.
You’re not alone.
That said, it is ESSENTIAL to become good at loving yourself. And yes, it is an emotional skill.
The reason is that you can never look outside to a friend, your partner, or anyone else to “fill the void” you feel inside. This will create codependent relationships and really mess up your emotional world if something happens.
It doesn’t mean that a person can’t pull you out of a bad spiral, or can’t love you…that’s what good relationships are all about!
It’s just not fair to expect that one person (or a group of people) to meet all of those emotional needs. You need to be the one in charge of loving yourself, first and foremost. You need to learn how to love yourself first before worrying about relationships. The most important relationship you have is the relationship with yourself.
Heal and Start Learning How to Love Yourself Unconditionally
The first step to healing and learning how to love yourself is to become aware of the patterns that sabotage self-love.
While reading self-improvement books and doing work on your own is great, you probably need outside help from a therapist if you deal with negative and hateful thoughts consistently.
Google around and look for therapists in your area. See if they offer free trial sessions or consultations. Don’t be afraid to try a few therapists to see who works best with you and who you “click” with.
A well-trained therapist will drastically increase your progress and help you on the path to loving yourself.
Now as you become aware of your negative patterns, you’re ready to move towards changing them.
II. Change in the Present
“You don’t create your future. You create your daily habits, and they create your future.”
– Randy Gage
The 3 Core Needs for Self-Love
In my opinion, there are 3 core needs that must be met to create a feeling of self-love. You need to feel:
- Safe and secure
- Loved and connected to others
- Valued for who you are and what you contribute to society
By meeting these needs consistently, it sends the subconscious message that you are putting things in place in life to take care of yourself.
Here’s the Truth: Your Brain is Lying to You
Now the problem is that your brain isn’t your friend in this situation and meeting these needs.
All your brain wants to do is keep you safe and have what it thinks is controllable based on the past, happen again, because it believes it can predict those outcomes.
This is sometimes the case, but it’s of course a HUGE cognitive bias: Just because something happened one way before due to some inputs, does not imply that the same inputs would result in the desired result again.
In fact, it could be WORSE.
You’ll face HUGE amounts of inertia when you are trying to change your habits and what you do.
If you want to be more social and you’ve experienced a lot of trauma with people in the past, your brain will squirm and think of ANY excuse to stay inside.
If you’re afraid of conflict, your brain will try to side-step any disagreement or negotiation.
If you’ve never gone to the gym before, your brain will try to keep you on the couch.
Your brain is great for thinking of logical, problem-based solutions, not for solving these emotional ones.
You’ll need to learn how to listen to your heart, what you really want in your life, and then take steps to make that happen.
18 Tips on How to Love Yourself
You’ll need to look at the things you do every day if you really want to start learning how to love yourself.
The reason being that if you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll always get the same results. If you keep saying you are weak for feeling X, telling yourself that you’re such a fuck up, and thinking about the worst parts of your life…
How can you expect to be happy and feeling like you’re on your own side?
The best way to change is to examine the small, boring, repetitive, day-to-day habits that you do, and change those things. Then, you’ll start to see change everywhere else in your life. “We are what we repeatedly do.”
While it’s impossible to list everything you should do because that depends on the specific person, here’s a list of some generally good ideas that overall, will have a positive impact on your day-to-day life, as well as your future:
1. Practice gratitude
There have been scientific studies that show that it’s not being happy that makes you grateful, but being grateful that makes you happy. Consciously practicing gratitude gets you out of the hedonic treadmill of never being satisfied, and helps you realize how much you have at this moment…even when you think everything sucks.
2. Help others and focus on how you can help them vs. help yourself
In a recent discussion, the Dalai Lama was asked how to help with the rising rates of anxiety and depression in the world. He responded by saying that the main issue was having a self-centered attitude: The more we focus on ourselves, the more we’ll be prone to our own neuroses. By focusing on others and helping them, you grow outside of yourself and can’t be dragged down by petty problems.
As the saying goes, you will have everything you want when you find out how to give everyone else what THEY want.
3. Surround yourself with people who have the qualities you want to engrain within yourself
You are the average of the five people you surround yourself with the most. This has been shown to be true when it comes to your mindset, your outlook on life, how much money you make, and more.
Therefore, it’s in your best interest to surround yourself with the highest performers and most amazing people possible. Find people who embody the qualities of a good person and qualities you aspire to have. Look for people who are positive, uplifting, saying that you CAN reach your goals / dreams, that are empathetic, realistic, and most importantly, help you learn how to love yourself more.
This will set you up for massive success.
4. Accept ALL of the different parts of you / emotions you have (even the “dark” or ones you think “aren’t good”)
One of the main issues with self-improvement in recent years is pushing the attitude of always being happy and positive.
This is unrealistic, unfair, and honestly a bunch of BS.
No matter how good life is, sometimes you just feel like shit. You could have the perfect life, job, partner, and family, but you get bad sleep one night, which de-regulates your emotions, and you’re a sour ass.
And that’s fine.
Pushing down or suppressing your “negative” or “dark” thoughts can cause mental health issues and also is a subconscious signal that you don’t fully love or accept yourself.
The way out of this is to accept ALL of your thoughts and emotions. THIS DOES NOT MEAN YOU HAVE TO ACT ON THEM OR BUY INTO THEM, but you still should accept them.
The more you resist, the more suffering you’ll cause yourself.
For example: You might, like many people, have a day where you just don’t feel like going to work. You just want to sit on the couch and eat burritos all day.
You hear those thoughts and feel those feelings, but you choose the high order thoughts and feelings of being dedicated to your craft, not getting fired, and being able to provide for yourself. You don’t push the thoughts away, but you don’t indulge in them either.
5. Treat and talk to yourself as you would a good friend
If you’re like most people, there is no way in HELL you’d say the things you tell yourself to your best friend. Maybe some of these sound familiar:
“I’m such an idiot.”
“I’m going to fail.”
“What’s wrong with me?”
If you talked like this to your best friend, you’d lose that friend PRETTY fast.
If you wouldn’t talk to your good friend as you are to yourself right now, stop it. Period.
Talk to yourself, treat yourself, and work as you’d work with a best friend.
This way you won’t be lazy, you wouldn’t let your best friend completely ignore their responsibilities, right? But you might suggest being easier on themselves, finding help, and so on.
6. Set healthy boundaries
Setting boundaries is one of the most loving things you can do for yourself. If you truly loved yourself, would you put up with poor relationships and behavior?
Of course not. You’d want the best for yourself.
Learn how to set boundaries to maintain your positive space and mindset. This might be with yourself, your indulgences, with other people, and more.
7. Do things that the kid in you liked and wanted to do
As we grow older, we seem to think that we have to take things extremely seriously and “hustle”. There’s no time for play, fun, or being relaxed.
Taking life too seriously is a surefire way to a stress-related disorder and an unhappy life.
Ask yourself: what did you like to do when you were a kid?
Was it playing video games? Dancing? Being with friends more? Imagining things? Building stuff with Lego?
Whatever it was, find a way to put more of that into your day. As well, find ways to take the pressure off yourself. Give yourself permission not to do “the best”, to be human.
Exercise kills stress, anxiety, and depression. It builds confidence. It energizes you.
There are so many reasons to do it it’s almost stupid NOT TO.
It’s also an expression of self-love in that you’re taking care of yourself.
Find some form of exercise you like, whether solo or at a class, lifting weights or doing cardio, but just do something that gets you MOVING.
9. Socialize and be around people
In John Arden’s book, The Brain Bible, he talks about how when people are learning new healthy habits, they’ll have to do lots of things they don’t “feel like doing”. Your brain might tell you it doesn’t “feel” like exercising, eating healthy, etc., but you as the master of your mind do it anyways.
For me, the hardest thing is always socializing. Whether it’s because of the avoider mentality and my tendency to run away from intimacy or laziness, socializing takes A LOT of effort for me. But, I know when I’m talking to my good friends or even just around people, I always feel better.
To love yourself is to surround yourself with people who love you too, or just to connect with your fellow humans.
Note: With respect to COVID-19, you may not be able to be around people right now. Try to organize online events, or physically distanced meet-ups as your local governing body recommends.
10. Eat well and healthy
This is pretty self-explanatory, but treating yourself well includes what you eat. No (regular) shovelling of pizza down your gullet, please.
…Other than on cheat days :).
11. Sleep 7-9 hours a night
There are countless studies on the effects of poor sleep on your day. Again in The Brain Bible, John Arden mentions that not only do you become more irritable and emotionally imbalanced when you don’t sleep, but over the long term, sleep deprivation can cause accelerated ageing, depression, increase the risk of high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes, as well as the craving for unhealthy foods.
6 hours is reported to be the minimum biological requirement and is also known as core sleep. While different people need different amounts of sleep, it usually ranges between 7-9 hours.
It’s important to note that while sleeping enough is important, regularly oversleeping is just as bad as not sleeping enough, as it will make you feel more tired, and also not productive.
12. Play and do things you love just because, not for any reason
As you are thinking about what you used to do when you were a kid, it’s important to remember that not EVERYTHING has to have a reason for it to be done. You can just do it because it’s fun and you enjoy it.
Life is meant to be enjoyed…not to just churn out productive reports and check off task lists.
In this day and age, we’re in the era of the “side hustle”, where EVERYTHING needs to be turned into a profitable and measurable business with KPIs, profit margins, and goals to hit.
Find things you love to do and just do them. You might try making money from those things (as I do from this blog), but you don’t put pressure on yourself for it to NEED to be successful. If it is, great! If not, you’re doing what you love, and that’s more than enough.
13. Go for, and schedule regular health appointments
As part of your health care, you should be keeping up with regular doctor’s appointments, routine check-ups, and addressing any health concerns you have with your body.
As much as it’s good to take care of our physical items and relationships, we’re only given one body for our entire life, and we owe it to ourselves to make it last as long as possible.
14. Try new things
Your brain is wired for novelty. Sometimes, this can be bad, when your brain prefers to scroll through Instagram for new pictures as opposed to doing your taxes.
But usually, you can use this fact to keep yourself happy.
Try new activities, meet new people, eat new foods. Routine is great for productivity, but it needs to be balanced with novelty within that routine or else you’ll start to get a bit ancy. Everyone needs a different amount of adventure and “newness”. Find your level, and make sure to try new things.
15. Forgive yourself
As part of treating yourself well, immediately forgive yourself when you mess up. Most of us are EXTREMELY hard on ourselves for small things we won’t even remember the week after.
For example, just a few days ago I was making eggs, cracked one that fell on the floor, and proceeded to whip myself for being such an idiot.
I then STOPPED, noticed what was happening, and laughed at how silly it was to be annoyed about this. I cleaned it up in 5 minutes, and nothing changed in my routine or flow. Learning how to love yourself and forgive yourself go hand-in-hand.
16. Take responsibility for any situation you are in—do not play the victim
Playing the victim is easy. Sympathy feels nice because most good-natured people don’t like to see people in pain. Therefore if we play the victim and express our pain, we can get attention.
The issue is that people who maintain strong boundaries and are prone to taking action note this as needy behavior if you do it constantly (it’s OK to need some help from time-to-time for painful situations).
When you love yourself, you realize complaining does nothing about the situation. The only things you can do are to change the situation you’re in, accept it, or leave it.
Instead of spending energy complaining about the situation, spend energy fixing or changing it. Or, accept it as it is.
Not only does journalling have numerous benefits, but it gives you a written account to reflect on how your life is changing over time. It lets you distill and articulate your thoughts and feelings, while also giving you a blank canvas to take anything stirring in your mind and put it right on paper.
It’s always better to get things out of your head than keep them inside.
Along with meditation and constructive self-talk, I consider journaling to be one of the three most life-changing tools I’ve ever found.
18. Spend time alone to reflect on where you want to go
The world is a noisy place, full of advertisements and people trying to get your attention.
It’s only in silence that you can truly hear that little voice telling you what you truly want.
Get away from work, people, Instagram, and just listen to yourself.
The Importance of Safe People
One of the most important things I stress in my writing is finding safe people. These are people who you fully trust to love you as you are and accept you.
These are the people who when you spill out your deepest desires, insecurities, and fears, will be supportive and understand, or empathize and say, “I feel the exact same way!”
This has a healing effect of making you not feel alone, and that you truly are OK as you are.
Now that being said, no amount of safe people will be enough until you really love yourself. No one can fill the love void inside you other than you. It’s actually unfair to expect other people to do that and becomes tiresome for them.
Yes, other people should give you love, but they can’t be the only source.
YOU must be the main source for you.
And this process takes time.
While you become your own safe person in terms of loving supporting and loving yourself, the first external one will probably be your therapist. After that, it’s about identifying non-judgemental family members, friends, etc.
You may have to go find these people too. It may be time to start looking at meet up groups for things you’re interested in to find like-minded people.
III. Creating the Future You Want
“The future is not something we enter. The future is something we create.”
– Leonard Sweet
First, you accept the past and what happened.
Then, you begin to make changes to how you treat yourself today and the habits you instill to send positive support, messages, and love to yourself.
And as you work on your daily life and habits in the present, you’ll step closer to the future you want and desire. This all leads to creating the future you want for yourself.
We focus on the past and present first because if you can’t heal the past and create love in the present:
- You’ll push your dreams down, assuming you don’t deserve them
- You’ll accept bad situations and people, assuming you deserve pain
- You’ll suffer from premature ageing, stress, and constant negative emotions
A mistake I’ve made (and keep making) is that I need to be 100% “fixed” to pursue my goals and dreams.
But perfection doesn’t exist.
It’s a mind-created image that’s unattainable.
All you can do is cultivate positive daily habits, set goals that align with your values, and engage in massive amounts of self-compassion along the way.
That, and always remembering to be patient.
Learning how to love yourself more is a lifelong journey. Follow the guidelines laid out here and you’ll be well on your way, knowing that you are enough, you are worthy of love, and you deserve happiness.