Love is an essential need that all humans strive to experience. There are different types of love, such as between a parent and a child or between two romantic partners. But the most often overlooked form of love is that which we show ourselves. In fact, many grapple with the question of “how to love yourself”.

In modern society, self-love can come with a negative connotation of selfishness, inhibiting our ability to develop and display self-love appropriately. To the detriment of many of us, deep and true self-love is almost entirely absent in modern societies. Many of us are living our lives along the surface of our sense of self, sinking some days, swimming others – but most days, treading water with what is.

(Note: This is an incredibly in-depth guide. We suggest pinning this guide to reference in your times of reflection.)

CHAPTER ONE

What is Self Love?

How do you regard your sense of fulfillment and well-being? Is it an afterthought that only comes to mind once in a while when you finally have time to sit down for longer than a few minutes? Or is it something that you are constantly aware of and working on?

Modern society teaches us to direct our energies outward. If we continually focus on others by being ‘happy & helpful’ then *maybe* we might increase our self-esteem and feel content within ourselves as well.

It also teaches us that any focus inward is selfish and shallow – navel-gazers, some might say.

The first thing to understand about self-love is that it is not a destination. Practicing self-love is a skill that is always evolving. It’s messy and absolutely imperfect. It’s a never-ending process of forgetting and remembering, stumbling, and getting back up. It takes grace, patience, and practice to change our thoughts and perspective, and every little bit of movement each day makes a difference.  Every step in the right direction is cumulative, adding up to longer-lasting positive effects on our self-worth.

CHAPTER TWO

Unhealthy Behaviors We Use Instead of Self Love

Without intention towards creating positive self-love habits, a myriad of unhealthy behaviors can show up. Attention-seeking behaviors like compulsive lying or people-pleasing behaviors like the ‘yes’ guy are developed to avoid feeling our painful emotions.

Confusing Belonging with Acceptance

As a basic human need, we all feel the need to belong somewhere. Some people describe this feeling as having roots or building a community. Our social nature as human beings is driven by our attempts to satisfy our need to belong somewhere.

But we often confuse our need for belonging with our desire for acceptance. Buying trendy, name-brand clothing because it is in style or getting the latest haircut because it is popular are shallow attempts to fit our fellow humans. By engaging in these behaviors, we think we are protecting ourselves from being isolated and condemned for our differences.

“Belonging starts with self-acceptance. Your level of belonging, in fact, can never be greater than your level of self-acceptance, because believing that you’re enough is what gives you the courage to be authentic, vulnerable and imperfect.” – Brené Brown.

According to best-selling author and researcher Brené Brown, belonging is a state of contentment that comes from having the courage to present our true selves to the world around us. By definition, fitting in is precisely the opposite and often causes us to create a facade or a version of ourselves for sharing with the public while one’s true self is hidden in private.

People-pleasing Habits

Our need to belong runs so deep that it can manifest in some very unhealthy social behaviors. Sometimes, something as simple as saying no to a mundane activity can be a stress-inducing event.

Many of us engage in people-pleasing behaviors, including an abject fear of saying no even if it compromises our happiness or well-being. The biggest problem for people-pleasers is that we are actively sacrificing our happiness over a false fear of rejection.

If you have a hard time saying no or rejecting people, be on the lookout for the thoughts or excuses that precipitate this behavior.

False Self-Talk Narratives of People-pleasers:

  • If I say no, he/she won’t be my friend.
  • If I say no, he/she will be mad at me.
  • If I say no, I am selfish.
  • If I say no, he/she will think I am lazy.
  • If I say no, he/she won’t need me anymore.

The fear of being rejected or criticized is unbearable for people-pleasers. However, the people-pleasing behaviors that this fear creates are entirely misguided. Without practicing clear and firm boundaries, these individuals are likely eroding their sense of honesty and integrity and losing their own identity, trying to be the ‘Yes’ person for everyone else.

One of the best ways to stop people-pleasing habits is to actively learn how to love ourselves more while also setting and enforcing clear boundaries for your relationships with other people. Setting boundaries with other people often causes an immediate reaction of annoyance or anger, which can be very uncomfortable for a people-pleaser. Still, the long-term effect is greater respect from others and more peace from within.

Understanding Our Need to Satiate

Feelings of discontent can be dealt with in two ways. Either we can do the hard work of acknowledging our feelings, exploring their causes, and healing the pain. Or, we can numb or bury our feelings and pretend like they don’t exist. We can temporarily boost our mood with a rush of endorphins from instant-gratification sources like food, shopping, or alcohol.

These destructive behaviors look like binge eating, compulsive shopping, and gambling addictions. At their most basic, each of these behaviors is different methods of avoidance. There is often a root cause of the behavior that needs healing for most people.

Recognizing Our False Stories

We all have thoughts, ideas, or stories that we tell ourselves about who we are. Our minds are an amazing treasure trove of thoughts and memories, some that help us and some that hurt us depending on what we have been conditioned to tell ourselves.

The stories that we tell ourselves to become unhealthy when they impede our actions in real life. For example, if you constantly tell yourself that you are not good at making friends and lonely, this only elevates your fear of rejection. As a result of this false story, you can become more withdrawn and less likely to engage in social activities.

False stories can be anything from amplifying your worst critics’ review of yourself to an over-confident idealization that inhibits reckless behavior. Instead of believing you are not good at anything, you may tell yourself a story where everything is always great, and nothing bad happens. While that can be a mood booster, it may be causing you to make reckless decisions with your finances and personal life that could have devastating effects if it doesn’t match reality.

The first step to learn to love ourselves isn’t very easy at all. It is learning to stop abandoning ourselves to fit in with the masses. We need to identify the unhealthy behaviors that we use to avoid doing the hard work. Whether you fill your time taking care of everyone else’s needs or indulge in recreational habits like drinking, eating, or shopping in excess, the first step is to recognize your behaviors and identify your triggers.

CHAPTER THREE

Everyone Deserves Self Love

One of the biggest lies that we tell ourselves is about what we deserve. An unrelenting inner critic can justify removing any form of happiness or joy from your life over one social misstep. Many of us repeat these lies to ourselves, believing that taking time for ourselves is indulgent and self-serving.

The opposite is almost indisputably true. Self-love is a means of depositing good energy into yourself so that you can direct the positive effects outward. By nurturing yourself with self-love like good sleeping habits, a proper diet, meditation, and exercise, you fuel yourself with positivity that will shine through in your interactions with others. You will be more patient, kind, understanding, and able to help effectively. You will be able to stand up for yourself with, as Brene Brown offers, with a Strong Back, Soft Front, and a Wild Heart.

Self-love isn’t about being selfish at all. It is about fueling yourself to present the truest version of yourself to the world around you. We are all worthy of love, especially from ourselves.

CHAPTER FOUR

Tools to Stop Unhealthy Behaviors

One of the most critical actions you can take in the name of self-love is to stop unhealthy behaviors. We are experts at justifying our vices or making exceptions for ourselves, so changing these behaviors will be an uphill battle. With the right tools, patience, and perseverance, you can tackle these behaviors one step at a time until you have slowly transformed your love for yourself.

Mindfulness and Meditation

Meditation is the practice of focusing the mind on a particular thought or focus. It has been used for thousands of years to create calmness and improve inner peace. Mindfulness is a type of meditation that focuses on awareness.

Mindful meditation is one of the most powerful tools that you have to create change while also being able to calm yourself. The regular practice of mindful meditation can help you focus your energy on your daily life’s right activities to achieve your self-love goals in your higher life. (Michelle’s favorite practice is Tonglen, so much so that she had the concept tattooed on her arms.)

RAIN Radical Compassion Meditation

Developed by Tara Brach, RAIN is an acronym that stands for the individual steps of processing trauma using mindful meditation.

R – Recognition

A – Allowance

I – Investigating

N- Non-Identifying

The first step in radical compassion meditation is recognition. Sometimes our painful experiences are clear and obvious, but often we fail to recognize what is causing our unhappiness. Maybe several little things add up or gradually change over time, making it less clear. Or, maybe we fail to process the experience because we don’t feel that we deserve better.

When life feels stressful and anxiety is running high, mindful meditation can help you identify the stressors contributing to your current state of mind. A job that you once loved may now be a source of stress as priorities change in life. A friendship that once brought joy may be weighing you down as the give-and-take in that relationship has changed.

Once you know what your stressors are, you can move into the next step, allowance. Our natural reaction is to suppress unpleasant feelings and make them go away. Fight the urge to suppress your negative feelings and allow your emotions to be. If you are angry, find an outlet for the anger. If you are sad, have a good cry. A self-directed emotional breakdown is much healthier than allowing bits and pieces of those emotions to surface at inappropriate times, like lashing out at an innocent person.

tara brach radical acceptance quote

Following a healthy release of the emotion that is causing your stress, you can begin investigating the cause of the emotion as a step towards healing. If you are experiencing feelings of inadequacy, who are you comparing yourself to, and is that comparison fair? Our emotions often cloud our judgment when it comes to how we perceive others. Is it possible that you are my-construing a situation? Seek out advice from an impartial party if needed.

The final phase of radical compassion meditation involves letting go of your feelings. It is possible, likely even, that you will uncover unpleasant truths about yourself and others in your journey. Peace comes from accepting yourself and others with their faults and learning to let go of any emotions that you have about those faults. Non-identifying means that you will no longer attach that specific emotion to the specific event that caused the trauma.

“The human experience is meant to be an emotional one, so the extent to which we deny our feelings is the extent to which we deny our purpose for being here.” -Colin C. Tipping.

As human beings, we are all flawed. We have all done things that hurt someone else, and we have all experienced hurt from others. Our power comes in our ability to identify and process those experiences and let go of the emotional impact they have created.

Befriend Your Inner Critic

Feelings of inadequacy or failure often come from within. While we may occasionally receive external criticism that reinforces our beliefs, the loudest voice we hear is our inner critic. As humans, we are constantly comparing ourselves to others in a flawed attempt to find ways to fit in or belong.

For many of us, our inner voice is unkind and unforgiving. But through mindful meditation, we can change the way our inner critic behaves. Try to befriend your inner critic by giving them a character and speaking to them during meditation. Instead of fighting your inner critic, recognize that your mind is trying to protect you from perceived dangers, whether they are real or not. Practice talking through critical situations with your inner critic character and removing the emotions tied to the situation to let go and find peace.

CHAPTER FIVE

How to Love Yourself

Self-love is a journey. It is not an end-goal or something that can be achieved and moved past. As we work on our self-love and hone our skills, the goalposts and expectations continue to move. Self-love is not a part of your day; it is how you approach every day.

The Day-to-Day Principles of Self Love

There are two facets of self-love, the daily activities you engage in regularly or your routines, and the difficult emotional reflection that drives real change. Healthy daily routines can clear the fog and build a good foundation to build upon.

daily self love habits

Daily Habits of Self-Love:

  • Adequate sleep
  • Healthy diet
  • Physical fitness
  • Mindfulness and meditation
  • Spirituality
  • Gratification
  • Stimulation
  • Avoiding vices or breaking bad habits

Although you are an adult and have the freedom to choose when you sleep, how frequently you play, and what you eat, all of these choices trickle into the same stream. Routinely getting enough sleep with a set routine of similar bedtimes and waking times creates the framework for how your day will go.

A healthy diet fuels your energy, and physical activity reduces your baseline of stress and anxiety while also fueling your energy. Collectively, sleep, diet, and physical activity take care of your physical self.

Meditation, gratification, spirituality, and stimulation take care of your mental well-being. The practice of meditation brings a state of mindfulness to your current feelings and your goals and progress. Gratification boosts contentment by focusing on what you have or what you have accomplished rather than longing for what you are missing.

Spirituality, which manifests in religion for some or higher-level thinking for others, is essential to take some of the pressure off of ourselves when needed. In situations of extreme trauma like abuse, survivors find strength in spirituality.

Stimulation through art or music or classes to learn new skills serves as a catalyst to drive change. Delighting the senses with the arts can inspire positive change. Exposure to art and music can foster creativity and help create a more open-mind so that you welcome change into your life instead of fighting it.

Forgiveness

A necessary hurdle on the path to self-love is re-learning how to forgive. To heal from our experiences, we have to learn how to forgive ourselves and the people in our lives that played a part in the experience. Unfortunately, modern society teaches forgiveness is incomplete and tends to lead to suppressing feelings more often than true forgiveness.

“We habitually erect a barrier called blame that keeps us from communicating genuinely with others, and we fortify it with our concepts of who’s right and who’s wrong. We do that with the people who are closest to us and we do it with political systems, with all kinds of things that we don’t like about our associates or our society.

It is a very common, ancient, well-perfected device for trying to feel better. Blame others….Blaming is a way to protect your heart, trying to protect what is soft and open and tender in yourself. Rather than own that pain, we scramble to find some comfortable ground.” – Pema Chadron.

The truth is that it takes more than words and a willingness to forgive. True forgiveness requires exploring the pain, its cause, and recognizing the intention behind the action. Strong emotions like anger stonewall traumas, and it takes some time to get through the emotions.

If you can get through the emotion, the time it takes to process your feelings takes even more time. It is an uncomfortable journey that many people will avoid if they can. In this reflection, recognize where your fault lies and assign blame appropriately. Go beyond ‘they did this to me’ and explore the intentions behind the actions.

True forgiveness requires acknowledgment and self-acceptance. It is more than a choice to forgive; it is about processing and validating the emotions that surround the trauma.

Developing a Self Love Mindset

With practice, self-love habits become a mindset or a way of living that affects all areas of your life. Once you have the day-to-day stuff together, you can start working on habits and routines that directly impact your mindset.

Build Empathy

Remember the common humanity that you share with everyone else. In a mindful meditation exercise, take time to break down your interactions with others. Focus on their behavior traits to gain an understanding of how those traits affect their actions. For example, someone who is highly critical of your work may suffer from anxiety. Or, someone who frequently lashes out with rude comments is probably avoiding their traumas.

Embrace Authenticity

The key to finding balance in life is finding the courage to be an authentic, true version of yourself. Instead of shaping yourself to be what society dictates in an ill-conceived attempt to fit in, find a way to get comfortable being yourself.

“Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.” – Brené Brown.

brene brown authenticity quote

Many people have different versions of themselves depending on where they are and who they are with. You might notice behavior differences in a coworker at the office and a social gathering in its simplest form. This paradox is very common in established societies and creates a lot of conflict with the inner self.

Bridging the gap between your social self and your true self is necessary to find contentment in life. Embrace your differences and present them to the world with no apologies. You will draw attention, and you will likely even be commended for your bravery as much as you are criticized for your differences. While the attention might be uncomfortable, the result is freedom and peace.

Practice Gratitude

A journaling habit can have profound effects on your day-to-day mood. Commit ten or fifteen minutes to journal about gratitude in your life each day. The result will be more contentment and a more generous attitude towards others.

CHAPTER SIX

Cultivate Your Gifts

Each one of us has natural strengths and weaknesses. In some teachings, these are believed to align with your destiny. Even if you don’t believe in destiny, seeking a path that plays to your strengths will be easier. In the absence of conflict, you can find more harmony in your daily life, bringing more peace within.

Identify and Understand Your True Nature

For some of us, we spend so much time creating a persona to present to the world based on what we think will be accepted that we lose sight of who we truly are as individuals. Deep down, if we wash away all of the influences from the outside world, we know what we like or dislike and what we want out of this life.

Fear keeps us obedient to societal norms, suppressing our true selves so that we may better fit in. Our true self is naturally peaceful, practices self-compassion, is eager to show self-love, and is generally self-reliant. It is only when outside influences muddy the waters that we get confused. Our everyday self is driven by our ego and need to fit in. Unfortunately, many of the decisions we make are made by our everyday selves out of selfishness, uncertainty, or impulsiveness.

It takes a great deal of inward meditation to identify our true self wants and even more courage to ask for those wants in our everyday lives.

How to Understand Your Values

Understanding your core values or the principles that determine what is important in your life is an essential first step in living an authentic life. It is more than just picking some adjectives off a list; understanding your values as determined by your nature and nurture takes deep self-reflection. Here are some meditation points to guide you through the process.

CHAPTER 7

Opportunities for Growth

Before you can begin to do the work and make real changes, you need to find out where you are. While you probably have some inkling about whether you are stressed or unhappy, it is hard to see the whole picture. Brene Brown, a highly-regarded expert, and professor in self-love and self-compassion, has created a diagnostic tool to get you started.

“To love someone fiercely, to believe in something with your whole heart, to celebrate a fleeting moment in time, to fully engage in a life that doesn’t come with guarantees – these are risks that involve vulnerability and often pain. But, I’m learning that recognizing and leaning into the discomfort of vulnerability teaches us how to live with joy, gratitude, and grace.” – Brené Brown.

The Wholehearted Inventory walks you through a series of questions about how you handle everyday life. At the end of the assessment, you are presented with feedback that shows you where your inclinations lie. These assessments can serve as a starting point for your meditations and journaling on your path to self-discovery and growth.

To achieve growth, we need to be willing to stay in the pain and work through the tough stuff. Every unloveable action is a cry for help. It is often in our worst behavior that we need the most love; ironically, our behavior in those moments also makes us more difficult to love. Recognizing our own points of pain and digging in where it hurts helps begin the healing process.

Feminine Self Love

Self-love is a hard concept for all, but especially for women who have conflicting gender role identities in modern societies. Women of all ages seem to be uniquely affected by struggles with body image.

Loving Your Body/Appearance

Societies, present-day and historically, have always emphasized the attractiveness of females. These expectations are perpetuated through mainstream media, sending a constant message to all women that weight matters, beauty matters, and sex appeal matters.

This creates a constant struggle for many women to accept their appearances and learn to love themselves despite their imperfections. Unhealthy behaviors like yo-yo dieting, eating disorders, and a deep-rooted need to change appearance with beauty products, hair dyes, and cosmetic procedures stem from body image and a lack of self-love.

But women are so much more than an object to be desired or a child-bearing, maternal figure. Women are more than a wife and a mother; they are feminine beings who may have lost their connection to their true self-identity.

Wild Woman Archetype

Long before modern societies told her who to be, the Wild Woman archetype is a free-bodied vibration that lives within us. She is passionate and unrelenting. She is fiercely devoted to her family and a healer for her people. She is not unlike modern women of today who tediously care for their families. But she knows no boundaries, no rules to make her conform, and for that, she is a powerful force.

CPE Wise Wild Woman

“A healthy woman is much like a wolf, strong life force, life-giving, territorily aware, intuitive and loyal. Yet separation from her wildish nature causes a woman to become meager, anxious, and fearful. The wild nature carries the medicine for all things. She carries stories, dreams, words, and songs. She carries everything a woman needs to be and know. She is the essence of the female soul… with the wild nature as ally and teacher, we see not through two eyes only, but through the many eyes of intuition. With intuition we are like the starry night, we gaze at the world through a thousand eyes.” – Clarissa Pinkola Estés, WOMEN WHO RUN WITH THE WOLVES: MYTHS AND STORIES OF THE WILD WOMAN ARCHETYPE

The modern woman seeks to reconnect with her inner wild woman to reconnect with her sense of adventure, her unbridled passion, and her unwavering confidence. Making this connection in spiritual meditations can improve your confidence in everyday life and allow females with body image issues to accept and love themselves more.

The Takeaway on How to Love Yourself More

Self-love is a skill that many of us are simply not taught. We are taught to be ashamed of our feelings, to dismiss them and invalidate them. We are taught to change ourselves to fit in with others, and we are harshly criticized and reprimanded when we fail to do so. The problem is not us; the problem is modern society.

The root of happiness and contentment is learning to have self-compassion and treat yourself with kindness to have the same kind of energy to direct outwards to those around you. It is time to break down the barriers preventing us from being happy by recognizing that happiness starts within ourselves.

Assessments, meditations, journaling, and therapy are some of the ways that we can do the work to discover our true selves and learn how to treat ourselves with love. But the first step starts within.

A Personal Note from Michelle

Thank you so very much for taking the time to be with this guide. As someone who struggled with self-love for much of my life, the work contained in this guide has taken years to gather and integrate. My hope for you is that you are gentle with yourself if you are feeling not 100% in love with yourself. Self-love is available to you, it is in you. You may just have to clear a few cobwebs to feel the truth of it.

I believe that everyone can benefit from therapy to help nurture self-love. I am also including my library of must-have books that have helped guide me tremendously over the years should you be inclined to deepen your experience. Remember, no one else has the answers for you – only you have the answer on what will work best for you. This guide, these books, and anywhere you look for support are only offering guideposts to your own inner knowing.