Self love is more than just a fancy word used in psychology and amongst spiritual people. The lack of self love is probably the # 1 reason for all the misery in our lives. Without self love we can’t love others; without self love we can’t develop our full potential and without self love we can never feel “whole” or “complete”. Unfortunately, self love is not something you can turn on and off as you please. It’s a process that needs time and action.
Just like nearly every human being on this world, I am also lacking in self love. Already as a teenager I had identified lack of self-love as one of my biggest problems in life. I remember very well, when at the age of 16 I swore to myself to work on my self love, as my self esteem was so low, I simply couldn’t ignore it anymore.
Over the years, I have done many things in order to get closer to myself. Obviously with many ups and downs, but I think I can say that overall my self love has increased tremendously. I still don’t love myself for 100% and I’m not sure I ever will, but that’s okay. Every step forward is worth it. Not every action towards self love is going to bring you instant self love, every small activity does add up and with a bit of consistency and patience, you’ll notice a shift in your attitude towards yourself and your life will take a different turn. Even if I’ve only made baby steps throughout the past years, every little bit of self love has affected my life in such a profound way which I want to share with you some of the steps that have helped me the most.
Take care of yourself
Let’s start with the most obvious and easiest step: simply start to take care of yourself. Food is an example of how many people structurally neglect themselves. They tend to just routinely put calories into their systems in order to have more energy, but don’t really aim to nourish themselves. I often hear people saying that they don’t cook for themselves and only do so when they have visitors. They say they enjoy cooking for others and preparing tasty, nourishing, homemade meals for them, but don’t like to take the time doing the same for themselves. They prefer to eat something simple which most of the time ends up being some processed, unwholesome food which they devour in front of the television without even paying attention to what they eat or are actually craving for.
I totally get that many people don’t have the time and energy to do this on a daily basis. But keep in mind that taking care of yourself and cooking can actually give you energy instead of draining your energy. First of all, you make sure you prepare healthy and nourishing food which obviously results in a healthier and more energetic body. Secondly, the act of cooking can also be very energising. I seriously enjoy experimenting with new recipes and every cooking session turns into a kitchen party with my favourite music and some dance moves in between the chopping and spicing. Like this, cooking is not only an act of self love because I make myself a healthy meal, it’s also a way to release my stress, anxiety and anger and fill myself with positive vibes. Instead of draining energy, cooking has become an activity which replenishes my energy levels.
Obviously, there are many other way of taking care of yourself, such as simply drinking a warm and healing cup of tea on a cold winter day or strolling in nature on a sunny day. There are endless ways to show yourself you care, but best is to incorporate your self love activities into your daily routine, starting with the basics: food, sleep and exercise. Especially when it comes to exercise, remind yourself to exercise in a loving way. Some people only exercise in order to lose weight and they are driven by self loathing. These people often don’t listen to their body while exercising and push themselves into activities which are far beyond their abilities. Subsequently, they don’t enjoy the sports and tend to give up. Be aware that most of the time the problem is not the sports (or any other self care activity), but your attitude towards the activity. Try to adopt a mindset of self care and self love instead of a mindset of reaching a specific goal: the path is the goal!
Watch your judgment
You probably know the saying: You can’t be loved, if you don’t love yourself. But you can also turn this around: You can’t love yourself, if you can’t love others. In order to really find the path to self love, we have to overthink how we feel about others. As long as we judge others for their behaviour, we will continue judging ourselves. In a way, judgement is nothing more than an expression of our lack of self love. With judgement we try to mask our insecurities about ourselves by diverting the negativity to others.
By focusing on other people’s mistakes, we give ourselves less time to take an honest look into our own flaws. But we need to take this look in order to realize that our flaws are perfectly fine. For the time being they are what they are and they have the right to exist.
Not only our own flaws have the right to exist, but so do other people’s flaws. This doesn’t mean you have to instantly like everybody. You have the right to dislike people. But disliking people and rather wanting to keep a distance from them is a different story to judging them. Just keep in mind this person will have their reasons to behave the way they do and continue to treat them respectfully, that’s all it takes. In the end, you’ll also notice how much energy judging drains. And do you really want to spend your energy on someone you don’t like? Stop pouring your energy in those people and rather spend it on the one person that really matters: you.
Not only the judgement towards others is energy-draining, but so is the judgement towards yourself. Try to just observe your flaws and your negative feelings without any judgement. This is very difficult and most probably you’ll fall off the wagon a couple of times. In that case, just try to watch your judgment towards yourself without judgement. Allowing your negative traits without judgement may feel scary at first, but is necessary in order to learn how to love yourself. Not judging yourself will help you to feel more at ease with yourself, will give you more time to have a look inside and will help you to find out how much of a loveable person you actually are.
Spend time alone
Not being able to spend time with yourself or constantly being bored if you’re not being “entertained” is a huge sign of lack of self-love. I used to be a person who constantly needed distraction and entertainment. Either I was studying, or working or meeting up with friends and family. I rarely took the time to just spend time with myself, apart from the moments in meditation or while doing yoga. Once I increased my time on the meditation cushion, my yearning for me-time also started to increase.
I started to set fixed “me-moments” in my agenda, in order to not distract myself with other things. In the beginning this was not always easy. We’re so used to being with other people or at least some other distractors like tv, it’s confronting to just be with yourself. I still spend most of the me-time either reading, writing or doing other things, but I really notice how I allow myself more and more time to just be. Just sit and feel into my body.
These are the moments that thoughts and feelings come bubbling up and there’s nowhere to go. Just like many people run away from their partners when they fear their partner might confront them with painful emotions, we also fear our own emotions and truths. Being alone forces us to look inside…only to find out that there’s nothing to be scared about. Oftentimes, our emotions and thoughts need nothing more than our loving awareness and then they move on. I’ve found myself more than once sitting on the couch with a warm cup tea, suddenly being overwhelmed by emotions, not knowing where they came from. I allowed them to be, cried for a while, just to find myself calmed down and relieved a few moments later.
Apart from getting closer to yourself, me-time has another advantage. As helpful and nice as other people and (social) media can be, they oftentime (unconsciously) convey messages to us that are not in line with our inner beings. Imagine you’re really unhappy with your job and you decide to talk with a friend about it, and all your friend is talking about is the loss of your financial security. You might end up staying in a job that makes you unhappy to your core. Your inner being is really the best counsellor you can imagine, all you need to do is to give yourself the time to start to listen to its voice.
Once you have established a connection with yourself, you’ll notice one more thing: loneliness and boredom suddenly vanish. I seriously can’t remember I last felt bored (to the contrary, my days can’t seem to have enough hours) and the last time I felt lonely was in moments in which I was afraid, in which I needed the feeling of safety and security. But in daily life I rarely feel lonely. I can miss someone, but I don’t feel lonely. Since I’ve established a good relationship with my inner being, I know there’s “someone”. Sounds creepy and strange, but I have no idea how to explain it. I guess you’ll have to experience it for yourself ;)
Do Inner Child work
Let’s continue the “strange-talk” and move on to our next inner entity: our Inner Child. The concept of the Inner Child has seriously been a game changer in my life. To me it felt like the missing link to all my (and other people’s) seemingly inexplicable behaviour. I finally understood why I wanted to do one thing, but ended up doing something else. Suddenly my contradictory Self started to make sense. I also finally understood why mere positive self-talk and fooling yourself into believing something is not working.
It’s like wanting have salary at the end of each month by just talking about the job but without doing the work. For most of us, this is simply not going to work. In order to really bring about a shift in your self-love, you’ll have to find the root cause for your lack of self love and actively work on healing this part of you. I identified my neglected Inner Child as the root cause and therefore directed all my love towards the part of me that needed it most.
There are many ways of giving your Inner Child love, but the most effective way for me was dialoguing. During a period of about 1-2 years I’d write dialogues with my Inner Child in order to find out what it wants and needs. I made sure I was there to support and sooth it whenever it felt sad, angry or insecure. This approach has worked very well for me. I don’t dialogue on a regular basis anymore, but only when I feel my Inner Child is seriously distressed, which has happened a lot less since I’ve reached out to it.
I know the concept of the Inner Child is a rather strange one. Some people just can’t surrender to the idea of contacting an “‘ imaginary”, intangible child that’s supposed to live inside of themselves. I guess it gives them the feeling of being schizophrenic or crazy. All I know is that this concept has personally resonated a lot with me and has helped me tremendously to finally find that piece of self-love I was desperately looking for. If the concept, however, does not resonate at all with you, then please feel free to skip it.
Give yourself time
Last but not least, be patient. I already mentioned this in the beginning, but I’d like to end the post with the same message again: Give yourself time to heal. Why do I emphasize this point so much? First of all, because it’s impossible to force love in any ways, even if it’s self-love. Love is a matter of trust, acceptance and respect which all need time to develop. Most likely, you’re already an adult by the time you start connecting to yourself. By this time, you’ve already neglected yourself in many ways over many years, how do you think you can solve all of these issues in a short period of time?
Secondly, giving yourself time is also a form of self-love. It’s a way of really showing yourself that you accept yourself, just the way you are, even if you’re not completely aligned with yourself. Not giving yourself the time to heal might feel as if you only accept the healed part of yourself, but not the broken one.
Some people like to tell themselves they will start loving themselves once they have achieved a specific goal (a promotion, a partner, a perfect body etc.), but this is conditional self-love and therefore won’t work. We need to learn how to sit with our broken self, mindfully and supportive. Wanting to heal too quickly is not only impossible, but it can also backfire. Wanting to force self love can result in unloving behaviours such as arrogance, suffocating self-control and complete lack of self-control.
There simply is no shortcut to self-love. All there’s left is to do our work, let go of our expectations and welcome whatever comes into our experience, no matter whether positive or negative.