Have you ever wondered how to learn to love yourself when you don’t already?
If so, please know there is no shame in this question. I’ve worked with many clients over the past 11 years as a therapist who don’t yet know how to love themselves. Additionally, for most of my life, I struggled with this same question. I had no idea how to love myself.
Not loving yourself negatively impacts every part of your life
When I lacked self-love, I made choices in my life which reflected this. I self-sabotaged in my career by procrastinating on my goals. I avoided making friends because while I was lonely, I thought others would surely reject me.
Related: I have no friends anymore
I deeply wanted a committed, loving partnership yet I consistently chose emotionally unavailable men because I didn’t think I was worth more. I even let one man come in and out of my life for 11 years after constantly ghosting me!
Related: I got ghosted and it hurts
You need to love yourself (but what if you don’t know how?)
For years, well-meaning people in my life would tell me that to solve my problems, I just needed to “love myself.” But no roadmap was provided. I was completely confused and a little frustrated, at times, when they would tell me this.
I knew it was a problem that I didn’t love myself. What I didn’t know was how to love myself in the first place. I would think to myself, “Of course, my lack of self-love is a problem. But if I knew exactly how to love myself, don’t you think I would do it already?”
This created a vicious cycle. Every time, someone told me I “just” needed to love myself, but I didn’t know how, I’d feel even worse.
You can learn how to love yourself
When I hated myself, I was uncertain if I’d ever feel self-acceptance let alone self-love. A part of me believed that self-love was magical; as if some lucky people were sprinkled with unconditional self-love by a fairy godmother. I thought, that maybe, for the rest of us we would stay stuck. Yet, luckily, my skepticism proved to be unfounded.
Over time, with practice, and commitment, I learned the exact steps to truly fall in love with yourself. I applied these steps to my own life and have guided countless clients with these tools as well. These steps have allowed both myself, and my clients, to transform our personal relationship with ourselves. While, the complete self-love system is too comprehensive to outline here, I want to provide you some tangible steps today.
Self-Love Tip #1: Break the Vicious Cycle of Thinking Negatively about Yourself
You will never truly love yourself if you consistently have to hear your self-critical thoughts towards yourself. Many people have an internal dialogue that’s cruel; speaking to themselves in ways they’d never dream of speaking to another person.
No one can really trust someone who berates them and trust is necessary for unconditional love. This holds true for the relationship you have with yourself as well. In order to improve your self-esteem, you must stop bullying yourself.
While, I’ve become a fan of positive affirmations, when I first started my self-love journey, these often didn’t help. To be honest, positive affirmations used to feel like putting a Band-Aid on a giant, bleeding gash. Too little, too late. I’ve also heard other people say that saying affirmations like “I love myself” when they don’t makes them feel worse!
Stop Negative Thoughts with Mindfulness
What’s most effective is to stop your negative thoughts towards yourself rather than trying to trick yourself into believing positive thoughts. The way you interrupt your negative inner critic is to practice mindfulness.
My favorite definition of mindfulness comes from Jon-Kabat Zinn who describes mindfulness as paying attention, intentionally, to the present moment without judging it. You may already have a mindfulness practice. I want to validate though that whatever your experience with mindfulness, it is quite challenging for many of us. It’s especially challenging when one is experiencing a lot of ongoing negative chatter about themselves (or others).
This practice transforms your relationship with yourself. Mindfulness allows you to stop ping-ponging back between negative and positive thoughts about yourself. A practice of mindfulness allows you to just be in a neutral state where your mind can be blank. There’s no striving to think positive thoughts. It’s just a complete acceptance and allowance for life to be what it is which allows you to be who you are fully.
Very simply, to practice mindfulness, you simply want to notice what is. Look around you and notice 5 red items you see or count how many plants are visible from your window. Take a deep breath and simply scan your body to see how it physically feels. Our mind wants to get caught up in judgment and explaining though such as thinking, “Oh, my neck hurts because I slept wrong last night.” However, this story telling moves us out of the non-judgment part of mindfulness. Mindfulness is to simply say, “I notice my neck hurts.”
Mindfulness is the constant practice of bringing your attention back to the present moment rather than the past including what your partner said to you last night or the future which includes the bills that are coming up. Of course, this isn’t easy but staying focused on the now, without judgment, is necessary to interrupt the negative critic. Learning to be here now, over and over again, is life changing.
I love the visual of imagining each of your thoughts as a leaf falling into a river. Instead of grabbing any leaf and holding onto it, simply let it pass you by. When you notice you’ve gotten caught on a thought, take a breath, and let it go, coming back to the now.
When the negative critic comes up, you can even notice this, “I notice I’m criticizing my body.” You don’t have to say this is “bad” or “correct.” It simply is what it is that you are having a critical thought. Remember, mindfulness is non-judgment of whatever is arising in the present moment. It is what it is.
Self-Love Tip #2: Work Towards a Goal
First, please take a breath if this tip brought up any stress for you.
Working towards a goal does not have to be related to your career, education, or finances. I know in our productivity obsessed culture it can feel like you always have to be hustling. However, this is the antithesis of self-care and self-love.
Instead, please take a moment to think about something you’ve always wanted to do that seems fun but that you always put off for one reason or another. This could be writing a novel, playing guitar, painting, or taking a dance a class just to give a few examples.
Set baby step goals to reach your big goal
Now, I want you to identify small steps you could take to work closer to this goal. Think about the baby steps. For example, if you want to write a novel, maybe you start by taking an hour this week to create an outline. Then maybe you set aside an hour weekly to begin writing it. Or you join a local writers’ meet-up or college course on creative writing. Or, if you want to take a dance class, you may set the small goal of identifying class options and class schedules nearby this week. Then, you commit to going once or twice a month.
All human beings accomplish goals in baby steps. Rome wasn’t built in a day so please, give yourself the space to work towards your goal but in a manageable way.
When you see your progress over time, it cultivates confidence and more self-love. You see just how capable and skillful you can be!
In my own life, I’ve felt tremendous pride and increasing trust in my own body as I’ve deepened my yoga practice. For a year, I’ve practiced yoga almost daily for 15-30 minutes. I always dreamt of being someone who could hold tree pose for more than a few seconds. Before I thought, wow, I’m someone who seriously lacks balance literally! But now, with practice, I can hold my balance poses for some time and I see with clarity, I’ve always been capable of balancing well, I just needed to work on it.
Whatever you dream of achieving in your life, you are SO capable. The lack of self-love, and the inner critic, will confuse you to this truth at times but as you work towards your goals, you will see with clarity just how powerful and skillful you truly are!
Self-Love Tip #3: Get to Know Yourself
A lot of people, before they fully love themselves, are somewhat disconnected from their authentic self. A person can feel like they lose themselves over time or never knew who they were to begin with authentically.
The first step (out of six in my self-love system) is to begin to build your relationship with your authentic self. After all, most of us aren’t capable of deeply and unconditionally loving a stranger. (This takes a certain level of enlightenment!)
Related: How to be your authentic self
Reconnecting with your authentic self
Luckily, your authentic self which includes your inherent needs, wants & limits as well as your emotions, already lives inside of you. Learning to love yourself is about uncovering your authentic self rather than creating the self. There are many strategies for self-reconnection.
You can get to know yourself better by implementing strategies like the ones in this article. For more support, you may learn about yourself with healing books such as Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself. Clients often enjoy this book as it allows for self-discovery. Therapy is also a wonderful tool to support your self-discovery.
Related: What is self-compassion?
You can also get to know yourself more fully to develop more self-like and then, self-love, through journaling, meditating, and yoga. Truly, any time you can practice mindfulness of your feelings, thoughts, needs, and wants, you create space for you to just be. Mindfulness allows you to be who you really are with full acceptance and without judgment.
When you are mindful of what’s going on in your heart, and mind, you don’t have to strive to be anything else. Everything that comes up is simply information about who you are and where you are at in any given moment. When you notice this mindfully, you notice this without judgment. To practice this, I encourage you to take out a piece of paper, or write a note on your phone about 10 things you notice about yourself non-judgmentally.
For example, I notice I’m wearing a red sweater. Or, I notice I’m curious about self-love. Or, I notice I like the smell of vanilla. Please try to just let these observations be what they are without labeling it as “good” or “bad.”
Commitment Cultivates Self-Love
I am deeply appreciative that you are here, reading this article. Please know that where ever you are in your self-love journey, it is completely possible to love yourself (even if your inner critic says it’s not). It simply requires commitment. I encourage you to practice these tips daily to cultivate self-love.
If you want more support, please join the waitlist for my upcoming book, Self-Love Made Possible: The 5-Step Guide to Stop Being Your Own Worst Enemy and Become Your Own Best Friend will be released late 2022. To be notified of its release, please join the waitlist here.
Finally, please send me an email at email@example.com or DM me @confidentlyauthentic.com if you have any specific questions about how to love yourself. I’m always happy to provide guidance and support!
About The Author, Krystal
Krystal Mazzola Wood, LMFT is a practicing relationship therapist with over a decade of experience. She has focused her entire career to empowering people to heal from unhealthy relationship processes. She teaches the skills and tools necessary to have a life filled with healthy and loving relationships.
This passion led her to write her best-selling books and create courses. Her books, The Codependency Recovery Plan: A 5-Step Guide to Understand, Accept, and Break Free from the Codependent Cycle and The Codependency Workbook: Simple Practices for Developing and Maintaining Your Independence have helped many people heal.
Her third book, Self-Love Made Possible: The 5-Step Guide to Stop Being Your Own Worst Enemy and Become Your Own Best Friend will be released late 2022. To be notified of its release, please join the waitlist here.
Her course, Confidently Authentic: Stop People Pleasing and Start Being True to Yourself, provides the skills necessary to have a healthy relationship. This course features over a year of relationship skills you would learn in therapy. Students share this course has been “life changing.”
Each week, she answers your relationship questions from a place of expertise and compassion. To submit your relationship questions, please DM us @confidentlyauthentic.com or you may send an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to submit your question.