What Self-Love Truly Means and Ways to Cultivate It (2024)

What Self-Love Truly Means and Ways to Cultivate It (1)

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    What Self-Love Truly Means and Ways to Cultivate It (2)

    There is a multi-billion dollar industry dedicated to self care — around $450 billion, to be precise. And while self-care practices are an important part of cultivating self-love, it's not everything. To put it another way, while bath bombs and massages are ways of expressing your love for yourself, they’re not necessarily how you build it.

    Many of us have been subject to a variety of messages around self-love and how to cultivate it. We may have been told that we “can't expect anyone to love us until we learn to love ourselves.” But for those of us who've experienced childhood trauma, difficult relationships, or any number of other painful experiences, learning to love ourselves may not be as easy as it sounds.

    The good news is that self-love is actually a skill you can develop — much like self-confidence or self-trust. And it's an important one. Learn what is means to love yourself, how to go about building self-love, and whether or not you really need the bath bomb in this article.

    What does self-love mean?

    Self-love means that you have an appreciation, affinity, and positive regard for yourself. It’s closely related to self-esteem and self-compassion. When you have a strong sense of self-love, you understand your own value and treat yourself in a loving way.

    Unlike narcissism, which is excessive self-absorption and self-interest, self-love is a positive trait. Loving yourself means having a good understanding of both your strengths and weaknesses. Narcissism is generally associated with poor mental health. But high self-love has a positive effect on your well-being, mental fitness, and your relationships.

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    Why is self-love important?

    Self-love is critical to our overall well-being. And despite what the perfectionists think, loving yourself doesn’t mean that you don’t hold yourself to a high standard. Without feeling positively towards ourselves, we may find it hard to be motivated. Many studies suggest that we need self-love in order to take action, take chances, and take on new opportunities.

    The importance of loving yourself

    Self-love is important because it motivates much of our positive behavior while reducing harmful behavior. It both empowers us to take risks and to say no to things that don’t work for us. It’s a key component of building self-compassion.

    Self-love helps us take care of ourselves, lower stress, and strive for success. But it also protects us from negative thoughts, self-sabotage, and pushing ourselves too far. It’s important to recognize that knowing what to say “no” to is just as important as learning when to say “yes.”

    5 benefits of self-love

    Self-love isn’t all touchy-feely. Well — okay, it is kinda touchy-feely, but its benefits are rooted in science.

    1. Lower stress, higher resilience

    When we feel stressed, it’s generally because we don’t feel capable of living up to the challenges in front of us. When you have a strong sense of self-love, you’re better able to tackle challenges. Negative feelings and self-critical thoughts compound stress. When we feel good, though, it’s usually easier for us to problem-solve.

    Self-love and self-compassion are directly linked. When we have a high sense of self-love, we’re able to look at challenges as temporary setbacks — or even as opportunities for growth. This attitude helps us become more resilient.

    BetterUp’s research has found that coaching can help improve self-compassion by over 60%. And self-compassion has a marked impact on developing resilience.

    Not only does self-compassion — and by extension, self-love — help us bounce back better, it keeps us mentally fit. More than 1,000 research studies have linked self-compassion to reduced psychopathy and improved well-being.

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    2. Willingness to take risks (the good kind)

    When we’re willing to take risks, we do so because we have faith in ourselves. We know that we’ll be able to handle the outcome — whether we get what we want or not. A big part of that is self-trust, but it’s also a belief that you are worth the investment.

    Imagine this scenario — a loved one, like a child or best friend, wanted to try something new. If they shared their insecurities with you, would you tell them that they’re probably right and most likely going to fail? Or would you encourage them to take a chance anyway because you believe in all the reasons why it would work out?

    When you love yourself, you’re able to identify both opportunities for growth and chances for you to shine. Risk-taking isn’t just about doing something that seems fun. It’s also about giving yourself the best possible chance to succeed. We won’t get far in life staying in our comfort zones.

    3. Empathy

    When we are able to see ourselves — and accept our strengths and weaknesses — with compassion and appreciation, we can also have compassion for others. This ability to hold space for other people’s struggles helps us to become more empathetic. In turn, empathy creates a stronger connection and a sense of belonging.

    BetterUp found that one-on-one coaching improves empathy by over 40%. Improving empathy also improves your cognitive and psychological flexibility. You become better able to “step into someone else’s shoes.” In turn, this can also have a positive effect on your communication skills.

    4. Self-efficacy

    There are four components to self-efficacy. These include seeing other people succeed, having your own mastery experiences, and being affirmed by others.

    The last is feeling good about ourselves and our capabilities. When our self-love is high, we’re better able to take on new things. Developing trust in our own capabilities, plus a desire to be the best, are key building blocks of self-efficacy. In turn, this self-trust and faith in our own abilities helps us achieve our goals, challenge ourselves, and live our best lives.

    5. Setting boundaries

    There’s a saying that a dishonest “yes” to something you don’t really want to do is an honest “no” to yourself. We often think that saying yes to everything and always willing to help is a virtue. However, a key part of self-love is knowing what to give your energy to — and what doesn’t serve you.

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    10 signs of a lack of self-love

    Since a healthy amount of self-love has such beneficial qualities, you can probably guess that a lack of self-love can be detrimental. Here are some potential signs of low self-love:

    1. Perfectionism and fear of failure
    2. Avoidance of self-care and neglect of personal needs
    3. Tolerating toxic or abusive relationships
    4. Difficulty saying "no" and over-committing
    5. Comparing oneself unfavorably to others
    6. Negative self-talk and constant self-criticism
    7. Difficulty setting and maintaining healthy boundaries
    8. Seeking external validation and approval excessively
    9. Engaging in self-sabotaging behaviors
    10. Chronic feelings of inadequacy or low self-esteem

    8 ways to practice self-love

    Practicing self-love goes beyond the surface. It takes both outer and Inner Work® to understand our value and feel good about ourselves. Here are eight ways to develop and practice self-love in your own life and learn how to love yourself:

    1. Know thyself

    In truth, there’s nothing wrong with the bath bombs, scented candles, and “me time” that get marketed to us as the “highest form or self-care.” The challenge is that we might start thinking it’s the most important kind of self-care. True self-care — and self-love — is about making investments in yourself that have nothing to do with your shopping cart.

    Personally, I love a good massage, but I have friends who hate the idea of getting one. I could spend hours reading, while others might find that to be the most boring thing they could do. No one has the answer to the “right way” to take care of yourself (well, except you, of course).

    Think of getting to know yourself like starting a new relationship. Whether you were making a friend, dating, or even taking care of a new houseplant, there would be a learning curve. You might ask questions, make notes on what works and what doesn’t, and try new things. You would be curious and engaged in learning to nurture this new relationship.

    That sense of curious engagement is a great foundation for learning to love yourself. Start a journal, take up a new hobby, or take yourself on a date. When you start spending time learning about yourself and what you love to do, you’ll likely find yourself pretty darn lovable.

    2. Fish for compliments

    Contrary to what you might’ve heard growing up, fishing for compliments isn’t a bad thing. Most of us have the tendency to toss away compliments instead of embracing and internalizing them. Get into the habit of embracing compliments, acknowledgments, and any other positive regard people wanna throw your way.

    This might seem uncomfortable at first, and you may even have to practice it. One wonderful habit I got from a course with Regena Thomashauer was to respond with “Thank you, it’s true.” It’s surprisingly difficult to affirm and embrace a compliment instead of brushing it off.

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    3. Build self-care routines

    Learning how to take care of yourself means building habits that support your well-being. Try a mini-reset (like the one above) when you feel like you need to recharge. You can also create a self-care plan for yourself.

    Building self-care routines is an essential and proactive approach to nurturing your overall well-being. It involves the intentional cultivation of habits and practices that contribute to your physical, emotional, and mental health.

    No two self-care plans are identical. Begin by identifying activities that bring you joy, relaxation, and a sense of fulfillment. These could range from simple daily rituals, such as quick morning stretches or meditation, to larger commitments like regular exercise or creative pursuits.

    Consider creating a self-care calendar or planner to help structure and prioritize your self-care routines. Schedule dedicated time for activities that rejuvenate your mind and body, ensuring that self-care becomes a non-negotiable part of your routine. Experiment with different approaches and be open to adjusting your plan as needed, as flexibility is key in adapting to life's changing demands.

    Whether it's a daily mindfulness practice, a weekly nature walk, or a monthly self-reflection session, the cumulative impact of these routines contributes significantly to a sustainable and fulfilling self-care journey.

    4. Prioritize self-compassion

    Cultivating self-love involves developing a compassionate and understanding relationship with yourself. Embrace the concept of self-compassion, which entails treating yourself with the same kindness and empathy you would offer to a friend facing challenges. This practice is particularly vital during moments of self-doubt, failure, or adversity.

    Start by acknowledging that everyone makes mistakes and encounters setbacks—it's a natural part of being human. When faced with difficulties, resist the urge to criticize or blame yourself. Instead, offer words of encouragement and comfort, recognizing that you deserve support and understanding. Practice self-compassionate self-talk by challenging negative thoughts and replacing them with affirming and nurturing statements.

    Remember, self-compassion is not a sign of weakness but a powerful tool for building resilience and fortifying your emotional well-being. By treating yourself with kindness and understanding, you deepen the roots of self-love and create a foundation for enduring self-acceptance.

    5. Nurture positive self-talk and affirmations

    The way you speak to yourself significantly influences your self-perception and overall well-being. Incorporating positive self-talk and affirmations into your daily routine is a powerful strategy for enhancing self-love. By consciously choosing uplifting and empowering language, you can reshape your internal dialogue and foster a more positive self-image.

    Start by identifying areas of self-criticism or negative self-talk. Notice when you are being overly harsh or critical of yourself, and actively challenge these thoughts. Replace negative statements with positive affirmations that emphasize your strengths, capabilities, and inherent worth. For example, if you catch yourself thinking, "I can't do this," counter it with, "I am capable, and I can learn and grow through this experience."

    Create a list of personalized affirmations that resonate with you and align with your goals. Repeat these affirmations regularly, incorporating them into your morning routine or moments of reflection throughout the day. Consistent practice will help rewire your brain to embrace a more positive and self-affirming mindset.

    Additionally, surround yourself with positive influences, whether through supportive friends, motivational literature, or affirming podcasts. Building a positive external environment complements the internal work of nurturing positive self-talk, reinforcing a culture of self-love in both your thoughts and surroundings.

    6. Embrace your uniqueness

    Celebrating your individuality is a powerful way to practice self-love. In a world that often emphasizes conformity, embracing what makes you unique can be a radical act of self-affirmation. Take the time to identify and appreciate your strengths, quirks, and idiosyncrasies.

    Start by making a list of the qualities that set you apart from others. These could be your talents, interests, or even your unconventional perspectives. Instead of comparing yourself to others, recognize that your uniqueness adds depth and richness to the tapestry of human experience. Affirm your individuality by expressing yourself authentically, whether through your style, creative pursuits, or the way you communicate.

    Engaging in activities that align with your passions and values is another way to celebrate your uniqueness. If you love art, dedicate time to creating. If you're passionate about a particular cause, get involved in relevant activities. By living authentically, you not only honor yourself but also contribute to a more diverse and vibrant world.

    7. Practice gratitude for your body

    Cultivating self-love involves fostering a positive and appreciative relationship with your body. Instead of fixating on perceived flaws or societal ideals, focus on expressing gratitude for the incredible capabilities and functions of your body.

    Start by creating a gratitude journal specifically dedicated to your body. Each day, write down three things you appreciate about your physical self. These could range from the ability to move freely to the senses that allow you to experience the world. Acknowledge the resilience and strength your body demonstrates daily, even in small actions.

    Engage in activities that promote body positivity and self-acceptance. Surround yourself with affirming messages, whether through body-positive media or supportive social circles. Challenge negative thoughts about your body by consciously redirecting your focus toward gratitude and appreciation.

    8. Set and enforce healthy boundaries

    Establishing and maintaining healthy boundaries is a crucial aspect of self-love. Boundaries serve as a protective barrier, safeguarding your well-being and preserving your energy. By clearly defining and communicating your limits to others, you create a space where self-respect and self-care can thrive.

    Reflect on your personal and emotional boundaries. Identify situations, relationships, or activities that drain your energy or compromise your mental health. Once recognized, take intentional steps to set boundaries in those areas. This may involve communicating your needs assertively, saying no when necessary, or creating physical and emotional space when required.

    Enforcing boundaries requires consistency and self-advocacy. Be firm in upholding the limits you've set, even if it feels uncomfortable initially. Recognize that prioritizing your well-being is an essential act of self-love, and establishing boundaries is a tangible way to demonstrate this commitment.

    Surround yourself with individuals who respect and support your boundaries. Healthy relationships are built on mutual understanding and consideration for each other's needs. As you reinforce your boundaries, you cultivate an environment that fosters self-love and allows you to thrive emotionally and mentally.

    Are self-love and self-compassion the same thing?

    Self-love and self-compassion aren’t quite the same thing, but they are strongly related to one another.

    Self-love has to do with whether or not you like yourself. It's your ability to find yourself worthy of trust, admiration, and care. Self-compassion, on the other hand, is our ability to forgive ourselves and be gentle with our mistakes. I would venture to say that although you can't have one without the other, it takes something different to develop each.

    Put simply, we develop self-love by getting to know ourselves, while we develop self-compassion by being gentle with ourselves. This process of self-knowledge and self-discovery is a large part of what it takes to fall in love with ourselves.

    We build self-compassion by forgiving ourselves for our mistakes and turning them into opportunities to learn. Once we develop self-love, self-compassion comes much more easily.

    Lean into loving yourself and change your life

    Loving yourself is different from being self-absorbed or narcissistic. And doing so has mental and physical health benefits. So whether you’re embracing a new self-care routine or practicing building boundaries, find what self-love looks like for you. It’ll take time, but you might just learn to appreciate a whole new side of yourself.

    What Self-Love Truly Means and Ways to Cultivate It (7)


    Published January 5, 2024

    What Self-Love Truly Means and Ways to Cultivate It (2024)


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