How to Love Yourself

“You have to love yourself first.”

I would hear the words, and think “Yup, that sounds like a good idea,” but how to actually create this state of self love was a total mystery.

I didn’t feel a lot of love for myself back then. And on some level, I thought that it sounded sort of selfish and weird to think about being deeply in love with yourself. I imagined Narcissus cooing at his reflection in the glassy water of the river bank. 

I’d think, “People keep telling me I need to love myself. But how exactly is that supposed to improve my life or my relationships?”

I am now able to teach my therapy and personal growth coaching clients what I learned on my own journey of personal growth, and that self love is so much more than just narcissism by another name. I’ve collected some of my thoughts on my evolving understanding of self-love here, as well as on a recent episode of the Love, Happiness and Success podcast. You can find the episode on this page, Apple podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen. 

What Does It Mean to Love Yourself?

So, what is “self love” anyway? First, let’s talk for a moment about what self love is NOT, and the traps people often fall into when they want to love themselves but don’t know how.

This skepticism around “self love” I originally had was not helped when I became a therapist.

I’d heard that phrase, “You have to love yourself first” get tossed around by therapy clients who were using it to  — quite frankly — justify all kinds of unhealthy things in the name of “self love.”

People would say, “But I have to love myself!” to rationalize the worst kinds of self-indulgence: refusing to accept responsibility, breaking commitments, abandoning values, shifting blame, or breathtakingly insensitive actions towards other people. 

This is not healthy self love. Healthy self love does not make your needs, rights or feelings more important than those of other people. Just the opposite: Healthy self love makes you more empathetic and compassionate. More on that in a moment…

Here’s another thing that self-love is absolutely not: Judgment. 

Ironically, people will find ways to use the idea of self love against themselves and create self-limiting beliefs. I can’t tell you how many times in therapy or life coaching sessions I’ve seen lovely, beautiful people welling up with tears as they spoke their truth and said things like:

“I don’t love myself. But I know I should love myself. And the fact that I don’t love myself is one more reason for me to hate myself.”

These people are told constantly “You have to love yourself,” without anyone explaining how it even happens, and see the fact that they don’t feel that way as more evidence that there was something terribly wrong with them.

What Is Self-Love?

Over many years as a counselor and coach, a marriage counselor, a wife, a mother, and a person on her own ever-winding journey of growth, I feel that the true nature of love and of self-love is starting to become clearer to me.

Love does not hurt. It is never an excuse to do bad things to other people, and it’s definitely not anything that should result in more self-criticism or lower self esteem.

What I’ve learned about both self love and love for others is that you don’t have to feel love to have it, and you don’t have to feel like you love yourself or that you love others.

Love is much, much bigger than any of the feelings that blow through us on a given day. Striving to have a feeling of love is not how loving yourself unconditionally works.

People who love themselves may not feel the emotion of having love for themselves, because, here’s a secret: Love is not actually a feeling. 

Love certainly can be a feeling. But it is really something that we do. Love is an action. Love is a choice.

Choosing to have tolerance, compassion, and radical acceptance for yourself as you are — even if you don’t feel like you love yourself — is, paradoxically, what self love actually is. It’s the choice to start making positive changes in your life, for you.

Every once in a while we might have the wonderful treat of feeling self love, but that’s just a warm patch of sunlight on a path that’s dappled with the subtle lights and darks of the emotion we walk through every day.

True Love, real love, is more like a state of grace that we can choose to live in: The energy that prioritizes the well-being of people over everything else. Love is compassion, empathy, support, hope, and help that is extended for the benefit of others… And that includes us, too.

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True Love for Others

True love allows us to set our self-focus and ego aside and do what needs to be done for the benefit of others. Have you ever stayed up late to do laundry or gone to the grocery store in the middle of the night because your kid needed clean clothes or lunch for school the next day, even though you were tired? That’s the kind of true love I’m talking about. Simple prioritization for the well being of another.

In that state of everyday grace, it doesn’t really matter what you’re thinking or feeling or wanting: You’re simply understanding what someone else is feeling and needing, and being of service to them.

That is how we love others. We may or may not have the feeling of love as we do what love requires. The fact that we do it anyway is evidence of the power of the love we have. 

It’s easy to do what you feel like doing. True love does the hard stuff, even when you don’t feel like it. That is the definition of love.

Learning to Love Yourself

But how do you love yourself? It’s easier to see how you can be compassionate, tolerant, and generous with other people – but towards yourself? 

“Isn’t that the opposite of True Love?” You might be thinking. “If love is about doing things for the benefit of others, and to help, support and lift up others, isn’t it taking away from them if I turn that compassionate energy towards ME? Isn’t that SELFISH???”

Loving yourself is not selfish. Loving yourself is the foundation of well being that supports you in your ability to love others. Loving yourself means treating yourself with the same kind of compassion, support, encouragement and devotion to your health and genuine best interests that you give to other people.

What I’m learning is that being a healthy person who is able to give love to others means that you are practicing self-love first. Because if you refuse to love yourself, you will be too unwell physically, mentally, and emotionally to be of benefit for others.

Note that I just said, “If you refuse to love yourself,” rather than, “If you can’t love yourself.” Remember, love is not something you have to feel. You just have to do it. And that is 100% within your ability, all the time.

Here’s how it works:

Think of loving yourself as treating yourself as you would parent a cherished child:

1) You can choose to be an emotionally safe person, and speak to yourself kindly, compassionately, and wisely. You can offer yourself guidance, reassurance and emotional self-care, instead of criticizing yourself, scaring yourself, or being negative towards yourself.

If you wouldn’t say it to a small child who needs help and support, it’s not good enough for you either.

2) Setting firm limits that support your health and wellness. Good parents who love their children help them stay healthy by going to bed at a reasonable hour, eating nutritious foods, getting some exercise, and taking care of their health. Even when they don’t feel like it.

You paying attention to what you need in order to be physically safe and healthy, and then making sure you get that, is self love in action. It’s how to be your best self.

3) Directing yourself to make choices that demonstrate your commitment to your own well being. Self love is self protection. Pay attention to what feels harmful or toxic to you, and take steps to protect yourself. 

This might involve setting boundaries with others, listening to your own inner wisdom, and avoiding harmful situations or unhealthy relationships

How to Love Yourself First

Self love is also shown by taking positive action to create positive things for yourself, and leaning into the power of risk – going after things that you know will bring out the best in you (and staying away from the things that will harm you in the long run).

We are all growing, developing, and evolving all the time. We not only have a right to try to be better today than we were yesterday, we have a responsibility. Just as parents must help their children learn, grow, and develop into happy, healthy adults, you are responsible for helping yourself evolve continuously throughout each phase of your life. When you have a vision for the direction of your life, and take intentional steps to grow in the ways that will help you create it, you are showing yourself the ultimate act of self-love. 

Just like you don’t have to be overwhelmed with feelings of love in order to be a good parent, you don’t have to feel “love” in order to be kind to yourself, set healthy limits for yourself, or to invest in your own growth

Your commitment to loving yourself and others is much bigger than anything you feel.

  1. You can feel totally frustrated with your kid and still be kind and responsible.
  2. You can be annoyed with your partner and still control yourself and be generous.
  3. And you can not feel like exercising, or feel like beating yourself up mercilessly, and still decide to act lovingly towards yourself: Taking yourself for a walk, or shifting into more compassionate, self supporting language.

Why Is Self-Love Important?

Think about a child who is being mistreated by their parents: Verbally and emotionally abused (or worse), given junk food, encouraged to watch too much TV, chaotic or overly strict routines, no support with academics or friendships….

What would you expect from that kid in terms of his ability to maintain emotional stability and be a good partner or friend to someone else? Not a lot.

When you’re not loving yourself, not giving yourself what you need, not meeting your basic needs for health, self-care, nurturing, acceptance and mindful self-compassion, you are basically abusing yourself. When any of us are being abused, we are simply not going to be well. If you are abusing and neglecting yourself, you won’t have much to offer others either. How could you?

If you’re reading the above line and it resonates, let’s use this moment as one of self-compassion and self-acceptance instead of self-recrimination and another way to make yourself feel bad. Try saying:

“Of course I haven’t been well and have not been at my best. How could I possibly be? I have not been treating myself with the love and respect I deserve. I’d like to do a better job of that, and I’m committed to learning how and moving forward.” 

That language is accepting. It’s compassionate. It shows self-understanding. It’s also hopeful, and leads you towards developing greater self-esteem.

Choosing to have a good, nurturing, responsible and compassionate relationship with yourself is what it means to love yourself… even when you don’t feel like it.

Figure out what kind of support you really need, and then decide to give it to yourself. No matter what.

Therapy for Self-Love

Learning how to love yourself is a process, and one that takes a long time. Ironically, it’s also very hard to do alone. An enormous act of self love can be reaching out for help and guidance to learn how to treat yourself better. 

Everyone needs support, and sometimes before you can support yourself from the inside, you need to be supported and build up from the outside through a healing relationship with a compassionate therapist or coach who is devoted to your personal growth. If you’d like to meet with a caring counselor on our team, I invite you to schedule a free consultation.

With love,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

P.S. — For more advice on creating a healthy, loving relationship with you, check out our “cultivating self-confidence” collection of articles and podcasts.

Music in this episode is by Minnie Riperton with their song “Les Fleur.” You can support them and their work by visiting their Bandcamp page here: minnieripperton.bandcamp.com/. Under the circumstance of use of music, each portion of used music within this current episode fits under Section 107 of the Copyright Act, i.e., Fair Use. Please refer to copyright.gov if further questions are prompted.

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How to Love Yourself

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Lisa Marie Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby, and you are listening to the Love, Happiness and Success podcast. It is so often said that self-love is the key to mental and emotional wellness and to have healthy relationships, we need to love ourselves first, but what does that actually mean and how does one actually go about loving themselves in healthy and appropriate and meaningful ways?

That is what we’re talking about on today’s show, and I’m so glad you’re here for this important conversation. We are enjoying the delightful Minnie Riperton, the song is called Les Fleur From the album, Come to my Garden. I like Minnie Riperton, and I think you will too. You can learn more about her on her bandcamp page: minnieriperton.bandcamp.com. She spells her name like Minnie Mouse, minnieriperton.bandcamp.com, check it out.

I chose this song because she’s, I don’t know, when I hear it, it’s like she’s inviting someone else into this beautiful garden, this gorgeous space that is hers. She has developed and cultivated it and self love is really like that. It is what we are doing within ourselves, for ourselves that we can then share potentially with other people.

This is a really important concept, and I actually, originally recorded this podcast on this topic many years ago. It was actually one of the first ones I did when I was launching my podcast because it was so fundamentally important, then my process has improved since then.

I was like, you know what, this is probably worth re-recording and expanding on because it’s really like an essential component of not just personal growth and emotional wellbeing. It is an essential component of everything really, our relationships, the way we engage with a career, with a world as parents, as partners, as friends, but also truly, I mean, how we feel day to day is often very determined by how well we are loving ourselves in an active way.

This is a very core concept to so many different things and the reason why I wanted to re-explore this with you is because this is actually a very difficult and even tricky topic for a lot of people. When you look around in the zeitgeist, you know, social media, whatever we are even admonished to love ourselves, right?

There are tattoos and wall murals and inspirational quotes all over the place about love yourself, right? It almost feels like a directive, and it sounds like a good idea, right? Yes. I should love myself, thank you, noting that, going to write that down. But then there’s like a new problem, which is, I mean, really, like, legitimately not knowing what that means or how to do it, what it’s supposed to be, it feels confusing for a lot of people.

I mean, I’ve had conversations with more than one client who have, you know, received the news that they’re supposed to love themselves and that is not congruent with how they feel on the inside a lot of times. It turns into just one more thing that now they feel bad about themselves because now they’re not loving themselves well enough.

It is a true conundrum and so I’d really like to dive into this and pull all the different pieces of it apart so that you hopefully leave this podcast with some fresh perspective and new ideas and, and even actionable practices that help you do important growth work in this area because it is important growth work and it really is fundamental.

But how does one actually create the state of self-love that’s we’re all supposed to be working towards. I can tell you, I mean, from my own personal experience, this also was very confusing to me because I would hear this as well and try to kind of square this with what it actually felt like to be me on the inside.

Because I have never personally experienced an intense feelings of love for myself, and on some level, particularly when I, you know, I’d hear this in the past, it sounded, it sounds kind of weird, and selfish almost like thinking about being deeply in love with one’s self. I mean, that conjures up images of narcissists kind of cooing at their own reflection in the pond, you know, as opposed to something that felt healthy for me.

I would think, you know, how is that supposed to help me or anybody like me, to think that we’re fabulous, right? I think I had conflated self-love in my mind when I was younger with this idea of having feelings of appreciation and admiration and for one’s self, right, and to mean like, I don’t know about that and then even later, after becoming a therapist, I would sometimes hear this phrase and still do get, get tossed around by some people who are using it to justify all kinds of, frankly, crappy behaviors that they’re doing to other people. 

Like, I have to put myself first. And they’re, that’s the narrative that’s allowing them to be sometimes quite cruel to other humans, that’s not awesome either. I have also heard this phrase used by people who are using it to be self-indulgent and engage in really unhealthy, addictive things. People have used it to displace blame, to create victim narratives that are not helpful to themselves or anybody else doing selfish and insensitive things to their partners.

You know, like, yes, I’m having an affair and I’m lying about it, but I deserve to be happy because I love myself. This can go in a lot of very weird and not awesome directions. Like, coming back to what we began talking about, how is loving oneself a good thing and how do we do this in healthy and appropriate and meaningful ways that do contribute to positive things in our own lives and also those of others.

The other thing that is true, and I think needs to be said is that what I have often experienced with clients is that they struggle to feel love towards themselves, and that in itself can feel very hurtful. You know, I’ve had so many clients say that their truth is, I don’t love myself. I don’t like myself, the only love that matters to me and that feels real is the love that I get from other people. But I know that I should love myself because that’s what I hear. I also know that feeling dependent on other people’s love of me, you know, their validation, their approval, their kindness towards me makes me really vulnerable and not okay in relationships a lot of times, because when I feel like I’m not getting that, I don’t have a great way of giving that to myself.

It’s like I need other people to love me and to think well of me in order for me to feel okay on the inside. I know that is not awesome, I know it is creating problems for me in relationship, but I literally don’t know what else to do to fix it.

You know, that is a real conversation and that is hard. But it is also very true, and it’s true for a lot of people. It might be true for you. I think it’s been true for me at points in my past. I just wanted to validate that as a way of verbalizing two things, you know, the importance of self-love, but also the real difficulty in doing that kind of work and putting self-love into meaningful practice. It’s hard. 

I had to say that out loud because again, you know, we get messages, particularly these days on social media with like every third person on Instagram or TikTok being the self anointed life coach who feels that it is their responsibility to tell other people how to live. They’ll say things like, “love yourself.”

I think sometimes fully grasping the existential crisis that that can create for people who get that message and who maybe want to and legitimately don’t know how to do that in truly healthy and productive, so there’s that, I think that to really begin a conversation about what self-love is and how to be applying that and practicing that in our own lives, it’s helpful to start with a discussion of, you know, what love is.

Because I think even the concept of love can be… It’s not confusing. I think it requires time and effort to truly understand what love really is. Again, you know, love is a big word and we all have values and meaning and ideas associated with the word love. But I think that’s something that can be really confusing and difficult for people related to self-love, but also related to loving relationships is that we are socialized often to believe that love is a feeling.

It is a mood state, It is an emotional experience, right? What I have learned over the years in my role as not just a therapist, but also as a wife and a mother and a sister and a friend, you know, a human who experiences love and attempts to live in a loving way and also certainly through my work as a marriage and family therapist, as a psychologist is an understanding of love.

That is, I think important to share, which is that it’s not a feeling, real, true love is not a feeling, It is a choice. Love is a value, love is an action and real love is much larger than any of the feelings that blow through us on a given day. You know, we might every once in a while have a exciting feeling of air quote, love, that we might associate with being excited about someone or really having tender feelings towards someone or really appreciating them or valuing them, you know, when it touches your heart, right?

That is an emotional experience, but it’s not everything. I sort of liken it to walking through a patch of sunlight as you’re going down the street, but then the regular, the trees cover you, you’re back in the shadow of a building again. Maybe love is actually the sidewalk, it is the whole thing. But it’s like these moments, these glimmers of feeling that are the fun parts of love. But there is much deeper substance to love than I think we are sometimes even aware of, and certainly that we are taught to believe. When we really do a deep dive into reflecting on what is love and I would actually encourage you to do this for and with yourself as part of the process of developing self-love.

Sit down with a journal or if you work with a therapist or a coach, say, today I would like to talk about what love is, and have the opportunity to sort of sort through it on your own so that you can create that clarity. I think we, we all need to create some of that clarity for ourselves, but my understanding and sense of what true love is really the best parts of all of us, the best of humanity even. It’s not a feeling, it is a commitment, it is caring about, something else, somebody else, so much that we are willing to do whatever it takes to prioritize the wellbeing of that person, their needs, their rights, their feelings, their development, their growth, what is truly in their best interests.

When we love somebody, we are making sure that that happens. We are following through with actions that are loving and those actions of love are in service of other people or other things or other causes. You know, that it’s possible to love things very much besides just fellow humans, right?

But when we think about love in that way, we understand that the decision to love, the commitment that we make through love and what we do from love and for love are very different than having emotional experiences. I do also wanna add that, particularly in romantic relationships, and this causes so much pain and heartbreak honestly for people is that we are taught to believe that love, that romantic love is the same thing as feelings of romantic infatuation or limerence, as it’s known scientifically, which is early stage romantic love that is characterized by excitement, anxiety, thinking about somebody all the time, you know, feeling kind of giddy when they’re around. That can certainly be a facet of love, believe it or not, it is a physiological based thing that happens to people as they are on the on-ramp of developing an attachment bond with another human. It’s like that exciting kind of thing that pulls people together, but that it fairly reliably fades with time, that sort of limerence feeling.

When people are expecting that, that is what love feels like and that is how love should feel, and then 15 years later they don’t often feel that way with the person that they married, they may come to the conclusion, I don’t love you anymore, I think we need to end our relationship and we’ll then sometimes engage in a series of romantic relationships that are very exciting and that bring back those feelings of limerence, but that they too kind of sparkle out, you know?

Somebody may mistakenly come to the conclusion that they just haven’t met the right person yet, because if they did, that feeling of love would endure and really not realizing that limerence state is not true love, nor does it endure. It’s not designed to do that, so they’re kind of chasing the dragon through a series of relationships for their whole lives.

You know, trying to have this experience they think that they should be having and not really embracing the more true and deep experience of love that has always been available to them., sorry, little tangent. Just while we’re on the topic of love, because again, I’ve just sat with a lot of people and a lot of couples who have gotten very confused by that, and it’s had a detrimental impact on themselves and on them, their lives.

But I do also think that is a useful concept for our topic today around self-love and how to love oneself. Because just like what true love is for other people, loving oneself is not often, or certainly not consistently experienced as an emotional feeling. Many times when I’ve been working with clients or when I’ve kind of puzzled about this on my own, you know, if we think that two loved ones self is to have fond feelings and, you know, I’m feeling excited and pleased with oneself. 

It’s that mood state that we’re seeking and that’s not what it is and so if we have that expectation and we’re not feeling that way, that’s when we think, well, I don’t love myself and something must be wrong and I don’t know how to do that and is that a good idea? Anyway, I just wanted to put all of those things into perspective.

But then when we go back to what, you know, love truly is, if we put it in the context of our values, you know our valuing of another person, our attachment to another person, our commitment to the wellbeing of another, that’s when it does start to make sense when we consider the true love is really more like this state of grace that we’re choosing to live in.

You know, it’s this bonding experience that makes us prioritize the wellbeing of another because we love them and it makes us do the right thing because we love people, even when it is the opposite of feeling happy and excited. When we love others, we do what is right even when it is difficult, when it is uncomfortable, when it is not convenient. That is when we’re really showing our love for other people, when it’s actually not fun at all and when we’re doing it anyway.

Not even a tiny bit in common with romantic love right there, is it? I think, for any of you parents listening, uh, you can understand, right? I mean, it’s true love is what we’re experiencing, that allows us to set aside our own self-focus, our own ego, and simply do what needs to be done for the benefit of our children. You know, it’s getting up and putting your shoes on and going to the grocery store at 11: 30 at night just because your kids need to have lunch or bring something to school and you forgot to do it, and you have to, right? Because they need it or if you’re staying up late, you’re taking care of them, they are up during the night and so are you. Even though you feel tired, you wanna go to bed, but you can’t go to bed because your child is vomiting or whatever, and they need to be taken care of. It is putting their well being ahead of your own because of love. 

This is kind of love that I’m talking about, and we all can and do this, and without, I think really even appreciating sometimes that we are powered by love in those moments. Because when you do love someone, it’s just automatic. Like, “Oh, well of course I’m gonna get up and take care of you because I love you.”But you’re not, brimming over with feelings of love in that moment, right? It feels like just a commitment, a commitment to the wellbeing of somebody else. But in those moments, we are being motivated by love because we are caring for someone else, we are putting their needs ahead of ours, we’re being of service to them and it is my belief that when people are living in that space and showing that kind to love to others, it really is the highest and best that any of us have to offer, it is self-sacrifice. 

You know, parents all the time throwing somebody else over the wall, right, is the height of heroism. Parents do that for their children, we do that for our partners without even really thinking about it or fully appreciating the nobility, the courage, the heroism that we are expressing in those moments.

Because love is just such a certainty. It’s like, well, of course we are, but it’s not even a thought. It’s just what I need to do. In many ways, that is the real experience of love and it’s easy to overlook that and miss that for how important and powerful it is, especially if we’re looking for it to be like a sparkly feeling because that’s not the experience.

Actually if we, you know, put that in the context of the self-love conversation, I will tell you that when people have sparkly feelings towards themselves on a regular basis, when they are very pleased with themselves, when they believe that their needs and rights and feelings are inherently more important and more valuable than those of others around them, that is actually quite problematic. It can manifest itself in things like narcissistic personality disorder, abusive relationships that are characterized by domestic violence sometimes, antisocial personality disorders. There’s not a ton of benefit in falling in love with yourself in that kind of excited, I’m more important than other people kind of way. It is actually counterproductive,

But what is true is that when we think of and get clear about what true love means to us and what it looks like to us, that’s when we can apply those same principles to our own relationship with ourself, and that can be incredibly healing and transformative. Step one,, if you would like to develop healthy self-love would be to do some exploration around what true love means to you, not romantic love, not limerence, not an emotion, but what love actually is, what it looks like, what it does, the heroic aspects of life. When you’ve seen love in action, you know, maybe it’s the way other people treated you at some points in your life, maybe ways that you’ve noticed yourself treating others that can be an easy way, an easier way to see it when you think about who, who have I loved and who have I treated with love can help you crack into that.

Once you have some clarity around what love means to you, then that turns into a very interesting conversation and area of exploration, which is how do I have that kind of relationship with myself? Which sounds kind of weird, but when we love ourselves, it really means learning how to treat yourself with the same kind of compassion and an ironically selflessness that you would show someone else when you’re being at your very best, you know, your most loving could mean deciding to treat yourself like a cherished child. You know, if there was a child or another person that you loved so much and wanted only the best for them, wanted them to feel safe and secure and confident and competent like their needs were being met, like, you know, that they knew without a shadow of a doubt that they had your unflagging support in any situation. 

You know that that might be how you want people that you love to feel. Then it is turning into this, how do I show up in my relationship with myself? Am I an emotionally safe person for myself? Or do I criticize and berate myself ruthlessly for any real or imagined imperfection? That can be a big area of growth for many of us. It can also mean how do I protect myself? How would I protect a child that I loved? If I, if I loved somebody else and I saw them dealing with this situation, with a relationship, with work, with this thing, what would I do to protect them from being exposed to whatever crap this is?

Would I intervene? Would I set a boundary? Would I take them away from the situation? Would I actively limit their exposure to this harmful situation? The answer is probably yes, but it’s hard to do this for yourself sometimes, unless you’re making a deliberate choice to treat yourself with as much love and respect and consideration as you would anybody else and how do you act on your own behalf, right? That’s important.

It also shows up in the way that you care for yourself. When you think about how you would treat or what you would do to maintain the health and wellness of a cherished child or somebody that you’re here to take care of, that you’re here to help them be happy and healthy and well, you know, would you give them cigarettes and alcohol and let them stay up all night playing video games and not eating good food and not exercising, you know, not taking care of their bodies, not taking care of their minds

Would you do that? No, you would not. You’d be like, I am taking the chocolate away, here’s a bag of baby carrots. You know we’re doing this differently, not because you’re trying to, you know, be mean or, deprivation, but because you know, like you deserve to be healthy and well, and you need to have nutritious food.

You need to get enough sleep. It’s good for your body to have exercise and darn it, I’m taking care of you because I love you and I’m committed to your wellness. We are going to go walk around the park now, right? I mean, that is how we love other people that we are here to help and take care of. You deserve the same. 

But it is developing this kind of relationship with yourself that is founded on this belief that you are worthy of love and respect. You are invested in the health and wellbeing of yourself in this case. Because of that, you are going to behave with love, which can mean setting healthy boundaries, setting limits and protecting yourself from all kinds of things.

You know, people who love themselves are having an internal dialogue in their own minds around, okay. It’s time to go to bed, you have to get up to work in the morning. You need to get enough sleep, you know that you don’t feel good when you do that. It helps you sleep when you take a shower before bed, come on, get, get in the shower with you. You know, let’s have a nice bath. Whatever it is, It’s like that’s the kind of experience as opposed to someone who is living without self-love, it’s like not having an inner loving parent in a lot of ways, is what it is. Not having a voice in their heads that is protecting themselves and encouraging them to take care of themselves and saying, you know, I think you’ve probably had enough of this.

It’s time to set a boundary. It’s time to move away from this situation, this isn’t good for you because you’re important and you deserve good things. Here’s what we’re going to do, right? You can learn how to do that. Again, it does not start with a feeling, many times people are waiting to feel a certain way before being motivated to act in love and that is not how this works. It is making a values-based choice and a commitment and learning really how to do it. Learning how to be that loving, compassionate parent or that loving friend that takes care of you from the inside out. That is like a confidant, a mentor, a protector that you’re carrying around with you all day, every day.

It gives you advice, rational support, guidance and wisdom instead of criticism and instead of allowing you to do things that hurt you or be in relationships with people that hurt you or engaging in, things or in ways that aren’t you at your best, it’s really encouraging you to set healthy limits and you know, pay attention to how you feel and what you need.Those are acts of service.

I just wanted to paint a picture of what this looks like and also what it doesn’t look like. Again, and sort of separating the idea of love’s a choice between love as a feeling. You know, that’s really what I think it means to love yourself in a practical way is to be able to care for yourself and act in a way that’s consistent with your own true best interests, even when you don’t feel like it.

You know, like how many times have we all encountered that? I don’t feel like exercising, I do feel like staying up really late watching TV or whatever it is, but it’s like intervening on our own behalf to take care of ourselves even when it’s not comfy, right? That is what love does, and there are other aspects of self-love that I think are equally important to understand and to be applying in practice.

When we think about what true love is, it’s not just caretaking, right? It’s not just protecting somebody. It’s not just being emotionally safe and supportive. Again, you know, this can also be personally defined, but one of the very important facets of love for me personally, is this idea of being committed to the growth of another person, you know? I have a strong belief system around human development and growth and personal evolution. I mean, obviously, like my career, these podcasts, I mean, it’s really an act of love and service for you, my dear listener, part of the reason that I make these andI also enjoy it, It’s meaningful for me,

But this idea that we are all growing and developing and evolving and that we all have a right to do that, a responsibility to do that. But that’s when we are really loving other people, I believe that we are supporting their growth and their development. I think it’s true certainly with children, I mean, my responsibility as a parent is to help my kids, you know, on their trajectory that will turn them into healthy, happy, hopefully functional adults, and then will carry them away from me. That’s okay, because I’m doing a good job of building adults right through the way that I’m relating to them now, but also certainly to my husband, to my friends.

It’s like, what can I do to support you on your mission, on your journey, on where you’re going and what you’re doing in your life? Because I love them and their evolution, their growth, their life satisfaction. You know, the things that make me happy, make them happy, rather do make me happy because I love them, that their happiness is my happiness in many ways.

But this is also really salient to the idea of self-love because, you know, part of how we love ourselves is from doing deep exploration into what our ideas of love are. I have had the opportunity to do this personally and would like to encourage you to do the same. But you know, what I have discovered is that one of the big components of love for me is around the idea of growth.

That’s why I try to show love to others through supporting their growth process. But this is also a really important part of the way that I express self-love, I really value growth. I feel like I’m taking care of myself when I’m learning something new, when I’m being challenged in a way that feels energizing or helpful to me.

Part of me loving myself is giving myself opportunities to do that. It could be something as simple as reading a book or going to a training, I mean, just that’s part of how I feel energized. But, the point here is that it’s going to be different for you. We all have different values and different ways that we experience love, that we experience health, that we feel good about ourselves, the world that we feel energized.

A big piece of that self-love component is figuring out what that is for yourself and then setting those boundaries with yourself. You know, the way a loving parent would that help you do the things, follow through, take the actions that you know are really good for you.This is a multi-part process, but this is really why I wanted to talk about self-love, because again, you know, we hear about self-love in the zeitgeist, like it’s flipping a switch, like love yourself, okay,

What does that mean? What does that mean to you? It is a process that’s self-awareness, how do I feel loved? How do I feel loved by others, right? What do I want people to say to me? What do I want people to do for me? How do I feel most loved? Then how do I do that myself? When do I feel the best? When do I feel the healthiest? When do I feel the happiness or most meaningful-ness? Most satisfied? That is going to be the way that I relate to myself, but it requires that process of self-awareness. That’s really authentic self-awareness process before you can do that. Because what looks like self-love for somebody else it won’t look the same for you. 

There’s a real discovery process that goes along with this, and it takes a long time to evolve. You know, because two, like once you figure out for yourself what love means to you, how you want to express that to yourself, then you’ll also need to figure out what are the obstacles to your being able to follow through with that now, right, and that is in itself a journey because there’s always, well, frequently a disconnect between the things that we know and the things that we want. You know, like you may be listening to this and saying like, yes, I would like to have that relationship with myself. That would be amazing if I had this loving relationship with myself and I was supportive and compassionate with myself.

You know, maybe reflecting with the fact that that is currently difficult for you, it’s worth thinking about why that is and in my experience many times what the real obstacles are these subconscious interjects are sort of the technical term for it. Interjects can be Inner narratives or like somebody else’s voice or this critical inner narrative that you’re not even fully aware of.

It just sort of runs on automatic in the background. But it is very powerful and this is the part of you that has a different story. You are not worthy of love and respect when things go wrong. It is your fault, it is some personal deficit, and you deserve to be punished. You know that you’re, you’re not really good enough, and so why should you treat yourself well?

There are all these other things that are more important than you being kind or supportive to yourself, or even that being emotionally safe, comforting, supportive to yourself is in some way dangerous. That’s not uncommon at all, you know, people have the subconscious core belief that being critical and mean and harsh with themselves is actually helpful to motivate them. You know, and the sad reality is that I think a lot of times where these things come from our internalizations of the voice of, you know, our parents a lot of times like the way that we were parented is often what develops those early messages. I’m not going to blame parents for everything. I mean, you know, internal core beliefs and messages can come from a lot of different places. They can come from the culture, they can come from early experiences with friends or romantic partners. They can certainly come from traumatic experiences.

It’s also true that many times in our culture, you know, parents are taught that the way of being a good parent is by being, you know, harsh and disciplinarian or authoritarian or, or shaming, even critical, you know, really focused on helping kids see what’s wrong with them instead of helping kids see what’s right with them and kids internalize that.

You know, have very inner narratives around being I am lovable if I am achieving in some way. I am lovable if I am pleasing to others, to my parents, right, and to get very disconnected from what it means to care for themselves, to love themselves, and to truly appreciate themselves and you know, I also wanted to mention something. I got a really interesting question from a listener, from a podcast listener who had been checking out the previous version of this podcast, and I recorded, geez, close to 10 years ago now and she reached out was such a heartfelt question that I thought was appropriate to discuss here.

You know, I’ll summarize it, but this is a mom, you know, a parent of a teenage girl who, you know, as she transitioned from adolescence and going, you know, more into, to teenager-ness is seems to be really struggling with feeling good about herself, taking care of herself and also doing the things that would help herself feel better.

You know there’s, a lot of information that was shared, and I won’t go into details, but you know, the main takeaway here is that this loving mother is really worried about her child because she sees this child not loving herself, taking care of herself, following through with the things that would really help her.

You know the question being what to do. I think that the answer to this mom is really the same answer to all of us. But you know, it’ll show up in different ways because of the circumstances. As parents, when we have children in our care, we have an enormous amount of power and also responsibility that sometimes we don’t even fully appreciate, right?. I think it can be easy, and I say this as a parent of a teenager, right? To underestimate the importance and the power that parents have in the lives of teenagers. But the truth is that they need us just as much as they ever have, you know, the, development of a teenager is very similar actually to this explosion of development that happens in very early childhood.

I mean, their brains almost fall apart in some ways and then rebuild themselves during adolescence. You know, the things that they’re experiencing and exposed to in adolescents are very formative. We all, as children, develop our internal narrative and our fundamental way of being comes from how we are treated and talked to and cared for by our parents and the people around us.

That is what turns into our inner voice, when we are adults, we carry that voice within us. That’s where it comes from and I say this as a therapist, when I talk to somebody and they have a ruthless inner critic around, let me tell you all the things that are wrong with me and how much I hate myself and why I am the most shameful human in the history of the world.

You know, major depressive disorder can change the way that voice sounds, right, or if somebody’s coping with an anxiety disorder, it makes them, you know, fearful and it turns into that, those kind of narratives. But you know, if it’s not a depressive episode, if it’s really just sort of an internal way of being and relating to oneself, I have never met anybody who had that ruthless inner critic outside of depression who did not have a parent or a family system who that trained them to think that way about themselves, that is where it comes from. When our kids are in adolescence and struggling in these ways, I think it’s a brilliant opportunity for us as parents to step in and very actively show them and help them in active and concrete ways. 

This is how I love you. This is how I talk to you. This is therefore how you will talk to yourself, and these are the things that you will do to take care of yourself. They need to be taught and assisted and supported. I think that many times, and I’m certainly vulnerable to this and I see my husband doing the same, you know, we can see a teenager and have expectations of them that are not appropriate to where they actually are developmentally.

I think it’s easy to impose adult expectations or ways of thinking on them. It is not reasonable because their brains are still developing, they are figuring these things out. To be actively supporting a child in the development of these ways of being is crucial. I certainly don’t, you know, want to soften this by saying that what that looks like specifically is going to be different for each family.

I would never, you know, use this platform and not knowing anything about somebody’s, you know, details of the situation to be offering specific advice. You know, advice number one is go find your own therapist and have these conversations so that you can figure out exactly what this would look like.

But for example, you know, if you have a child who is not doing a good job of demonstrating love for themselves, they’re showing you that they need your support in setting boundaries that model and assist them in showing love for themselves. For example, If you have a kid who is not taking care of themselves because they are, you know, playing video games all day and not getting enough exercise and not spending enough time with friends, you know, so as adults, when we’re loving ourselves, what we need to do is be able to set those boundaries internally to be able to say, I’ve been sitting here watching TV for three hours that’s probably enough. I need to go out for a walk now. I need to call a friend, because that’s what would help me feel better. Like that would be a reasonable expectation for a 35 year old who was doing self-love. 

But for a 15 year old, what that means is, okay, we’re turning off the internet now. Let’s go on a walk together. Come on, we’re going, we’re doing this. I think the key here is to be supporting someone’s experience of feeling good, feeling better when they engage in these kinds of activities. You’re not just making somebody exercise, you’re creating this association between engaging in positive physical activity and literally having more energy, feeling more positive.

That’s the gift. Similarly, teaching your child how to have a healthy relationship with food and their own bodies is a very important part of self-love, both for your child’s development, but also. For our own, you know, I mean, food is nourishment, it is the energy source that keeps our bodies running. And yet, so many of us arrive into adulthood with these messages about food as either a reward or a punishment or something that we use to manipulate the shapes of our bodies in order to get love and attention from other people.

This can be very fraught, interesting research done by my very smart colleague, Dr. Amy Smith recently, who’s been on the show with me in the past, showing that the quality of the relationships and the kinds of conversations that parents can have with adolescent children that are empowering and that support the decision making and autonomy of adolescents in making healthy choices has not just improved outcomes on things like stress eating and you know, better health, but even like insulin resistance.

Your ability to develop a healthy relationship and self-loving behavior with food as an adult will also put you in a position to be able to help your beloved children learn how to do this too. It all sends this message of, I love you so much and I’m devoted to your health and wellness, and what do you need in order to feel good?

Let’s give you that and something similar, wonderful, loving mother and listener who wrote in said something that I think is very common, I’ve heard it from more than one of you around. I really want my child to go get therapy, you know, to talk to somebody. I think it would be very helpful for them, but they don’t want to.

Again, if we go back to the idea that love is not a feeling, it is an action, it is a series of value-based choices. To love is to act in service for the wellbeing of another person, even when it is difficult, challenging, inconvenient, like really, that is love at its highest and best is when we do hard things because we love someone.

It may mean I understand, I hear you, we’re going to do this anyway. I have made an appointment for both of us to go in. I won’t make you go alone, we’ll do this together. Family therapy, particularly with adolescents, is incredibly powerful where you have the opportunity to come in and have constructive conversations with your child and maybe they also eventually space for themselves if it is in fact an emotionally safe and positive feeling situation for them.

But it’s an unreasonable expectation to say that a 15 year old would be like, yes, I need to go talk to a psychologist even though I don’t want to. Like, that’s not how they work. They need active parental support of modeling and really watching a parent be brave enough to do hard things for their benefit.

You know, you might not wanna go do that either and here’s what we’re gonna do anyway, and that you can go in and meet with a psychologist while your child sits quietly and watches a conversation where you know, you share your feelings, your hopes, your fears, your desires openly and vulnerably with a psychologist.

Perhaps that psychologist offers you some feedback that helps you understand yourself differently and the things that you could be doing to perhaps, you know, be of better service to your child. Oftentimes when we have kids that are struggling that is what happens in family therapy.

We don’t send the kid and say, good luck with that. We go ourselves either by ourselves or with our kids and as parents, learn how to create healthier and more constructive family systems that support the health and wellbeing and growth of our children. Because as parents, we have blind spots, we have things to work on, and we don’t know what those things are until we go and open up and make ourselves vulnerable to that same growth experience that we so much want our kids to have.

For your child to be watching you do that, you know, in service of them, in service of yourself, in service of your family, will not only potentially create a really positive impact on the situation, currently but it also models something very powerful which is, this is how people grow. They are courageous and brave, and they have hard conversations and they, you know, approach things going on with humility and with a desire to learn and saying, you know, maybe I could do some things differently.

What do I need to learn? What do I need to be practicing? What skills do I need to be building? You know, that is a life lesson that when your children watch you work on yourself in powerful ways, that is what they absorb about what looks like love and what, you know, healthy, functional people do in order to be okay.

That’s such a gift, and so again, you know, these are all things that we can use in any stage of life for the benefit of others and also for ourselves. You know, we’ve talked about the things that parents can do with children that they are hoping to develop experiences of self-love and the ability to love oneself.

But these are the exact same things that we all need to be doing as adults in order to develop our capacity for self-love is, you know, how do I become more emotionally safe with myself? How do I actively set boundaries and healthy limits with myself that are for my benefit, even though they’re not what I feel like doing? I’m going to love myself anyway. How do I make sure that I am in addition to setting boundaries, you know, moving towards and engaging in the things that I know I need to feel healthy, happy, well, you know, be it relationships being growth opportunities, being daily habits and practices that are good for us.

There are so many ways that this can look, but it is an active process and I hope the one thing that you take away from this podcast on self love is that it requires work and attention and intention. Just the way that you might approach parenting, like thinking about, okay, who is this kid and what do they need? What do they need from me and what do I need to be doing every day in order to be, you know, holding them in an environment of love that is, you know, when they’re kids, it is externally generated. It’s coming from the outside in. That’s how they’re absorbing this, right? But, it’s the same thing with yourself.

Who am I? What is going on inside of me? What do I need? What makes me feel good? What makes me feel bad? What do I need to protect myself from? What is the relationship that I’m having with myself currently? Is it abusive? Is it whatever, you know and like figuring out what are all the pieces here, and then very actively and deliberately putting together a plan for behaving with love towards yourself in all of these different domains.

It’s not easy to do, for many people It takes a long time to figure out how to do this. It can be very productive to do this kind of work with a therapist who can help you to understand the things that are going on inside of you, the habits, the patterns, the internal narratives that feel so familiar. You don’t even notice them as being things, right? Until you do, you can’t change them. That can be really, really helpful with, with therapy, also with good coaching, you know, because therapy can be fantastic for gaining insight, understanding why you are the way you are. 

Yes, his very harsh inner critic sounds a lot like my mom, thank you, right. Therapy can help us with that. but sometimes that is where some therapy can stop, you know? There is insight oriented psychotherapy that in my way of operating is only half of the story, right? Like, great, okay, what’s happening and why. But that does not mean that it translates into doing things differently or taking action. That’s why I’m such a fan of a coaching model that is very action oriented and just really around, okay, now that we understand what the obstacle is, what are we gonna do to change it, and providing the accountability that will help you follow through with those actions.

That is the purpose of coaching, it’s very skills-based and action oriented. If you’ve been, you know, just kind of going around and around and talk therapy around, you know, yes, I hate myself because my father was critical, but it’s not turning into anything different. It might be time to explore a coaching model instead.

There are also different kinds of psychotherapy that can be much more action oriented, cognitive behavioral therapy in particular can be extremely helpful to identify and change unproductive core narratives and also identify and implement different behaviors. Particularly, I mean, if there is a diagnosis involved, if there’s a lot of historical depression or anxiety, cognitive behavioral therapy is the way to go. It is a treatment that seeks not just to understand why or where it’s coming from, but also really informs a treatment plan that will correct the things that are causing the problems.

Again, this can take some assessment, right? Our difficulty loving ourselves can come from just life experiences. We never had the opportunity to develop a more constructive way of relating with ourselves. Now as adults, we need to learn how to do that and so that can certainly be, you know, some growth-oriented therapy, but also a powerful coaching model can be super helpful.

If the ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving that are the opposite of self-love are rooted in major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, trauma, certainly other mental health conditions. My advice would be to pursue cognitive behavioral therapy for treatment because it will help you treat the depression or whatever it is, but at the same time, be learning some of the skills and strategies that really is what self-love is in the process of doing that mental health treatment.

I hope that this was helpful for you in understanding, I hope more in a more nuanced way, what it means to love oneself, why it is important, and most significantly how we go about doing tha, It is a multi-dimensional action-oriented process, It is multifaceted. There are many different pieces in moving parts, It takes a long time, and so if you took nothing else from this, please understand that. You know, you can’t flip on self-love like a switch. Nobody can, it requires a growth and or healing process.

Again,I hope that our conversation today has given you guidance and direction on where to begin cultivating that for yourself in a meaningful and productive way.

Thank you for spending this time with me today. If you would like more information on this subject or others, more resources for you if you wanna come to growing self.com. I have collections of content, podcasts, articles. I would encourage you to check out our personal growth content collection.

Come to growing self.com to the blog and podcast page, and from there, go to the Happiness Collection and you’ll find from there the personal growth collection, emotional wellness, I think we have a content collection around self-esteem, actually, which would be beneficial as well as collections of podcasts on these topics that I’ve made in the past.

In addition, it could also be helpful, I have like knowledge based articles that I’ve put together for you. If some of what I was describing at the end around different kinds of therapy or like when therapy is helpful, when coaching might be helpful. There’s one article that is exhaustive. I put a lot into this, but it’s around understanding evidence-based therapy and evidence-based coaching, which will provide a lot of information just like how all this stuff works and like how to figure out what kind of therapy you need. Whether or not you need therapy or coaching, if you come to growing self.com, there’s a knowledge base which are, you know, questions about therapy and from there you’ll be able to access all of these different things also like how to find how to find the right therapist, what to talk about in therapy to make sure it’s productive. Anyway, I put all of these together for you as resources to help you guide you on this journey. Again, I hope you use them and think about them and yeah. All right, so I will be back in touch with you next time with another episode of the podcast.


Episode Highlights

  • What is Love?
    • Love is not a feeling. It’s a choice, an action. Love is much bigger than the feelings we have on a given day. 
    • True love is what allows us to set aside our own self-focus and ego to just do what needs to be done for the benefit of others.
    • From our relationships with other people, we get the chance to practice softening ourselves, letting go of our own ego, and choosing compassion for other people.
  • Treating Yourself Like a Child
    • Treat yourself like you would treat a cherished child. Be an emotionally safe person for yourself.
    • Speak to yourself kindly. Protect yourself from your toxic inner critic. 
    • When it comes to healthy habits, don’t feed yourself anything that you wouldn’t give to a four-year-old.
    • Set firm limits with yourself just like you would set limits with a kid.
  • How Do You Love Yourself?
    • Turn true love towards you. Act in your highest and your best even when you don’t feel like it.
    • Treating yourself with self-love will also help you have more love to give to others.
    • Figure out what kind of support you really need. 
    • Once you have figured out what you should give to yourself, make a commitment to give it to yourself no matter what.

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6 Comments

  1. I am listening to your podcast on loving yourself, and agree that true love is putting someone else’s needs before your own. I am a step-mom of three, and I put my kids and husband before me. In fact, I put EVERYONE before myself. That is my problem and partly why I struggle with loving myself. My mind sees that as being selfish and vain. I have a hard time saying no when asked to do something because I think about how it would help that person out regardless of how it makes my life harder.

    When the day is done, I look in the mirror and know I am a good person. I know that treat others the way I want to be treated; however, I hate what I see. My soul and heart is wonderful and beautiful, but my physical appearance is what I hate. Always have since middle school and now I am pushing 30. Now my metabolism is beginning to slow down and weight is creeping on. That doesn’t help me with loving my reflection. My husband thinks I’m beautiful. I just wish I did too. I wish I could see what he does.

    Why can’t I love outward self as much as my inner self?

    Any advice would be appreciated.

    1. Hi Leah,

      It sounds like you have a very giving and generous heart — and that you appreciate that about yourself. I hope that your generosity is balanced by boundaries: Otherwise it’s a recipe for resentment!

      With regards to your question about becoming comfortable with your physical appearance, THAT is a big subject with a lot attached to it. It can be hard to figure out the difference between genuinely needing to work towards peace and self acceptance, or whether your “unhappiness” is really motivation to make important changes. This may be a time to do some journaling about it, or enlist the support of a good coach to help you get clarity. It would also be a fabulous topic for a podcast — it’s officially on the list! 🙂 All the best to you Leah…

  2. I am so grateful for this post, right now. Today is my 46th birthday. 9 months ago my relationship ended after more than 17 years and I’ve spent months trying to recover. Self love has been so hard but this podcast just put it so clearly that I feel like I finally understand HOW to begin truly treating myself with the love respect and care that I deserve. Thankyou.

  3. I am listening to your podcast on loving yourself, and agree that true love is putting someone else’s needs before your own. I am a step-mom of three, and I put my kids and husband before me. In fact, I put EVERYONE before myself. That is my problem and partly why I struggle with loving myself. My mind sees that as being selfish and vain. I have a hard time saying no when asked to do something because I think about how it would help that person out regardless of how it makes my life harder.

    When the day is done, I look in the mirror and know I am a good person. I know that treat others the way I want to be treated; however, I hate what I see. My soul and heart is wonderful and beautiful, but my physical appearance is what I hate. Always have since middle school and now I am pushing 30. Now my metabolism is beginning to slow down and weight is creeping on. That doesn’t help me with loving my reflection. My husband thinks I’m beautiful. I just wish I did too. I wish I could see what he does.

    Why can’t I love outward self as much as my inner self?

    Any advice would be appreciated.

  4. Hi Leah,

    It sounds like you have a very giving and generous heart — and that you appreciate that about yourself. I hope that your generosity is balanced by boundaries: Otherwise it’s a recipe for resentment!

    With regards to your question about becoming comfortable with your physical appearance, THAT is a big subject with a lot attached to it. It can be hard to figure out the difference between genuinely needing to work towards peace and self acceptance, or whether your “unhappiness” is really motivation to make important changes. This may be a time to do some journaling about it, or enlist the support of a good coach to help you get clarity. It would also be a fabulous topic for a podcast — it’s officially on the list! 🙂 All the best to you Leah…

  5. I am so grateful for this post, right now. Today is my 46th birthday. 9 months ago my relationship ended after more than 17 years and I’ve spent months trying to recover. Self love has been so hard but this podcast just put it so clearly that I feel like I finally understand HOW to begin truly treating myself with the love respect and care that I deserve. Thankyou.

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