How to Love Yourself

How to Fall in Love With 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 it’s so much more than just narcissism by any other name.

But 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.

Malignant Self Love

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 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…

You’re Not Loving if You’re Judging

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 only more evidence that there was something terribly wrong with them.

How to Know if You Love Yourself

Love is a choice.

Over many years as a therapist, 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 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 self loathing.

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 it 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 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.

True Love for 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 having a “true love” kind of relationship with yourself 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 is 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 support 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 inner wisdom, and avoiding harmful situations or unhealthy relationships. 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).

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 love yourself.

Your commitment to loving 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 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 Loving Yourself Matters

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.

Learning how to love yourself is a process, and one that takes a long time.

When you’re not loving yourself, not giving yourself what you need, not meeting your basic needs for health, self-care, nurturing, acceptance and 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’s understanding. It’s also hopeful, and leads you towards something better.

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.

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.

I hope these ideas help you find your way forward. For even more on the important subject of how to love yourself, I hope you listen to this podcast episode too.

With love,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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How to Love Yourself

Free, Expert Advice — For You.

Subscribe To The Love, Happiness, and Success Podcast

[Intro Song: This Is Love by The Party Faithful]

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby and you’re listening to The Love, Happiness, and Success Podcast. That’s The Party Faithful with This Is Love. We’re talking about a very special kind of love today. We talk about love frequently on The Love, Happiness, and Success Podcast, obviously. Most of the time, what we’re talking about is how to have better relationships with other people. How do you have more love in your life with others? 

Today, due to popular request, I am going to be talking about a different kind of love, which is how to love yourself. The holy grail of love. The hardest kind of love, in some ways, I think there is. How do we love ourselves? We’re going there. We’re not afraid of anything here on The Love, Happiness, and Success Podcast. So that’s what we’re going to be talking about today. 

Before we officially start talking, if this is your first time tuning in and you’re thinking, “Who is this crazy lady who thinks she could tell me how to love myself?” Let me introduce myself. I am Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby. I’m trained as a psychologist, and a marriage counselor, and a life coach. I have a practice in Denver. I started writing and making my Love, Happiness and Success Podcast a while ago because I realized that more people than the 18 to 24 clients I meet with personally every week might possibly be able to benefit from some of these ideas. So I decided to make these podcasts and start putting them out there just as a little service project. I hope that you like it. I hope that these ideas help you. I hope you share them if they help you. I hope you stay in touch with me. 

You can subscribe to this podcast. If you want to listen to it more regularly, go to my website drlisabobby.com and you’ll see a subscribe on iTunes button. You can also check out some articles or past episodes of the podcast. You can also get in touch with me. I love it when people get in touch with me and tell me what you would like to hear about. If there are topics, or ideas, or people who you think I should be talking to on the show, let me know. I welcome any and all suggestions because I want to make things that are really, genuinely helpful to you. Anyway, that’s a little bit about me and how to connect with me. Oh, Facebook too. If you’re a Facebook person: facebook.com/drlisabobby. Let’s be friends. 

Okay. I won’t keep you in suspense. Let’s talk about this. Let’s talk about how to love yourself. Raise your hand, my hand is up, if you’ve heard this: “You have to love yourself first.” You have to love yourself first. For years, I would hear this. “You have to love yourself first.” And I would hear that and I would think, “What does that even mean? How do you love yourself?” I would hear the words, and I would think, “Well, that sounds like a good idea. I can kind of see how that makes sense, but how do you actually create this state of self-love?” That just seemed such a mystery. I’ve never felt intense love for myself. And on some level, I thought it sounded kind of weird, sort of selfish. And when I thought about being deeply in love with yourself, I would always imagine Narcissus cooing at his reflection in the glassy water of the riverbank. I would think, “How is that supposed to help me or anybody, to be ‘I think we’re fabulous?’” 

Even later after becoming a therapist, I would hear this phrase, and I still do hear this phrase get tossed around. And I’ll just tell you quite, quite frankly, it is used to justify all kinds of crappy things. I’ve heard “I have to love myself” for people who are engaging in a lot of self-indulgence and really unhealthy, addictive things. People displacing blame or even people doing really breathtakingly selfish and insensitive things with their partners like, “Yes, I’m having an affair, and I’m lying about it, but I deserve to be happy because I love myself.” It’s like, “How is this a good thing?” 

With individual clients, I have also sort of struggled with this idea of “You have to love yourself” because I would sit with these lovely, beautiful, talented, wonderful people that I care a lot about but see them so upset. I mean tears, sad… As they are connecting with their truth and their truth is they say things like, “I don’t love myself. I don’t like myself. The only love that matters is the love that I get from other people, but I know that I should love myself because that’s what I hear. I should love myself, and the fact that I don’t love myself is one more reason for me to hate myself.” It’s heaping criticism and self-blame because they can’t do this thing that they’re supposed to do, which is love themselves. I struggled a little bit with this idea because obviously, none of what I am describing is awesome or helpful. Narcissistic self-love, not fabulous. Not feeling self-love, and then feeling bad because of that, or using this idea of self-love as an excuse in some ways to do bad things. 

That’s where I was with the whole self-love thing for a while but I’ve been doing this for a while. I’m getting older and over many years, I’ve been a therapist for 10 years now, a marriage counselor, but I’m also a wife. I’ve been with my husband for over 20 years at this point. Being a mother, being a person, and doing my own journey of growth, I have started to feel, over the last few years, especially, that I am starting to understand, truly, the nature of love, but also this idea of self-love in a different kind of way. 

Because I get this question so often, “How do I love myself?” I thought I would share some of these insights with you. The insights that I have, I will warn you: this is where I am today. I don’t know if I might do a podcast on the same subject three years from now and have totally different opinions, but this is based on my understanding today and what I have learned so far through my own experiences personally and through my work. 

What is Love?

What I have been realizing particularly with couples that I see or in families is that love isn’t a feeling at all. We associate love with emotion. We’re supposed to feel love, but what I’m beginning to believe is that that is not true and that that idea can really mess people up on a variety of levels. Certainly, when it comes to self-love. But it’s not a feeling. Love isn’t a feeling. It’s a choice. It’s an action. Love is much, much bigger than any of the feelings that blow through us on a given day. 

Every once in a while, we might have the treat of feeling love but that’s just like walking through a patch of sunlight as you’re walking down a sidewalk. It’s just kind of random and the truth is that there are all kinds of subtle lights, and darks, and cool feelings, and warm feelings depending on what our circumstances are, and what we’re thinking about, and whether we’ve gotten enough sleep. Those are the kinds of things that determine how we feel. 

Love is way, way bigger than that. I’m beginning to think that true love is really more like the state of grace that we choose to live in. Love is our prioritizing the well-being of people over everything else because we love them. And prioritizing our own genuine, authentic well-being over other things because we’re choosing to love ourselves in the same way that we truly show love for others. Let’s talk about true love. True love, not a feeling, not a romantic love. True love is what allows us to set aside our own self-focus and our own ego and just do what needs to be done for the benefit of others. 

I don’t know if you have kids but if you have, if you do have kids, have you ever, and I’ve done this, have you ever stayed up really late at night to do laundry? Or gone to the grocery store at 11:30 at night just because your kid needed to have clean clothes or lunch for school the next day? You don’t have any food, and so you’re staying up late, you’re doing this stuff. And you feel tired. You want to go to bed, but you can’t go to bed because your kid needs whatever it is. That is the kind of true love I’m talking about. Not to put my own actions on a pedestal. I think that we all do this. It’s the state of everyday grace that we can all touch. It doesn’t matter what we’re thinking, or what we’re feeling, or what we’re wanting. We simply understand what someone else is feeling and needing, and we simply decide to be of service to them. We prioritize that. 

It is my personal belief that when people are living in that space and showing that kind of love to others is really the highest and the best that humanity has to offer. It’s that idea of self-sacrifice. Throwing someone else over the wall is the height of heroism, and good parents do that for their kids without even thinking about it. It’s just what we do, right? Through our romantic relationships, our relationships with our friends, or our family, we get the chance to practice softening ourselves, letting go of our own ego, and choosing compassion for other people over how we might be feeling, or wanting to be critical, or something. 

We get, every day, these opportunities to show other people that their feelings are as important to us as our own. That’s why relationships are such an amazing vehicle for personal growth. All our relationships give us the chance to do that, and evolve as people, and grow into our highest and best. That’s my belief about relationships at this point. Stay tuned. It might change but that’s where I am today. 

Treating Yourself Like a Child

It’s easy to think about when we think about how we love our kids or how we can love our partners but how do you love yourself first? How do you turn that kind of energy and that kind of intention on yourself and why? Why do you have to love yourself first? 

Here’s what else I have learned above and beyond observing people in relationships or thinking about parents, and children, and love in that regard. What I do when I am working with somebody in therapy or with coaching is that I’m basically teaching them how to have a true love kind of relationship with themselves. 

I know it sounds weird, but this means learning how to treat yourself with the same kind of compassion and, ironically, selflessness that you would show someone else when you’re being your very best. Treating yourself like you would treat a cherished child. Being an emotionally safe person for yourself. Instead of falling into “Oh my god, that was so… I can’t even believe I did that. That was stupid.” Speaking to yourself kindly, and compassionately, and wisely and protecting yourself from that nasty, toxic inner critic that can pipe up in your head sometimes just the way that you would protect a child that you loved. 

When it comes to healthy habits, there’s all kinds of ways that we can show self-love. Rule of thumb, don’t feed yourself anything that you wouldn’t give to a four-year-old right? You’re not getting him a four-year-old booze, and cigarettes, and a quad latte. Why not? Because you want better for them. You don’t want them to suffer the negative consequences of ingesting those kinds of substances. Treating yourself in the same way with that loving compassion, but also being able to set firm limits with yourself for the highest and best just like you would set limits with a kid or somebody that you really cared about. To say, “You know what, you need to go to bed and get some sleep because you can’t live like this. You cannot live on four hours of sleep. You deserve better so I’m calling it. You’re going to bed.” 

Being able to be that loving compassionate parent, that loving friend that takes care of you from the inside out, that can offer you rational support, and guidance, and wisdom instead of criticism, and instead of allowing yourself to do things that hurt you, or be in relationships with people that hurt you, or engaging in things that aren’t your best. 

How Do You Love Yourself?

What I do in therapy is really teach people how to talk to themselves in that loving kind of way. How do you treat yourself in a loving sort of way? A lot of what we do with coaching is essentially developing that loving, compassionate inner guidance that can take care of them, that can take care of you. What I believe is that that is what it means to love yourself. It’s being able to turn that same kind of true love towards you. Acting in your highest and your best even when you don’t feel like it. That’s really the key. 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” towards yourself in order to be living in that state of true love. 

You have a commitment to your kids that is much deeper than anything that you feel. You can feel totally frustrated with your kid and you’re still kind, and you’re still responsible anyway, right? You can be annoyed with your partner and still control yourself, and be generous, and take a deep breath, and think a good thought about them. You can feel like not exercising, or like you want to beat yourself up and be mean to yourself, and decide to act from love anyway. To say, “You know what, let’s just go on a walk. You’ll feel better once you do. Come on, let’s go.” You can protect yourself from that inner critic and say, “You know what, I know that you did the best that you could today, and that you are learning, and that you’re growing, and you’re better today than you were yesterday. And tomorrow, you’re going to be even better than that.” 

To be speaking to yourself and treating yourself with this kind of self-love, self-soothing will also help you have more love to give other people. Because if you’re not treating yourself this way, and having a good relationship with yourself, and able to manage your thoughts, manage your feelings, regulate your emotions, be healthy, take care of your basic needs, you don’t have anything left to give anybody else. 

Think about a kid again who’s being mistreated by their parents: verbally and emotionally abused, or maybe worse. They give the kid junk food, watch all the TV he wants, really chaotic routines, or overly strict routines with no space for the needs of the kid, invalidating environment, no support for their academics or for their friendships, what would you expect from the child in terms of his ability to cope with life or be emotionally stable and able to be a good partner or a good friend to somebody else? Not a lot. Why should he be able to do that with the little that he’s been given? 

It’s the same thing when you’re mistreating yourself, when you have an abusive, toxic relationship with yourself, to your thoughts or your behaviors, or allowing yourself to be abused by other people, you don’t have much to give, either. I believe that this is what it means to love yourself. It’s to behave in the way that supports your highest in your best even when you don’t feel like it. The work here is to figure out what kind of support you really need. Like if you were taking care of you like a parent takes care of a child, what would you be giving yourself? Once you have that clear, making a choice, making a commitment to give it to yourself no matter what because that is what true love is. 

I hope these ideas that I shared with you today are helpful to you. If they are, get in touch with me. I would love to hear about what you do with this. Stay in touch. I look forward to speaking to you again very soon on the next episode of The Love, Happiness, and Success Podcast.

[Outro Song: This Is Love by The Party Faithful]


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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